The early dollar was hard to earn

From a kid’s point of view a dollar was mighty hard to come by in the early 1920s, 30s and 40s. To illustrate, let me tell you about some of’the’work I’did as a kid to earn money. My first job’was in 1920, working with a hay baling rig that had a hopper into which’hay was pitched’and a long pole that was attached to the hopper.’A mule’was hooked on to the other end of the pole, and’it was the mule’s job to pull the pole around and around the hopper, thereby compressing the hay into a tight bale. It was my job to walk behind the mule with a whip in my hand and keep the mule moving at all times. If the mule slowed down, I would hit him with the whip. So this was the way I earned my first dime, going around in a circle ‘all day long (and this, my friends, was long before the eight hour day had been invented). Now some might say that a dime was pretty poor pay for a day’s work, but let me fast forward you to 1923, when during the summertime, I worked for’my dad’at the Wagon Yard Grocery for 25 cents a week. It was not until 1925 that I got my first job earning $1 a day. Then, along comes the last years of the 1920s; on through the 1930s and into the 40s when picking turkeys became’a dirty ‘way to earn a’dollar or more a day. In last week’s column, I referred to the five cent hamburger that I sold to the turkey pickers, but before getting into that dirty dollar business, let me tell you a little about’those early turkey picking days: In the late 1920s, Brady was one of the largest turkey markets in the country. Farmers raised turkeys by the hundreds, sometimes by the thousands, and sold them to the two Brady concerns that had cold storage plants (Roddie’s and Mayhew & Jordan). Those concerns had the turkeys picked and stored them in their cold storage rooms until they had a freight car load to ship. Then, they loaded them into cold storage freight cars and shipped them to city markets. Picking turkeys: (As I remember it) Without a doubt, this was the dirtiest work I ever did just to earn a dime.But in the days of my youth, money was hard to come by, and lots of grown people, not just kids,looked forward to turkey season so that they could make a little extra money. The picking areas generally consisted of a room with a concrete floor with’lots of ropes hanging from the ceiling. There was a short stick attached to the end of each rope which was used in hanging your turkey to the rope after you got it from the killers. The killers pulled a turkey out of’the holding pen adjacent to the picking room, pushed it into a huge pot of boiling water, pulled it out, attached its feet to one of those hanging ropes, then he took a sharp pointed knife and stuck it into the turkey’s jugular vein, attached a blood cup onto the turkey’s neck just above the head and pushes it down the line for a picker. (The purpose of the blood cup was to catch all of the turkey’s blood.) The picker takes the turkey off the killer’s rope and carries it to his rope to which he has already claimed. He ties his turkey to his rope and starts picking those hot wet feathers off that bird. All the time this is happening, that turkey is flopping like mad, slinging water and blood all over the guy picking it as well as all of the other pickers around him. Not only does the picker get water and blood all over his clothes, but he also gets lice from the turkeys that are in the holding pen or the ones from the turkey he is picking that were not killed by the boiling water. The picker picks the feathers from his turkey and drops them on the floor, and before the day is over, he is standing ankle deep in feathers. Not only must he pick the feathers, he must also pick the pin feathers which were hard to get out and therefore took a lot of time. Consequently, each picker tried to avoid getting a bird that was likely to have a lot of’pin feathers’usually, the white birds had more pin feathers than the blacks. When the picker has finished his turkey, he carries it to the inspector who looks it over to see if all the feathers have been removed. If there are too many pin feathers left on the bird, he will send’him back to finish the job. When the inspector accepts the bird, he hands’ the picker a coupon or chip which is worth a dime (10 cents) which you cash in at the end of the day. And when the day is over, the picker’is one dirty bird. But with good luck on missing those pin feathered birds, a guy might make $2 or more a day’and that was a lot of money in those days. Now you should be able to understand why a turkey picker was glad to get out of that room and spend five cents of his hard earned money on a nickel hamburger. *** FOOTNOTE: I might add that we kids made a little money each summer chopping and picking cotton. While this was a cleaner type of work than picking turkeys,’the pay was not as good for me because’I could never earn’75 cents a day by chopping one acre or make $1 a day by picking 100 pounds. Therefore, I soon learned that the cotton patch was no place for me to make money, so, in 1932, I quit all that’hot and dirty work’and took the clean, easy and more pleasant job of skeeting soda in a drug store, where the work was steady and the hours’long.’ While’the pay of $60 a month averaged only 20 cents an hour, the fringe benefits such as malts, milkshakes and all kind of drinks (when the boss wasn’t looking)’made this job look mighty good to an old’ex-cotton and turkey picker like me. Bill Bodenhamer is a weekly columnist for the Brady Standard-Herald. Email him at

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