As I write this on Sunday afternoon, if you have been watching the News, you know that “Catastrophe Katrina” is about to hit New Orleans and a broad strip of the Gulf Coast.

“Weekly Comments” is written as of Saturday morning (yesterday) while we were still on the American Queen. We spent much of Saturday touring New Orleans, including the French Quarter, Jackson Park, and the river front which has been shown frequently on newscasts today. We flew home to Ohio last night.

In case you are wondering, the American Queen was scheduled to depart Saturday evening with a new group of excited steamboaters, and I’m guessing they have revised the schedule and will keep on rollin’ up the river as rapidly as possible to minimize the danger.

Like you, we fear the worst for New Orleans and the other coastal areas, but we pray for a miracle.

Regardless of the intensity of the Hurricane Katrina, there will be a great need for relief for families who are displaced (or worse). If anybody wants to put on a fundraiser to help with the relief effort, and you think the presence and entertainment of “Will Rogers” can aid the cause and pull in a few thousand dollars, let me know.


Louisiana and Iraq’s Constitution draw Will’s attention

# 377, August 27, 2005

ABOARD THE AMERICAN QUEEN: For the second time this month, we had a wonderful time on this big sternwheeler. If you ever want a great audience for old-fashioned comedy get on stage on one of these steamboats. For this particular round trip from New Orleans, we got upriver as far as Vicksburg. Other times the American Queen starts and stops at places such as St. Louis, St. Paul, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

Spent a day at Baton Rouge, Huey Long’s home ground. Toured the Capitol Building that Huey designed himself while he was Governor. It’s a skyscraper, and they told me it has more marble than any other building. It took only 14 months to build, and cost $5 million in1932. On the 27th floor is an observation deck on the outside that goes all the way around. I think that was to let Huey look out over his subjects.

Politics and Louisiana are synonymous; you can’t talk about state politics anywhere in this country without Louisiana politics entering the conversation. And Huey’s name is usually at the center of it.

In 1970 the Louisiana Senate was ready to vote on a bill to let men work without joining a union. So a half dozen members of one union decided to protest, and in a fashion that’s rare even in Louisiana politics, they set off a dynamite blast. Inside the Senate chamber. It went off in the middle of the night and pretty much destroyed the inside of the chamber, doing millions of dollars of damage. It was intended to go off during the day while the Senators were voting. Their lives were saved only because those boys were ignorant on how to correctly set a clock. The Senate chamber was restored to its original grandeur, with only one piece of evidence of the blast: a pencil was embedded in the ceiling about forty feet above the floor, and it’s still there.

All I know is what I read in the newspaper. Everybody is frustrated that Iraq can’t agree on a Constitution. They been working on it for a couple of years. Now just imagine, if we didn’t have a Constitution and we had to start writing one from scratch. Why, it would take 20 years, and you still wouldn’t have agreement between Pat Robertson and Ted Kennedy.

Gas prices are up $0.73 since last year. You can’t blame that on the Democrats. Remember, they wanted to raise the price by only $0.50, and got voted down.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

[Note: Huey Long was one of Will’s favorite “characters”, and Will referred to him more than 60 times in his newspaper columns and radio programs. Below are two of them. Huey Long was Governor from 1928-32, and a Senator from 1932 till his death in Sept.1935, just a month after Will died. His goal in life was to become President. Sen. Long was assassinated in a hallway in the Louisiana Capitol and you can stand on that spot and read about it. He is buried on the Capitol grounds.]

“That Huey Long episode in our history like to took up as much of our political historical space as anything George Washington did. Huey made the boys a few preliminary remarks that lasted well into the latter part of January. Huey had it in for Carter Glass [who sponsored] a very sound banking bill. Certainly knows what one should be. Then right in the midst of it to hear somebody crashing right through the Louisiana cane breaks with an arm load of adjectives that it would take a good strong voiced man a month to dispose of. Why naturally that was dumbfounding to the sensibilities of a man of the Carter Glass type.

But you can’t blame Huey near as much as you can blame the system that allows a prolonged thing like that…. I was a hoping that Huey might be the means of getting a rule like that changed. I’ll bet you another one or two of those Filibusters break out before this session is over. This Huey Long spree of consonants and vowels that he excelled in, why it’s not the first one in the Senate by any means. Somebody is always trying to talk a bill to death in there. But Huey killed the bill and wounded the Senate.” WA #527, Jan. 29,1933

“I hate to report any short-comings in one of my heroes, but Huey is going back. Imagine only being able to talk sixteen hours [in a filibuster]. Why before he was fattened by the luxury of senatorial life, he would have talked right on into July.

But at that he pulled the biggest and most educational novelty ever introduced in the Senate. He read ’em the Constitution of the U. S. A lot of ’em thought he was reviewing a new book.” DT # 2763, June 13, 1935.

