High Plains History Episode
8:01 pm
Tue April 9, 2013

Dark Cloud on the Horizon

The mid 1930's were the dry years on the high plains.  The drought has taken so much, a tornado took their home, but one young couple continue to persevere.  Velma and Ted Wancura were creative problem solvers.  They had 150 head of cattle, but no grass in the pasture. so   Ted and his brother harvested the cactus that remained for feed.  After burning the spines off with a blow torch, the cactus were placed in a cattle tank where the were well received.  When they were gone, Ted fabricated a truck bed to haul beet tops from the Garden City sugar factory, approximately 50 miles away, where the farm land was irrigated.  That solution worked until weather conditions worsened. 

Washington's Birthday, February 22, 1935.  Velma and Ted Wancura are on their way to a doctor's appointment in Dighton, Kansas.  A dark cloud appeared on the horizon.  The couple are expectant- the sky spurred hope for rain and a their first child is due in two weeks.  As they drive, the storm front took on a threatening appearance, so the couple turned the car around to head back home... a safe place to face the storm. 

When the cloud arrived, it wasn't rain, but dirt.  It was so dark, they had to light the lamps.  In a few days, there was another dust storm, then another, and another.  Their son, Elden, was born the fifth of March, a rare clear day.  Velma had to cover his crib with damp sheets to prevent dust pneumonia. 

Dirt drifts began to cover the fences.  The cattle simply walked away over the  fences and were lost.  Some would be found curled and smothered in gullies, and some walked away never to be seen again.  Velma and Ted stuffed rags around windows to try and keep the dust out.  Ted stopped hauling beets from Garden City.  It was too dangerous to be out during a storm.  Engines quit.  Visibility was nonexistent.  Velma's sister and  family were caught once in a storm.  They were close to home, so they decided to walk the rest of the way after their car stopped.  The reason they were able to find their way was because the fence line led to their house, and the wires were lit by electricity.  She carried the baby.  Her husband carried their little boy.

It was unimaginable.  The story continues next week.

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