Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The 1930 heat wave & a threshing disaster

We're having something of a heat wave here this week, as indicated by that big rust-colored splotch on this morning's national weather map. And it's dry in Lucas County. Nothing like the legendary 1934, of course --- but hot and dry enough.

Back in the 1930s, Lucas County had its own weather observer, Clarkson C. Burr, whose farm out in Warren Township was equipped the the latest in government-approved weather observation gear and who provided The Leader and The Herald-Patriot with weekly updates, routinely published on front pages in the days before forecasts and summaries were available instantly on any number of digital devices.

Here's his Leader report from July 15, 1930, the year that kicked off a grim decade in terms of  both weather and economic conditions:

The Weather Made People Hunt Shade

For a Week the Temperature Averaged More than One hundred Degrees and in Harvest at That

"July 14, 1930 --- The temperature for the past week was 100 or above, on five of the seven days, and it was the  busiest week of the year, as the grain harvest was in full swing; the wheat and barley were taken care of, and one of the largest and best oats crops ever grown in the county was saved. An immense amount of hay was put up, while others were giving their attention to the belated corn, and much of the replanting was given the last plowing, while the harvest of grain waited.

"Monday started in with a record of an even 100 degrees. This was followed by 102, then two days of 105, and as there was but little air movement, the heat became almost unbearable and resulted in many fatalities of both horses and men in the harvest field. Iowa and Nebraska appeared to get the full force of the heat wave and northern Iowa reported higher mercury than we had. The highest temperature reported was from a station in Missouri, 112 degrees. All of these records are from stations equipped with government instruments; in the best shade, or weather house shelter; to this we must add 20 degrees to find the average heat in the harvest fields where the field work is done.

"The sunshine was 100 percent until Saturday noon, when clouds appeared, with a trace of rain, and the mercury dropped suddenly from 101 to 66 degrees, to the relief of everyone.

"On Thursday when we were sweltering at 105, we were advised that Canada weather was only 42 degrees above, and the movement was coming south, and it required full two days to reach Iowa.

"To find anything to compare with last week we have to go back to the first week in August, 1918, when there was a heat wave of four days' duration, and the last day the mercury climbed to 110, and this was accompanied by a hot wind that wilted all vegetation and did immense damage in many states, and in Iowa some of the early corn that was in tassel was damaged  as to yield; this was followed by an old fashioned storm that broke the heat wave, while at the present time, our much needed rain has not appeared. On Monday morning the temperature was down to 52 degrees --- a very radical change. --- C.C. Burr"


As the heat accelerated in Lucas County that long-ago July, huge threshing machines --- some horse-drawn and others pulled by tractors of one variety or another --- were lumbering from oat field to oat field to perform their duties in stationary splendor.

One ran into considerable trouble on the Blue Grass Road just southeast of Chariton, as reported in the July 15 Leader under the headline, "A Burlington Train Created Sad Havoc: West Bound No. 9 Struck Burnett's Threshing Outfit, Completely Wrecking It."

"A somewhat unusual accident happened southeast of town on Thursday evening which may result in a court inquisition, as a few years ago there was a similar case happened on the Rock Island, northeast of Chariton.

"Now that harvest has well advanced and the threshing season is at hand, R.M. Burnett, who owns and operates the Bartholomew farm, later purchased by C.S. Hechtner, assembled his threshing outfit and was preparing it for service, soon expecting to get it into commission.

"He had attached the traction engine on the separator, and with all other things entrain, was proceeding down the road west of the Scott farm and undertook to cross the railroad track shortly before passenger train No. 9 was scheduled to go west. He claims there was plenty of time, but owing to the soft dirt on the crossing at the side of the track the drivers sank in such manner as not to gain the necessary purchase to cross over.

"Realizing the situation, he started down the track to flag the train on its approach, but it was near upon them and not being able to halt in time, suddenly crashed into the barriers with disastrous effect. 

"When tractors are used as the transporting motive powers of grain separators it will be called to mind that the front of the separator extends probably two-thirds of the way over the tractor, so it all appears as one machine. The locomotive struck the threshing outfit about midway, completely cutting the separator squarely in two, leaving the severed and dead equipment by the roadside upon the highway. Both separator and tractor are now junk --- a heavy financial loss." 

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