An Amarillo photographer's personal journey through the Dust Bowl- with past and present eyes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dust Bowl tourism?

CONNECT AMARILLO - The Oklahoma and Texas panhandles expect an uptick in tourism following a two-part television series on the Dust Bowl, what many call the nation's worst man-made disaster.

PBS' series on "The Dust Bowl" concluded Monday night. The film by Ken Burns featured interviews with a number of Panhandle residents who lived through a decade's worth of drought and wind storms.

The executive director of the Guymon Chamber of Commerce, Jada Breeden, expects interest in the area to pick up due to the series.
Nick Olson, director of the XIT Museum in Dalhart, Texas, said the series and books about the period will bring people to the region. Olson says many people who visit think the area still has sand dunes. He says the dunes exist but are now grass-covered.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Great review for: The Dust Bowl

By Ned Martel, Published: November 16

This past April, there was no Pulitzer for fiction. Judges and prize administrators struggled to find the right work for right now, and then they gave up. One aftermath assessment: Novels have gotten twee.

In televised nonfiction, on the other hand, Ken Burns has no problem with the big picture. His documentaries for PBS are never not epic. He knows how to make chapters of America’s past seem urgent, whether he’s obsessing over a sport (baseball) or a musical genre (jazz). He’s unafraid of going wider, too, having assembled sagas on World War II and, most famously, the Civil War.

Like good novelists, Burns finds quiet awakenings amid everyday travails, no matter the time period. There’s no real problem with doing this, except the PBS impresario tends to exhaust interest in an epoch as if he’s conducting an honors seminar in the history department. Halfway through, while we’re all furrowing in airless archives, a question often arises: Can this be taken pass-fail?

With “The Dust Bowl,” Burns keeps himself to four concise hours and ably sifts the story out of the dirt. As the filmmaker chronicles farmers in the southern Plains during the Depression years, he looks more carefully at fewer people and distills deeper meaning.

Over 10 years, farmers tore up grasslands to plant more and more wheat, which soon was worth less and less. Next, winds blew away good soil and then more winds brought bad soil to the surface. In towns called Follett and Enid, the filmmaker has found important things to discuss about ecosystems and economies and how they collapse.

More important, Burns also presents novel-worthy characters against an apocalyptic backdrop.

One Job-like figure in the desertified Oklahoma Panhandle is a farm wife who describes endless chores in her elegant magazine dispatches.

Caroline Henderson, a homesteader with a Mount Holyoke degree, is perhaps Burns’s most apt protagonist. She sounds like Laura Ingalls Wilder with an adult awareness; imagine her as the first mommy blogger.

The land changes under Henderson’s feet. Amber waves become arid dunes. Morning in America leads to darkness by noon. She keeps somber vigil as Manifest Destiny comes to a screeching halt.

Not every viewer will be in the mood for a glimpse of the moment when thousands of poor Americans confronted what looked like end times. It’s unsettling, in the season of the “fiscal cliff,” to delve into four hours recounting some previous battered economy, when recovery stretched from wait-till-next-year to wait-till-next-decade.

Somehow, Burns takes care of viewer and character alike. For sure, the pain of infanticidal winds addles the brains of both farm marms and PBS viewers. Hack coughs lead to “dust pneumonia,” which claimed one family’s youngest girl and eldest matriarch in the same week. On the day of their double funeral, a massive storm engulfed mourners, compounding the pain.

That Palm Sunday devastation, in 1935, blew Plains dust all the way to Franklin Roosevelt’s desktop in the Oval Office, and the viewer can practically feel some film of inescapable particles settling, even after the documentary’s gusts have waned. As narrator Peter Coyote pulls back to a wider world, the discussion takes a needed break, turning to Washington players such as Henry Wallace and Harold Ickes, New Deal Cabinet members who debated whether to plow anew or abandon for good, respectively.

As ever, the screen scans historic images — strong, clear, artful ones. Photographer Dorothea Lange trains her lens on wind-whipped faces. Burns knows by now how to pull emotion out of first-person documents and underscores the testimony with piano chords and violin whines. Woody Guthrie finds his voice. And one of many older survivors recalls her mama’s hymn that hoped for “higher ground.”

Obviously, there are American themes of endurance and pluck, but also hype and hubris. In on-camera testimonies, unsparing eco-historians such as Timothy Egan make sense of the sadness, with ample narrative skill. A viewer will understand arcana about soil conservation and grassland water retention, plus how the government came to pay farmers not to farm, a policy that endures.

Wheat prices soar and sink, and fields of dreams become nightmare landscapes. When survivors finally overcome starvation and disease, many pack up and head to California. There, real-life Tom Joads look as hearty and humble as Henry Ford but get mocked as unwashed and defeated Okies.

“The Dust Bowl” is worthwhile not merely as it documents past perseverance but also as it informs future struggles. Leave it to Burns, our mop-topped maestro of American fact, to find the heroine, Caroline Henderson, who can speak for herself and also bring it all home: “Behind the characteristic American nonchalance, one detects a growing anxiety, especially about the coming winter.”

