Govert Van der Boom was reflective as he slid the invoices from one side of his desk to the other. Sitting at the desk in the back corner of his general store in Govert, South Dakota, he was reflective, yes, but at the same time he was barely suppressing a celebratory whoop. Govert Van der Boom was feeling pretty good. He was feeling confident. In fact, he was nearing the top of his game. Maybe he was even on top of the world!
September always did seem a good time for reflection. A time for renewal. September was when it began. With not a single customer in the store needing his assistance, or pulling him from the desk to ponder the weather and the crops, Govert put his elbow on the desk, and his chin in his hand. And he closed his eyes.
Back in September '09, wasn't it, that he and Howard Jacobs came up to Belle Fourche from Wessington Springs? At the Land Commissioner's office in Belle, they each filed a claim for a homestead nearly 70 miles to the northeast. "A claim right where I'm sitting." Govert turned in his chair and looked slowly around the empty store, amusing himself with the change brought by the years. Govert blinked and drew in his breath. "Here it is 1928 and I've been on this corner of the prairie for near 20 years."
Back in '09 ... 1909, that is ... the township chosen by the two men was nearly unpopulated. Those were good days, heady days, days of town building. "God sees, and God provides. Howard and I only helped him along." Govert and Howard were proud of their town. People liked living here. Most people didn't have more than they needed and were happy that way. They had enough. "Been more than 12 years since Howard sold me his interest in the store and moved his wife to the city." Govert and Emma had been married about four years when Howard and Laura left. "Been 16 years now that I've been married to my Emma." And then Govert smiled that charming smile of his.
The Govert Mercantile had always carried a good inventory, all the staples, like flour, sugar, coffee, canned meat, sometimes even a barrel of salted fish stood outside the door of the store. And other important items to lighten the heart ... like sweets. Govert never could resist gathering up a few luxury items on his trips to Belle Fourche and later to Newell after the railroad built a spur there. The necessaries were necessary, but Govert was sure the unnecessaries were necessary, too. Govert Van der Boom liked to see the eyes of the women and their children brighten when they entered the store. A few toys. The girls always liked to look at a doll, and the little boys liked wagons. He always stocked pretty fabric for the ladies.
And now Govert was also selling more and larger things, machinery for the farms and ranches. Govert Van der Boom had become a salesman and service agent for the International Harvester Company.
On 1 September 1928 Govert Van der Boom finished the sales year for the International Harvester Company, his first year selling McCormick-Deering machinery. Sitting there at his desk, Govert reviewed the invoices for the equipment he sold over the last 12 months. He fished a blank piece of paper from the drawer, picked up a pencil, and made a list.
Howard Sheridan .... Corn Binder
Nick Lale .... Corn Binder
John Weurzer .... Corn Binder
Clem Bruggeman .... Corn Binder
Frank Balduiki .... Cream Separator
Herbert Scofield .... Cream Separator
A.C. Noyce .... Cream Separator
Chas. Scofield .... Cream Separator
Chris Wamman .... Cream Separator
Martin Blomberg .... Cream Separator
C.C. Howard .... Cream Separator
T.H. Bekken .... Cream Separator
F. DeJeager .... Manure Spreader
Clem Bruggeman .... 10-20 tractor
Mrs. A. Bakka .... 9 ft. Grain Drill
Harry Class .... 10 ft. Grain Drill
Clem Bruggeman .... Tractor Plows
L.R. Jones .... 10-20 Tractor
Mrs. A. Bakka .... Corn Planter
Clem Bruggeman .... Tractor Disc
L.R. Jones .... Tractor Plows
W.B. Willard .... Overshot Stacker
James Mishler .... Disc
R.F. Ruby .... Manure Spreader
W.B. Willard .... 4-Wheel Sweep
W.J. Adams .... Seeder
G. Aukland .... 3-row Lister Cultivator
G. Van der Boom .... Red Baby Truck
Link Storm .... 10-ft. Hay Rake
Dan Cresman .... 10-ft. Hay Rake
Willard Esler .... Big Six Mower
Wm. Marty .... Big Six Mower
R.F. Ruby .... Overshot Stacker
John Bekken .... 8-ft. Grain Binder
Coe Bros. .... 16-ft. Harvester Thresher
R.F. Ruby .... Sweep Rake
A.M. Nelson .... 7-ft. Grain Binder
Fred Millett .... 12-ft. Header
Geo. Escherich .... 8-ft. Grain Binder
Burke Bros. .... 10-ft. Sulky Hay Rake
H.L. Schofield .... Corn Binder
Willie Willerett .... Corn Binder
E.S. Smith .... 6 Speed Special Truck
Nick Lale .... Big Six Mower
Govert Van der Boom looked up from his records now splayed across his desk, and then added at the bottom of the sheet of paper: three Jungers ranges, three Parlor furnaces, several Maytag washing machines, 5 second hand cream separators, one second hand tractor and a set of tractor plows.
1927 and 1928 were good years in Govert, South Dakota. They must have been. The ranchers in Govert were feeling confident about the future or they wouldn't be placing orders for equipment for the upcoming corn and hay crops. Butter was always a reliable "cash crop", too, and Govert did a good business selling new and used cream separators. Govert Van der Boom would not have had a good year selling if the neighbors were not also having a good year.
Govert and Emma Van der Boom had cause to be optimistic with this impressive report card. The sales made in 1927 and 1928 showed they had a good customer base. These were the homesteaders who remained after proving their claims, and these were also landowners who bought land from homesteaders who moved on. The machinery sales proved to them that Govert, South Dakota, was buoyed by an enthusiastic population, neighbors and friends who had a then-present determination to continue to make a life in that isolated corner of Harding County.
How were they to know? How were Govert Van der Boom, Emma Van der Boom, or any of their customers to know? They all found something satisfying about living on the prairie, partly that sense of being responsible for their own destiny. How were any of them to know Govert, South Dakota, was already passing its prime? How were they to know their destiny would soon be overwhelmed by forces beyond their control? How were they to know the Stock Market would crash in a little more than a year? How were they to know the Depression lurked just around the corner? How were they to know? How was anyone to know?
Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate
[Story based on an untitled news bite in the Govert Advance, 27 September 1928]