Fifty years ago during the early l930’s our nation was trying to weather through what is now referred to as the “Great Depression” years-our country was in a great financial bind. Others refer to these years as the “Dirty Thirties” for during this period the Midwest states, especially, were also experiencing very dry years weatherwise, and the farms here yielded very poor crops. And so, as the old saying goes, when the farmers suffer for want, eventually others are affected also. In other words, no money, no business. Things were different then for the general policy was that if you couldn’t afford what you needed or wanted, you did without until you could afford it. It was a disgrace to buy with borrowed money things that were not really necessary. The saying now is “buy now (and enjoy what you want) and pay later.” People in general have a way of thinking the future will be better than the present. Time-prices will be better, health will be equally as well, there will be no tragedies to incur debts, there will somehow be more money to spend.

But Henry Vander Ploeg of Edgerton remembers when the future looked pretty bleak-in fact, very bleak financially at least. Along with the photo he provided, he also provided some memories of the Great Depression and Dirty Thirties Days. The photo is of Henry and his 1933 IH truck. During those days he made his living by being a trucker in the Lester, Iowa community where he and his family lived. Lester is in northwest Iowa. He described the times as follows:

“In those days I was a trucker in northwest Iowa. Those were hard days for no one had anything- everyone was in the same boat, so speaking. Although we (referring to himself and his family), too, had very little, we did manage to take a short vacation such as to a lake in northern Minnesota.

“Talk about low prices in the l930’s, I remember the cheapest hog I hauled to market sold for $1.90 per hundred-weight (C.W.T.) and the market on canner cows was so low that a farmer had to pay money to get his cows sold. My father-in-law sold baby pigs for $3 a dozen. We truckers hauled fat cattle to market which had been on full feed over two years and weighed from 2000 to 2400 pounds that sold for $4.35 per C.W.T.

“We also trucked a lot of corn for 11 to 12 cents a bushel, and oats for 6 to 7 cents per bushel. One could buy the best Hereford calves weighing from 300 to 400 pounds for $1.25 per C.W.T., and the best milk cows for $18 to $19 each.

“I trucked many a load of ear corn to people in town to be burned in their cook stove or furnaces as they just couldn’t sell corn that cheap and buy coal with it. Few people had oil burning stoves in those days, although one could buy oil for 6 to 8 cents a gallon.

“One day I bought a used Reo truck, the largest in the county at the time, with payments of $168 per month. We made the payments for a few months, but as times grew worse, one Saturday night I said to my wife, “What are we going to do, for in three days the truck payment is due and we have only $11 in the bank?” As we were talking our situation over, there was a knock on our door and I said, “Come in.” In walked our neighbor girl, and then she said to me, “Hank, could you use some money?” I said that I surely could and she gave me $200 which pull­ed us through that month. Soon after that things started to get better. Surely One higher up was looking after us.

“One day I was telling these things to two young boys who heard me out. Then the older boy said, ‘I faintly remember it (the depression days), but the younger boy said, ‘I don’t believe it; it just couldn’t be that bad.’

“Another incident-one day a farmer called and asked me to bring him a ton of coal, which I did. I scooped on a ton and hauled the coal three miles out to the farm, then scooped it off the truck, and the man said, ‘What do I owe you?’ I knew the man didn’t have much, so I said, ‘Give me a dollar.’ The man said ‘You know Hank, if I owed you five cents I couldn’t pay you. I don’t even have one nickel.’

“Those days were really hard times.”

Mr. Vander Ploeg trucked 25 years in Iowa and purchased seven trucks during this period, Chevys, Reo, Dodge, and the IH which he drove eight years. He stopped trucking in 1951 when he and his family moved on to a farm at Woodstock and farmed there for 20 years.

It is bad when one gets down to his last nickel. Will times ever get that bad again? At least, this story of Henry Vander Ploeg should make us think and wonder.

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