The Dust Bowl

(two hours each night) Sunday and Monday
at 8 p.m. on PBSa

Watching The Dust Bowl ...

Our little premier of The Dust Bowl last night was a big success. I was happy and very proud to share with my good friends my small part in this wonderful documentary and although I had previewed over an hour of the series - I was still blown away of how outstanding and how much emotional depth Part I had.

During some scenes - when they showed the emotional and physical toll the storms took on Dust Bowl survivors - some of us - had to fight back tears. It truly made me (and others) grateful we didn't live through such tragic times and (at the same time) proud we came from such strong American stock.

It kind of makes bitching that gas prices are high and who is president seem so trivial.

For the last three years I had immersed myself in the history of the Dust Bowl and still find myself stopping to take photos of "echoes" that exist to this day.

It was a wonderful project to be even peripherally involved with, brought me closer to the land I call home and is one I will carry with me in my heart for a long time to come.

I hope you'll tune in and watch Part II tonight.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Big Plow Up - The Dust Bowl

Old photo I found in the Kenton, Oklahoma general store called "The Merc" stuck on a tack on the wall showing a pioneer participating in "the big plow up" where hundreds of thousands of acres of native grasses were plowed under to make way for crops.

Considered useless - these grasses held down the top soil which the constant wind just stripped away.

Dust Bowl location ...

One of the locations I scouted that you'll see in The Dust Bowl tonight - an  abandoned farm located on the far side of nowhere nowhere north of Clayton, New Mexico.

(C) Steve Douglass 

It's now used to store hay but was once the house of a family of proud homesteaders driven out by years of drought and depression. That it survives today bears testament to the pioneer spirit under which it was built.

The Dust Bowl premiers tonight on PBS

Today is like Christmas Day for me. Finally after almost two years Ken Burn's "The Dust Bowl" is airing tonight and tomorrow night on PBS. It was amazing project to be (even if it was a small) part of in bringing to fruition. Hundreds of local citizens in the Texas, Oklahoma Panhandles and Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico lent thousands of personal photos that makes up the heart of this truly American story.

Florentine films also interviewed dozens of Dust Bowl survivors - some of which I found for them - such as Ina K. Labrier living in the small town of Kenton Oklahoma who may be 99 years old but is sharper than I ever will be.

I remember listening to her recollection and watching face as her mind drifted back to Black Sunday - the day they thought the world was truly coming to an end. She welled up - her hands shook and she was there - breathing grit through part of her slip that she had town off and put over her mouth and nose.

She lost many relatives and friends to "dust pneumonia" and the pain of it was written on her face like stone. Please check your local listings and watch tonight and tomorrow night. Check your local listings for times.

Watch The Dust Bowl Preview on PBS. See more from The Dust Bowl.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ken Burn "Dust Bowl" is cautionary tale ...

Ken Burns' latest PBS documentary, "The Dust Bowl," comes on the heels of the first presidential-election debates in 28 years not to address climate change. If the candidates won't talk about it, leave it to Burns and frequent collaborator Dayton Duncan to draw historic parallels between present-day environmental concerns and the disaster of the 1930s, which was caused by a combination of drought and environmentally destructive farming methods.

"It's a cautionary tale about who we are as human beings as much as anything else," Duncan said of "The Dust Bowl" (8 p.m. EST Sunday and Monday; check local PBS station listings). "Our film was about nature, and it's also about human nature. We're not unique as Americans, but we might be a little more susceptible to it, that we believe that we can ignore the limits of the environment and of nature if it suits our purposes, and that if things are going on a roll, they will continue to go on a roll.

"And all those things converged on the Southern Plains of the teens and the '20s so that by the time the inevitable drought was going to return, they had plowed up essentially a place the size of the state of Ohio and left it exposed to the winds and desiccating drought that was going to occur."

Burns, who directed "The Dust Bowl," and Duncan, who is the film's writer, spoke about making the four-hour program at a PBS press conference during the Television Critics Association summer press tour in July. They were joined by Timothy Egan, author of "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl," and Calvin Crabill, a Dust Bowl survivor, who are both featured in the PBS documentary.

"The Dust Bowl" sets the stage for this natural disaster, explaining what inspired the land rush that found people who had never owned any property suddenly racing to claim a piece of dirt in a place they'd never visited.

"The Homestead Act was entered. The government was saying, 'Please move here.' Reputable scientists were saying rain follows the plow, that is, the act of plowing would make more rain, that the climate was undergoing a permanent shift towards that, that this was this new Eden, and because it coincided with some wet years, it was," Burns said.

"Suitcase farmers who didn't live there but bought lots of land and paid others to plant it, and they took this buffalo grass that sent its roots down 5 feet into the ground and turned over this soil that had stayed that way for eons, and when the inevitable drought times came back, when the wind continued to blow, that land blew. I mean, we plowed up millions and millions of acres in a kind of speculative agriculture and real-estate bubble."
Egan said the Dust Bowl represents the first time in human history that man changed the climate in a region.

