Fly Control on the Farm After the Great Depression

It's All Trew: Decorum faded in battle against bugs with the great fly drive.

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When I see the colorful photos in Farm Collector of old farm machinery being restored today, I can't help but remember the 1940s when much of it was new and working in the fields. With golden waves of wheat ready to harvest, business at the Trew farm picked up considerably. The bunkhouse began to fill with employees and mother hired two high school girls to help her feed the men. Machinery was serviced, trucks made ready and granaries cleaned to receive the new crops.

The recent hard times of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl left many farm homes in need of a few repairs. Many window and door screens had holes and were not completely fly-proof. Every farm had pens of domestic livestock and poultry near the house, so fly control was always a prevalent problem.

Certain remedies helped. Silverware was placed beneath upside-down plates for protection. Coffee cups were upended in saucers until time to fill. Quart fruit jars were used for iced tea glasses and were filled with ice chipped from the block, then covered with a dish towel until the men arrived from the fields.

With the food cooked, glasses filled, tables set and food ready to serve, we performed the main fly control event of the day: The Great Fly Drive. First we opened the back screen door, propping it open with a brick. Next, we passed out dish towels for each hand and all available hands gathered at the back of the house.

With a signal from my mother, we went from room to room, waving our towels and driving the flies before us. It was the only time we could jump, run, yell, wave our towels and cavort unchecked within the house. We took advantage of the privilege by acting like wild savages. Even the older girls and mother acted a bit strange as the fly drive made its way through the house.

The drive ended at the back door with everyone popping each other with dish towels. We could even pop mother if we didn't pop her too hard. The closed screen door now held the flies at bay until the meal was completed. This was the highlight of a little boy's day.

At that point the men came in from the fields to wash up outside at the stock tank. They entered the house at the front door, hopefully leaving the flies at the back door. As a further fly control measure we pumped Flit Fly spray through the screen with little fly sprayers, hoping to eliminate a few of the pests.

The men ate first, with us boys and the women eating at the second table. Mother always kept the best tidbits back for her helpers. Relatives from the city, visiting once after harvest, asked mother what she appreciated most among the many inventions such as gas cook stoves, refrigeration and hot water heaters. Without hesitation she answered, "screened wire." With the fly drives fresh on my mind, her answer did not surprise me a bit. FC

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil's Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net