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"I see no Boundaries"
[Small Town America] US 60 Part 9
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2009-12-16 12:48 (KST)   
We'd gotten a late start and hadn't had an internet connection so we didn't know where we were going to camp. Our road map said the population of the next town, Ponca City, was more than 25,000 which had always meant there would be at least a McDonald's and probably a Wal-Mart. But US 60 goes right on through Ponca without a hint of any of the new-town classics and before we knew it we were out in the country again.

We saw signs about a college in the town up ahead, but when we got there, nothing. We had another look at the map and saw where US 77 runs north through Ponca City so we turned around, went back, got onto 77 and there it was, the new town in all it's glory including a McDonald's and a Wal-Mart.

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We'd seen a large statue as we went north on 77 and had a look the next morning on our way back to US 60.

Pioneer Woman Statue, Ponca City, Okla.
©2009 D. McLane

The Pioneer Woman is set in a grassy square and faces roughly southwest with a cement walkway leading to the Pioneer Woman Museum.

We hadn't been inside for long before we met Rosalie Dawson, a historical interpreter, who took us outside the front door and showed us how the building was shaped like the sun bonnet the Pioneer Woman is wearing, how the walkway leads your eye to her statue, and how it says, "I See No Boundaries" underneath the building's bonnet.

The monument was created and financed by Ernest Whitworth Marland, an oil man, philanthropist, United States Congressman, and 10th governor of Oklahoma. Various sculptors were invited to submit designs and 750,000 people cast votes to decide which one best represented the pioneer woman of Oklahoma history.

We had a look at the various designs and agreed that the current statue represented the women who stayed on the land with their children while their settler husband worked elsewhere to obtain what was necessary for their homestead. The unveiling ceremonies were held in 1930 with President Herbert Hoover giving a brief radio address from Washington, D.C., as did Oklahoma's favorite son, Will Rogers.

The Pioneer Woman Museum was dedicated much later in 1958 and preserves the history of the women of all races, creeds and nationalities who have made Oklahoma what it is today. Rosalie said that many of the displays were permanent but there's one that changes every few years. When we were there, it was an exhibit of Oklahoma women who have been rock & roll stars.

There were only a few visitors so we had a chance to talk with Rosalie about more than just the Museum. Sueko asked her usual question about what did she think about Obama's statement, "Fundamentally we are one." Her reply was long and involved but the upshot was things have gotten better, but "a lot of problems continue to this day."

Back in 1970 when Rosalie grew up she said there was a white girl who dated a black man and not only the girl, but her whole family had to leave town due to name calling and shunning. In 1980, in the same town, a white man came back with a black wife and had to leave the church (she didn't say which denomination). Nowadays, there aren't so many problems because many people, like her, leave such towns to get an education and never go back.

Rosalie said she would never go back to the town she grew up in, but loved Oklahoma, so, after getting an education and spending time in Europe, she bought a small farm outside of Ponca City and works at the Museum. I think of her as a kind of 21st century pioneer woman.

Rosie Dawson in front of 19th century pioneer woman's quilt
©2009 D. McLane

WEST OF PONCA CITY US?60 ZIGZAGS FIRST WEST, then south, then west then south, and so on. Somewhere along the way we came on a John Deere combine working a corn field back and forth at right angles to the road. I grabbed my camera and stood where I could shoot head on, but not close enough to wind up getting harvested myself.

It is a truly a formidable sight coming right at you. Standing corn goes in the front, corn goes in the collecting tank, and unwanted straw and dust goes out the back.

John Deer combine at work in corn field west of Ponca City, Okla.
©2009 D. McLane

After a few runs back and forth the combine turned toward the collecting truck and I ran over to catch a shot of how the corn was unloaded. Had to run fast as the unloader pipe swung out from the combine as it approached the truck and corn started pouring out the minute it stopped.

Combine dumps corn into truck
©2009 D. McLane

The minute the corn stopped coming out, the combine charged back across the field with the unloader pipe swinging back into place as it went. No time to waste.

AS WE HIT THE ROAD GOING WEST, I got to wondering just how much a combine like that cost. It wasn't long before the answer appeared in the form of Livingston Machinery in Fairview, Okla. They didn't have any John Deeres like what we'd seen but they had other pieces of large agricultural equipment sitting in the yard so I stopped and went inside, looked into the first doorway on the left and there sat the answer: Otis Shaw.

