It is raining again this morning, June 18th. The ground is saturated and some of my garden produce is suffering from the continually wet soil. This unusually wet cool spring reminds me of my father talking about the wettest year in his memory—1915. Yes, exactly 100 years ago.
All newspaper quotes in this story are from the Adams County Democrat, a weekly newspaper published in Hastings and subscribed to by most rural families. The paper was primarily local “gossip columns” written by correspondents from each neighborhood. The Matt Trausch family lived in the “East Assumption” neighborhood. At that time there was no county roads department. Farmers were expected to maintain the roads in their neighborhoods. For road work they received a few dollars off their property taxes. Matt Trausch served as road superintendent in his district for several years.
The winter of 1914-15 still holds the record for the most inches of snow at Hastings–86.7 inches. The spring of 1915 continued cold and snowy. On March 12th the “East Assumption” correspondent wrote “Everyone is talking about the condition of the roads which are worse than any of our old timers of 25 years have ever seen. No rural route delivery [of mail] for five days. A number started out Monday to open up the half section road from the County Farm to Juniata [now Juniata Avenue] and along the way they picked up five teams and 14 men who shoveled snow diligently for four hours on that five mile stretch. The rural schools are hampered now by the inability of the scholars to travel either on foot or by team, so many of the schools closed for several days.” Back then drifted roads were cleared with horse drawn equipment and men with shovels. The roads hadn’t been graded yet, so there were no road ditches. In low areas where snow was too deep, farmers just drove across the frozen fields. On April 2nd, she wrote “The old saying, a white Christmas, a green Easter, certainly does not hold good for this year. March 30th and more snow falling, and our straw stacks look like huge snow piles yet, though the snow has been melting considerable the last few days.”
By April 9th farmers were worrying about the late start to spring field work. The roads were drying up and schools had restarted. The Democrat reported that Matt Trausch made a trip to Hastings. “Matt Trausch, from near Juniata, dug out of the muddy roads and came in Monday to see us and fix for more Democrats. He said he would sow oats Saturday if this good weather continued.”
But the good weather didn’t continue. On May 7th East Assumption reported “Home grown peaches will be a scarce article in this country for there are not only no blossoms, but the trees are almost winter killed.” May 14th the Kenesaw correspondent wrote “This locality was touched lightly by frost on Thursday morning of last week, when the thermometer registered a few degrees below freezing.” May 21st, East Assumption lamented “A killing frost fell in these parts Sunday night, freezing potatoes, beans and other tender vegetation. The frost of May 6th did considerable damage to cherry and apple blossoms which are dropping now with stems on.” 1915 still holds the record for the coolest daytime high on Memorial Day – 54 degrees.
The rains continued and the June 11th Democrat had many weather reports, beginning on page 1: “If there were any rats in Hastings cellars which were not drowned out in the recent floods, they are some swimmers.” The “Elm Creek” neighborhood is the area around Saint Paul’s Lutheran church on Adams Central Road. That correspondent reported “For the first time this season Elm and Pawnee Creeks were for several days raging streams, overflowing much land and doing extensive damage to crops and bridges. Bridges are out in places throughout this part of the county. Some corn is being replanted in this locality this week. A hail storm passed from southwest to northeast in this neighborhood Saturday afternoon damaging all crops in its path.” The Kenesaw reporter wrote: “A steady rain on Sunday night left the streets and roads in bad condition again. They had almost recovered from the effects of Friday’s shower. Farmers are struggling with the difficulties put in the way of corn planting and the harvesting of the first crop of alfalfa by the frequent rains. Working the roads between rains is another occupation of the farmers and road commissioners at present.” The Mount Hope reporter, located southwest of Roseland, wrote: “Our mail carrier could not cross the river [Little Blue] Friday. Some of the listed corn hereabouts will be planted over if it quits raining soon enough; so much of it was washed out and the rest buried too deep to come through. The bridge at Grabills [east of Roseland] was washed out. Six inches of rain fell during two days and nights. J.A. Frazier went to Bladen on Thursday and could not get home until Sunday on account of the water.”
