Don Hartwell was worried about his health, and 1936 seemed like the driest year ever in Webster County, Nebraska. He continued to record the simple facts of life on his farm, including the inconveniences, such as gas selling for twenty cents a gallon, which meant that it took a full day’s work to fill a tank.
Hartwell’s description of the difficulties of maintaining normalcy in the Dust Bowl helps the modern reader understand how completely dependent the settlers were on the soil. If they were unable to farm, they were unable to do anything else.
In Hartwell’s entries from January to July, he wrote about outbreaks of influenza and smallpox and the difficulties of feeding the livestock. He also included the mundane entries of the previous year on holidays and the daily effort to contend with the dust. On February 25, Hartwell recalled a Chicago man who offered to give away his baby so that he could keep his car. He and Verna continued to worry about being able to keep the farm, and his alfalfa and corn crops failed. Hartwell tried again to plant corn in late May. In summer, the temperatures became unbearable. The corn burned in temperatures that registered at 140 degrees on July 15. One small cloud came from the west on July 16, providing rain and hail and, later, a light shower. The storm did not give Hartwell much hope, however.
Hartwell describes increasingly fraught circumstances on the plains. People were not only burdened by the dust and the consistent failure of crops, but also by the threat of disease and unbearably hot temperatures. His description makes the plains sound like a cauldron of despair, where people’s fears of destitution made them so immoral that they were willing to trade their children in exchange for mobility or for some remnant of their past material comfort. Hartwell had become so accustomed to this despair that small spurts of rain did not change his pessimistic attitude.