The Hardest Hard Time

Image: Highway City, California. Near Fresno. Family from Oklahoma U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs LC-USF34- 019549-E  . Additional information: There are approximately one hundred such homes, each with about an acre at Highway City, California, which show various degrees of ability in self resettlement. Nearly all are on Works Progress Administration (WPA)

This song was also inspired by Timothy Egan’s exceptional history of the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time.


The hardest hard time
That we’d ever known
Took all that we had
And killed all that we’d sown
The hardest hard time
That we’d ever seen
Made ashes and dust
Out of all that’d been green

I never thought all I’d got be undone by the weather
Or how much I’d come to hate the sight of the sun in the sky
Or that things could get bad and then worse and then never get better–
We all learned something new muddling through these hardest hard times

The dust boiled up till it towered the height of a mountain
The clouds tore through town like breath from the Devil’s own throat
Couldn’t pay the mortgage for so many months I stopped countin’–
‘Till the Bankerman came to foreclose sir and that’s all she wrote

WPA in California
Is providing four walls and three square
It’s far from home in Oklahoma—
But at least here we’re breathing clean air

Now I’m haunted by visions of all that I’d seen in Muskogee
Like a little baby coughing up dust ‘till her tiny ribs broke
And every grave that we dug to bury the body
Of another poor Duster whose dreams had all gone up in smoke

In these hardest hard times