Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, October 28, 2017

My Father Said ... 1

When we talked, my father, Joe Rhode, first made a cup of coffee. We sat across from each other at the drop-leaf table in the kitchen. (I still have the table.) In my memory, I can see Dad in his well-washed overalls and blue denim shirt with his boyish countenance alternately beaming or frowning, depending on the story he was telling at the moment. During our conversation on the 7th of June in 1999, my father said, “The hot days in 1934 began in May. The temperature surpassed 100 in the first week of June.” In fact, the temperature was 102 degrees Fahrenheit in nearby Crawfordsville, Indiana, on the 1st and 2nd of June in that year. Toward the end of the month, my father’s thermometer registered 104 degrees on two days. “Old, weak, or hard-worked horses died,” Dad said, “as well as a few young ones.”

How to Form a Barrier to Chinch Bugs
Photograph in Thomas D. Isern’s
“Folk Entomology in the Flint Hills of Kansas”
In Kansas History (Autumn 1996)

My father continued, “In early June, just as corn was eight or so inches tall, the chinch bugs attacked. Farmers dug shallow ditches around their fields. They used a horse or two to drag a pole through the ditch. The pole knocked the bugs into post holes, placed every four or five rods. Before the bugs could crawl out again, a helper poured a little creosote into the hole from a dipper dipped in a bucket. This killed the bugs. Corn yielded fifteen to twenty-five bushels per acre that year.”

The terrible conditions of 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression were a harbinger of what was to come only two years later: one of the most devastating heat waves in the history of North America.

Dad recalled, “In 1936, the heat lasted longer, and conditions were drier. From May 29th through the third week of July, no substantial rain fell. A few local showers wet the sidewalks. A period of extreme heat in July yielded a stretch of at least nine days with the temperature consistently above 100 degrees.” Indiana’s all-time record high of 116 was set in July of that year. “Corn yielded twenty-five to thirty-five bushels per acre in 1936,” my father added. He explained that there was a corn yield because sufficient rain had fallen in May: more rain than fell in May of 1934.

“Chinch bugs were not a problem in 1936,” said Dad. “There had been a heavy rain the night of May 29th, killing the chinch bugs. That evening was the graduation night at Pine Village High School,” when my father was Valedictorian and Senior Class President. On the 1st of June, he embarked upon his farming career with Marshall Rhode, Dad’s uncle. Circumstances were inauspicious, yet my father persisted, testifying to his hope for better times to come and his trust in agriculture.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Spare Moments at My Folks' Farm 6 (Last Installment in This Series)

Each July, the 4-H fair in Williamsport, Indiana, occupied my family’s fullest attention. For months leading up to the event, we had prepared by training young pigs and cows in how to walk and pose like runway models. For our gardening exhibits, we had grown cabbages larger than our heads. We had made crafts, and we had snapped photographs. Using tweezers, we had even painstakingly selected the largest wheat grains from a bushel of wheat to exhibit—as if all our wheat were that free from chaff and imperfections. As we were enrolled in so many projects, we had tasks to fulfill nearly every day. Finally, when the week of the fair rolled around, we were not only ready but also excited to collect ribbons for our achievements. (Be sure to read my blog about our Holstein cow named Buttercup:

Buttercup at the Warren County (Indiana) Fair

We hoped for sweepstakes rosettes, and we received them in such projects as entomology, but we usually had to settle for purple champion ribbons, blue first place ribbons, or red second place ribbons for our livestock.

Wearing My Scrooge McDuck Hat
(Which I Still Have)
While Getting Buttercup Ready
For the 4-H Judging

For me, the most enjoyable of the many enjoyable facets of the fair was the social interaction. By the time that I was in high school, I was working in the Junior Leaders building whenever my township was called upon to provide the crew. Picture a white-painted, square structure in the center of the slightly rolling grounds. Off to the north were rows of brand-spanking-new tractors and farm implements. To the northwest were the rides, lit with colored bulbs at night. To the south stood the cafeteria, and to the east stretched the coliseum filled with animals. We Junior Leaders sold ice cream in cups and cones and soft drinks in various sizes. Our hands tingled from holding the cold scoops to scrape ice cream into “dips,” or servings. We set the icy soft drinks on the counters, which were formed by dropping them down on hinges from three sides of the building. Whenever judging in the show ring ended, we were swamped with business. Fairgoers strolled from the coliseum to our location and lined up around the counters. We flew from the ice cream freezers to the soft drink dispensers to the napkin holders. … and we quickly calculated amounts and made change. While we were at it, we did not forget to have fun. An abundance of jovial banter went back and forth while we worked.

The Way I Remember the Farm
In We Do It Together
Vol. 2, No. 7
Part 3 for April 19, 1959

Throughout the years that I participated in the 4-H fair, I derived tremendous satisfaction from the evening when it was my township’s turn to run the cafeteria. From the time I became old enough to carry a rubber dishpan full of plates and silverware, I kept busy bussing tables. The pace was fast, for the cafeteria did a lot of business, especially during the evening meal—and Adams Township had the dinner on Wednesday evening, which was one of the busiest dinners of them all!

My father and his good friend Don Akers stood shucking sweet corn just outside the back door of the large building on those hot summer nights while I strode briskly from table to table, collecting the dishes, knives, forks, and spoons to carry to the line of volunteers washing the dishes in back. Most of the farm families thought of pleasant things to say to me as I quickly cleaned the tables. I had to listen carefully, as the hum of voices was loud and steady within the spacious cafeteria building with every seat taken at every table.

Only when the hour was late did the lines of patrons diminish, enabling us to slow our pace. Around midnight, my father had finished his clean-up tasks, and we went home, tired but as happy as people can be who have literally served their neighbors.