For more information about the Dust Bowl, visit the American Folklife Center, library of congress.
July 28, 1940
The Arvin Migratory Labor Camp was established by the Farm Security
Administration in 1937 at Weedpatch California, near Arvin, in the
cotton-growing region of the San Joaquin Valley. It was the first of its
kind in California, and is notable as the scene of John Steinbecke's
"Grapes of Wrath".
At the time of these recordings it contained 145
families(650 persons). The camp consists of 106 metal shelters (steel,
painted with an aluminum paint said to cut off the sun's rays
perceptibly), 98 tents, and 20 adobes.
At the peak of the cotton picking
the camp population rises to 250 families, or 1200 persons. (Average
family is 4.2 persons, said to be below the average for the nation). The
adobes are assigned on a selective basis. The occupant must show a
of 6 months employment in agriculture during preceding year. The adobes
are permanent homestead -- including an acre of ground; we saw flower
gardens, etc. Rent is $8.25 per month. Rent for the shelters or tent
platforms is $.25 per week.
The Comm. which chooses the residents of the
adobes is a camp comm. The occupants of the adobes are "permanent" --
occupants of the tents and shelters may not stay in the camp for more
than a year-- although they may move back after having lived elsewhere
while. Manager, Mr. Fred Ross.
The machine was set up first in the dance hall, with the help of the
Manager, Mr. Fred Ross. A dance was scheduled for the evening (Saturday
night), but no orchestra was available. The best fiddler in camp was on
guard duty and refused to relinquish his post. Nor could he be persuaded
to loan out his fiddle.
Numerous attempts were made. but the dance was
finally abandoned. The dance hall was a large rectangular building,
well-lighted, and cooled by numerous fans blowing through wet burlap
("desert-cooler"). About fifty people, mostly children, gathered about
the machine -- all very shy, and deeply impressed by the notion that we
First attempts to interest them in singing brought
dubious results. Most of the songs were what the old folks called "late
Finally, for testing, two little girls, Eileen Russell and Erlene
Gibson, were persuaded to sing "On the Beach at Bali-Bali" in two part
harmony, which was very well done. An attempt was made to record "The
Convict and the Rose", but neither child remembered enough of it.
this point, a man interrupted and said, "What you want is some real old
Break-down stuff, ain't it, Mister?" We assured him it was, and he
promised to bring forth the next day.
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Copyright © 2000 The Kitchen Sisters