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- The Dust Bowl affected 100 million acres, centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. In December 1935, experts estimated that 850 million tons of topsoil had been blown off the Plains that year alone. The drought would linger four more years until rain finally brought relief in the fall of 1941.
“You couldn’t see. You couldn’t breathe. You couldn’t go outside for days,” remembers Eugene Littlefield. “It was awful.”
Littlefield is referring to the giant black clouds of soil that would blot out the sun and swallow the countryside. Born in Wayside, Texas, in 1934, Littlefield was welcomed into the world by the Dust Bowl – an era in the 1930s when the most massive, brutal dust storms ever known to our nation repeatedly ravaged the Panhandle and Great Plains regions.
Littlefield was the only child of parents who raised cattle, wheat and sorghum on their farm 20 miles east of Happy, Texas, in the now-extinct community of Wayside.
“We could see those storms coming over the horizon,” Littlefield says. “The dirt would blow in your face and hit your skin so hard it hurt. Dad would get our animals in the best shelter he could, while my mom started packing the windows with rolled wet towels and hung sheets to try to keep dirt out.
“It still didn’t work,” he says, shaking his head at the fury and intensity of the storms. “Fine sand would get in our food no matter how well we protected it. It would get behind the wallpaper in our house. Our white sheets on the bed would turn brown.
“Mother would light kerosene lamps and you could barely see them for the brown haze around them,” he adds.
He recounts his family having to use a bucket for the bathroom because they couldn’t go outside to the outhouse. His dad had a rope tied from the house to the barn so if there was even the slightest reprieve in the raging storm he could go check on the animals. He says no matter how hard you tried to protect your equipment or vehicles, the fine sand would penetrate the carburetors and wind up in fuel lines, rendering equipment inoperable until it could be repaired.
“I remember coming outside after the storms and you couldn’t find things,” he says.”You could see, but you still felt disoriented because the landscape would look so different. Tumble weeds would blow against the fences and get trapped, then the dirt would just pile up in them to the point it would bury the fence so deep in dirt you couldn’t see it. Entire plows could get buried and only the levers would be visible.”