FIRST IT WAS A TORNADO, THEN A DROUGHT, THEN THE CHINCH BUGS CAME…

It was a miserable, hot, dry summer in 1934.  The farmers of Schaumburg Township were worried about their crops and whether they’d have anything to harvest.  Following the devastating effects of the tornado that touched down in July of 1933, this was the last thing the area needed.

These were, after all, the years of the Dust Bowl and Illinois was not unaffected.   Not only did the dust from the Plains states make its way to this state but Illinois also entered an extended period of dryness beginning in the early 1930s.  In the spring and summer of 1934, the situation began to get worse.  It quickly became apparent that if rain didn’t come soon, the farmers would lose their crops.  Doing so would not only affect the family’s finances but also the animals that depended on the corn, oats, hay, silage and bedding that the crops provided.

Unfortunately, the rain did not appear.  But the chinch bugs did.  This indigenous insect positively feasted on the sap of the wheat, oat and corn plants.  According to Norman Freise, an oral historian, “They would attack the corn.  The corn stalk would be covered with them.”  To prevent the bugs from invading their fields, the farmers began plowing a strip around the circumference of their corn fields.  With drums of creosote provided by the federal government and passed out by the Cook County Farm Bureau, they began spreading the liquid daily around the fields.  “Turned back by the repellant creosote the bugs crawl along the ditch until they fall into post holes dug in the bottom of the furrow at intervals.  A daily dose of kerosene poured into the bottom of each post hole then finishes the job.”  Daily Herald, June 22, 1934.

The only up side of the chinch bug explosion was related by Norman Freise in his oral history.  This was the second year of the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago.  For the mere price of a pint jar of chinch bugs, Norm and his brother each were able to gain entrance into the Fair.  Since there was no shortage of the pests, the brothers enjoyed the fair a couple of times.

As the summer and the drought progressed, the farmers were forced to come up with alternatives for feeding their animals.  Ralph Engelking, another oral historian, mentioned that his father had to buy fodder corn for the animals.   This is a rough, loose feed that often consists of coarsely chopped stalks and leaves of corn mixed with hay, straw and other plants. Norman Freise’s father planted buckwheat as an alternative to corn to feed their  hogs. 

Fortunately, it appears the wells did not run dry on the farms of Schaumburg Township.  Of course, we cannot confirm this for every farm but it was never mentioned by any of our oral historians.  Schaumburg Township seldom had moisture problems.  It had both areas of glacial till—particularly in the eastern portion— where there were naturally occurring springs, and low marshy areas that often required tiling so that they could be used as fields.  In fact, Norman Freise said that when digging a well on their property, his father hit water at a mere 50 ft.  Others mentioned the high water table in the area, including Mary Lou (Link)Reynolds who lived on today’s Spring Valley property.  She said there were periods where they could stick a shovel in the ground and water would appear.  Unfortunately, in 1934 the surface water dried up and left the fields in desolate conditions.

Sadly, some of the farmers did not recover from this down year.  With no crops to profit from and cows and pigs to feed, some of the farmers were stretched to their limits.  This was the fifth year of the depression and the drought simply compounded any issues the family might have had.  Some were forced to sell their farms to others around them who were more fortunate or they looked further afield to the city dwellers who were interested in–and could afford–a rural getaway.  The drought of 1934 was just one thing too many piled on top of a list of hardships and, to this day, is the driest summer on record.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

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