Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hard Times, Banks And Good Neighbors – A Story From The Great Depression

As with all of my stories, the names and places have been changed, at least slightly, to protect both the guilty and the innocent.

Dyss O’Dell was an oilfield contractor, a driven man and a hard worker. He built derricks back when they were made of wood, and then relearned the trade when steel derricks became popular. He was a stickler for getting everything lined up just right, so that a driller only had to throw a belt on the boiler’s wheel to start drilling. As a result, he pretty much had his choice of who he did business with. He was the first man in the Waddington Valley to have a telephone or an automobile, but sadly enough, he was also one of the first in the valley to get foreclosed on by the bank during the depression.

Dyss was used to the feast and famine cycles of the oilfield, and lived his life along the same lines. When he made big, he spent big; when things got tight, he robbed Peter to pay Paul until the next big check came in. His situation was helped only slightly by the fact that his wife could squeeze a penny until poor Abe squalled for mercy. When oil prices went down in the middle of the depression, so did Dysses work. The problem was that Peter no longer had any money for Dyss to “rob,” so Paul started screaming for payment. To be more precise, the bank, always his “friend” in good times, foreclosed on the past-due loan for his farm. Like the banks in the more recent housing bubble crash, their greed and fear blinded them to the fact that refinancing loans to allow lower payments would allow them to continue to have money coming in, as opposed to none. As a result, many of the banks went belly-up, themselves.

It was probably an embarrassment to Dyss when the notice of the sale of his farm came out in the local paper, but he had a plan. His eldest daughter was 25, single, living at home and gainfully employed. He wouldn’t be allowed to bid at the auction, but SHE could. A few days before the auction, Bertram Showalter, a friend, a neighboring farmer and the son of Swiss emigrants, came to him and asked Dyss if he was going to bid on his farm to get it back. Dyss told him his plan and Bertram assured him that he would not be bidding against him then.

When the day of the sale came, his daughter dutifully bid on the place, but his neighbor across the road, Ned Horton, kept bidding and running the price up. No doubt, the hilltop farm would have made a nice addition to Ned’s farm in the valley. Dyss and his daughter finally ended up with the winning bid, but only after paying considerably more than would have been necessary without Ned’s interference. Dyss was surprised by Ned’s actions, considering how often they’d helped each other put in their crops and knowing that their children were friends. His friendship with Ned cooled a bit after that, but he had a heightened respect for Bertram, a hard-working fellow that he already held in high esteem. Sometimes, you just don’t know who your friends are until the chips are down. © 2013


Kathy Felsted Usher said...

You're right and you see it more and more today.

Gorges Smythe said...

Agreed, Kathy.