FROM RICHES TO RAGS

By Norris Chambers

             The recent publicity given to threats of a serious recession brings back many memories of the great depression of the thirties. I saw the long soup lines in the city and the destitute people in the country. We country folks who had farms did not suffer from hunger. We had meat from chickens, hogs and cattle and vegetables and food from the farm. But money was scarce. Many of us couldnít afford new cars, fancy clothes or modern household conveniences. We had to cultivate our crops with horses and mules and old equipment because tractors and new equipment cost more than we could afford. The price we received from farm products was very low and in some cases there was no market at all because so many people couldnít afford to buy.

            Before the collapse of the economy our area was booming from the discovery of oil. Two refineries were being built in the area. One was to refine oil and make gasoline and the other was to extract gasoline from natural gas. These projects required hundreds of workers. The many wells that were being drilled also had need of many employees. There was a need for drillers, roustabouts, casing crews and day laborers. Of course these workers were not available in the country and had to be imported from other areas.

            The workers were brought in but there was almost no housing available. The oil companies built small shacks on their leases for the supervisors and officials who had to be on the job. The laborers camped in tents or makeshift shelters or drove several miles from the nearest cities. The cities soon became overcrowded and housing became a real problem.

            In the early thirties, shortly after the beginning of the big depression, the drilling ceased and the pipe lines were all in. The only oil field work that was left was the pumping of the wells and the maintenance of the leases. The only oil field workers left were those who stayed to do the work. They lived in small company owned houses on the leases and became permanent residents of the community.

            A few days ago I received an email from a reader of my Old Timer website. This describes the life of many in those dark days:

ďHello: I have been reading about the old times you have written about. Thank you. It brought back memories of old times as we were growing up and making do with what we had. We worked in the cotton as Dad moved here and there looking for work, keeping us out of school picking cotton to lay in food for the winter. There was no work in the winter just a day here and there for Dad to do. We would live in the Labor camps in Ca, AZ, TX, But most of the time we would end up in the bottoms in Wagoner County, Oklahoma in the fall of the year where you did not have to pay rent to live in the old house and pick cotton for the farmer until cotton harvest was over but you could live in one of the old houses the rest of the year and work for any one else you wanted to but had to work for the farmer if he had any thing for you to do. It was a hard life but we had fun and could find things to do like hunt, fish, fight and play. No one gave us a hand out, we worked for it.Ē

            Some folks in the country were forced to steal occasionally to live.  When food was gone and the children were hungry a family member often took a little corn or fruit from anotherís field and on a few occasions, when no one was at home, they entered the house or the cellar and took a little flour, meal, salt or canned food. Country folks did not lock doors in those days. Those who were fortunate enough to have food available understood and usually made no effort to stop this thievery.

            I stayed home one Saturday to watch the place while my mother and father went to town. I was in the barn loft catching up on my reading and I saw an old automobile with a man and woman in the front seat turn in. They didnít stop at the house, but drove up the fence row toward the orchard. When they stopped and got out of the car I could see them plainly from my perch. The man took a two gallon pail from the back seat of the car and they walked to the pear tree. They quickly filled the bucket and drove back to the road. Apparently they didnít want anything else because the bucket of pears was all they took.

            I knew who they were and when I told my father all he said was, ďIím sure they needed them and we have plenty.Ē

            The depression was not a fun thing. We did have fun in other ways during those trying times but Iím sure we would have had fun even when there was prosperity!