"These storms were human-caused, because the wind had always been there," Egan said. "The drought had always been there. So we peeled this thing off. This is what I get when I talk to college kids about this. They see the modern parallel to climate change. ... It's an earlier version of the tale of how human beings literally change the earth for worse, and then the earth got its revenge, if you want to look at it as an anthropomorphized thing."

Egan said repairs have been made -- 16 million acres of grasslands were restored in the Dust Bowl area -- but he's not confident lessons were learned.

"The larger human lesson of being able to listen to nature and push it too far and think we can push it, you see that every day in comments by our politicians about what we're going through right now," Egan said. 

While parallels to recent times are evident throughout "The Dust Bowl," the film's focus is truly on those who survived it. Before beginning work on the program several years ago, Burns recorded spots that aired on PBS stations in the Dust Bowl territory, seeking survivors and photos. Crabill was among those who responded. He describes a harrowing trip home from school to round up cattle before a dust storm hit and the fallout of being a Dust Bowl survivor after his family moved to Burbank, Calif.

"I never invited anybody into my house. ... I felt that I was the poorest kid in the high school," Crabill said. It was a stigma that's never left him. At his 55th high-school reunion, a woman whose family owned the house Crabill's family rented said, "These were 'Grapes of Wrath' people. They were terrible. They were old and poor." 

"I was shocked," Crabill said. "My other classmates came up and apologized for her. But, yeah, it sticks."

(Egan compared the diaspora created by the Dust Bowl to Hurricane Katrina, which also sent people on the move away from New Orleans.)

Sunday night's first part of "The Dust Bowl" ends with the introduction of Woody Guthrie and his dust-storm-inspired tune, "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You." This installment also includes the sad, moving story of a child who perished in the Dust Bowl due to dust pneumonia.
Read more HERE.

Another dusty Saturday in the new Dust Bowl

Click to enlarge
photo (C) Steve Douglass

The new Dust Bowl continues ... dry northerner rearranges the real estate on a Texas Panhandle farm. The drought continues with more of it forecast for the coming winter.
(C) Steve Douglass

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Dust Bowl companion book released


In this riveting chronicle, which accompanies a documentary to be broadcast on PBS in the fall, Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns capture the profound drama of the American Dust Bowl of the 1930s. 

Terrifying photographs of mile-high dust storms, along with firsthand accounts by more than two dozen eyewitnesses, bring to life this heart-wrenching catastrophe, when a combination of drought, wind, and poor farming practices turned millions of acres of the Great Plains into a wasteland, killing crops and livestock, threatening the lives of small children, burying homesteaders' hopes under huge dunes of dirt.

 Burns and Duncan collected more than 300 mesmerizing photographs, some never before published, scoured private letters, government reports, and newspaper articles, and conducted in-depth interviews to produce a document that may likely be the last recorded testimony of the generation who lived through this defining decade.


Amarillo Museum of Art hosts Dust Bowl era photos

Dust and Depression: Farm Security Administration Photographs from the 1930s October 3 - December 9, 2012

Dust and Depression: Farm Security Administration Photographs from the 1930s takes viewers on a journey back to a time of historic economic crises, when Americans experienced dire financial crises due to the 1929 Wall Street crash and record draughts that crippled the nation’s agricultural production.

Sixty black-and-white images from the museum’s permanent collection feature works by nationally renowned photographers John Collier, Jr., Jack Delano, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Carl Mydans, Arthur Rothstein, and Ben Shahn.

The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was one of several federally-funded New Deal economic programs enacted during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency to provide relief to the economically disadvantaged, support economic recovery, and reform the financial system behind the Depression.

Part of the Historic division of FSA, the photography project not only created a “visual encyclopedia of American life” but also through mass media outlets like magazines and newspaper informed the public about the plight of fellow citizens nationwide and often facilitated government action to address their needs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Worst Hard Time author Timothy Egan to lecture in Amarillo.

Timothy Egan (born November 8, 1954 in Seattle, Washington) is an American author and journalist. For The Worst Hard Time, a 2006 book about people who lived through The Great Depression's Dust Bowl, he won the National Book Award for Nonfiction[2][3] and the Washington State Book Award in history/biography.

Quoting Egan: "The story of the people who lived through the nation's hardest economic depression and its worst weather event is one of the great untold stories of the Greatest Generation. To me, there was an urgency to get this story now because the last of the people who lived through those dark years are in their final days. It's their story, and I didn't want them to take this narrative of horror and persistence to the grave. At the same time, this part of America - the rural counties of the Great Plains - looks like it's dying. Our rural past seems so distant, like Dorothy's Kansas in the Wizard of Oz. Yet it was within the lifetime of people living today that nearly one in three Americans worked on a farm. Now, the site of the old Dust Bowl - which covers parts of five states - is largely devoid of young families and emptying out by the day. It's flyover country to most Americans. But it holds this remarkable tale that should be a larger part of our shared national story." 

