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Across the Fence


By Arvord Abernethy


The first thing that came up at the meeting of the Hamilton City Council Thursday night was an offer by Lone Star Gas Company to refund to the city a $10 meter deposit made by Hamilton Canning Plant in the summer of 1934. The deposit has borne interest at six percent for 45 years.


Mayor Les Hamilton asked members of the council if they would accept the refund and interest and of course they would, possibly having visions of how much the amount would be if the interest had been compounded each year. Unfortunately, the interest was not compounded, so the city will get about $27 interest in addition to the $10 deposit.


I could remember 1934 all right, but I could not remember the Hamilton Canning Plant, so I went to old newspaper files to see why the city should fall heir to a deposit made by a canning plant. What I found was a story of hard times that should make people who play fast and loose with our nation’s economy sit up and take notice.


In 1934, Franklin Roosevelt invented the alphabet. The nation was in the depths of its worst depression and eight million people were out of work. Roosevelt came up with NRA, WPA, NIRA, FERA, CCC and about 50 other agencies to deal with the problems. All went by the initials of the main words in their titles.


Hamilton County was in especially hard times. Besides disastrous prices for farm crops, the county didn’t have many crops because of a drought. There were only 16 inches of rain in 1933 and less than 25 in 1934, most of it late. Normal is about 30 inches. So the county was in line for help not only because of the depression but also because of the drought. It was to get help from both the state and federal governments.


The canning plant was on example of federal help.


Under Roosevelt ’s new Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), canneries were established all across the nation in rural area that needed them. Hico and Carlton quickly qualified for plants, with Hamilton not much later. One of the purposes was to salvage much needed foods that otherwise would have rotted or burned out in the fields and gardens.


According to the Hamilton County News, “The average farmer does not have the money to buy cans at this time.” Canneries would help solve the problem and provide jobs for unemployed at the same time.


FERA furnished canners, cans and labor. Hamilton and Hamilton County supplied the quarters. County commissioners moved an ole plank building to the city lot back of the city hall on North Rice Avenue , which established the city’s claim to the gas company refund. The plant was to “remain the property of the community.” Hamilton County was out $200 and the city of Hamilton $100.


A farmer or gardener could bring his produce in and the cannery would process and can it for him. The plant retained 50% of the canned produce, which later was turned over to state welfare agencies for direct distribution to people in “bread lines.” In Hamilton , this food was distributed locally, not shipped somewhere else.


There was also a charge of about half a cent a can to pay for extra expenses of canning such as gas, wood and soap. The city put up another $97.40 to help out. Although a farmer returned home with only about half of the produce he took to the cannery, this was a lot better than seeing the produce rot on the fields.


Things were rough in Hamilton County that year. During the summer of ’34, advertised retail prices in Hamilton stores for brisket were 8 cents a pound, rump roast 10 cents a pound and T-bone steak 12 ˝ cents a pound . Coffee was 19 cents a pound at retail and flour $1.50 for a 48 pound sack.


Because of the drought, feed was needed. But livestock men could not pay for the feed, just as farmers could not pay for cans. So cattlemen were authorized to sell “sell cattle which they cannot feed to the government.”


At the same time, the government was shipping 40,000 pounds of canned meat to “drought-stricken Hamilton County .” The county was unable to pay for storage of the canned meat and asked FERA to do so.


Food became of paramount importance to everyone, even the workers in the Hamilton Canning Plant. In August, 1934, they agreed to work for 25 percent of their day’s work output. The County News says that this amounted to a daily income for each worker varying from 60 cents to $2, depending on the hours worked.


As I was saying, things were tough in Hamilton County in 1934 when the city or someone made a $10 meter deposit for a cannery. The $10, itself, was a major sacrifice. Now Lone Star Gas Company, which was then Community Natural Gas Company, wants to give it back with interest.


The request should be honored, as it was by the City Council, because the gas company helped share the suffering. According to newspapers of the time, “Much credit is due the gas company for its timely assistance in installing the pipe line and gas fixtures at the plant. The company furnished half of the materials and labor of installing 130 feet of line.”


Such a gift would hardly be mentioned in the papers these days.




Shared by Roy Ables




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People and Places: Gazetteer of Hamilton County, TX
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Copyright © March, 1998
by Elreeta Crain Weathers, B.A., M.Ed.,  
(also Mrs.,  Mom, and Ph. T.)

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