All the cold wet weather caused even more problems. All farm wives raised poultry for their family table and to sell for extra cash income. Some women “set” hens to hatch and raise their own chicks. Others gathered the eggs and hatched them in incubators. Young checks need to be kept warm and dry, or they die. On June 11th it was reported “The continuous rains have killed off thousands of little chicks and it will be necessary to keep the hens and the incubator going a while yet.” June 18th the Silver Lake [the township south of Roseland] reporter observed: “The past wet cloudy weather was not even good for ducks; Mrs. L. Shaw lost half of her large flock of young Indian Runners.”
If the farmers didn’t have enough trouble, the floods, cold and mud caused illness and deaths of livestock. Horses got “rain rot” a bacterial skin infection. Standing in mud all day also caused hoof diseases, and a lame horse can’t pull machinery. On June 18th the Democrat told of one mishap due to high water. “Much excitement reigned in the Bethel vicinity [Wallace School area] Sunday over the discovery by Meyer’s boys of a horse and buggy occupied by a man, being found in the lagoon near the Henry Meyer’s farm, where they had been since mid-night. The excessive rains have converted the lagoon into a veritable lake and the horse had wandered from the road into a ditch at the side of the road, where the water was very deep and was drowned when rescuers reached there. The man was compelled to stay in the vehicle and was in a serious condition. He was taken to the Nebraska Sanitarium for medical treatment.” Mrs. Holbrook was driving through the water and mud near the long bridge south of Roseland, and one of her horses mired in the mud, almost upsetting the buggy. Julius Pearson had a cow drowned in a creek, and in July lightning killed a $200 horse near Juniata and also a calf. The loss of a good horse was about the equivalent of losing a car, pickup or tractor today.
The roads then were just dirt, no gravel. Most people didn’t even attempt to drive autos on the muddy roads. However, a man from Campbell purchased a new car in Hastings on Monday, July 5th and attempted to drive it home. He had his family with him. He pulled in at John Dewitt’s south of Roseland at 4:00 a.m. Tuesday with a harrowing tale to relate. There was no report on when he got to Campbell.
June 25th the Democrat reported: “All Water Streams High. High water in June has done a heap of damage. Along all the streams, except the Platte, over-flow has destroyed much property and farms have been ruined. For the third time in two weeks the Little Blue River was within a few feet of high water mark again. June 18th rains were almost cloud bursts, the river rising to high point in six hours. Forty feet of dyke at Deweese was swept away by high waters. The Little Blue has been a Big Blue several times this spring, but Saturday it was the largest ever, being entirely over bridge banisters at several crossing places. A great deal of damage has been done to crops again; wheat in low places is down and in some lagoons is already dead; fences washed away and grades and bridges out.”
And of course in Nebraska stormy weather brings hail. June 18th the Kenesaw reporter wrote “The most destructive storm in the history of Kenesaw and vicinity hit the eastern edge of town and the country to the east and south about 7 O’clock Monday evening. Wind and hail snatched the leaves from the trees and pounded the crops, gardens, shrubbery and every growing thing into the ground. Wheat is totally destroyed in the path of the storm, which is variously estimated as extending from six to ten miles east and twenty miles north and south across the country. The storm is said to have started near Prosser. The hail stones were numerous and larger than ordinary. The ground was covered with them at the close of the storm, and with the bare trees presented a winter scene. Window glass and screens suffered largely on the north side of houses. One man was said to be negotiating for twenty-six new panes of glass on Tuesday. A good many shingles on the north side of houses and barns were splintered into kindling wood. Most of the wheat was insured.” And on June 25th East Assumption reported “Farmers are busy wondering what to do first, if it ever quits raining long enough so they can cultivate corn and make hay. We suppose everyone has read of the destructive hail storm of the 13th which took such a large territory in this community again, traveling in the same path of that a week previous, only in opposite directions. Many farmers have lost heavily and unless the oats will recuperate, there will be little grain left that is worth cutting.
The cold wet weather continued into July. Sunday, July 4th the thermometer fell to 38 degrees and it looked for a time as if it might snow. That day still holds the record for the coolest Independence Day at Hastings. In mid July someone advertised that they had lost a coat on the road to Juniata. On July 16th the Mount Hope reporter wrote: “There is no place like home. These days and nights of all kinds of weather, it takes a blanket or comfort to make one sleep comfy this summer.”