Otis Shaw, Fairview, Okla.
©2009 D. McLane

The bottom line answer in round numbers was $250,000 and up. How much is up? Maybe $300,000 - $400,000. I forget if that included the corn cutter or is just the combine as I learned later there are cutters for different crops that fit on the front end of a base combine. (Click here to see a John Deere combine, then click Series Highlights to be able spin it around. Click here for a schematic explanation of how a combine works.)

When I asked Otis if each farmer had such a machine he gave a long answer that was quite similar to one I got from Anthony Ratto down in Yuma, Ariz. about cantalopes.

Otis said that sometimes the farmer owns the land, sometimes an absentee owner has the land (typically somebody who inherited the land but doesn't want to work it), and sometimes the farmer rents the land. If the land is rented sometimes it's a cash rent (so many dollars per acre per year) and sometimes it셲 a crop share where the owner and and renter share the income from the crop (typically 20/80 for owner/renter).

As for harvesting, most combines are a base machine with different cutters for different crops (corn, cotton, wheat, etc.). If the farmer has enough land to make it worth while, they might own the combine but more typically the harvesting is done by custom harvesting companies. The harvested crop is sold to the elevator operator who then resells it to whoever wants to buy it.

Otis said that while it's true that agriculture has become a business in America, the only products that are owned by large companies are hogs, chickens and beef.

However, the market price of all products are what they trade for on the New York Stock Exchange and for those guys, it's only a business. If the price goes up, they make money; if the price goes down, they make money. And all the while, if they saw samples of corn, cotton, and wheat lying on the table, they wouldn't know which was which. They only deal with names and numbers. So in that case, agriculture is Big Business.

When I mentioned that many people have said that Big Business it putting small farmers out of work, Otis said there was more to the story: there are more land than farmers and this will increase as the next generation inherits land and choses not to farm it. Maybe things will change, but that the direction in which they are going,

As I was getting up to leave I saw a large fish on the wall.

Mounted fish on the wall of Otis Shaw's office
©2009 D. McLane

When I asked Otis about it, he said it was his biggest catch and pointed to a small framed photo I hadn't noticed.

Otis Shaw holding biggest catch
©2009 D. McLane

While some parts of agriculture, may be business, it looks like that's not the only thing people like Otis think about.

BY THE TIME WE LEFT FAIRVIEW IT WAS RAINING AGAIN and we didn't manage to find anybody to talk with until we got to the last town in Oklahoma: Arnett.

There wasn't much to the business district, but the courthouse was huge, indicating it was a county seat. Across the street from the front of the courthouse was the Chamber of Commerce but there was no place nearby to park and the rain was heavy so we parked a couple of blocks away and had lunch in the van.

Dale Taylor, Arnett, Okla.
©2009 D. McLane
After an hour or so the rain let up and we ran over to the chamber to find two guys who looked like they were just waiting for somebody to show up: Dale Taylor and Ron Dan Hanan.

They said they weren't exactly the Chamber of Commerce but were working to bring wind power to the area. While the technology was well developed, there were two basic problems: First they had to get an easement for each piece of property suitable for the hardware. Second, although the area was well suited for wind farms, the power needed to be shipped elsewhere and the transmission infrastructure wasn't there.

Roy Dan Hansa, Arnett, Okla.
©2009 D. McLane
Then there are economic and social issues. It used to be that you could homestead as 10 acres, and that $200,000 was enough for two cows, some hogs, and 20 cattle. But that was back in the days when land was cheap, before oil and gas were discovered. Nowadays the average age of a farmer is 60, and the recreational value of the land is more than the agricultural value, so when the next generation inherits the land, they sell it.

Both Dale and Ron worked for Arrowhead Wind Energy, LLC, a division of Arrowhead Resources, Inc., a family owned oil and gas royalty purchaser located in Sayre, Okla. Their job was to get the easements. One would think it wouldn't be too difficult as the contract for each turbine is worth $20,000 a year for 50 years to the land owner. But many are older people who want to continue being able to "get up, sit on the porch, drink coffee, and view the wide expanse of grass."

When I asked about the hard times, they said that locally, they were holding their own. But nationally all they could see was the country going further and further into debt. If the money borrowed from foreign countries had been given to citizens, the country would be in better shape -- I really don't have to ask that question in small towns as the answer has been pretty much the same, all across the country.

The rain had stopped by the time we finished talking so I went across the street get a shot of the classic county courthouse.

1912 Ellis Country Courthouse, Arnett, Okla.
©2009 D. McLane

There was an original log cabin on the property but it didn셳 look like anything in my viewfinder.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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