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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Second income
not such a new thing after all

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Getting by in hard times often required working at odd jobs to make ends meet.

My father drove a school bus and played for dances on Saturday nights in addition to farming. A neighbor always took to preaching when his farm income dropped. During the New Deal era of President Roosevelt, many people built Works Projects Administration toilets and laid sewer lines to bring in additional income.

Those fortunate enough to live near cedar growth, occurring usually in canyons or river breaks, took ax and saw in hand and cut cedar posts and stays for sale to the public. Hundreds of wagonloads and truckloads of cedar posts were delivered throughout the West for fencing the Great Plains. Palo Duro Canyon and the Canadian River breaks were favorite places for the post cutters of the time trying to make a few dollars on the side.

In Kansas, where few trees of any kind grew, limestone rock quarries flourished in every community where the formation existed. Once the overburden of topsoil was removed, the layers of limestone could be drilled and split off into fence posts and building stone. Owners could produce the products themselves or others could work the stone paying one-fourth of the production to the owner in royalty interest. Miles of these limestone post fences exist today in eastern Kansas and almost every town has buildings made from limestone building blocks.

In areas where oak trees grew large enough, the trunks could be cut to length and opposite sides flattened to use as railroad ties or mining timbers. Most local citizens worked at this in their spare time to provide extra income.

Barney Lowe of McLean recalled that he and his father were able to cut and shape eight railroad ties in five days' work, then spent a long day hauling them to town in a wagon. They were paid 50 cents for each tie at the railroad depot. It wasn't much money, but it kept the family in groceries for another week through extremely hard times in Eastern Oklahoma during the Depression.

Old-timer E.T. Duncan once lived in Arkansas where he operated a small specialty sawmill cutting "walking beams" for the early Texas oil fields. He didn't know what a walking beam was used for but appreciated earning the money for his family when he received an order.

He drove his team high into the mountains to find a tree large enough to make a beam. He cut, trimmed and dragged the timber down to his sawmill then sawed it to the proper measurements to fit the order. Last, he hauled the finished beam to the railroad, loaded it on a flatcar and sent the product on to Texas.

Duncan eventually moved to McLean to settle. After arriving, he immediately asked to be shown a walking beam in action because he could never imagine its actual use. Imagine creating and making a product, enjoying the income from its sale, yet never actually knowing its use.

In hard times, the work or the use made no difference. Only the income from producing the product was important.

Delbert Trew

"It's All Trew" Column
- June 27, 2006
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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