GRANDMA'S DIARIES • July 1954: Plagues Of Heat, Locusts

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July 1954 is a reminder that our families had to be really strong to get through a summer that was abnormally hot and dry.  Livestock and poultry died in the heat. Throw in a plague of grasshoppers that could strip whole fields of crops overnight, and Central Illinois became a disaster area. This combination of events was not only devastating to the farm families, but also affected the merchants and others in the community who depended on the financial success of the farmers. Grandma also had a personal thorn in her side, her 12-year-old granddaughter, Carole, who tried her patience with a less than enthusiastic attitude toward a 4-H project. I would like to think that perhaps the heat had a lot to do with my lack of appreciation for her help.

Thursday, July 1, 1954–Rained in a.m. Alberta in bed. Albert helped me wash. We finally got it dry enough for me to iron it. McKinzie combined our oats one day this week. We had 120 bushels or more. He also combined the rye in the brooder house lot. Had about five bushels. Kenneth March sprayed for grasshoppers, see July 6.

Friday, July 2, 1954–Hot. Mercury stands at 90 to 100 every day. We have called off our get-together of kinfolks at Taylorville on the Fourth because Alberta can't go. I sure have my hands full to get everything done. Got notice I must take a driver's test.

Saturday, July 3, 1954–Hot. I got morning work done. Albert and Billy went to Homer's for a short day. I took cream and eggs to Litchfield in p.m. Carl went also and got Billy a John Deere tractor and combine. We got such a good watermelon.

Sunday, July 4, 1954–Hot. We planned to take a ride past the Athe Sammons place and on, but John Keith came before noon, so we had dinner and went right after. Merle and children came in evening. 

Monday, July 5, 1954–We washed. Alberta is still weak, but she got her ironing done. Also packed. Albert went to Homer's for a last visit. All here for a final visit at night. Albert bought ice cream for the bunch.

Tuesday, July 6, 1954–Sundog a.m. Carl got damp from a small shower. Got Albert and Alberta off at 5 a.m. Billy didn't want to go home. Every time he has been here, he was intrigued with a bit of railroad iron. He told me that Grandpa had two pieces. Carole came to have help on a 4-H dress skirt and blouse. Why they fool around until the last minute almost is beyond me. Carl paid Kenneth Marsh $38 to spray grasshoppers. Paid $22.95 for spray material.

Wednesday, July 7, 1954–Carl finished plowing beans. Carole cut out her blouse. I had to help her sew or she never would have gotten it done. Carl paid McKinzie $130 for combining 26 acres wheat, oats and rye.

Thursday, July 8, 1954–Cool, 60 degrees. I washed for I had a good bit of extra bedding. Carole worked again on her skirt and blouse. Finally got the blouse completed about 3 p.m. Guess I have forgotten how slow a beginner can be. She and I came nearer at sword points with each other than at any other time. I would be very reluctant to help her again. No enthusiasm whatever.

Friday, July 9, 1954–J. Hall report is road will be oiled at 10 a.m. No oil yet. I took eggs to Litchfield. We had three-and-a-half dozen last week of under grades at .12 per dozen. Awful! I ironed before noon. I sure am tired. Rested most of the afternoon. Went to Hawkins and came back through his farm. Got hung up in one of his ditches. Hawkins helped push it out.

Tuesday, July 13, 1954–Sun dog a.m., the sixth this year. What has the weather been like? Answer: building up to a hot climax. Mrs. Keith and I went to Home Bureau at Pocklington’s. The girls modeled their 4-H gowns. Kids all came at night and brought ice cream and cake. They gave me a crepe night gown and slip. 

Wednesday, July 14, 1954–112 degrees on shaded porch, 105 degrees in the house. Almost a hot wind. Seared the corn. Wind was a little north of west. We took off at 5 a.m. to see if we could locate Earl Sorrells to spray our corn for grasshoppers. Went to Harold Weller's where they said the grasshoppers took a whole field in one night. We got Earl located and was promised he would get here after noon. He did. Carl paid him for labor and material. First day of the Morrisonville Picnic. Larry rode Rascal in parade, but too hot for us to go anyway. He got no prize. I made Carl a pair of pajamas. I don't get so hot if I work. I took eggs, 15 dozen, and cream to Litchfield. Cream, .53 cents. (The following is from a Springfield newspaper article pasted to this page of her diary: “The weather station at Capital Airport recorded 112 degrees at 3:45 p.m. ...the old record of 109.5 degrees was decisively smashed. The old mark also was set on July 14, 1936, ...Out on central Illinois highways, the fierce heat wilted tourists. Scores pulled off the pavement to seek temporary relief beneath roadside shade trees.”)

