April 14, 1935 will forever be designated Black Sunday. This was the day of the worst dust storm during the period we know as the Dust Bowl Days. This particular storm dropped twice as much dirt as was dug from the Panama Canal, about 300,000 tons of plains topsoil. Anyone who does not believe human behavior can affect the earth's climate may have those beliefs altered after reading Timothy Egan's work in "The Worst Hard Time."
Written in a style and format that makes this reading of history entertaining, this book still presents the facts of the Dust Bowl both as a period of time and a physical place. The book also brings a timely focus to the tremendous and immediate impact human behavior can have in relation to our environment.My initial interest in "The Worst Hard Time" grew from my own memories of visiting some of my older relatives in western Kansas. Some of my family still lived in houses that would produce bursts of dust through the seams in the wallpaper simply from a slap of the hand against the old walls. I could hear the dirt cascade downward within the walls from the vibration. This was the dirt deposited from the dust storms and there was too much to ever be able to clean it out.
The epicenter of the Dust Bowl was the southern plains, in all covering more than 100 million acres. In reading Egan's book, the coming disaster becomes obvious through the unchecked, even encouraged, plowing up of the prairies. As early as 1926, the legendary XIT Ranch, which occupied three million acres in Texas, had only 450,000 acres left unplowed. In 1929 plowing rates had reached as high as 50,000 acres turned over in a day. Farmer's were reacting to plummeting grain prices with a tremendous increase in output. The first black duster in 1930 made its appearance in southwest Kansas and moved toward the Oklahoma and Texas panhandle. People had not seen this type of storm before and flooded government agencies with calls searching for information on what was happening. These first storms were black and rolling, charged with enough static electricity to short out a car. The weather bureau observers filled out their reports and filed them away considering this first storm as nothing but a curiosity. In 1932 on Jan. 21 around noon, a dust cloud 10,000-feet high appeared outside Amarillo. Curiosity had given way to fear and suffering as the plains were enveloped in disaster.
The facts of the Dust Bowl laid out in "The Worst Hard Time" are fascinating and thought-provoking, but the personal accounts from people who lived through it are the captivating aspect of this book. Eagan's inclusion of diary excerpts and personal stories transform this historical work into a book you will not be able to put down. Maybe nothing characterizes the Dust Bowl more accurately while speaking to us today than the conclusions reached by Hugh Bennet, a 'doctor of the soil' brought in to study the region. Americans had become a force of awful geology, changing the face of the earth more than "the combined activities of volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, tornadoes and all the excavating of mankind since the beginning of history. "The Worst Hard Time" is available at Weber's Books on Main Street in Breckenridge. Marketing manager Larry Ebersole is available at the store or by e-mail at Amentalengineer@cs.com for thoughts or suggestions.