The Great Depression

I think most of us will know about the Great Depression of the 1930s. Living in the country had advantages over living in the city. If you lived in Vermont in the 1930s, you might have lost your savings or job, but even village dwellers had enough land for a garden. Many knew where the deer lived. Everyone bartered. City people were not so fortunate.

My parents told me about the Depression, as have many others through the years. I thought I’d give you an idea how one local family survived those years. From Ted Spaulding are three pocket notebooks that Ted’s father Ed kept in those difficult days.

A young Ed Spaulding with a matched pair of dappled horses. Photo provided by Ted Spaulding

The notebooks date from 1931 to 1936. At the time, Ed and Lu Spaulding were living in the house across the street from Lisai’s Market. Ed was a fireman at Yosemite Firehouse. One notebook is marked: “Yosemite Fire Co. work.” It details work Ed did and fires he fought. This will be a future article.

I was interested to see Ed plowed sidewalks in Chester for the town in the 1930s. Ed was paid 40 cents an hour. I see other entries where he hired out for 25 cents an hour. Plowing sidewalks in those days was done by horse and plow. One of my earliest memories is Rob Hildreth plowing our sidewalks in Chester with a horse and plow.

I imagine the plow Hildreth used was similar to the plow Ed used. Hildreth’s plow wasn’t much. It was basically just a heavy wooden sled with a plow and a platform where the driver stood. There are dozens of entries where Ed plowed or sanded Chester sidewalks. Most days Ed plowed for two hours. At 40 cents per hour Ed needed additional income.

In the 1935 Chester Town Report, I see Ed was paid $21 for 1934 sidewalk plowing. In Ed’s notebook I find this entry: “Paid April 24 $21, 40 cents per hour.”

In 1935 Ed was paid $3.90 for plowing roads and another $41.30 for plowing sidewalks. With his other pursuits, Ed made enough to get by.

He found part-time employment at Yosemite Firehouse. Here he did janitor work, worked on the engine, and kept the fire burning. All of his time is recorded including drying and rolling hoses and working on the new sliding door.

Each spring, Ed plowed and harrowed gardens for Chester residents. Ed recorded his garden customers by name and how many hours he plowed. Many of these entries are for a dollar to a dollar and a half. He also drew manure to spread on the gardens.

I see Ed plowed four gardens one day in May 1934 for a total income of $5.50. This was a good day. There are many more entries for plowing gardens in May. This was one of his better sources of income.

There are many entries for drawing “edgins.” By edgins he meant “edgings.” When a board is sawn off a log, the edges of the board would have the bark – today we call this a “live edge.” The boards were then run through the edger, which removed the bark edges creating dimensional lumber. The edgings were sold or given away by the mill. Slabs were burned in sugarhouses. Edgings made excellent kindling. Ed delivered edgings all over town.

Ed had a taxi service in those days. He records his many trips and the amount charged. It is clear Ed survived by working very hard and taking most any work he could find.

Ted Spaulding told me that prior to the 1929 stock market crash that his family had a little money. They lost what little money they had when their bank in Ludlow closed. Many banks folded during the Depression.

From Ed’s notebook: “Started to run Chester Town Farm March 9, 1935 To be paid $50 per month and to have a woman two days a week in house or help to amount to Ten Dollars a month.”

This story of how one local family survived the Depression was repeated countless times throughout small New England towns.

People of the Depression saved everything. I remember the auction at Henry Wilson’s farm in Popple Dungeon about 1978 or 1979. Hessie was in charge for Bob Ulbrich. Bob was the attorney for the estate. Hessie told me he found an old grain bag full of string that had been saved. There was a note on the bag: “Pieces of string too short to use.”

Last week’s “whatzit” was a Civil War tooth extractor.

  This week’s old saying is from Alice Bliss. About 40 years ago, I saw Alice in Gould’s Market. I asked how she was. Her reply: “Fair, fat and forty.” At the time Alice was better than 60.

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