Russ' Vintage Iron

While Times are Tough, History Shows It Could Be Worse

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
Connect with Russ:

Needless to say, the last six to seven weeks have been difficult. The COVID-19 pandemic has completed changed how most people live their lives.

Most businesses are closed, people and kids are working/learning from home and even churches are not having services. I have missed more church the last six weeks than I probably did the whole rest of my life combined!

The one thing that has not changed in rural areas is it is spring and agriculture continues to move right along. During this time calves have been born, the weather has warmed up and farm machinery has returned to fields to plant another crop.

I am certainly grateful to have our own small farm to tend to keep these unprecedented times at bay. Even though I am someone who helps report ag news, it has often been necessary for me to go outside and feed cattle instead of watching the sobering statistics on various newscasts.

As someone who appreciates history, I have often wondered how I would have reacted to various historical events if I had actually been there.

What would have been my thoughts during the Great Depression? Would I have been mad at an entire race of people after Pearl Harbor? What would it have been like to watch the first person walk on the moon?

Maybe I have too much time on my hands (well I guess we all do right now) but this is always how my brain operated when reading about history.

One point of history I have always been particularly interested in was the 1930s and 1940s. This would be from the beginnings of the Great Depression through the end of World War II.

Both sets of my grandparents were married in the early years of the Great Depression and started families beginning in the 1930s, continuing in the 1940s. My paternal grandparents farmed just outside of Omaha with my great-grandparents.

I have ledger books of my great-grandfathers which detail the various farmhands hired to pick corn by hand beginning in the 1920s and ending in the early 1940s. You see the money he paid to harvest corn drop to only a few cents per bushel during the height of the largest economic collapse in our country's history.

I also have some gas ration stamps from World War II that were in my grandpa's wallet, which he carried around until he passed away in 1980. I often wondered why he still had this in his billfold nearly 40 years later, but then I looked in my own wallet and see things which have been in there for a couple decades and I understand better.

While I was fairly young when he died, I learned over the years from other family members and longtime family friends what it was like to farm back during the war. Quite simply you often went without some supplies because they were rationed.

Among things not readily available were newer farm equipment as manufacturers focused on the war effort. One of our family stories is many of the farmers in our area, including my grandpa, would go to a person in a neighboring town to buy farm equipment on the "equipment black market" just to be able to function at this time.

After the war among the first farm-related items my grandpa purchased was the only new tractor he every owned, a 1946 International Farmall M. Then shortly after he purchased a new 1947 GMC pickup.

The point of all of this is that, while the world has its issues right now, the challenges facing us appear to be not as daunting as previous generations faced and overcame. Today we have to work/learn from home, not go out to eat and not go to the latest movie.

Whenever I feel sorry for myself with having to nearly continuously check to make sure my kids are actually doing their schoolwork online (they say they do but here's a shocker -- sometimes they do not), I think of my grandpa getting paid two cents a bushel by his own dad to pick corn by hand during the height of the Great Depression.

Or if I am feeling a little down because we have not been able to go to church at all during this pandemic, I think back to my grandpa trying to farm during World War II with limited access to functional equipment.

At that point I don't feel as heavily burdened.

Russ Quinn can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN