RFD to Main Street
Farmers depend on towns to supply them with everything from machinery to groceries they can’t raise themselves. Small towns in rural America depend on farmers for their very existence. The connection between agriculture and the small town was never more critical than during the Depression.
Walter Schmitt (right) was in business with his father providing blacksmithing services to farmers around Gresham. Walter knew that 95 to 98 percent of their income came from farmers. Walter, his dad and other business people in Gresham took the task of bringing farmers into town very seriously. And, as more and more farmers bought cars, Gresham competed with all the other towns in the area to attract customers.
Carla Due understood the importance of the farmers to the towns. “You know, the businessmen in town had quite a time making it too. When the farmer don’t have any money, they don’t either.” So as the prices for agricultural commodities dropped, so did the profits for town businesses.
This competition to attract farmers to their town wasn’t really new. But in the 30s, despite the Depression, towns had a new weapon – movies with sound, the “talkies” debuted in 1928 and became common during the 30s. Towns showed free movies on the side of a building, and as Walter remembers it, towns without a free movie every Wednesday or Friday night were at a disadvantage.
For farmers like Elroy Hoffman (right), going to town meant a chance to sell eggs their chickens had produced that week, and the cream that they separated from the whole milk. As in the 20s, the egg and cream money was usually the only cash a family had between harvest seasons. Businesses stayed open late to buy the produce and to sell the groceries, hardware and gas that farmers needed in return.
And for a kid like Cliff Peterson (left), going to town offered the chance to spend some hard-earned money on wondrous toys – like a pop gun.
Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.