Golf, Gov. Taft, and conservation farmers grab Ohio headlines

# 376, August 18, 2005

MINSTER, Ohi I’m out here on a farm in western Ohio with over a hundred farmers learning how to use the latest technology and machinery. These folks know you don’t have to plow up the ground to make a profit, but you do need rain. Corn and soybeans are maturing nicely on this farm, owned and run expertly by Bill Lehmkuhl, but many other farms have had only 2 or 3 inches of rain all summer, and their prospects don’t look promising for harvest. You can be the best farmer in the world, but without rain or irrigation you’re sunk.

In Columbus, Governor Taft was arrested yesterday. For playing golf. Now you could probably name a few golfers who deserve to be jailed. But seldom does a Governor, or even a Senator, get hauled off a green in handcuffs.

Of course it ain’t illegal to play golf in Ohio, the proud home of Jack Nicklaus. But if you’re a governor and you play golf, and don’t pay for playing, then Ohio says it’s not exactly ethical. They frown on lobbyists picking up the tab for a forgetful governor.

It seems that about once a week the Governor slipped out of the Capitol to work on his golf game. If they indicted everyone who played golf when they claimed to be working, there wouldn’t be anyone left to run the country.

No one knows for sure whether he was practicing or playing, but the Governor apologized and told the judge he would put down his putter till his term ends and concentrating on governing. You just watch. For the next year and a half this old state will take off on an economic boom.

Saturday I’m back on The American Queen. We’re supposed to cruise up the Mississippi from New Orleans to Vicksburg, but the river is so low they may have to make some changes to keep from scraping bottom. Barges are already hauling less so they ride higher in the water. These steamboat operators may be forced to put us all on a diet. See, on the average cruise everybody is so well fed, the boat runs about a foot deeper at the end than at the start. Salads and fruit for everyone.

(Here’s the web site:

Historic quotes by Will Rogers:

“Today (in New York State and New Mexico) they are voting on whether to keep a Governor two years or four. I think a good, honest Governor should get four years, and the others life.” DT #405, Nov. 8, 1927

“About all there is to prominent men nowadays is their golf. It has always been a mystery to me how our old time men ever got as good as they were without golf. Just imagine if Lincoln had had golf to add to his other accomplishments. There is a boy you would have been proud of.” WA # 15, March 25, 1923

“(Golf) is the only game in the world where practicing it and playing it is the same thing.” WA #163, Jan. 24, 1926

Highway bill and oil prices make airlines a bargain

# 375, August 10, 2005

COLUMBUS: Last week President Bush signed the Energy Bill, and oil shot up to $65 a barrel. This week he signed the Highway Bill for $286 Billion and people are asking what’s the use of building highways if you can’t afford to drive on ’em.

Even if we stop driving, you know who’s gonna to do the paying. Plus gratuity. Of the $286 Billion about $25 Billion is earmarked for the sole purpose of re-electing your Congressman, making 2006 the most expensive election campaign in history. Of the remainder a small portion is, in fact, set aside to build and improve our highways.

Alaska’s lone Congressman wrangled $230 million for a bridge. It’s gonna be named Don Young’s Way. Now here’s a sneak peek into Don Young’s Way of getting re-elected: he told Alaska, if you keep voting for me, next time I’ll get an even bigger and better appropriation, and we’ll build a road to the bridge. At both ends. And if that’s successful, and I eventually worm my way into the Senate, I’ll get the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a river under the bridge. If that works, we’ll bring in some water. Naturally we’ll need an enormous heating system for it. Otherwise it would be froze solid nine months of the year, and we can’t allow that. See, people would just drive across the river for free, with no apparent need for a bridge or a $230 million appropriation. And no apparent need for a Congressman Young.

Now this is not just Young’s way, most of them operate under the same system. In West Virginia a Congressman got $16 million for an “Appalachian Transportation Institute”. What Appalachia needs is not another institution; what they need is $16 million for asphalt.

Arkansas gets $3 million for “dust control mitigation” on rural roads. These Arkansas rural folks, just like the ones in West Virginia, know the real way to mitigate your dust is a layer of asphalt.

California’s Ronald Reagan Freeway is to get $2 million for flowers. If it was up to Mr. Reagan, don’t you think he would have called up a few dozen garden clubs and asked them to volunteer a couple of weekends a year to plant flower seeds along the road? Then he would send the $2 million back to the ones that paid it.

New York is to get half a million to fix up a warehouse on the Erie Canal. It seems today’s trains and airplanes are just too slow for New York’s shipping and storage needs.

Louisiana got a nice increase, but not as much as Huey Long could have wrung out of ’em.

In the past month or so I’ve been traveling quite a bit. I made four round trips on Northwest and Delta. Now that ain’t much travel for some of you, but I want you to know that all the flights were on time, no problems, and my luggage arrived at the same time I did. More good news, even the Space Shuttle had a perfect landing.

