Story Corps Ag Progress Days: Edward Buss and Naomi Ulmer

  • Edward Buss grew up in Kansas during the Dust Bowl years. He spoke with Naomi Ulmer about his experience on his family's farm. Photo: Courtesy WPSU

November 4, 2013

One of the greatest challenges our climate has handed to American farmers was, of course, the Dust Bowl era. During Ag Progress Days in State College this year, Edward Buss was interviewed about growing up in this tough time and place—the Midwest in the 1930s. It's part of WPSU's effort to collect stories about farm life. Buss spoke with Naomi Ulmer, an intern with the Pasto Agricultural Museum.

ULMER: Since you were in Kansas, you would have experienced the Dust Bowl.

BUSS: I went through the Dust Bowl.  I lived through it.  And I helped do the farming during those days when we had very little water.  I had one 20 acre field of corn, and I cultivated with the old single-row, my team of horses.  On July 4, 1935, we were so hot that from the morning when the corn was beautiful green, at night there wasn’t a stalk left.

ULMER: Wow. So just the heat.

BUSS: Just heat. 

ULMER: Withered it.

BUSS: Just burnt.  Another field, 20 acres of wheat my father just put a match to because the chinch bugs had destroyed it.  There was just nothing there to harvest.  We got one cutting of hay.  The ponds went dry.  Our wells went dry.  And so to find water was really difficult.  In my case, the Republican River almost went dry.  And we had grasshoppers; every fence post was just nothing but grasshoppers.  You’d start walking and you’d just see thousands of them flying around.  Then the chinch bugs were terrible.  They would go into our cornfields and  destroy corn. 

ULMER: So there was a bug problem in addition to the drought?

BUSS: Yes, oh my, yes.  And then the Russian thistles we saw piling up at our fence rows and so on.  And the dust was such that it was gritty.  You could not keep it out of your house.  Some people, you know, slept with wet cloths over their faces.

ULMER: How did you make it—how did your family make it through if all of your crops were dying.  How did you feed your animals?

BUSS: Well, we got, we pastured the cows in the winter time on the wheat fields.  And then we had the hay we could save from the spring cutting.  And then we cut some of our corn, and just fed it directly to the cows.  And then we always had silage.  In those days it was so dry they would plant two rows, you know, one row they plant corn, the other one you have sorghum.  And there was enough moisture in the sorghum that helped provide moisture to the silage.

ULMER: How many did you have?

BUSS: Oh, I think we usually had, we milked about 10 to 12 at one time.  We had Holsteins. 

ULMER: So you milked them by hand?

BUSS: Oh, yes.  Wooden-legged stool, put hobbles on some of the cows that liked to kick. 

ULMER: I come from a dairy farm, so I’m very familiar with ornery animals can be at times. 

BUSS: Oh, they were all different.  That’s actually what got me into genetics, was just seeing the differences in the cows, the kind of calves they produced from year to year.  And the behavior of the cows—which one always broke the fence.

ULMER: Yeah. Well thank you very much for your time, and  appreciated speaking with you.

BUSS: You ask good questions.  Thank you.