Centenarian recalls the Great Depression

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FARMINGTON — Charles Oliver Alexander has seen a lot of changes over the past century.

The Texas native and longtime Farmington resident will turn 100 years old on Monday.

Alexander moved to Farmington about 65 years ago when the population was only about 5,000 people. He was working for the Ford Motor Company when he moved to Farmington, but soon began work for the El Paso Natural Gas Co. He worked there until he retired in 1979.

“So many things have happened,” Alexander said about the changes Farmington has experienced over the past 65 years.

He said the population has grown, the airport has declined and the roads have improved. He said the shopping centers in Farmington rival those of larger cities.

“I wish we would have got a railroad,” Alexander said.

Alexander was born on Feb. 19, 1918 in Farmersville, Texas. His father farmed cotton as a sharecropper near Dallas. He caught the Spanish flu of 1918, which left him cross-eyed and damaged his hearing.

When Alexander was 11 years old, the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression.

“Times were tough, soup lines began, Roosevelt became president in 1933 and over government started,” Alexander wrote in a statement to The Daily Times.

He recalled that wages were $1 per day; a doctor’s visit was $1. A loaf of bread was 10 to 13 cents. Milk was 10 cents a quart, and eggs were 12 cents.

Alexander said a job was hard to find, and people paid sales tax with mill coins. He said 10 mill coins was equivalent to a penny, and the tax was 2 mills on the dollar.

“1934 was a very dry year,” Alexander wrote. “No rain all year. The great dust bowl hit with its great clouds of dust in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. No feed for cows, horses, sheep, hogs and other animals and no money to buy food at $40 per ton. Our government sent men that shot animals that were starving that the farmers had gathered in 30 or 40 to the pen or lot.”

Alexander said the government paid $10 for large animals and $5 for small animals.

“The people were also suffering, therefore they traveled the mother road (Route 66) in any kind of car or truck for work picking fruit in California,” he recalled.

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Alexander was a junior in high school when his father used a Ford Model T chassis to build a two-wheel trailer and a box bed. The family loaded a sewing machine, cooking utensils and necessities like bedding into a trunk. They gave the rest of their household goods to the remaining neighbors, and the family of four began their journey to California.

Alexander met his wife, Kathleen, in 1937 in Estancia, and they were married in Reno, Nevada, about 77 years ago. The couple has three children.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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