Egan will be giving a free lecture at the Amarillo Civic Center Heritage Room on October, 11 at 7:00 PM.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

KACV launches "Days of Dust" website.

In anticipation of  the airing (in November) of Ken Burn's Dust Bowl, KACV TV has launched a new website "Days of Dust" featuring film clips, photographs, interviews and education resource materials.

KACV conducted interviews with local Dust Bowl survivors and Florentine Films Academy Award winning producer and documentarian Ken Burns - clips of which will air during the run of The Dust Bowl when it airs on November 18th.

In conjunction with the series, educational resources for area schools in the Region 16 area can also be downloaded by educators for use in their lesson plans for the Elementary, Secondary and College level courses.

"Days of Dust" is a Texas Panhandle-wide Community Engagement effort surrounding Ken Burns' film The Dust Bowl, premiering on KACV and all PBS stations November 18 and 19, 2012. "Days of Dust" is taking place summer - fall, 2012.

Exclusive production projects and a variety of special events, exhibits and activities are being undertaken by the "Days of Dust" key partners - Amarillo College, Amarillo Independent School District, Amarillo Museum of Art, Amarillo Public Library, KACV - Public Television for the Texas Panhandle, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum and Region 16 Education Service Center.

Any Texas Panhandle organization is invited to take part in "Days of Dust." Please contact KACV to add your Dust Bowl activities to our community calendar.

We welcome all Texas Panhandle residents to take part in the various "Days of Dust" activities offered from August through November, 2012.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Swimming in debt - during the Dust Bowl

Click to enlarge
Photo by Steve Douglas 
By 1932 nearly a third of all farmers faced foreclosure for back taxes or debt: nationwide one in twenty were loosing their land. and since more Americans still worked on a farm than any other place, it meant every state was swimming in the same drowning pool.

During the boom years, Folkers had been wise enough to put some money away. But now his savings were gone, wiped out by the bank collapse. He withdrew into a paralysis, blank faced, skulking around the homestead and talking to his fruit orchard, the one thing that still gave him hope. At night he sat in a chair, his fingers tapping away, going over the figures in head. Faye never saw her father so broken. 

His homestead was a quicksand quicksand of debt. The new house he gad built by hand, the Model T, the new kerosene cook stove, the piano that he and Katherine had purchased for their daughter Faye - he might lose it all.

Outside the wind blew with a callous edge. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

No man's land.

Click to enlarge photos.

There's a place in the northwest Texas Panhandle which includes the entire Oklahoma Panhandle known as "no man's land." It's called that because it was basically abandoned due to the Dust Bowl. What was once promising green grassland became a veritable desert of dust and death due to an unprecedented period of  drought and bad land management during what was called "The Dirty Thirties. 

I explored the Oklahoma & Texas panhandle extensively during a location scout for Ken Burns/Dayton Duncan production to air on PBS this November titled "The Dust Bowl." 

"Let me tell ya how it was. I don’t care who describes that to you, nobody can tell it any worse than what it was. And no one exaggerates that; there is no way for it to be exaggerated. It was that bad.”
                                                               — Don Wells, Boise City, Oklahoma

Although through careful water and land management the wild grasses have returned to hold down much of the top soil - the recent drought - rivaling that of the 1930s, threatens to turn the area again into a new Dust Bowl.  Wildfires sparked by lightning have ravaged the area - stripping the ground of the protective grasses that hold down the prairie. Huge billows of ash and dust are lifted up thousands of feet whenever a "blue norther" comes through - carrying it as far south as Lubbock and Midland also suffering from the drought.

Last year (2011) was the dryest on record, even surpassing those powder dry days of the 1930s. Fortunately 2012 has been kinder. Rainfall is up and for awhile the Great Plains were green this past spring, but as we approach autumn, the water has dried up and once again is becoming fuel for the inevitable prairie fires that will sweep the High Plains during February, March and April of 2013.

Although you can still drive miles and miles without seeing a living soul, you still can find traces of the Dust Bowl or echoes - as I call them - that reverberate through the region to this day. 

I came upon this abandoned  "Jail Break Ford" in ranchers field. It is surrounded by cattle bones, the remains of cows that died huddling around it because it is the only wind break on a featureless plain. In winter  the howling winds give no quarter and can literally freeze the flesh and strip away. 

I imagine a scenario where this truck was a farm truck - tasked with taking wheat to market - but when the grass dried up and blew away - so did the money to maintain it. Most likely when it broke down sixty some-odd years ago it was abandoned in place and has been there ever since. 

 More photos of this unofficial monument to the Dust Bowl will be posted later in this blog.

