In the mid-50s, the problem was polio

Posted 8/4/20

French critic and journalist Alphonse Karr (1808-1890) famously said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I did not know his name until later, but his words came to mind while writing below.

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In the mid-50s, the problem was polio


French critic and journalist Alphonse Karr (1808-1890) famously said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I did not know his name until later, but his words came to mind while writing below.

This week we step back 65 years in time, to August, 1955. While deep in old newspaper ink, I saw that polio was a health issue across our country in 1955. I did background research and found that polio had been in our country since the early 1900s. It reached epidemic proportions by the late 1940s and into the 1950s. Early symptoms were flu-like. In 1952, 3,145 Americans died with polio and 21,269 were left with some form of paralysis. Texas was the state hardest hit, and most victims were children.

Our government sought to stop the spread of polio, sometimes restricting commerce and travel. Public officials imposed quarantines. Many folks feared going out in public. A documentary of that time said, “Apart from the atomic bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio.

The Communicable Disease Center (CDC) was established in 1946, first to fight malaria, rabies, tuberculosis, typhus, and more. In 1950, it began polio research

The CDC worked collaboratively with Dr. Jonas Salk, who had himself begun polio research in Michigan in 1947. The goal was to first to find causes and then to develop and test a vaccine. For a while, experts suspected mosquitoes as major be the carriers, but research ultimately confirmed that polio was spread by contact with respiratory droplets or saliva or by feces, often via food contaminated with such. By 1952, an injectable killed-virus vaccine had been created, was field tested, and then field tested some more. Finally in April 1955, news of Salk’s successful injectable vaccine was made public. Some of us remember getting an oral vaccine a few years later via a soaked sugar cube.

Meteor issues for August 1955 announced the State Health Department’s receipt of a portion of 50,838 doses of the injectable Salk vaccine plus a portion of 1,177,069 doses Texas would receive in addition to the free vaccine to be given to first and second graders across the state. Children age 10 and under received priority recognition for the commercial Salk vaccine. The State agency also reported 45 new cases mid-August, bringing our state’s total for 1955 to 939 so far that year.

Polio epidemic or not, folks went on with their lives. At that time, much Madison County acreage was under cultivation: 7,147 acres of cotton had been planted in cotton here that year.

Raymond Coulton, who farmed on the west end of the county, had brought in cotton to make the first bale of the 1955 season at Planters Gin. The gin paid 40 cents a pound for cotton that year plus $60 a ton for the seed, thus Coulton received $194 for fiber and $27.30 for seed. Since it was the season’s first bale, the business ginned it for free. In those days, cotton farmers here all worked for that honor and freebie. The news article included County Extension Agent Ross Garrett’s prediction of good prospects for cotton for the rest of this season.

The county’s corn harvest averaged 30 bushels to an acre so far, not what most farmers had hoped for. Ross Garrett attributed that to a late spring freeze followed by drouthy conditions.

North Zulch Independent School District leadership predicted that construction would start soon on seven or eight additional classrooms and an auditorium being added to the then-present school building. The district had sold $85,000 in schoolhouse bonds following a July 2 vote.

Texas Governor Allan Shivers had purchased two horses for his stable from local rancher Ory Heath. When interviewed, Mr. Ory stated that Shivers and his son John rode both horses before the purchase, putting them through their paces, and that the Governor was a top judge of horseflesh. A photo of the two animals accompanied the article, and Charles Heath was holding one of them. The photo was credited simply to “Springfield”, but we old-timers know that was C.C. Springfield.

Ted Gouldy, then manager of Fort Worth’s Livestock Exchange, supplied the Meteor with livestock reports in those days. In early August, 1955, he predicted that cattle prices for the month would remain well above those of previous year, when choice grain-fed cattle brought 20 to 22 cents per pound. July 1955 prices for the same choice cattle had been 21 to 23 ½ cents a pound. Hog farmers weren’t faring so well. Gouldy reported Fort Worth prices on top hogs as 17 to 17 ¼ cents per pound whereas the previous year such had sold for 23 cents per pound.

Three new teachers had moved to Madisonville with their families. Joe Ed Sullivan had been hired to coach Elementary School football plus teach some academics, and Bob Ford to coach Elementary School basketball and teach too. George Autry was the newly-hired athletic director and football coach at Madisonville High School.

L.W. Wells and his two sons, Mutt and Harold Gene, had left for Camp Crook, South Dakota, to work for a pipeline company. Mrs. Harold Gene (Pat) Wells and children were staying with Mrs. L.W. Wells while the men were away.

Recently Harold Gene Wells shared more information about that job, and folks might enjoy seeing it, since our county provided many pipeline workers. That time in South Dakota, the men worked for Anderson Brothers and stayed in an old hotel in the nearby small town of Buffalo as there was nothing in Camp Crook. Buffalo had one café that closed at 6 p.m., and no matter how generous they offered, the pipeliners could not persuade café management to stay open later. The men worked long hours and often went to bed hungry. L.W. Wells (whom Harold Gene referred to as Daddy) worked as Harold Gene’s helper and Mike Ferguson was

Mutt’s helper. Rusty Killingsworth, Lefty Robinson, Bud McDaniels also worked that job. Mutt’s wife, Polly, stayed with her family in High Prairie.

Two Bryan men were killed when their crop duster planes collided east of Midway. John Wilson and Chuck Williams were dusting cotton for William Forrest at the time of the accident. Nelson Moffett witnessed the crash, which he said occurred when one plane was taking of and one landing. Delta Air Lines, Inc., of Bryan, owned the planes, and both pilots were veteran pilots.

We’ll continue our peek at the mid-20th century next week.

Madison County Museum, is located at 201 N. Madison St., Madisonville, TX 77864, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 6. It is closed at this time indefinitely. Hopefully soon I’ll tell you about it opening back up.