“I want to tell you about the Depression,” Carl Hodson said.
And when Carl calls, I listen.
Carl is 90, old and bent, but bright and sharp.
He’s got amazing history in his brain. If he could project the images in his mind, he’d fill the theater because he can recall his personal hunk of American history in amazing detail.
Consider the Depression, which kicked off in 1929 and didn’t end until World War II.
People today whine that times are tough — gasoline is $4 a gallon? Unemployment is 8 percent? The horror! — but Carl saw trains loaded with hobos, people begging for food, the crops fail and the banks shut down.
In the 1930s Utah’s unemployment hit 35 percent. There was no FDIC insurance then, so when banks failed, people’s savings went “Pffft!”
Carl saw this as a teenager from the family farm on 12th Street where the Ogden Nature Center is today. The stock market crash didn’t hurt his family directly, but the drought and economic disaster that followed did.
The drought of 1934 was bad because there was no irrigation. The federal government had not yet built Pineview Reservoir.
“One year we never harvested,” he said. “They (the crops) burned out. The government put a couple of pumps in over here and there wasn’t enough to supply the whole irrigation system, and we never harvested.”
Run on the bank?
“I had my life savings in Ogden State Bank. I had $20 (about $300 now) in it and they just closed up,” he said.
Some ways his family survived:
• Cash was scarce, so people bartered. Carl’s father would trade calves to the grocery store for groceries.
Carl traded too. “There was a little grocery store on the corner of 1200 West and 1200 South. I used to go to school down to the old Marriott Park, and I’d come home for lunch and go down to the chicken coop and get three eggs, take them down and trade three eggs for a 5-cent ice cream cone.”
• They shared. “Three or four farmers would buy a manure spreader or other equipment, and use it when they needed it, it was all horse equipment, so they didn’t have to buy gas. Gas was 18 cents a gallon.”
That’s a bit under $3 a gallon today, but horses didn’t need gasoline.
His father would buy wagon loads of potatoes.
“They kept and we’d sell 100-pound bags of potatoes all winter long. Dad would buy a wagon load of potatoes at night and a lot of times that load would be gone by morning.”
• The unemployed were looked on as people needing help.
“I counted over 100 hobos on one train going into the Ogden yards here,” Carl said. “My dad or mother never turned any hobo away. We had a wood pile out back and dad would never give it (food) to him. He’d send them back to chop wood before he’d give it to him.”
Times were hard, but Carl and I talked for an hour and a half and I never got the feeling that he regretted any it.
“I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything,” he said several times. “I had to work. I learned to work. That’s one thing about the farm, it’s the best teacher there was. It taught people to work.”
As for struggles, or shortages, or lack of anything to do?
“We got by with what we had.”