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1920s: Great Drought hurts Manteca By DENN I S WYAT T Th e Bu lletin

It wasn’t the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 that was the defining economic development for Manteca in the 1920s. It was the Great Drought of 1924. It was also the same year the dreaded hoof-and-mouth disease decimated dairy herds. The drought was the catalyst for the single most enduring economic investment made by Manteca voters. Up until 1924, bonds to build the Melones Dam were soundly defeated. Manteca farmers and residents couldn’t see the benefit of the dam for flood protection or water supplies since the Woodward Reservoir completed in 1916 seemed to serve the South San Joaquin Irrigation District well. But the drought of 1924 changed all of that. Farmer after farmer suffered severe losses as only three rounds of irrigation were available from March until October when irrigation runs normally occur every 10 to 15 days. It required 46,000 acre feet of water to make the needed 30-minute-to-the-acre irrigation

round. But when the first irrigation started, only 36,000 acre feet was in storage at Woodward Reservoir. The first run was enough for 20 minutes of coverage on March 19, 1924. It left Woodward Reservoir completely drained. Spring run-off allowed 22,000 acre feet to accumulate by the end of April. This time the run was decreased to 15 minutes per acre. Some relief was provided to farmers on May 16, 1924 when 1.22 inches of rain fell in three hours. Unfortunately, it severely damaged the alfalfa crops’ first cutting. It triggered a summer shortage forcing dairymen to import feed at high costs from Washington. The third and final round of irrigation came on June 3, 1924. Woodward Reservoir was drained and the run was only half of the required 30 minutes per acre. G.K. Parker, SSJID superintendent in 1924, told the Bulletin the farmers could have been saved with one more run in August but there was nothing the district could do. Voters passed bonds for

Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River. Two years later on Nov. 11, 1926 the dam was dedicated. The Melones Dam saved Manteca area farmers several times over the next 20 years when lack of rain wrecked production in other California farming regions. The name “Melones” is Spanish for melons. It was attached to the Stanislaus River area where the dam was built because the gold nuggets found in the area reminded Spanish and Mexican miners of melon seeds. The Melones bonds also put SSJID in the unique position of not receiving any federal assistance to develop its water storage system. It was the federal government’s decision decades later to build a component of its water system at Melones that brought Washington into the picture. Both the Oakdale Irrigation District and SSJID share rights to over 320,000 acre feet of water behind the New Melones Dam since the federal project required the elimination of Melones Dam. Melones Dam played a key role in SSJID’s long range water planning that today is allowing it to bring treated surface water

to South County cities as well as move into retail electricity sales that may eventually yield Manteca residents rates 15% lower than PG&E rates. The hoof-and-mouth disease cost South County farmers 340 head of cattle and losses of $17,625 to further compound the economic disaster of the drought. The 1920s also saw voters approve the building of Manteca’s first high school. The election to form the Manteca Union High School District took place on May 19, 1920. Nineteen men in the community then borrowed enough money on their own to construct temporary wooden buildings on the same site that now houses Manteca High School. A $200,000 bond election carried on Dec. 23, 1921 and the campus, with its fabled tower, was dedicated on Jan. 27, 1923. The auditorium seated 550 people in “handsome, comfortable opera chairs.” The first graduating class of 1923 consisted of 10 students.

1930s: Farm woes, floods & fires By DENN I S WYAT T Th e Bu lletin

The 1930s could be characterized as Manteca’s “quiet decade” if it weren’t for the first major flood of the 20th century, labor strife, fires and diseased sugar beets temporarily shuttering Spreckels Sugar. The Depression and the Dust Bowl also combined to plant the seeds that would change the course of growth in Manteca and the rest of the Central Valley as tens of thousands of Midwest farm-

ers came to California. Things were looking bleak as the decade started. Spreckels’ Manteca plant closed in 1930 due to disease that devastated sugar beet crops. The shuttered plant meant the loss of hundreds of jobs. Immigrants from the Dust Bowl were arriving in the Central Valley by the thousands to provide stiff competition for low-skill agricultural jobs. The result was a drop in pay for locals who competed for the same type of work. Manteca’s economic future MANTECA CENTENNIAL

brightened in 1931 when disease resistant seeds developed by Spreckels and the Department of Agriculture were distributed to farmers. The plant resumed limited operations that year. By 1933, the Manteca plant was again producing commercial sugar. Sugar beet production increased steadily until 1939 when Manteca farmers produced the largest crop ever. Spreckels Sugar enjoyed a 140-day run with 250,997 tons of beets sliced and 715,768 bags of sugar pro-

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duced. Everything, though, wasn’t sweet at Spreckels. In 1936, more than 300 workers voted to unionize for better wages and benefits. Carl Boinditz, a 49-year-old machinist, was selected as the first president of Sugar Operators Union Local No. 20733 affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. The organizing process occurred with little trouble unlike in nearby Tracy where violence flared at the Holly Sugar plant. SEE 1930, PAGE 9

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Manteca Centennial 2018  

Manteca Centennial 2018  

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