Column: Worthington Thanksgivings, 1931-1938

WORTHINGTON -- When was 1938? Well, 1938 was 71 years ago. Have I got this right? Those were the days. Those were the days when turkeys had black/bronze feathers. Those were the days when turkeys spent much of their lives on open ranges in Nobles...

WORTHINGTON -- When was 1938?

Well, 1938 was 71 years ago. Have I got this right?

Those were the days.

Those were the days when turkeys had black/bronze feathers. Those were the days when turkeys spent much of their lives on open ranges in Nobles County. Those were the days when Worthington Creamery & Produce had its own refrigerated rail cars with a slogan on each car that boasted, "Where the Large Poultry Grows."

The reason for these railroad cars:


In 1938, Worthington Creamery, plus J.C. Boote Produce & Hatchery, shipped 200 carloads of processed turkeys from Worthington to eastern markets. In total -- in advance of Thanksgiving -- Worthington turkey shipments came to 2,400 tons (4,800,000 pounds), enough turkeys for half-a-million families.

The Worthington Times, in its Thanksgiving eve edition, reported the Nobles County turkey industry, " virtue of this enormous production, has focused the eyes of Eastern buyers on our section, with the result that birds from this section are much in demand." Very many Americans were eating Worthington turkeys.

A story not often told about the turkey industry that brought Worthington national attention is the story of East Coast contractors and buyers boarding trains for Worthington to nail down turkey orders.

The Times , in a front-page story featuring local turkey production, said:

"As early as August the movement toward the local packing plants commences..." By August the size of the flocks to be marketed and the projected size of the birds could be known

"Most of the shipments (from the Worthington railyard) are made on contract to...large provisioners of the country.

"These provisioners regularly send buyers into the Worthington territory (which is) steadily attaining more and more recognition as producing the finest crop of any in the United States."

In 1938, turkeys still were largely kept off dinner tables until the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year holidays. Shipments became frantic by Nov. 1.


Turkeys were electrocuted, picked, eviscerated and moved to coolers. They were "cooled and packed in orderly fashion in boxes, going to the refrigerator cars where they are rushed to markets, but a few hours from the time they were picked up on the farms of Nobles and surrounding counties, where flocks of 5,000 birds are becoming commonplace."

Turkey growers were slightly disappointed in 1938, "the price of turkeys being about two cents lower on the retail market than they were ... in 1937."

What was not foreseen was that Thanksgiving 1938 was America's last tranquil Thanksgiving for many years.

The Great Depression remained a depressing matter in that time 71 years gone by. Retailers -- and these were truly small businessmen -- looked at their calendars. Thanksgiving 1939 was scheduled Nov. 30. This meant a Christmas shopping season of 24 days.

Huge pressure was directed to FDR, President Franklin Roosevelt. Thanksgiving is set by a proclamation issued by U.S. presidents year by year. Retailers pleaded, "Please, Mr. President. Make Thanksgiving on Nov. 23. Give us a longer shopping season."

FDR yielded. BOOM! A continental explosion of protest. If the Holy Bible does not say America's Thanksgiving festival must be on the fourth Thursday of November, it should say it. What was the President thinking of? He must be crazy! Retailers tended to be very busy in their offices, doors closed. For the sake of sales, they now agreed with the protesters.

Some Americans ate their turkey dinners on "New Thanksgiving," Nov. 23. That was the official holiday, the day off from work. Other Americans waited until Nov. 30. "We'll have our dinners after we get through with work..." 

So much for 1939.


Thanksgiving 1940 was set for the fourth Thursday once again. Nov. 11 -- Armistice Day. One of the most fierce and deadly blizzards in Minnesota's experience swept across the region. Worthington's turkey flocks were buried -- suffocated -- by snow drifts. The produce houses could not fill their orders. Losses were enormous.

Thanksgiving 1941. The local turkey industry was nearly eliminated. Railcars were idle. Never again were there turkey flocks on open ranges along all roads leading to Worthington. The glitter was gone.

One week later, Dec. 7, 1941, America was cast into World War II. There came to be millions of empty chairs at Thanksgiving tables. The great times -- 1937, 1938 -- were history.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.

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