I found this abandoned homestead just outside of  the town of Texline on the Texas/New Mexico border.
The years have not been kind to what have once been some family's dream home - but now it sits empty - a reminder of the optimism of those early farmers and ranchers who saw great promise in what was once an ocean of green prairie grass only to have it slowly erode into what now is No Man's Land.

In my opinion it should be preserved as an official historical site, as an example of what life was like during the Dirty 30s, but nature didn't concur.

I hear it was swept away by a tornado last year. 

All photos (C) Steve Douglass 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"You are filled with dirt."

Excerpt from The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

One Dirt-filled day blended into another. Starting at the first day of March, there was a duster every day for thirty straight days. according to the weather bureau. In Dodge City, Kansas the Health Board counted only thirteen dust free days in the first four months of 1935. 

People were stuffed with topsoil. In a report delivered to the Southern  Medical Association, Dr. John H. Blue of Guymon, Oklahoma said he treated fifty-six patients for dust pneumonia, and all of them showed signs of silicosis; others were suffering early symptoms of tuberculosis. 

He was blunt. The doctor had looked inside an otherwise healthy farm hand, a man in his early twenties and told him what he saw.

"You are filled with dirt." the doctor said. The young man died within the day. 

All photos (C) Steve Douglass 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dust Bowl saga set to film in Amarillo area, starring Willie Nelson

“Cottonwood,” an independent film set in West Texas during the Dust Bowl, is to be partially filmed in the Texas Panhandle starting this fall, the production team from Mark Campbell Productions said Tuesday morning at a news conference.
The movie will star country music superstar Willie Nelson, whose production company, Luck Films, is co-producing.
Most of the interior scenes will be shot in Austin, but Stacy Dean Campbell, the author of the 2004 novel “Cottonwood” and director of the film, said he wanted the outside shots to feel authentic.
“I want the film to feel open and big and wide, what it was intended to be,” he said.
The team — Stacy Dean Campbell; producer Julie Campbell; executive producer John “J.C.” Elsinger, an Amarillo native, of Mark Campbell Productions; and screenwriter Decker of NYCe Pictures — will be in Amarillo scouting locations through Thursday.
Stacy Dean Campbell, a musician and television host originally from Carlsbad, N.M., said his grandfather used to tell him stories of life during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.
“That’s what really sparked me to start the project of writing the book,” he said.
The story takes place in 1937 in Wellington and centers around county Sheriff Rube Whitlock, who struggles to raise his two sons after his daughter dies and leaves his wife mentally unable to cope with the loss.
As the pressure of raising his children becomes too much, he hires Esther, a black woman whose husband, P.V., is hated by locals for attempting to establish himself as a successful cotton producer.
“It really stirs up a lot of racial tensions in the community,” Stacy Dean Campbell said. “People don’t want to see him prosper.”
As the tension rises and relationships develop, Rube is forced to choose between upholding the law and following his moral convictions.
Julie Campbell said it’s the complex characters blended with history, social issues and a surprise ending that make the film worth watching.
“A lot of it is the relationships and how they’re built, the bonds,” she said.
“One thing that the film has, that we still have in society today, is racial injustice, and that’s one of the subject matters of the story. So I think a lot of people will relate to that.”
She said many of the people who read the screenplay said the story reminds them of the books-turned-movies “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Grapes of Wrath.”
“Then I realized, geez, we really do have something here,” she said. “So we’ve been working for the last 18 months producing and in development, getting this project off the ground.”
Eslinger said when he first read the screenplay, he was struck by how accurately it portrayed the voice and feel of West Texas during the Great Depression.
“When Julie sent me the script, I couldn’t put it down because I grew up on the tail end of the Dust Bowl when there was still mountains of sand and it was real flat and dry,” Eslinger said.
“That’s all I heard about until I left home, so when I read this script I was like, ‘Wow.’”
“Cottonwood” is also slated to star Anthony Michael Hall, Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., Ethan Suplee, Alison Eastwood, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and others, according to Julie Campbell and material provided by the production team.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dust storms and dead cows ...

Photos by Steve Douglass -
Excerpts from The Worst Hard Time - Timothy Egan (C) Timothy Egan 
Reproduced with permission: Houghton Mifflin,Company 

PAGE 121: The dust storm that blew up from Amarillo at the start of 1932 was treated as a freak of nature, a High Plains anomaly. In March the wind was often at its most fierce, and when it blew in the late winter of 1932, it picked up the earth in No Man's Land and scattered it all over the High Plains. These storms were shorter and smaller that the big duster of January, but they were similar in other ways: black, rolling, sharp, and cutting on the skin. The cows bawled when a duster rolled in and hit like the swipe from the edges of a big file. The dirt got in their eyes and blinded them, got in their noses and mouths, matted up their hide and caused skin rashes and infections. 