Thursday, July 15, 1954–Temperature slid down from 6 p.m. I got off for Hillsboro to take my driver's test. Had eye test. My eyes are not too good. Made 100 on a 20-question written test. Will go back tomorrow for the driving test. We went to the Morrisonville Picnic in the p.m. No excitement. No crowd.

Friday, July 16, 1954–Not too hot. John Keith’s have lost 24 hens from heat. They asked for two dozen eggs to fill their orders. Hens have almost quit laying. We got 65 eggs. We lost two hens from the heat wave. I finished my driving lesson and got my permit to drive. The examiner was very nice to me.

Saturday, July 17, 1954–Mrs. Jay Hall wants to buy a pound of unsalted butter. Must churn it this morning. Finished at 9 a.m. Larry and Jimmy Mutchler came to cut corn out of the beans. Linda spent the day with me. Howy Ward reports loss of three sows: his male hog, two gilts and maybe more. (Article from Springfield newspaper laid in. “Rain-starved Mattoon plans 'operation seeding' to bring relief to parched corn and soybean crops in the area. Clouds over the Mattoon area ...will be seeded with chemicals Monday in an effort to make them give up much needed rain. ...it is their only hope to save the crops....”)

Sunday, July 18, 1954–Another day of near hot winds. Wind in the south which turned to northwest by 4 p.m. That wind is so hot. I went to Sunday School. We had a left over meal. This is the worst day I have passed through. The bed and pillows were too hot to lie on.

Monday, July 19, 1954–Hot! Larry and Jim Mutchler came about four to chop corn out of the beans. Our car developed a bad noise when being driven slow. We took it to Raymond. It had a rivet out of the right front wheel brake band. We went on to Wayne's. He was dragging ground to later sow alfalfa. Carl got a bad fall out of the chicken house door. Got a cut lip.

Tuesday, July 20, 1954–Hot! Got the boys up and out to work about 5:30. They got done at 9 a.m. Figured they each worked 13 hours. Carl paid them $5 each. I washed and later ironed. Took the boys home. In p.m. we took 26 dozen eggs to Litchfield. Grade A are 48 cents, but not many of them graded as such. Carl had Dr. Henderson straighten his glasses which got bent in the fall. Merle, Margie and Connie came to dig potatoes. Connie wanted to wash the car. (Springfield newspaper article laid in. (“The drought that has hit central Illinois...began in 1952 when only 30 inches of rain, six inches below normal. ...In 1953 ...only 24 inches fell, 12 inches below normal. ...this year we have had only 13.9 inches...seven inches below normal. ...there is little that can be done to cope with the damage. The soil is depleted of moisture and not until the kindness of Providence sends rain will there be an alleviation.” )

Wednesday, July 21, 1954–Cloudy, not so hot. We left for Taylorville for the fair at 11:30. Rained on us on the way up there. Too wet to have horse races. Fields of corn look completely scalded. Will not even make ensilage. Farm Advisers advise the farmers to hold off cutting the corn. Tom Dammann started hauling fodder past here to feed his cattle on the west 80 acres.

Thursday, July 22, 1954–.7 inches of rain. We went to Taylorville to the fair, and they had their races. Carl and I found seats in the amphitheater. We picked the winners in our judgment, but Carl later said he got tired picking the one that was last one in.

Sunday, July 25, 1954–I went to church and Sunday School. We ate dinner and then took a drive through Irving, Greenville, Sorento and home. Crops look as bad or worse than they do around here. TV news man says 120 miles of Illinois from Springfield south is a disaster area. Neoma Stein and Don Boliard married at Butler Presbyterian Church.

Tuesday, July 27, 1954–Hot and dry, no rain. Myron Hawkins went to Nokomis to see if he could find a man to drill deeper in his stock well. The water scarcity is very, very bad. So many are boiling water. 

Friday, July 30, 1954–Hot 100 degrees. Almost hot wind again. Carl disked on the 20 acres. Carl says this hot day has damaged the crops.

Saturday, July 31, 1954–Hot. I did what was absolutely necessary, took a nap and got a bite of dinner.

Carole (Best) Brown of Golconda provides Journal-News readers with this glimpse of the past from her grandmother, Mary Edith (Newport) Best, Butler farm wife. Carole may be reached at rosebudbooks@gmail.com.

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