As March sunlight gilded their breakfast tables, Washingtonians read in their morning papers that in about two weeks the Japanese cherry trees around the Tidal Basin would be in full bloom. The same day Kansans breakfasted by lamp light and read in their morning papers that one of the worst dust storms in the history of their State was sweeping darkly overhead. Damp sheets hung over the windows, but table cloths were grimy. Urchins wrote their names on the dusty china. Food had a gritty taste. Dirt drifted around doorways like snow. People who ventured outside coughed and choked as the fields of Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Oklahoma rose and took flight through the windy air.
In "Talking Dust Bowl," which he [Woody Guthrie] wrote and rewrote endlessly while riding the freights in 1936 and 1937, he re-created the migrant experience in six bitter, exquisitely simple verses.
Back in Nineteen Twenty-Seven,
Rain quit and the wind got high,
And the black ol' dust storm filled the sky.
And I swapped my farm for a Ford machine,
And I poured it full of this gas-i-line --
And I started, rockin' an' a-rollin',
Over the mountains, out towards the old Peach Bowl.
Way up yonder on a mountain road,
I had a hot motor and a heavy load,
I's a-goin' pretty fast, there wasn't even stoppin',
A-bouncin' up and down, like popcorn poppin' --
Had a breakdown, sort of a nervous bustdown of some kind,
There was a feller there, a mechanic feller,
Said it was en-gine trouble.
Way up yonder on a mountain curve,
It's way up yonder in the piney wood,
An' I give that rollin' Ford a shove,
An' I's a-gonna coast as far as I could --
Commence coastin', pickin' up speed,
Was a hairpin turn, I didn't make it.
Man alive, I'm a-tellin' you,
The fiddles and the guitars really flew.
That Ford took off like a flying squirrel
An' it flew halfway around the world --
Scattered wives and childrens
All over the side of that mountain.
We got out to the West Coast broke,
So dad-gum hungry I thought I'd croak,
An' I bummed up a spud or two,
An' my wife fixed up a tater stew --
We poured the kids full of it,
Mighty thin stew, though,
You could read a magazine right through it.
Always have figured
That if it'd been just a little bit thinner,
Some of these here politicians
Coulda seen through it.