PAGE 145: The government men came to the high Plains in the second year of the new president's term with a plan to kill as many farm animals as possible. There was not a buyer in the hemisphere for the wretched-looking cattle stumbling across the prairie with sores, and their insides all bound up with dust. It made silent men cry to see herbivores on what had been the greatest grassland under the heavens dying cruel deaths from the lifeless,cursed turf. A cow could only live so long chewing salted tumbleweeds and swallowing mud.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Woody Guthrie: " Dust Bowl Troubadour"

Woodrow Wilson "WoodyGuthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) is best known as an American singer-songwriter and folk musician, whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs, ballads and improvised works. He frequently performed with the slogan This Machine Kills Fascists displayed on his guitar. His best-known song is "This Land Is Your Land." Many of his recorded songs are archived in the Library of Congress.[1] Such songwriters as Bob DylanPhil OchsBruce SpringsteenJohn MellencampPete SeegerJoe StrummerBilly Bragg and Tom Paxton have acknowledged Guthrie as a major influence.
Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned traditional folk and blues songs. Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression, earning him the nickname the "Dust Bowl Troubadour."[2]Throughout his life Guthrie was associated with United States communist groups, though he was seemingly not a member of any.[3]
Guthrie was married three times and fathered eight children, including American folk musician Arlo Guthrie. He is the grandfather of musician Sarah Lee Guthrie.[4] Guthrie died from complications of Huntington's disease, a progressive genetic neurological disorder. 
During his later years, in spite of his illness, Guthrie served as a figurehead in the folk movement, providing inspiration to a generation of new folk musicians, including mentor relationships with Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan.
Woody Guthrie was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997.

See a list of his "Dust Bowl Ballads HERE

Amarillo Museum of Art to display FSA photos

Timed to coincide with the premier of Ken Burns/Florentine Films production, The Dust Bowl, the Amarillo Museum of Art will be hosting a display of FSA (Farm Service Administration) photographs taken during the Great Depression and including The Dust Bowl.

The FSA built a remarkable collection of more than 80,000 photographs of America during the Depression because they hired great photographers and a great administrator to lead them. 

Roy Stryker was an economist from Columbia University before he was hired to head the "Historical Section" of the FSA. His job, according to his boss Rexford Tugwell, was to "show the city people what it's like to live on the farm."

The exhibition will run from October 4th through October 28th,

For more information on the FSA follow this LINK

Monday, May 28, 2012

KVII: Ken Burns previews The Dust Bowl in Amarillo

The kidnaping of Ken Burns - Part 2 - a different perspective.

Brush With Greatness
By Ken Hanson

Okay Steve, since you spilled the beans and told everyone about “The Kidnapping of Ken Burns”, I feel the need to tell my side of the story!

When Steve called and told me about the invitation to “An Evening With Ken Burns”, and invited me to accompany him to the reception, I immediately thought about taking the Model T. What could be better than showing up in an actual survivor of the Dust Bowl.

I have often wondered where this car was on Black Sunday.

Did it get caught in the infamous duster, or was it in some other part of the country. Since it came from an estate auction in Lincoln Kansas when I acquired it, most likely it did breathe the dust running from the storm that day.

Steve told you, in another story, about recreating the image of a Dustbowl survivor by taking it to a rural road in Armstrong County. He photographed it in various settings, and using Photoshop, combined it with photos of supercell thunderstorms to simulate what it might have looked like that day.

He posted those images on this blog, so I’m sure that Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan have probably seen them. Wouldn’t it be cool to show up in the same car, and hopefully, give them a ride in it? Steve was thinking the same thing. We hatched our plan to show up early and park it out front where everyone could see it as they entered.

Kathy Jones from KACV was already out front to welcome everyone and show where the reception would be.   When she spotted our car in the lot, she said, “You should park that right here in front of the entrance so everyone can see it”.

Great idea, we thought, but there’s a catering van parked there. “Oh, I can get that moved!”, she said.

For the next hour, she enthusiastically greeted everyone and told them about the Model T and the history it had in common with the Dust Bowl. The guests were an impressive list of who’s who in Amarillo, from city and state government officials, to the President and Board of Regents of Amarillo College, supporters of KACV, center city supporters, the founding families of our city, far too many to list them all.

After awhile, we saw Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan and their entourage approaching across the parking lot. We believed they would enter the side door, but instead followed Ken when he spotted the old Ford and diverted course.

My wildest dreams were about to come true. The car was parked by the curb with the passenger door open so everyone could see inside. Ken approached with a big smile and said something like, “Now there’s a Dust Bowl car!”

I said, “It’s a 1927 Model T Ford Coupe, wanna’ go for a ride?”

He answered, “Sure!”

I slid across the seat and he followed me in. Less than a minute after arriving, we were pulling away from the curb.

Steve later told me that someone in his entourage looked around and said, “Where did Ken go?”

Dayton Duncan said, “I think that guy in the Model T just kidnapped him!”

Laughing, Steve reassured them, “That’s a friend of mine, they’ll be right back - I think.

We drove down the block and stopped at a stop sign to let quite a few cars go by. I figured we would circle the small lake and head back to the event, since it was time for the reception to begin.

