1953 Drought, One of Many Challenges

The noteworthy drought of 1953 had an unusual beginning. In June, 1953, a “million dollar rain” delighted county farmers because conditions were excellent for the growing of corn and soybeans already planted and creating conditions for planting yet to be done. That same storm, however, also caused destruction. In Daviess and its neighboring counties, hail damaged rural power and telephone lines. Near Trenton it hailed for 15 minutes and hailstones piled 18 inches deep against the fences. Wheat fields were beaten to the ground, and many head of livestock lay lifeless.

The noteworthy drought of 1953 had an unusual beginning. In June, 1953, a “million dollar rain” delighted county farmers because conditions were excellent for the growing of corn and soybeans already planted and creating conditions for planting yet to be done.

That same storm, however, also caused destruction. In Daviess and its neighboring counties, hail damaged rural power and telephone lines. Near Trenton it hailed for 15 minutes and hailstones piled 18 inches deep against the fences. Wheat fields were beaten to the ground, and many head of livestock lay lifeless.

By July, a bumper crop of wheat was harvested and 94 freight cars shipped out of Daviess County — there was still wheat in the fields! One farmer harvested 53 bushel of wheat per acre.

However, these good times soon ceased. By September, all of Missouri was declared a drought disaster area. If the average monthly rainfall in this area for the last three months were continued for another nine months, this area would’ve been the driest spot in the United States.
The shortage of roughage feed was the biggest problem facing the state. A $5,500,000 Drought Relief Program helped provide low cost hay to the farmer. The drought affected almost all of country to some degree and almost every farm family in Daviess County felt its effects. Southern states were hurt even worse.

Farmer were allowed to purchase feed grains and feed supplements at reduced prices and to obtain emergency loans. The governor sent a committee to the northern states in an effort to locate badly needed hay. The state couldn’t purchase feed but it could locate a source of supply and arrange for its purchase. Many tons of Daviess County hay had been shipped to the southern states the previous year and in the spring of 1953. Now, the tide had turned and Daviess County farmers were in dire need of hay.

The Missouri Drought Emergency Program in Daviess County was eligible for 9,717 tons of hay. Anyone needing hay was required to make application at a local county agent’s office. The hay could be purchased for $17 to $20 a ton from the northern states. The government paid one-half to the transportation and dealers handled the hay at cost. Dealers handling the product in the Daviess County area were the MFA Exchanges at Gallatin, Pattonsburg and Coffey; Henry Green at Lock Springs; Reed Produce at Jamesport; and Owings Mill & Produce at Gallatin. Compared to the state, 175,000 tons of hay had been shipped to the drought stricken areas.

Bob Owings (center, holding truck dolly) owned and operated a feed and grain business located on East Van Buren Street. He also farmed and later became a presiding county judge serving Daviess County in the 1980s.

Farmers were entitled to obtain enough feed when added to that on hand to give them two tons for each unit of livestock on their farms. Many farmers had taken loans from to the government’s CCC program and was to be repaid when the crop was delivered to the receiving site at the specified time. Now, due to the drought’s grip, many were paying off their loans and keeping their corn for feeding purposes.

People throughout Missouri suffered extensive damage to the foundations and footings of their homes and other buildings due to the shrinkage and cracking of clay-type soil. This loss constituted an allowable deduction as a casualty loss by the Internal Revenue.

In November, a grave digger at the Hickory Grove Cemetery had to use three sticks of dynamite to loosen the soil. The digger said he’d dug approximately 600 graves in 37 different cemeteries in a span of 11 years. He said the toughest part of the digging came just after removing the topsoil; you’d hit a layer of hard clay and it was usually full of cracks. If a person was lucky he could pry off big chunks of it and save a lot of time digging. At one time, he’d removed a piece of this clay hard-pan in one piece that was 14 inches across and about 21 inches deep. It was so heavy he had to place two boards in the hole and roll it up to the ground’s surface.

There were many similarities and differences in the drought of the 50’s and the droughts during the Great Depression. The dry weather produced species of grasshoppers, corn ear worms, and beetles. There were sprays and insecticides to use at this time, an improvement over the Depression days.

The flow of water in Grand River was small, but at no point was it as low as during the Drought of 1934. When a good rain came, one man exclaimed, “I never dreamed I’d be glad to have a muddy barn lot, but I am.” In 1954, the Grand River was carrying five times the amount of the record low of August 1934, and the east branch of the river at Trenton had nine times the flow of same month in 1934.

Another unusual fact occurred in 1954 when a record breaking low temperature was recorded in the month of May. Temperatures dropped below freezing. Gallatin’s temperature was 34 degree F while some temperatures in the region dropped below freezing.

— researched by Wilbur Bush