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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Quote of the Day | June 14, 2008: When Farmers Became as Smart as Everybody Else

From Charles Kuralt's 1990 A Life on the Road:

Alf Landon was well up into his eigties when Izzy and Larry and I went to see him to ask him about the changes he had noticed in the lives of Kansas farmers over the years. He sat in a rocking chair on his big front porch in Topeka dressed in boots and jodhpurs, fresh from his daily horseback ride.

"Communications!" he said. "That's the ticket! That's the thing that's made all the difference in the farmer's life."

I told him I expected him to say improved feed and seed and fertilizer and farm machinery.

"Communications!" he repeated. "The seed question was all settled way back at the beginning when the Russian immigrants came out here on the Union Pacific Railroad with those hard, red winter wheat seeds in their pockets. That's the wheat that feeds the whole country now. Most years, it helps feed several other countries, including Russia, where it came from in the first place."

"No, the Kansas farmer always had good land and good seed. But the problem was he lived an isolated life, see? He and his family didn't know what was going on. He could be a good farmer, but he had no way to be a good citizen. And do you know what changed that? It wasn't FDR. It was . . ."

He leaned forward and confided the secret of Kansas progress:


"Rural Free Delivery?"

"Correct!" Alf Landon said. "It was the idea of the Democrats. I remember when it came in," he said, his eyes twinkling as he leaned back in his rocking chair.

I checked later and found he would have remembered the start of rural mail delivery, all right. It was an innovation of the second Cleveland administration. That's how far back Alf Landon's political memory went.

"All the bankers and merchants were against it," he said. "They thought it was a terrible waste of money. But it made all the difference to the farmers, see? It meant they didn't have to wait 'til Saturday when they came to town to find out the news. They could get a newspaper in the mailbox every day and read the news after supper and discuss it around the table. That's when farmers became as smart as everybody else."

I agreed that it is pretty hard to find a hayseed in the country anymore. The old vaudeville figure of fun, the country bumpkin, seems to have vanished from the land.

"Yes," Alf Landon said, "if you think you've found one, and ask him how his sorghum crop is coming along, he's liable to reply with some smart remark that he heard on the Johnny Carson show. Everybody knows all the same news and the same jokes now. There aren't any country hicks for the politicians and the traveling salesmen to trick. That's good for the country, see?"

Tags: Charles Kuralt, A Life on the Road

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