While stopped, I explained the operation of the controls to Ken. One reason I like the Model T so much is because it is so different from a modern car. There’s no clutch, no gear shift, and no gas pedal.

The throttle is a lever on the steering column, along with the spark control which no modern car has. The transmission is a manually operated two speed planetary transmission with three pedals on the floor.

The left pedal is like a clutch and gearshift in one. When pushed down, it constricts a band in the transmission which engages the low speed planetary gear set. When released, it compresses the clutch pack which engages the clutch discs for a one to one direct drive high gear. Halfway depressed in neither low nor high, kind of like neutral.

The transmission planetary gear set is always in mesh, there is no true neutral position like a normal transmission. The middle pedal is reverse. Hold down the left pedal half way and depress the reverse pedal to back up.

The right pedal is the service brakes which are in the transmission instead of on the wheels. The transmission brake stops the drive shaft, and if one rear wheel is on ice or gravel, it could turn backwards due to the differential action and you can find yourself unable to stop.

Model T brakes are nothing but a strip of oil soaked cloth band around the drive shaft hub inside the transmission, about the poorest brakes of any vehicle since the stage coach, but they were adequate for their time since speeds were so low on the dirt roads of the day.

To the left of the floor pedals is a lever. Pull it halfway back and it forces the left pedal into the neutral half way position for starting the car, Pull it all the way back and it also engages the rear wheel brakes, there are no brakes on the front axel. The rear wheel brakes are used to hold the car still for starting, and can be used to stop the car in an emergency.

The 1927 Model T was the first to have an electric starter standard. This car also has the hand crank, but on a cold day when the transmission has a lot of drag due to the thick oil, the electric starter is nice to have.

It also has one windshield wiper in front of the driver which is operated by hand with a lever inside the car. This car also has an air conditioner! Loosen the screws and tip the bottom of the windshield out, very nice on a warm day.

I explained all of this to Ken while we were riding around the lake. I know what a history buff he is from all of his excellent documentaries, but I didn’t know he was such a car enthusiast until Steve showed me Horatio’s Drive, a documentary by Ken and Dayton produced 20 years ago about the first coast to coast trip in an automobile.

The staggering amount of research that went into that production proves that he is indeed a car guy.

It was my intention to stop and convince Ken to drive the Model T, and then do the same for Dayton, but everyone was waiting and we just didn’t have the time. Maybe some other day.

I heard later that someone was a little ticked off at me for stealing the man of the hour and holding up the reception. It was worth it.

After an excellent meal and an hour long sneak peek of Dust Bowl previews, it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I can remember.

Thank you Steve for including me in this brush with greatness I will remember for the rest of my life.    
                                                             - Ken Hanson

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The kidnapping of Ken Burns - Part One

The plot to" kidnap" documentary filmmaker Ken Burns (Baseball, Jazz, The War, The Dust Bowl) was hatched more than a  month ago when I received an invite in the mail. It read "You are cordially invited to an Evening with Ken Burns."

Needless to say - I was excited.

As you may have read in this blog, I enjoyed a very small part of the production of The Dust Bowl - as a scout - prowling along the back roads of the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles and northeastern New Mexico, looking for dust-bowl era scenes, windmills, vistas, abandoned homes and other assorted locations for Florentine Films renowned cinematographer Buddy Squires & award winning producer Dayton Duncan to film.

It was a great gig for a free-lance Amarillo-based photographer and a once in a lifetime chance to work with Academy award winning documentary film makers - whom I greatly admire. To be even peripherally associated with a production as historically significant as The Dust Bowl is an honor in itself - but to be invited to an exclusive dinner with Ken Burns & Dayton Duncan was a creme on the cherry on the cream pie itself.

The invite was for me and a guest. Because he had helped me so much during the production scout and I had commandeered him and his vintage 1927 Ford as my model & muse in re-creating photo representations of Black Sunday (link to the Black Sunday Photo Project) my plus one would be good friend and collaborator Ken Hanson.

Not only does Ken have the same first name as Mr. Burns - Ken Hanson also shares  a love of American history and in particular that of antique vehicles. The Ford we used for our artist recreations was perfect for our photo project and not to mention Ken helped tote me around the northern Texas Panhandle looking for locations (when my car was having mechanical issues) plus  he was also with me during the shoot near Clayton, New Mexico, and as a result  was the only one I even considered as my plus one for this special dinner.

So - we got to talking. Although I was thinking it - Ken mentioned it first.

"You know what would be cool?" he said.

"If we showed up at the dinner in the Model T?" I asked, already knowing where he was going.

"Yes- exactly." he replied. "It needs a little mechanical work but I'm sure I can get it done in time." he added.

I imagined pulling up in front of the gala in his forest green Ford - it chug-chug-chugging in that distinctive way a Model T sounds.

"You know what would be cooler?" I said.

Ken smiled. he also knew where I was going with my next thought.

