WHEATFIELDS OF THE MIDWEST

by ehistoryadmin on July 10, 2018

Leinster Leader 27 July 1929

A GLIMPSE AT ONE OF THE CONTRY’S BIGGEST INDUSTRIES WHERE A GREAT ARMY OF WORKERS IS EMPLOYED

In July the wheat harvest of this nation is in full swing. Unaided and alone the farmers and permanent labourers could harvest but a fraction of the annual crop.  This means that tens of thousands of labourers must be marshalled and assembled at the right place and proper time, otherwise disaster and bankruptcy would face the wheat farmers followed by starvation on the part of the consumers.

People living in towns and cities cannot grasp the magnitude of the farmer’s task in feeding them. How many furrows are turned, how many swathes of grain are harvested, how many bundles are bound and stocked; how the threshing machines hum for long weary hours each day, all that the world may have its daily bread for which we pay.  These are facts which the average person knows but little.

A wonderful story, full of romance, lies back of the annual wheat harvest. In July, for instance, the great army of the western wheat fields, battling to garner the golden grain, out-number by far the entire peace-time strength of the U.S. Army but instead of being an army of destruction and desolation this is an army of peace and prosperity.  Wheat farming in the middle west, the north, and the north west, is a race between frost and frost.  As soon as the thaw starts in the spring men begin to flock to the wheat country.  They come from prairie towns, they come east and west from the lumber camps and saw mills.  Some are homesteaders, men with little places of their own too small to support them all Winter, others are “hired” men who go back like the robins.

At every prairie station you can see them dressed either in the canvas and fleeced coats of the plains or in the mackinaws of the woods, tumbling off trains. Good fellows they are, lean, clean shaven, humorous and game for anything.  They toss their duffle in buckboards, cutters, sleighs or bobsleds and are lost in the immense stretches that they are to aid presently in clothing with crops, and will later strip bare as they found them.  This is the first army that goes out.

The second army has answered the call and this army is none different except they are raw youngsters from eastern towns and cities out to earn bumper wages, men out of work, peasants from Europe, men who have been defeated in life’s struggle, others who are at the threshold looking into the future for the satisfaction of their desires. Then there are the young men eager for adventure, eager to earn money with which to pay their way through college.

All of these are crowded into clamorous excursion trains. The prairie towns contribute a few loafers whom necessity has driven to work, and there is a liberal sprinkling of the genus “hobo” anxious to pick up enough money to clear out and beat it down into Florida or California before winter sets in.  Every hand is needed, and there are few questions asked.  Saints, criminals, tramps, college professors, students, Swedes, Norweigans, Danes and, needless to say, a few Irish.  All classes are now toiling beneath a torrid sun in the wheat fields.  Who they are matters not with the landlord, his only thought is to get his grain on the market; as long as they can stand the trying ordeal they are sitting “purty”.

But for the myriads of migrant labourers who have but precious little of this world’s goods to lose, the wheat would decay in the stalks. What these men do between harvests no one seems to know and nobody cares.  Where they live, how they obtain food and shelter, what comforts and contentments are theirs, no one is concerned, not even our government.

The calls goes out only when their arms and backs are needed. From Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Manitoba, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington comes the harvest call which is answered by a motly throng from the four points of the compass.  They arrive on brake-beams, flivvers-hobos, and gentlemen-a wide and strange assortment of male humanity appears in the ranks of the harvest army.  These then are the leading characters in our annual wheat drama.

SEAMUS O’ KEEFFE

Late of Kilcock, Co. Kildare     .

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