Wall Street to RFD
Wall Street is halfway across the country from York County, Nebraska. Life was very different in urban and rural America. By the 1930s, rural residents had only had Rural Free Delivery (RFD) of mail for 25 years. Very fewfarms had electricity or indoor plumbing. News traveled somewhat slowly to places like York County. So, you might think that what happened in the urban east would not affect the rural west.
But it did.
In the first years of the Great Depression, the drought hadn’t started yet. Rain was still falling, and crops were still growing. But, so many people were out of work that the market for food and other agricultural products dried up – well before the fields did. Farmers could still grow crops, but they had trouble selling what they grew.
Walter Schmitt read about the stock market crash in the local newspaper. At the time, he was a teenager working in his father’s blacksmith shop in Gresham. Pretty soon, he saw many in the community lose their jobs.
Some left for California. Walter realized that the two events were connected. “It affected the small community just like it probably affected the larger cities.”
LeRoy Hankel watched as the prices his dad got for crops fell well below what they had been. And with commodity prices dropping, the price for land used to grow those crops dropped too. “It just dropped to nothing,” LeRoy says.
Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.