I just read “The Worst Hard Time” again.
No, I understood it perfectly well the first time about three years ago. It just seemed much more relevant this summer with our on-going drought.
In the early 2000s Timothy Egan was wise enough to research and interview some who had survived the Dust Bowl. His book chronicles several families, beginning with what brought them to the area where Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado met and almost died together in the 1930s.
The book begins with the euphoria of getting free land in one of the last areas to be opened to homesteading in America in the early 1900s, then covers the combination of unusually high amounts of rain and record wheat prices.
The bulk of Egan’s book details what followed as the combination of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression settled over the area. Here just a few tidbits from the book -
- In 1935 850 million tons of topsoil blew from the southern plains. That was about 8 million tons were every U.S. resident.
-Through the Dust Bowl farmers lost about 480 tons of soil per acre.
-The resulting dust storms caused by farmed lands being open and a serious drought caused some dust storms to be up to 10,000 feet high and 200 miles wide.
-Some of the biggest storms blew far enough east to coat New York and the White House in thick layers of dust. Ships 200 miles out in the Atlantic reported being enveloped in the storms.
-The dust was so bad many animals suffocated or had their digestive tracts blocked by mud from dust they’d inhaled mixing with body liquids.
-The storms were so ferocious the sand blew hard enough to permanently blind people caught outdoors. Some storms so blocked the sun and were so thick people literally couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces in the middle of the day.
-Static electricity was often so bad people shaking hands would both be knocked to the ground. Cars often shorted-out from the electricity in the air.
-The toll on humans was horrendous. Many people died of what was called dust pneumonia. Some actually starved while others resorted to eating road-kills and canned tumbleweeds.
The Worst Hard Time focuses on the people who gutted it out from start to stop. First-hand accounts from people interviewed tell how hard things were and how hard so many worked to simply survive.
The book also details how then controversial conservation programs worked to help right the longtime wrong man in that region brought upon themselves by poor farming practices.
To me, at least, this was all more relevant because that region is currently in a drought the rivals the one of the 1930s.
CLICK HERE TO READ A RECENT STORY WRITTEN ABOUT THIS YEAR’S DROUGHT BY THE EAGLE’S BECCY TANNER. Be sure to check out her photos in the photo gallery with the article.
Egan’s idea to research the book before the last of the Dust Bowl survivors had passed was excellent and his writing is very good.
The Worst Hard Time is published by Houghton Mifflin. Sorry, I can’t give you a page length because I read it on a Kindle. It’s a sizable book but I’d loved for it to have been even longer.
Hard copies go for about $18.50. Soft copies and Kindle versions are about $8.75.
I’ll be heading out to buy some paperback versions. I can’t wait to share it with some friends.