Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
This week in 1978, in San Francisco, the Robert Frost Plaza was dedicated following the city’s passage of the country’s most comprehensive homosexual rights bill when it added Article 33 to the San Francisco Police Code, which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation in the private sector. The occasion went unobserved by the Great Bend Tribune.
Instead, a great deal of coverage was provided of the “Wheat Plowdown.” Midwest Farmers went on “strike,” plowing up fields of wheat in an effort to decrease reserves and force the price per bushel higher.
In a March 22, 1978 report by Tribune Area Editor John Cook, “Golden Belt farmers were watching their western neighbors intently today as the American Agriculture “plowdown” moved east from the Colorado high plains.
“A survey of strike offices across the Golden Belt area failed to turn up any area farmers who planned to begin destroying wheat today, but spokesmen in most of the offices say that plans are being made.”
Twenty-two strike offices in southwest Kansas voted to go along with the plowdown, although many farmers are expected to destroy the wheat by grazing it, Cook wrote. Plowdown plans were discussed the day before for the region, which included Barton, Ellsworth, Rice, Russell, Rush and Ness counties. But, no firm plans had been laid at that time.
“Area leaders expect action during the first week of April, probably in the form of tractor caravans going from one field to another to plow wheat under.”
The threats were probably working, as evidenced by the Senate’s vote to raise price supports and income guarantees for grain and cotton farmers. A proposal was adopted as part of an emergency farm bill that ordered the Agriculture Department to pay farmers for idling cropland, and raise target prices on wheat from $3 to $3.50 a bushel. This, it was reported, would raise returns for farmers, but would also increase food prices by 4 to 6 percent over the next two years.
Still, farmers weren’t ready to concede. Later in the week, the Associated Press reported about farmers in Johnson who were taking plows to their fields. One farmer, who was preparing to turn under nearly a fourth of his acres, was quoted.
“We’re doing this to show the president and our administration that we mean what whe say.-- that our strike effort that we started back in December is not empty words, we’re going to do what it takes to get a price for our crop.”
Later still in the week, it was reported that in Oklahoma, farmers planned to take their crop out of production by grazing it, rather than turning it under.
By the first week of April, the New York Times was reporting that many of the striking farmers were actually back in their fields getting ready for the spring planting, and the American Agricultural Movement was claiming victory. That victory was short-lived, with farmers returning to Washington D.C. in tractors during the winter of 1979. Relations between the legislature and the American Agricultural Movement became less friendly, and farmers struggled to hold onto their farms, many unable to do so, for at least the next decade. What happened in the 1980s can and has filled books.
In 1978, the Kansas Fish and Game Commission was busy working to expand the range of the wild turkey in Kansas. They were doing through trapping and transplanting efforts, moving groups of Rio Grande wild turkeys to areas on the fringes of southwest Kansas. It was a continued effort to expand hunting opportunities.
“This year, 500 Kansas hunters have received permits for the 1978 season,” the report out of Pratt read.
According to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s turkey information website page, introduction of wild turkeys in the state began in the 1960s.
“ Today, huntable populations of turkeys exist in nearly every county. The Rio Grande subspecies dominates the western two-thirds of the state. Low numbers in the southwest provide only limited hunting. Hybrid Rio Grande/Eastern birds are found in the north central region. The Eastern subspecies is common in the northeast and far southeast regions, where numbers have grown tremendously in recent years.”
Today, the state still issues 500 Unit 4 (Kansas residents only) spring turkey permits. Turkey hunting has become a much anticipated activity. In the 1980’s the Kansas Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt was organized, and has helped promote the sport in this state. The hunt is held every April in El Dorado, and this year, Barton County artist Dan Branham will premiere as the official artist for the event.
Cook was busy this week. His report on the Schwab Hatchery in La Crosse was a timely feature with Easter right around the corner. He told the story of how the German immigrant family who, in 1918, started their business in a 100-foot-long cellar they carved out of the soil.
“Demand for chicks was good and the business grew. In 1928, Henry moved the hatcher to town and a building at the corner of 11th Street and Main.”
Fifty years later, the hatchery was still going, providing jobs for area people who monitored eggs in the incubator, and newly hatched chicks, preparing them for shipping to eager customers.
We went looking for Schwab Hatchery on the off chance it might still be around, and ready to celebrate its 100th anniversary. We could find nothing. In fact, we couldn’t find any commercial chicken hatcheries in Kansas, though we did find several highly-rated businesses located in Missouri and Iowa.