Soldiers Help With North Dakota’s Wheat Harvest
Wheat ripens in late July and early August, the leaves and stalks and grain turning from green to gold. For farmers, it is a three-to-four-week race against the sun and the wind to harvest the crop.
The sun swells the wheat kernels to ripeness, but there are only ten days to harvest the wheat before the loosened grain could be knocked off by the wind and fall to the ground, wasted.
In order to win the race against the elements, Governor John Moses, on this date in 1943, issued an official call to Washington, D.C., for army troops to aid the state in harvesting the great 1943 wheat crop. Facing a “severe shortage of manpower and equipment” due to the out-migration of over 50,000 of the state’s citizens to West Coast defense plants and the induction of thousands of young men into the military, Governor Moses asked the federal government to send 30,000 soldiers to help with harvesting – 10,000 of them within a week.
And the soldier farmworkers came. The first men arrived in Fargo, driving trucks and jeeps, on Sunday, August 8. The 250 soldiers and officers stayed at the Fargo Elks Club that night before establishing a base camp at Casselton the next day. They were ready to work in the harvest fields by Tuesday.
The Army arranged for other headquarters camps in other cities near the ripening wheat crops. Minot established an army camp at the state fairgrounds for one thousand soldiers. Regulating stations for troops were also planned for Williston, Grand Forks, Valley City, Devils Lake, Bismarck, and Jamestown.
The soldiers who came to Minot included field artillerymen, airmen and tank corpsmen, most of whom came from Wisconsin. They lived in tents at the fairgrounds, where they slept each night, and were deployed to nearby wheatfields each day to help with grain binders – then with shocking and threshing the wheat. All got their morning and evening meals at the camp, but the farmers supplied the noon meal.
Recreation consisted of playing softball or swimming at Roosevelt Park. And the soldier farm workers did their duty, harvesting the golden wheat that August. It was reported that 5,000 troops came to North Dakota, not as many as requested, but as many as were available.
After the 1943 harvest, the soldiers went away to battlegrounds.
Today’s Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
Associated Press national story in “North Dakota Wants Wheat Harvest Aid,” Corsicana [TX] Daily Sun, July 24, 1943, p. 8.
“Minot Chosen As Regulation Camp For Area,” Minot Daily News, August 9, 1943, p. 1, 6.
“1,000 Soldier Farm Workers Billeted At The State Fairgrounds In Minot,” Ward County Independent, August 12, 1943, p. 1.
“Teacher Lack Hurts Schools,” Minot Daily News, December 27, 1943, p. 2.
“Farmers Ask Help Getting In The Food,” New York Times, July 7, 1943, p. 8.
“Noted A.P. Writer Limns North Dakota Harvest Problems,” Bismarck Tribune, August 11, 1942, p. 3.