A Catskill Catalog: September 21, 2011

At the end of August 1945, Governor Dewey went to the Walton Fair.

World War II had just, that month, come to an end. Atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had just, that month, ushered in the Atomic Age. It was a time of big things, and the governor came to Delaware County.

His coming was a big deal. Governor since 1943, Thomas E. Dewey had been a crime-busting Special Prosecutor and, the November before his visit, the Republican candidate for president. His loss to President Roosevelt, dead now four months, did not seem to diminish his luster as a future president, especially with the lackluster Missourian, Harry Truman, temporarily occupying the White House. Fifteen thousand people went to see him.

Suave and debonair, with his Clark Gable mustache, Tom Dewey was a can-do governor, who, while touring the fair, inspected cattle, talked livestock, and signed autographs. In the words of Catskill Mountain News editor Clarke Sanford, “He was on common ground with the folks.”

When it was time for the governor’s address, he was introduced by Dr. Ogden Bush, destined, later, for a long career in the state senate. Dr. Bush told the 12 to 15,000 in attendance that Dewey was, “within my memory, at least, the first chief executive of this state ever to address this fair.”

Why would Tom Dewey come to Delaware County, the Catskills, during one of the most momentous months in history? Simple: food.

The end of the Second World War unleashed a torrent of need. “There is not enough corn in Kansas and other corn-producing states for us and the starving European nations that we must aid,” the governor told his massive audience, overwhelming the grandstand. “But this state will do its best to get feed and grain into every section where it is needed.”

And nowhere was feed and grain needed more than in Delaware County, a leading producer of milk and butter. The governor came to the mountains to urge Delaware Valley farmers to greater milk production, and assure those farmers that roads would be repaired, improved, and cleared of winter snow, to assure regular and consistent transport of milk, and delivery of feed.
That’s how important agriculture was on the west slope of the Catskills. The governor came to town to spur production.

Dewey invoked science, urging farmers to increase milk production through progressive breeding. “The practice of artificial breeding is not new. It has been in use for some time. Every time it is used, the progeny from great sires, available in this state, produced more butterfat.” Butterfat is much to be desired in a thin and hungry world. These days, it seems more a nuisance by-product to one-percent milk.

The governor had come to the right place. “Today, coming here, I saw more good barns, between Walton and Delhi, than I would likely see on all the state farms put together,” the governor told his appreciative audience.

He urged farmers to spend the winter putting their machinery in top repair. New farm equipment was not yet being produced, and was unlikely to be available by spring planting. Manufacturers cannot change quickly from wartime to peacetime production. Farmers must. “It is true that the war is over, but the battle of food has yet to be won.” Winning that battle, the governor said, required that, “everyone must do his share, not leave it for someone else to do.”

Doing his share, for each dairy farmer, meant increasing butterfat production, producing more calories for a hungry world.

The governor’s speech was accompanied by new agricultural policy, making his visit politically sensitive. Dairy farmers faced a change in New York’s milk-marketing regulations, a change aimed at their pocketbooks. To provide a financial incentive for farmers to increase butterfat production, producers would receive extra-pay based on the market value of the butterfat their milk actually contained.

The new program replaced a flat-rate butterfat differential, paid monthly for attaining a minimum fat content. The new program put the onus on the farmer: each monthly check would be larger or smaller depending on last month’s butterfat content. Use progressive techniques to fatten the milk, more money in the pocket. Continue as always, less.

The governor’s urgings at Walton had a stick.

There was a carrot, too. Roads and highways connect farmers to markets, so the Walton Fair crowd was encouraged to hear the governor say, “the past 13 years, our highways, in this state, have been starved,” and promised to end that financial starvation with an aggressive road-building campaign, adding to the 13,000 miles of highways then in the state. Today, over 113,000 miles of roads crisscross New York State.

And the big one, of course, is the Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway.
© William Birns