South Dakota

The Reds Are Coming!

Remembering a visit from the U.S.S.R in the 1950's
Soviet Poster
Soviet Poster
I think it was in the late fifties. My dad mention that some “Russians” were coming to the area to observe American farming methods and that it might be interesting to get a look at them. Through some contacts at the County offices, he was able to determine the specific time and place where they were gathering. So, on a beautiful sunny day during the grain harvest season, we took about a half hour drive to a farm just north of Frankfort, South Dakota.

The “Russians”-- or Soviet bureaucrats to be more precise—were in this country on one of the early “cultural exchange” programs between this country and the Soviet Union; Stalin was dead and attempts were being made to quiet down the Cold War.
This visit took place either during my last year in high school or my first year in college; I can’t remember. But I was very excited about seeing these foreigners and even then I was an eager student of politics and history.

We drove out to a field where the host farmer was getting his combine ready to do a few rounds demonstrating American grain harvesting practices. He was in somewhat of a dither because a he had a small radiator leak on his Minneapolis Moline combine. I recall us trying to help him get it fixed.
A bit later a tour bus slowly rolls into the field, about twenty or thirty men got off. It was not hard to single out the Soviet visitors. They had on long sleeve shirts and what might be called dress pants. No jackets; it was a very hot day. But the fabric of their clothes was somehow different. It was perhaps the colors, perhaps the weave, I’m not sure. Their clothes seemed drab, somehow.

Soon everyone was milling around. Local farming consultants, interpreters, journalists, and, I’m sure, a couple KGB and CIA agents, were mixed in with these Soviet officials. It was a good natured gathering with a lot of chattering in two languages. When the host started up his combine and began make a round, a jackrabbit began to scamper across the stubble. A few chuckles were created when one of the Soviets asked an interpreter if that was an antelope. (Maybe they had visited Douglas, Wyoming and been exposed to the infamous “Jackalope.”)

A lasting impression was given to me when, standing close to one of the visitors, I overheard from one of the interpreters that the guy was in charge of all the tractors in the Soviet Union! This seemed quite remarkable but I knew something about the Soviet communal farms and the country’s authoritarian political system, so it seemed plausible. But, one little thing struck me; his pants were patched! These were not big glaring patches of dissimilar fabrics sewn over gaping holes, but two three places showed definitive evidence of having been carefully rewoven to repair small tears or rends. He controlled the manufacture, allocation, and placement of all the tractors in the giant Soviet Union but could not afford a new pair of pants for a foreign visit?

In all fairness, one has to remember the terrible price that the Soviet populace paid during World War II (remember, they were our allies). And, this was really just a few years after the conclusion of the war. The United States was cruising into a period of great prosperity while the Soviets were trying to recover through their clumsy central planning system. We know now the result of those efforts.

Imagine, a top Soviet agricultural official visiting a foreign country in patched pants!
Author: evm staff-Jim on 03/02 2011
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