Dust




In No Man's Land (the western end of the Oklahoma Panhandle), the dust storms of the Great Depression “killed or forced out nearly one family in three.” This, however, was not as bad as the conditions in the Texas panhandle.

Caroline Henderson lived in No Man's Land and wrote letters that were published in the Atlantic Monthly. Here is an excerpt form her June 1935 letter: "Wearing our shade hats, with handkerchiefs tied over our faces and Vaseline in our nostrils, we have been trying to rescue our home from the accumulations of wind-blown dust which penetrates wherever air can go. It is almost hopeless, for there is rarely a day when at some time the dust does not roll over. 'Visibility' approaches zero and everything is covered again with a silt-like deposit which may vary in depth from a film to actual ripples on the kitchen floor.” By the summer of 1936, only 8 of the 136 homesteads in her township still had tenets.

The dust from different states were different colors. Kansas dust was black, eastern Oklahoma dust was red, Texas dust was yellow. When these mixed in dust storms, it sometimes tinted the sun light green.

Many normal activities were made dangerous. Trains had to stop to prevent their passengers from choking and to allow them to scoop dust out of the cars. One Kansas train ran into a few-hours-old dust drift and was stuck. School was frequently canceled as well. In April 1932, a dust storm shattered all the windows in a schoolhouse and covered the school and children with dust. Even hospitals had to pause due to their inability to keep the surgical wards dust-free. Another side effect was that “[m]en avoided shaking hands with each other because the static electricity was so great it could knock a person down” Cars drug grounding-chains behind them as well.

The dust and drought brought in many animals in huge numbers, including tarantulas, centipedes, spiders, black widows and grasshoppers. Towards the start of the depression, rabbit drives were started to combat the booming rabbit population. Using clubs, people trapped rabbits in fences and clubbed them to death. In some places, rabbit drives were weekly events and up to 6,000 rabbits could be killed per afternoon per square mile. Towards the start of the depression, attempts were made to send the rabbits to be canned for the city folks, but the bodies ended up being left or buried. By 1935, the rabbits were canned and eaten. The people were already forced to pickle tumbleweed, so the rabbits would not go to waste.

Dust pneumonia affected those who breathed in the dust, as well as sinusitis, laryngitis and bronchitis. Dust pneumonia caused coughing, body aches, shortness of breath and nausea. “By the mid 1930s . . . [dust pneumonia] was one of the biggest killers.” The Red Cross distributed masks designed to filter out the dust, but the masks often turned black in under an hour. The dust, only 63 microns small (a period at the end of a sentence is 300 microns), got everywhere. One man cut open the stomach of a dead cow only to find its stomach so packed with dust that it blocked the passage of food.

In May 1934, the east coast got a taste of the dust bowl when a large dust storm blew across. The Statute of Liberty could hardly be seen, and it dusted the White House and covered ships out more than 200 miles from shore. “People in the cities wondered why the plains folks could not do something to hold their soil down. One man suggested laying asphalt over the prairie. Another idea was to ship junked cars to the southern plains where they would be used as weights to hold the ground in place.”

The pictures are of the Black Sunday dust storm of April 14th, 1935. The dust storm produced enough electricity to power New York. The Black Sunday dust storm destroyed “one-half the wheat crop in Kansas, one-quarter of it in Oklahoma, and all of it in Nebraska—5 million acres blown out.” Twice as much dirt as removed for the Panama canal was carried in the dust storm.

Source: The Worst Hard Time (information and quotes from p.304, 257, 234, 221, 175, 173, 153, 116). Source Source

6 comments:

AY@tes said...

Wow, that is just fascinating. I never would have imagined that it would have covered that much area and blown all over the place like that. I have seen some small dust storms in the past, but never anything like this.

Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Hmm..did a research project about the dust bowl a while back. Interesting stuff.

satire and theology said...

'Many normal activities were made dangerous. Trains had to stop to prevent their passengers from choking and to allow them to scoop dust out of the cars.'

Amazing.

' The pictures are of the Black Sunday dust storm of April 14th, 1935. The dust storm produced enough electricity to power New York. The Black Sunday dust storm destroyed “one-half the wheat crop in Kansas, one-quarter of it in Oklahoma, and all of it in Nebraska—5 million acres blown out.” Twice as much dirt as removed for the Panama canal was carried in the dust storm.'

And during times of economic depression as well.

Well done information.

Peter said...

WOW.

odd facts said...

ay@tes: Yah. I had no idea either until I read the book. It blew me away. (no pun intended)

anonymous: I would love to research the time more. There was so much interesting things happening then.

satire and theology: During a depression too- I know. Reading the book made me feel incredibly lazy and spoiled.

Peter: I know!!

Anonymous said...

Arizona recently had a dust storm causing 4 fatalities from a pile-up. I have a coworker who wants to move to Arizona. I think that's nuts. Who in their right mind would move to a desert?