Dust, Drought, and Depression #7
“Vernon Evans and family of Lemmon, South Dakota, near Missoula, Montana. Leaving the grasshopper-ridden and drought-stricken area for a new start in Oregon or Washington. Expects to arrive at Yakima in time for hop picking. Makes about two hundred miles a day in Model T Ford. Live in tent.” – Library of Congress image page.
Mr. Evans had been working as a hired hand around Lemmon, South Dakota when the Depression started. After he lost one job, he couldn’t find another. Vernon and his wife Flora teamed up with three others – her sister, brother, and another friend – and, in July 1936, headed to Oregon where other friends had already gone. Fortunate to find a railroad job the first day in Oregon, Vernon and Flora stayed in Oregon for nine years, returning to the family farm after his father died.
“Well, we was all without jobs here. And the jobs was so few and far between at the time we left that you couldn’t even buy a job. We decided we had friends that we knew out in Oregon, and we decided we was going to go out there and see if we could find some work. We had $54 between the five of us when we started out from here to go to Oregon. And when we got to Oregon, I think we had about $16 left. We had absolutely no idea what we was going to do.
”We all got in an old Model-T and started for Oregon. We started out, and, I don’t know, we got out six miles and broke the crankshaft. This old rancher, he had some old Model-T motors laying around. He said we was welcome to a crankshaft if we wanted one. So, we went back and proceeded to tear the motor out of the old Model-T and put the crankshaft in. And that night we made Baker [laughs] which is a matter of 24 miles from the night before.
”Well, then we had pretty good luck all the rest of the way. But we got around Missoula, [Montana] and we was having a good time. See somebody along the road or something. And here was this car sitting alongside the road, and a guy sleeping in it. So, we honked and hollared at him, having a good time. Pretty soon, this car was after us. We’d heard they was sending them back [police sending migrants back at state borders], wasn’t letting ʻem go on through. So, we thought, ʻWell, hereʼs where we go back home.ʼ He motioned for us to pull over to the side of the road. Anyhow, he come up and introduced himself [as Arthur Rothstein] and said he was with the Resettlement Administration [the precursor of the FSA] and asked us questions about the conditons here and one thing or another. Where we was headed for. This ʻOregon or Bustʼ on the back end was what took his eye. Then, he asked us if we cared if he took some pictures of us. Oh, we said, ʻI guess not.ʼ I think he took eight different poses. And then after we was out there [in Oregon] I guess probably it was that fall or winter, why these pictures started showing up in the different magazines and papers. Anyhow, we got out there and I went to work on the railroad.
– interview of Vernon Evans
by Bill Ganzel, July 18, 1977.
Photos are by Arthur Rothstein. Click on any image to go to larger versions on Flickr.