By the second week of July wheat harvest had begun, the latest in many years. With rain nearly every night, the harvest progressed slowly, casing much uneasiness. The ground was very wet and soft, making the work difficult. Horses were unable to pull binders through the muddy fields. Some farmers attached engines to their binders to run the mechanism. Bert Trausch recalled “In 1915, that real wet year, Dad mounted a motor on the binder to run it and all the horses did was pull the machine. The Cushman engine ran the binder which was powered by that big bull wheel underneath. [A large wheel with steel treads was located under the binder. It powered the cutting sickles, the conveyer belt, and the binding machinery.] When it was muddy the wheel slipped and the machinery stopped.” Exhaustion from over work can kill a horse. Some farmers killed horses trying to force them to pull binders through muddy fields. John Hoffman and Aug Heuertz were reported as losing horses while cutting wheat.
After the binder cut the wheat and bound it into bundles called sheaves, it had to be shocked. Depending on the moisture content of the wheat straw, a bundle could weigh from 20 to 25 pounds. The job of shocking often fell to women and children. Grandma, Catherine Trausch, and the older kids usually did the shocking. The first two sheaves were set up leaning against each other, one to the north, and one to the south. Two more sheaves were set up the same way, on the west side of the first two, leaning against each other, and leaning slightly against the first pair of sheaves. Another pair was set up on the east side of the others, also leaning slightly toward the center pair. Finally, the last bundle was carefully fanned out to spread over the top of all the standing bundles, with the grain heads pointing down over the shock. This served several purposes. It helped to bind all the sheaves together and solidify the shock, and it served as a canopy over the entire shock, causing the rain to run off, rather than into, the shock. Attention was paid to directions, because most of the strong winds came out of the west or northwest. Usually it took three or four good “shockers” to shock 10 acres in one day. An accomplished shocker could set up shocks that would withstand rather strong winds. Occasionally, storms blew down shocks, whereupon they had to be set up again. Shocking wheat is an arduous task, especially in hot weather.
On July 30th it was reported that “John Schifferns [an uncle of Matt Trausch] from the Roseland neighborhood was in Saturday to help the Democrat. He had just finished threshing his wheat and was the first to deliver 1915 wheat to the Farmers elevator at Roseland. His wheat made about twenty bushels per acre.” That same day the East Assumption column said: ”With the exception of a few fields of late oats, harvest is about finished. Stacking, however, is progressing very slowly and we suppose shock threshing will be quit altogether since the recent rains, fogs and heavy dews make it impossible. The second crop of alfalfa will be very poor quality on account of the damp weather. The storm of Friday night did considerable damage to grain stacks and shocks; much reshocking will have to be done. An inch of rain Friday night and about the same Saturday night and raining as a starter Monday morning. Wonder if we all will turn to rubber?” The reporter lamented, “How long, oh Lord, how long?” The Hansen correspondent reported: Seven inches of rain in two days up in the Hansen neighborhood put the usually orderly West Blue to raging and it took a bridge or two and wheat shocks, fences and whatever else got in the way.”
The last remarks about excess rain were on August 6th when the Kenesaw reporter wrote: “Last week was the rainiest on record around Kenesaw. Seven inches and more are reported by local observers. The low places were all full the first of this week, and lakes and ponds in the fields and dooryards were frequent. However a lively wind on Monday and Tuesday began the drying-up process and it was hoped that the sprouting of the wheat which had begun in the shocks would soon be checked.”
When people weren’t talking about the weather that year, the John O’Connor estate case was mentioned. O’Connor had died in 1913, leaving a large estate, no will, and no known heirs. When word got out, people came from all over claiming to be heirs. The case wasn’t settled until 1929 when the state claimed the estate. In July the Liberty Bell traveled across country on a Burlington railroad flatcar. It stopped in Hastings, but our relatives were busy with harvest and didn’t see it. War was raging in Europe in 1915. Many people in Adams County were immigrants who had relatives still in Europe. The European war must have been a great worry for them. Little did they know that in 1917 their sons would be drafted into World War I.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average monthly rainfall at Hastings for May is 4.6 inches and for June 3.6 inches. On June 4, this year the Hastings Municipal airport reported 4.74 inches, breaking the old June 4th record of 3.45 inches set in 1915. That year the month of June’s total was 11.71 inches, more than the total amount of rainfall in some years. For all of 1915, total moisture was 23.91 inches, more than twice the normal amount. 1915, the year that wouldn’t quit raining, was remembered throughout the lifetimes of those who experienced it.