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.