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, the contrast between the small towns of Pawnee Rock and Albert, and the county seat, Great Bend, come into play. In 1932, Pawnee Rock had its own newspaper, which also served the neighboring town of Albert. It was called The Pawnee Rock Herald.
Stolen Chickens, RFC jobs
The Thursday, October 20, 1932 edition of the weekly offers a peek into what it must have been like to be part of the Pawnee Rock community. Front page stories indicated included a story on an increase of petty thievery and of funds from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation being disbursed to provide work and pay for those in need. Unemployment nationwide was on the increase in 1932, but not yet quite to its record 25 percent--reached in 1933.
Chickens were being stolen in large numbers.
“Mr. and Mrs. Bert Weikers lost approximately 35 hens a few weeks ago. They had a big flock of Leghorns and 35 Rhode Island Reds. The thieves took the reds and left the Leghorns. Rev. Kolb lost about 90 chickens a few weeks ago and Otto Rankin lost a flock of chickens also,” the story Petty Thieves Are Numerous Now said. Chickens weren’t the only contraband, though. The Bird family had a shotgun and 30 quarts of canned fruit stolen, and Sell and Schon hardware store in Albert was broken into, and merchandise and money in the safe taken. Home Oil Company was broken into and gas was taken, and someone tried to sneak into the bakery, but was scared off. Even farmers had several bushels of wheat stolen.
Pawnee Rock was a stop along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Many hobos travelled the rails in the 1930s. When work could not be found, they resorted to petty theft of farm goods and small, saleable items to tide them over until they could find odd jobs to pay for the things they needed. With many local families out of work, many probably felt desperate.
In a city council story of the same edition, Pawnee Rock’s mayor, Frank Gilbert and city clerk, Paul Dring, went to Great Bend that week to receive $123.30 from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, an independent agency of the U.S. Government, created under President Herbert Hoover. The RFC was the precursor to Roosevelt’s New Deal work relief programs that got underway in 1933 after his inauguration.
“This money is to be used to pay for work done on some city project, and the work to be given to those who are dependent upon such work as they can find, for support,” she story said. “Each man so employed is permitted but 30 hours a week and the wages to be paid is 25 cents per hour. There are a number of families in this community who need this work, and Mayor Gilbert has received six applications to date.”
To get an idea of the purchasing power of 25 cents at the time, an ad for “Fall Needs” on sale at Duckwall’s in Great Bend lists 3 lb. cotton batts for 35 cents each, and a pair of Men’s white cotton gloves cost five cents a pair. Something we don’t see anymore--double thumb shucking gloves or mittens cost 10 cents a pair, same as a set of men’s heavy cotton gloves. And the men stepping up for the job would need a pair of those. The work consisted of cleaning streets, clearing ditches, and leveling streets.
Election year talks
1932 was an election year. There was a bitter battle for the Presidency, between incumbent Herbert Hoover, and Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Great Bend was even then a stronghold for the Republican party, and Hoover enjoyed a majority support. News of over 100 people attending a meeting of the Young Republicans Club at the Country Club in Great Bend earlier that week made the front page. William Allen White and Native American Princess Tsiahina, appearing on behalf of incumbent Vice President Curtis, “who has the blood of the original Americans coursing through his veins” spoke to attendees on the evil of “unnecessary spending”, and lauding the efforts Hoover had made to bring about the end of the Depression.
In Pawnee Rock, the Barton County Democrats met at the high school auditorium a few days prior, where many Barton County Democratic candidates spoke. The high school band performed and received ample praise from each candidate. Will F. Koopman was one, running for Clerk of the District Court. His campaign ad in the paper is simple and uncontroversial
“Lived in Barton County all my life. I speak the German language and read and write it. Served as undersheriff under Sam Hill and feel that I am qualified for the office.”
It was a much smaller affair, and there is no mention of the number of attendees to the event.
Cautious loans, expensive ads
The banking crisis of 1933 was still to come, but already Farmers State Bank in Albert was taking a cautious approach to lending. With their “Butter and Eggs” advertisement, it’s hard to tell if they are trying to encourage good borrowers to come to them, or to explain why they aren’t lending to anyone.
“When they are plentiful, they are CHEAP. When scarce, they cost MORE. It’s the same with MONEY...It is a bank’s function to lend money, but it must be exceedingly CAREFUL because it lends the money of its DEPOSITORS. Borrowers of UNQUESTIONED character and ability to REPAY a loan PROMPTLY are always welcome.”
Whatever the reasoning behind the ad, The Farmers State Bank in Albert still exists in the same building it has all these years. It was chartered in 1907 with an initial deposit of a mere $10,000, and according to history at the bank’s website, “Even during the “Dirty Thirties”, the bank continued its service by not closing until the federal government declared the bank holiday.”
Today, assets for the tiny bank and holding company are reported to be $71 million.
But not every business was as conservative. In an Oct. 25, 1932 story in the Great Bend Tribune, The white Eagle Oil corporation was reported to be using not only a newspaper ad campaign, but a chartered airplane to spread the word about its new motor fuel, Mobilgas, which it claims was “the only gasoline with Climatic Control”. Climatic Control was essentially an additive that made gasoline more stable in high and low temperatures, reducing knocking.
The story, Siren Hisses from Sky: Airplane Zooms Over City Last Night Advertising Mobilgas, described the plane and its purpose.
“That scream in the skies about 7 o’clock last night was from an airplane, as many Great Benders who went outdoors to look found out. It came from a siren on the plane, to attract attention to a neon sign on the underwing of the sky flier which spelled “Mobilgas” in flaming red letters.” The plane, a Curtiss-Wright powered by a 200-horsepower Challenger motor was the same purchased by the Mexican government to be used as bombers, the story went on to say. One can only guess the expense incurred for the one-time spectacle.