Paving the Way Behind The Wheel Full Speed Ahead The Kicks of Route66 Mappin It  

The Dust Bowl and It's People

After World War I, a recession hit America's farmland. Prices in farm crops dropped forcing Great Plains farmers to increase crop production using new machine technology. With this new mechanization, farmers also cultivated additional acres of land. Inspired by the demonstrations of Seaman Knapp, founder of the Farmers Cooperative Demonstration, farmers like their fellow entrepreneurs, strove for efficiency and surplus. However, to increase supply, land, and profit, farmers needed loans--loans they couldn't afford. Thus, when the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, many farms went bankrupt. Landowners pushed tennants off their land when banks came to collect their debt. With unemployement reaching over 30 percent during the Depression, other work for these dejected farmers was practically non-existent. If their troubles weren't great enough, a drought swept across the Plains in the 1930's. Moreover, because farmers had overextended their land with increased productivity, MidWestern soils lost their ability to retain moisture and nutrients.

Flat Tire
Traveling often with more than one family, migrant farmers came across numerous difficulties on Route 66.
These unfortunate factors led to a decade known as the "Dust Bowl." The most devastating dust storm, occuring in 1934 on a day known as "Black Sunday," drove thousands of Great Plains farm families to look for work elsewhere. Gone with the wind, these farm families took the "easiest" and most direct route of the time--Highway 66--to Central California, the land of opportunity, the land of promise. Were these farmers really expecting to strike it rich in California? Chances are, not so much. Central Valley California's mild climate allowed for longer growing seasons and a diversity of crops. For farmers--knowing only one trade--this opportunity was the next best thing to starving in their dust blown homes. These farmers came mostly from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. They had poor Anglo-Saxon family backgrounds with little knowledge of fields outside of agriculture. Given the derogatory titles of "Okies" and "Arkies" these farmers found little relief in the Depression-stricken lands of California. Even if farmers found work quickly, the massive influx of migrants led to a massive decrease in wages. "Ditchbank" camps along Route 66 and irrigation ditches in farmers' fields "housed" many unemployed and displaced MidWesterners but often had such poor sanitary conditions, being on the road seemed like a better alternative.

California Grape Pickers
Migrant farmers working in the California heat often received only 2.5 cents per bushel of picked fruit.
Subsequently, Route 66, intended as a way to bring prosperous Eastern urbanites to the countryside, actually found its largest role in harboring America's forgotten farmers on their way to a better life. With Henry Ford's ability to lower automobile prices in the 1920's, farmers were able to salvage what they had into their newly purchased Model T's. Crammed with men, women, children, and anything foraged from their evacuation, farmers left for Route 66 and on to California. The road not only brought the MidWesterners to California but it also brought the people together along the way. Route 66 with its bumpy and uneven pavement and the car with its numerous flat tires, forced people to come to each others' rescue. Lonely hitchhikers were assimilated into traveling families. Children found comfort in any migrant mother along the way. Men joined together in efforts to begin strikes or just hold meetings. Thus, these people, despite coming from four or five different states, were fused together by their same backgrounds, problems, and will to survive.

The Dust Bowl had given farmers a reason to leave, California gave them a place to go, and Route 66 showed them the way.

Route66 Home Page