From the book about Southwest and South Central Kansas
Submitted by Cecil A. Unruh of Hutchinson, Kansas
Born June 19, 1923 on a farm seven miles south of Greensburg, Kansas in Kiowa County, I am the seventh of eight children to Jacob and Susie Unruh. Today I am the only living member of this family.
I can recall childhood events back to 1927 when I was five years old. That was the last year we harvested the wheat crop with a horse-drawn header. It took six horses to pull the header, which would cut the heads of wheat from straw and elevate them into a large hay wagon, pulled by two horses, which trailed alongside the header. When full, the straw in the wagon was pitched by hand into a large, neat stack and left to dry. Later in the season, the stacks were pitched into a steam-powered threshing machine, which separated the grain from the wheat straw. While my brother and I carried drinking water to the threshing crew, we were not allowed to get near any machinery.
The next year, Dad purchased his first tractor and combine, which was a great improvement for our bountiful wheat crop. Our new combine was not self- propelled, so a tractor was needed to pull it. After the second year of the bumper crop, a severe drought devastated the region, and the prevailing winds caused huge dust storms. By 1933, the country had fallen into the Great Depression. The market that sustained the farmer plummeted. Wheat was 25 cents per bushel, cattle were five cents per pound, and hogs were three cents per pound. There was a run on the banks, and many failed.
Our new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, called for a four-day bank holiday, which restored stability. At the same time, the president initiated new programs to help the economy, including federal loans for productive farmers who needed assistance, the planting of shelterbelts (rows of trees) which prevented the wind from eroding the soil, and farmland management programs that encouraged crop rotation to further preserve soil nutrients. By 1938, the drought was over and we were once again able to plant and harvest wheat and other grains.
I am among the second generation of a group that emigrated from Ukraine to the United States and settled in Kansas. These people experienced difficult lives, but hard times on our Kansas farm were just a way of life for us. Our family was poor, but as farmers, we were resourceful and raised our own food. We had cherry and mulberry fruit trees. The summer garden produced potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, peas, green beans, cabbage, and radishes. The root vegetables were safely stored in an underground storm shelter, which doubled as storage for glass jars filled with pickled vegetables. Farmers needed their children to help with the farm work. Many farmers had as many as eight to ten children.
Our farm was modest, but we all worked hard to make a living for the family. Each child had daily chores, including working horses, milking cows by hand, feeding hogs, feeding chickens, and gathering eggs. Since there was no running water, we children carried water into the home. There was no electricity either, but we had kerosene lamps to light the home. We would use the lamps in the early mornings to light the barn where we milked the cows. The cows would come into the dimly lit barn and find their places, where they would feed while we milked them.
Everyone in our family had important duties to accomplish. My mother and sisters prepared three meals a day on a wood or coal fueled cook stove. All cooking or baking bread required a well-stocked fire. One side of the stove had a water reservoir, which was kept warm by the resident heat. The stove also heated a heavy iron for pressing the cloths. The women stitched their own dresses, and used the wringer washer to do the laundry. They would crank a handle to agitate the clothes inside the washtub, and then the clothes were cranked through a wringer and hung outside on a wire line to dry.
Dogs were very important on our farm; however, they were never allowed to be in the farmhouse. In the summer months, they would sleep outside of the house. In the winter months, they slept in the cattle barn. When we got ready to do our work, the dog was always there waiting for us. Our dog worked with us all day getting cattle from the pasture to the farmstead. Cats were also important for keeping the farm free of mice. Every morning we fed our dogs and cats milk and leftover food from the kitchen table.
I remember Grade School District 26, which was a rural, one-room schoolhouse that also served as a church and a voting precinct. Each county in Kansas had a school superintendent. That superintendent was responsible for all schools in his or her county. When a child had successfully passed all eights grades, he or she was required to take a final test. They would need to go to another school district to take the written test and must have a passing grade to enter high school. Our school was located in the center of the district, ensuring that children would not have to walk more than a mile and a half from any direction. The district included children from no fewer than 14 farms. We carried tin lunch pails with an ad for Karo corn syrup on the side, complete with a wire handle and a lid that would seal the food. Mother would pack a peanut butter sandwich or a home-cured ham sandwich made with her homemade bread, an apple, and a homemade cookie.
Farm children were required to go to grade school eight months out of a year. The other four months they were needed to help on the farm. Two of my brothers and I walked to school every day. To get to school we walked across a wheat field into a cattle pasture until we came to a county road. The distance was one half mile. There we met four other children and walked with them on the county road for one half mile. At that point, we met four more children and all walked another half mile to our school. Once there, the boys would help bring in a supply of coal for the large stove, and would pump drinking water from the well.
We began our school day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which was followed by a brief prayer. Each December the students would prepare a Christmas program for our parents. My favorite teacher was Arthur Unruh (no relation) who taught us when we were in the seventh and eighth grades. I remember learning to play the harmonica in class with 18 other students. The schoolyard was large. It was supplied with a merry-go-round, a large swing, and a teeter-totter. On one side, there was room for us to play baseball.
After school, we walked back home and had a short rest period that might include a sugar cookie. Since we had evening chores, our teachers rarely assigned homework. Free time later in the evening might include checkers or Chinese checkers. After passing all eight grades, students wanted to continue their education at a high school. Dad bought a used Ford coupe, and we drove it seven miles to Greensburg High School for four years.
Worship was an important part of our upbringing, our minister was himself a farmer, and services were held on Sunday morning as well as Sunday evening. The Sunday Children would present a Christmas program.
The world changed abruptly for us on December 7 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States was thrust into World War II. This was the beginning of a new era. World War II lasted from 1942 to 1945 and changed the world forever.
In conclusion: I have been the witness of more development then any generation in this world. 1941 for us began a great change. This change had no boundary, no limitations. An industrious age had begun. After World War II, farmers no longer needed horses for farming and new factories were being developed for making farm machinery. Agriculture colleges started development of hybrid grains. Factories were built to manufacture cars, jet airplanes, computers, laptop computers, and cell phones. The first cars had to be started using a hand crank, however today you only need to push a button from inside your house to start your car. In my lifetime, I also saw a biblical prophecy fulfilled. In 1948, Israel became a nation. Isaiah 60 reads, “I will again bring my people to their land which I the Lord have promised.”