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Hailstorms, tornadoes, wind and heat damaged crops but not tenacity

Michael Barnes, Out & About

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Austinites J.B. Snead Jr. and Edna Redwine Snead were living on nearby farms north of Lubbock when they met over a bicycle.

"I remember the day," says Edna Snead, 91. "He let me learn to ride."

J.B. Snead, 94, was impressed that the slender girl was game for running up the door of the storm cellar.

J.B. recalls the day: "I told my friend: ‘I'm going to take that girl home tonight.'"

The friend countered: "I bet you don't."

He retorted: "I bet you a show ticket I will."

So J.B. went over to Edna: "Can I take you home?"

Her coy answer: "Let me ask my brother."

"I don't care," her brother said. "But you better come home."

She did. And J.B. won a movie ticket that night.

"I thought she was as cute as a bug on a calf's ear," he says.

J.B. didn't forget Edna after 100 miles of flat, sun-scorched land separated their families.

A few years later, when she lived in Tatum, N.M., her future husband dropped by on the way to Carlsbad Caverns with friends.

Seventy-four years after that brief courtship on the high plains led to marriage, the Sneads share memories of farm life from their living room at a spacious senior tower in Northwest Austin.

Moving often, the couple endured dust storms, hailstorms, tornadoes and catastrophic crop losses. Still, they didn't give up farming until 1979. Later, they moved into Lubbock proper to find other employment and spent retirement crisscrossing the U.S. in a recreational vehicle.

Edna was accustomed to the rough rural life before the wedding. Her father, Jack Redwine, farmed cotton, corn and alfalfa — cutting hair on the side — in Lesley, Muleshoe and Comanche. His folks had migrated to the plains from Tennessee and Georgia. Her mother, Minnie Armstrong Redwine, whose family came from Kentucky, bore 13 children. Many of them became farmers — or married them.

Edna attended a tiny school in County Line until the mid 1930s, when her 2-year-old brother was injured.

"I quit school to take care of that baby," she says. "And I would never go back."

She never complains about Dust Bowl life of the Great Depression.

"Things was poor then," she says. "We didn't have much. But we had fun and never did go hungry. Mama always kept a really clean house even though we didn't have much."

As a treat, her dad brought home ice cream. Or they'd go into Lubbock and play around the courthouse while the adults shopped, then eat at Shorty's, where burgers sold three for a quarter.

J.B. was born during World War I in Fannin County. His father, Jesse Bert Snead, farmed cotton and corn. His mother, Hattie Lee Cox Snead, had another son who died a year ago. J.B. played high school football at Anton and Shallowater, but didn't graduate.

"Every day I'd milk the cows, feed the horses, hoe cotton, chop the weeds out," he says. "My brother and I worked for a neighbor who didn't know anything about farming. For a quarter a day. We got there when it was light enough to see how to get to work and worked until it was so dark we couldn't see out."

In 1934, the parched land caught no rain. It wasn't irrigated until 1935.

"We ended up with nothing," he says. "Cotton got an inch high. Maize got a foot high."

As part of a New Deal effort to reduce oversupply, agents started buying up their cattle.

"A guy came out and bought them for $13 a head," J.B. says. "They put them in a pit, killed them and covered it up."

Edna was 16 and J.B. was 19 when the lifelong Baptists got married.

"That's how we made it," Edna says. "With the Lord's help."

Baptist, Methodist and Church of Christ preachers rotated services at the county school, which doubled as the town's one church. Add to that religious revivals, which lasted every night for two weeks at a time.

"They don't have long revivals now," Edna says. "People couldn't stand it."

She gave birth to three children 18 months apart.

"When 18 months were up again, I'd think, shoot, we should be getting some excitement," she says. The Sneads now count 10 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.

Back on the farm, they often supplemented their income by selling eggs. If fertile, the eggs went for four cents each in Lubbock. The others were sold to a grocery store for eight cents a dozen.

The Panhandle and downwind plains are known for their fierce dust storms.

"The worst I remember was 1926," J.B. says. "We had just started pulling cotton on Armistice Day. The wind and dust got so bad, we had to quit. We stayed in the cellar the next day. Too much dirt blowing around outside to go out. Lost the crop to sand and wind."

Hailstorms were no easier on the land.

"Lost the best maize crop ever had in hailstorm in 1968," J.B. says. "Hailstorms always seemed to find me."

Twisters threatened more than just crops.

"First tornado I remember was on the railroad at Roundup in 1926," J.B. Snead says. "Blew one house away. Turned boxcars over on the track. We went over there to see what damage was done. The cellar was there, but the house was gone. Posts had wheat straws sticking in them. We couldn't figure that out."

His wife remembers funnel clouds over Sunray 50 years later.

"We sat out on the porch and there must have been four or five of them hanging down," she says. "People in Amarillo could see him."

When she was 9, a big one came straight through the family farm. Afterward, stunned hens and chicks littered the yard.

"Mama told my brother to go pick up the chickens, as many as they could because the chicken coop blew away," she says. "To save them, Mama blew in the chickens' mouths and pulled their legs to warm them up. She saved 20."

The couple harbors few illusions about farm life.

"It's is the biggest gamble on earth," J.B. says. "You spend thousands on a crop and lose it in 10 minutes. We liked the life and didn't have the sense to quit."

"That's all I ever knew," Edna says. "Farming is hard on people. But I enjoyed it."

Contact Michael Barnes at mbarnes@statesman.com