I met Clark McGuiness on the Nebraska plains, while working on a combine crew for three months from Burkburnett, Texas to Scranton, North Dakota. We called ourselves wheat whackers and what we did is cut wheat, cut wheat, cut wheat, and then cut more wheat.
The wheat in the fields stood ten feet high. The tassels waved golden in streams of currents from the prairie winds. After the combines came through there was nothing left of them, but barren stubbles cut close to the ground.
We traveled with three Massey-Ferguson combines that were loaded on trailers behind trucks that hauled the wheat from the fields to small town elevators. In our crew we had the owner of the combines, whom we called the Straw Boss, his wife ‘The Cook’, along with their son, two aging itinerants and myself. Their son, two itinerant workers and I slept in one small trailer. The Straw Boss and his wife had a trailer of their own.
Clark McGuiness was a poet of the working man. He loved the prairie and the prairie loved him. He wore bib overalls with a reddish face of leather, hands that could bend iron and a heart that wept with each verse he recited from his prose and poetry. If you saw him on the street, you wouldn’t expect to hear such emotion coming from a man with such a large built, but it did one tear at a time.
Clark’s Irish ancestors were headed west, but quit for some reason before they got to the Rocky Mountains. Something told them to lay down their stakes and homestead this prairie land, where the buffalo once flourished, where the Oglala Aquifer was once full, and the remnants of English culture was left behind on the eastside of the Mississippi river.
Photo by Larry Long
Copyright Larry Long 1981
All Right Reserved
We held a big rally on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. When we turned around after the rally was over the entire National Mall was surrounded by metropolitan buses parked bumper to bumper. There was no way for the farmers and their tractors to get out. The farmers said, “Let my tractors roll! Let my people go!” But the police said, “No!”
Well something happened. The largest blizzard to hit Washington DC in over a hundred years hit, while the farmers were in town. The only thing that could move was those tractors. The farmers said, “We’ll haul your doctors and nurses and patients to the hospital.” The police said, “No” The Prince George Fire Department heard about this and said, “We have homes burning down. People dying. You’ve got to let those farmers with them tractors go.” So off they went saving hundreds of peoples lives.
When all was said and done the Prince George Fire Department gave those farmers a Citizenship Award and took me on a limousine tour with my guitar, tape deck and camera. I interviewed people who would have died if the farmers hadn’t come to town that year.
I never will forget going to an elderly man’s home, who needed to be hooked up to a dialysis machine. He said, “I lowered my head in prayer and prayed that my death might be swift. I was getting sick. Really sick. I was dying.” He said, “When I got done praying, I looked out my plate glass window and what did I see, but a tractor in my driveway with a farmer wearing a strike cap. I didn’t know if I had died yet and not!”
As the chorus I wrote to the song Grandma’s Penny Sale goes:
Give a prayer tonight for the farmer
Give a word of thanks for their labor
As the last few lines to a rambling talking blues tune of mine John Deere Have A Beer goes:
Every six minutes that comes and goes
Another family farmer has to hit the road
Sometimes I wonder what people would do
If the farmer decided to grow no more food
I’m sure we’d find something to eat
There’s always lots of paper and plastic
So I hurried up and drank my beer
And said fare thee to well to Mr. John Deere
Photo by Larry Long
Copyright Larry Long 1979
All Right Reserved
*This photograph is a featured image in Larry Long’s new Living In A Rich Man’s World music video. Living In A Rich Man’s World is now available on iTunes, Spotify and other online digital distribution channels.