"That we could take Ken Burns for a ride in it?" he answered quickly.

"Yes, that would be awesome. Imagine getting a photo of you and Ken Burns in your Ford - a historical documentary film maker in a iconic example of automobile history - a 1927 Ford Model T - still working  - still running well beyond the Dust Bowl."

The symbolism was not lost on either of us. Much like the hardy Dust Bowl refugees - Ken's Ford had survived to see better times and actually thrived well into this modern age.  Like Ken Burn's documentaries - it was an important living example of how far we had come, how hard times could be overcome and how we must remember the hard lessons of the past to prevent us repeating them in the present.

And then reality set in - Ken said - "Ken Burns is an important man. I'm sure everyone from the Mayor on down will be vying for his attention at this event. I'll doubt we'll get a chance."

I was more optimistic. I replied, "I'll bet you once he sees that glorious example of a Model T parked out front he'll make a bee-line for it."

Ken was  not convinced."Maybe he's not a car guy." he said.

I replied "You are kidding me right? He's an historian. Your car is a piece of history - directly tied to the Dust Bowl - besides - have you ever seen Horatios Drive - America's First Road Trip?

"Nope what's that?" he asked.

"Only one of the best documentaries of the coming of age of the automobile." I replied. "It's about Horatio Nelson Jackson - the first person to drive across the country - spurred on by a fifty dollar bet."

A week or so later, Ken & I sat down and watched Horatio's Drive on Netflix. Although I had seen it many times - it's a favorite and looked forward to seeing it again.

After it was over Ken looked at me and said, "Yep - he's definitely a car guy."


The Dust Bowl - trailer released.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

On the anniversary of Black Sunday - a brown Saturday.

I find it very interesting on the anniversary of the largest dust storm in American history - the winds whip up a good ol' fashioned duster.

Photo by Steve Douglass

Ken Burns in Amarillo to promote Dust Bowl documentary

By Chip Chandler
Filmmaker Ken Burns has trained his camera on some of history’s biggest moments: The Civil War. World War II. Prohibition.

Now, he has moved his focus to the people of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles with “The Dust Bowl,” a two-part documentary debuting Nov. 18 on KACV and PBS stations around the country.

“You just want to be able to tell human stories,” Burns said in an exclusive interview. “Sometimes, it’s Abraham Lincoln agonizing about how to prosecute the war. Sometimes, it’s the story of Jackie Robinson trying to make it in the major leagues.

“In this case, it was all these folks out in ‘No Man’s Land’ in the Dust Bowl, trying to make a go of it.”

Burns will arrive in the area Saturday as part of a weekend-long promotional tour, meeting with survivors and their families in Amarillo; Goodwell, Okla., and Guymon, Okla.

He and his producers conducted interviews with 26 survivors of the 1930s environmental disaster, including residents of Amarillo, Guymon and more.

“No one can appreciate (better) than those who lived through it,” he said. “Memory is not some distant thing, but present.

“When you see someone break down in their 80s over the loss of a family member decades and decades ago, you realize history is not a was, but an is.”

“It’s amazing to me,” said Linda Pitner, KACV general manager, “how they have captured the pioneer spirit, the tenacity of people of this area, the love of the land, the ties that people here have to this area.”

Archival photos and film footage fill out the stories, which tell of not only those who stayed in the area but also those who fled to California, where life wasn’t much better.

“I had always thought people who went to California had gone out there .... to the golden streets of California and made millions,” said Ellen Robertson Green, Amarillo city commissioner and host of KACV’s “Face to Face.”

“It was eye-opening to see that they had such difficulties out there and encountered so much bigotry there, too.”

Green will interview Burns on Sunday for a special airing this summer.

“I’ve been thinking about what I would ask him for about a year and been researching him for about a month,” she said. “I can’t think what I can ask him that nobody else has asked him. But I’m going to have fun with it instead of being nervous.”

Green has a personal connection to the documentary: Her mother, Pauline Durrett Robertson, is featured prominently, discussing how her father lost his business and his health during that decade, and how her mother suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized.

“I’ve always thought that my family had this great tragedy happen to it ... but when you hear the stories of other people, you realize that everyone was suffering,” Green said.

“A lot of people had nervous breakdowns, or committed suicide, even. It was emotionally and physically and economically tragic for so many people across this area.”

Burns will give a news conference Sunday with a Dust Bowl survivor interviewed by KACV for a series of spots that will begin airing in May. He’ll also present clips of the documentary at an invitation-only dinner.

He said he hopes the film will flesh out a story residents here have grown up hearing.

“It turns out much more complicated than you think. You find out about ‘dust pneumonia,’ the plague of jackrabbits and, later, locusts,” Burns said. “This is a story about Mother Nature, but it’s also about human nature, good and bad.

“Remember, this is a man-made ecological disaster, not just a bad time that happened to the area,” he said. “Humans do stupid things, and humans do heroic things.

“If you ignore either one of those things, you do it at your peril.”
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