Delta Airlines is suffering a loss of capitalization, and I’m surprised some Georgia Congressman didn’t request an appropriation of a few million dollars so he could just buy the whole thing, lock, stock and 747’s. Delta’s gotta be worth more than a bridge.

They just caught those two Tennessee fugitives in a motel here in Columbus. Who says you’ve got to leave Ohio to find excitement.

Historic quote from Will Rogers:

“We cuss (Congress) and we joke about ’em, but they are all good fellows at heart; and if they wasent in that, why, they would be doing something else against us that might be worse.” Saturday Evening Post, July 24, 1926

Mississippi River running low on water, high on comedy

# 374, August 3, 2005

ABOARD THE AMERICAN QUEEN: You folks have probably seen the Mississippi River, either from an airplane at 30,000 feet, or while driving across a bridge. But you can’t say you’re really acquainted with this river until you have been in the middle of it on a boat. Now I’m not making light of the floods of 1993 or 1927 or other years when people were wading in it ten miles from the shore.

I don’t have to sell you on the idea that this is a great river. Mark Twain already did that. What I am suggesting is the next time you think about going on a cruise in the Carribean, or Mediterranean or even the Nile, well, you might want to cruise in our own home waters first. You can’t find any home waters that’s more American than the Mississippi. After looking over this river from one end to the other, then you can explore the Ohio, or Missouri, or Tennessee or even the Tombigbee.

To give you an idea of the draw this American Queen has on folks, we had ’em from all over. California, Florida, Washington state, New Hampshire, Texas, Alabama, everywhere. June and July were the hottest on record in New England, yet we had folks from up there. Imagine a family sitting around the dining room table in New York or Boston a month ago and saying, where can we go for a week to escape this heat? Louisiana! One family has 22 members together for a reunion on the boat, and six days into it they’re all still speaking to each other and having a great time.

There’s a lot of comedy on this steamboat. You folks know I would never resort to bathroom humor, but the following two signs were, in fact, in the bathroom of every stateroom, on little placards. One said, “Conserve Water”. Say, aren’t we on a river? If this was a camel safari across the Sahara, of course I’d conserve water. The other one read (and I’ll let you ponder on this one yourself, without interruption), “Do not put anything in the toilet except toilet paper.”

This comedy, if any, belongs to the American Queen. This is not Rogers’ comedy. Now, of course we know what the signs mean, and we don’t mind using the same towel for a few days to save laundry water. And nobody is going to intentionally try to flush their cigarette butts, or baby diapers…, or Depends.

Speaking of conserving water, this mighty Mississip is mighty low. There’s a drought along most of the river and a lot of tributaries. Naturally there’s just as much water going out the lower end as ever, but not as much coming in. It’s harder for a boat this size to find a place to dock. At Vicksburg we had to pull in a few miles downriver and take a bus to the historic Civil War battlefield. In Natchez we got a good history lesson called “Southern Road To Freedom”, presented with passion and great music. St. Francisville has antebellum homes and Cajun Country flavor.

Well, if this dry weather continues into fall, they’ll have to put wheels under the barges. That would add a new meaning to the phrase, Rollin’ Down the River. Of course if it don’t rain, there won’t be much grain for those barges to haul.

Of course there’s a little news this week. The Highway bill, the Bolton appointment, steroid use by what everyone knows as a great baseball player up to now. And the Space Shuttle repairs being completed with the aid of duct tape. (Apparently they neglected to take along baling wire.) But all this news will have to wait till next week. The President and Congress are on break, so right there is the first good news of the month.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

(The Mississippi) is a beautiful river (here at Davenport, Iowa). There is just as much water in it here as there is (farther downstream), but not as much mud. Down there it don’t flow; it just oozes along with just enough water in it to keep the mud moving.” WA #152, Nov. 8, 1925

(Will’s words are in bold; I added the rest to complete the story.)

In 1935 Irvin Cobb and I made a picture together called “Steamboat Round the Bend.” John Ford is the director. “In the story, we play steamboat captains, he and I, and we have a race. He is the captain of the Pride of Paducah, and I’m the admiral of the Claremore Queen. If this news gets back to Claremore that they had a big stern- wheeler named after ’em, it’ll be a surprise to them.

Irvin Cobb’s been on a riverboat before, and he’s kind of our technical director, too. He’s familiar with it. See, I was never on one of those things before, and he tells us how to act, and not to walk off when the thing has left the shore.

The movie is set on the Ohio River, just above where it empties into the Mississippi. But being Hollywood, we made the movie entirely in California. For the Steamboat race, we went up to Sacramento to work on the Sacramento River. We could have worked on the Los Angeles River, but they’d have had to haul the water too far.” Radio broadcast, May 19, 1935