Friday, October 14, 2016

Speculating on Horses: An Adventure

Although my father, Verne Troutman, and his brother Jim had established an auction business in Wayne County, Nebraska, the two young men were still looking for business opportunities. It was the mid-1930s, after all, and the entire country was in the throes of a depression.

Not only that, but during the summer of 1936, dry weather and scorching winds whipped the country and temperatures rose to record levels. The hottest day in Nebraska history was 24 July 1936 when forty-two towns reported temperatures over 100° F, with Minden the highest at 118°.[1] In Lincoln, the night of July 25 never dropped below 91°, so people spread blankets on the lawn in front of the state capital and slept there.[2]  In fact it was the hottest summer on record for the entire country. Crops scorched and dried and the landscape turned brown, which  left farmers in dire financial straits.

In August, Verne received a letter from his father’s brother, James Henry Troutman, his “Uncle Jim,” in Virginia with a proposal that they bring horses to Smyth County to sell at a profit. By October, the two brothers had taken him up on it. They loaded horses on a train and traveled across the country. Verne remembered stopping, once in Pennsylvania, and unloading the horses to water and feed them.[3] In his letter, Uncle Jim's urged his brother Clint to come, too, which apparently paid off. Clint and Mary went together for a visit with family Mary hadn’t seen since 1909 (Clint had gone back about 1926 to bring his mother for a visit to Nebraska); they probably drove instead of riding the train.[4] The green hills and valleys and cool mountain nights of Virginia must have looked and felt refreshing to Clint, Mary, Verne, and Jim.

The horses were auctioned off on two dates, 31 October and 23 November. Sale bills Verne saved tell the story. 

Verne apparently went back home to Nebraska before the second sale, as his brother Jim mailed him a sale bill and wrote a letter on the back telling him how the sale went. 

“Monday Evening
“Hello Verne,

“Well we had the sale today and it didn’t go quite as good as the other. Looks like we might have a hundred apiece [about $1700.00 today] when everything is payed for.

“Had a Auctioneer hired up but he didn’t get here until late and I started the sale and sold the 1st four head.

“I bid in about six head but got rid of them all after the sale except the mules had 285.OO bid on them and didn’t let them go. Going to try and get $300 or $325.

“The sucking colts made more than any thing. Good little bay mare brought $202.50 and the other all brought $75 or $76 except the little blue colt she brought $44. Ilers team brought $200. Grey 3 yr old mare brought $165. Spotted mare brought $149.00. Big Black 2 yr old  horse brought $170. 2 Bay 2 yr old mares brought $320. Sorrel mare brought $135.00[,] old Black horse brought $30, old Grey brought $75. Full bros. colts brought $127.50. 2 bay 2 yr old geldings brought $240.00 and mouse colored 2 yr old brought $121.00 they sold to [sic] cheap. Good black yearling filly brought 117.50 Bay one brought 77. Black one that was thin brought 90.

“It was a pretty good sale all thru [sic] some made[,] others lost[;] sucking colts is what saved us. There is about $285. our expenses not counting our personal expenses. And the money we will have to pay Ed. Kenney. Freight was $312.00. Don’t know when we will start for home some time the last of the week.

“Some of them were coughing a little more than the other bunch. Am going to try and get rid of the mules tomorrow.

“Guess that is about all to tell. I sure am glad they are sold.  -- Jim.
“All the horses went to farmers right around here.”[5]

Jim and his parents soon went back home to Nebraska, but that was not the end of Virginia for Verne. Apparently, he was intrigued by possible business opportunities, for he was soon on his way back.

[1] “July 24, 1936 – The Hottest Day in Nebraska History,” Real Science ( : accessed 12 October 2016). Also, “Nebraska Annual Temperatures and Records,” (
nebraska_temperature.htm : accessed 12 October 2016). Also, “Next to 1936, ’05 Is No Sweat,” The New York Times ( : accessed 12 October 2016).
[2] “The Great Heat Wave of 1936: Hottest Summer in U. S. on Record,” WunderBlogâ, Weather Underground ( : accessed 12 October 2016).
[3] Verne Troutman, conversation with Zola Troutman Noble, date long forgotten.
[4] Captola Worley, Miami, Oklahoma, to Verne Troutman, letter, 23 November 1936, urges Verne to encourage his parents to visit her family in Oklahoma on their way home from Virginia, Assorted Letters, Memorabilia, and Other Papers from the Collection of Verne and Lois Troutman, binder, privately held, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana. Also, Wilburna Worley, Miami Oklahoma, to Verne Troutman, letter, 23 November 1936, explains the reason her grandmother did not go to Virginia with Verne’s parents, Assorted Letters.
[5] Jim Troutman, Saltville, Virginia, to Verne Troutman, letter, 23 November 1936, reporting the outcome of the horse auction that day, Assorted Letters.

© 2016, Z. T. Noble

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