The ‘important’ issues of November 1938

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Eighty years ago this month, in November 1938, I had just turned 5 in August and was probably happily anticipating Christmas.

There was no kindergarten or preschool of any kind in those days, but my mother was making sure that I knew how to read and write (home-schooling was unheard of as well, but that’s what she was doing).

Earlier that year, I had watched a man climb a pole outside our farmhouse to connect the electric lines and from then on we had electricity at our disposal (we did have a Delco light plant prior to this), although it was a few more years before Dad installed an electric pump so water didn’t have to be hand-pumped from a well outside the kitchen, or carried from a spring (complete with resident frog) down over the hill in the front yard.

I’m not sure Dad was taking the Farm Journal magazine in those late depression years (he did later for sure), but I have a copy in my collection and it makes interesting reading today.

In a feature article by Millard E. Tydings, a Democrat senator from Maryland (who sounds more like a Republican in those “New Deal” days), he wrote saying that Social Security needed changed as it was unfair to farmers because they weren’t covered under it but would inevitably be taxed to pay benefits to others in the future.

He also decried the “mountain of debt” the government had accumulated (a paltry $37,164,740,315.45 in 1938 as opposed to more than $21 trillion today).

In one story, dairy industry representatives agreed that something must be done to reduce surplus dairy products, while in the very next article an Oregon Jersey cow named Sybil Tessie Lorna, was celebrated for producing 1,020.52 pounds of butterfat in 305 days.

Sybil’s 5.9 percent milk was said to be worth $800 at 10 cents a quart, while her entire feed cost for the period was $122.

High school students in Asbury Park, New Jersey, boycotted the school lunch counter because the cost of a half-pint of milk had been raised from a nickel to 6 cents.

The crisis in Europe was big news with the recent Munich agreement, where Hitler got back the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, prompting the editor to write, “The democracies have lost their first real skirmish with the dictatorships. Both sides will have to increase their armaments, and Europe promises to become an armed camp as it was before 1914.”

A few poetic reminders appeared as Topics in Season: “Biddy turns farm grains to cash. The tool she needs is laying mash.”

“Autumn rains are your reminder, To house the mower, combine and binder.”

“Cornstalks make a mulch that pleases. Don’t put them on until it freezes.” (The mulch was for strawberries.)

“Now’s your chance to put on lime. In spring you may not have the time.”

“For milk, the only rhyme you need, Is real good cows, plus real good feed.”

Soil-less farming

There was a story about “Soil-less Farming,” where plants are grown in tanks filled with a liquid nutrient solution.

The Ohio Experiment Station claimed that in 1937 it had grown 300 bushels of corn per acre in these solution tanks, while a professor at the University of California claimed “truly phenomenal” per acre results — 500 bushels of corn, 2,465 bushels of potatoes and 1,742 tons of tomatoes.

However, a soil expert at the University of Illinois announced that the soil-less method “will probably never compete seriously with crops grown in the usual way.”


Ads included those for Farmall F-14, F-20 and F-30 tractors, the “glamorous” 1939 Plymouth Roadking car, Firestone Ground Grip tires, Camel cigarettes, several different pipe tobaccos, Prestone anti-freeze, and Hood “Rubaflex” mud rubbers and boots.

In the Women’s Section, a “Simple Thanksgiving Dinner” was discussed that included roast turkey with stuffing, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, baked squash, celery, cranberry jelly, olives, hot rolls, cabbage and pineapple salad, mince pie and ice cream, coffee, milk and salted nuts.

In another story, women were told that the new fashions featured exaggerated shoulders, soft blouses and simple skirts, and it offered several dress patterns that could be ordered by sending in the return postage.

Women were advised to avoid “That Winter Complexion!” by using lots of cleansing, foundation and “nourishing” creams.

Ads in this section were for Duo-Therm fuel oil space heaters, Fels-Naptha soap (Banish Tattle-Tale Gray), Zenith radios, Kalamazoo stoves, Arm & Hammer and Cow Brand baking soda, Gold Medal flour, and “Why Shiver?” when you can wear a knitted slip from Indera Mills.

Crop yields

Average crop yields across the country for 1938 were reported to be, in bushels per acre: corn, 26.3; winter wheat, 13; spring wheat, 11; and oats, 28.8. Apparently not enough farmers were growing soybeans in 1938 to even put that crop on the list.

Under 4-H news it was reported that twin bull calves were born at the 1938 Ohio State Fair to a Union County girl’s entry and a day later a Fairfield County girl’s entry calved as well.

Under the heading of “Now Is The Time To –” is the following advice: husk corn, give thanks, go hunting, dehorn feeder steers, rent a locker for meat, cut dead trees in the woodlot, use chlorates for killing weeds, tell your wife she is getting slender, go over the trap lines and get traps ready, clean the spray rig and put it in the shed,

Change oil and gear grease in auto and tractor, provide livestock and poultry with plenty of water, put guards on young orchard trees to prevent mouse and rabbit damage, put drinking cups, metal stanchions, ventilation and insulation in the dairy barn.

And, finally, from a page titled “Passed by the Non-Sensor,” come these two gems:

DICK — “How come you don’t like girls?

DOC — “Oh, They’re too biased!”

DICK  — “Biased?”

DOC — “Yes, biased. It’s bias this and bias that until I’m flat broke!”

SON — “Daddy, how soon will I be old enough to do as I please?”

DADDY — “I couldn’t say, son — no one has ever yet lived that long.”

I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving, and remember to give thanks for our troops around the world.


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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.



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