Love, Sex, Tractors and Roger Welsch

I was first introduced to author and humorist, Roger Welsch, by my son. David was about eleven years old at the time and we were traveling by car to a distant town. My thoughts were on my driving while David was, as usual, deeply engrossed in a book. Suddenly I realized that David was again laughing out loud so I asked what he was reading. He answered, Love, Sex and Tractors, and I nearly drove off the road!

I reacted, as a typical mother would, by demanding to know who had given him such a book. Near-accident #2 was right after he said, “Grandpa.” I was sputtering and fussing about a grandfather who would give such a gift when David interrupted to explain that it was a book about humorous aspects in life. Humorous!? Ever so patiently, David explained that Roger Welsch loves to restore old tractors, just like David and his grandfather, and that Roger writes the funniest descriptions of his hours working with Ageless Iron.

Still unconvinced, I asked David to read a few pages aloud and he began. The passage was one of those where Roger describes his problems working on an old Allis Chalmers, challenged by bolts that have rusted solidly into place through decades of open-air-garaging. After exhausting every known method for solving such a problem, the bolt finally comes loose — only to drop into a large and oily mess of pieces beneath the tractor, becoming lost in the process with no replacement parts available anywhere on Earth. One thing led to another until…I was laughing so hard that we just barely escaped Near-accident #3.

While I agreed that the writing was indeed very humorous, and the scenario very similar to ones in which David and his grandfather often found themselves while working knee-deep in green John Deere parts, I suggested that the author might have chosen a more appropriate title if the book was going to be something that children would read. David gave me that disgusted, Oh, Mother! look and explained that the title was Roger’s way of being funny. David was right and through the years I have become accustomed to titles such as: Diggin’ in and Piggin’ Out: One Man’s Love for Real Food, Home Cookin’ and High Spirits; Everything I Know About Women I Learned From My Tractor; Old Tractors and the Men Who Love Them: How to Keep Your Tractors Happy and Your Family Running, and my favorite, It’s Not the End of the Earth But You Can See It From Here.

So began our son’s friendship with Roger Welsch, a relationship that has become one of the most treasured for our entire family. Not long after the discussion about “Love, Sex and Tractors,” David developed a bone infection in his left foot that made the next four years a time that robbed David of so much; years made more bearable by Roger Welsch, his books and his articles on tractors, folk lore, Indian legends, Postcards From Nebraska — on…Life. I soon learned that Roger’s writings are to be enjoyed by all types of readers, rural and urban; young and old.

Many readers may have already ‘met’ Roger on CBS’ Sunday Morning shows during the Charles Kuralt segments. For over ten years, Roger, dressed in his overalls, delivered Postcards From Nebraska, sharing aspects of rural life via more than 200 essays that he wrote and hosted.

Kuralt met Roger in the author’s now famous town, Dannebrog, Nebraska. (Roger is especially proud that the town was named after him. Well, Dannebrog does end with “rog” — and “Rog” is Roger’s nickname, right?) Kuralt was looking for stories with local color and asked some residents if anything interesting was happening in their town. Someone mentioned that a local fellow was running for Weed Control Board Commissioner on a Pro-Weed platform. Kuralt interviewed Roger — invited him to do a segment on rural weeds. During the following years, Roger’s perspectives on, and insights into, Life in America were shared with millions of television viewers.

“From tall-tale postcards to sod houses, ditches filled with edible weeds to Norwegian jokes about Swedes, Indian hand games, five-string banjo picking styles, cat’s cradle positions, and other finger games, the subjects of Roger Welsch’s researches in Great Plains folklore are as interesting as they are varied. He has published the standard collection of Nebraska folklore, and a half dozen more focused and equally substantial studies of aspects of traditional Plains life. Among these, his Shingling the Fog and Other Plains Lies, a collection of outrageous narratives graced by a single graphic illustration, a reproduction of a Ski Nebraska poster, is exemplary of the innovative fieldwork it represents as well as for its readability.”

It only appears that Roger addresses just ‘rural’ experiences and rural folks. In actuality, he often speaks of Everyman; for Everyman.

Roger Welsch, libertarian:

Roger ran for Weed Commissioner because he strongly opposed laws dictating how individuals can use their personal property. Roger won the election, then led the way in welcoming back the native weeds, flowers and grasses of Nebraska.

Roger Welsch, economist:

  • Speaking of Dannebrog to Richard Huff of American Journalism Review, “We haven’t suffered the long, painful hangover of America’s economic bust,” Welsch said, “because we weren’t invited to the loud and flamboyant party of the boom.”
  • “Was $250 a fair price for that tractor? What is a fair price? About the only constant in tractor prices is the price of scrap iron. At the moment, it’s three or four cents a pound. An Allis WC weighs 3,000 pounds, so at the very bottom, the thing is worth $90—100 at a junkyard…Heck, I could take off the fenders, carb, mag and wheels, sell the rest as scrap iron (perish the thought) and still come out ahead.” Old Tractors and the Men Who Love Them: How to Keep Your Tractors Happy and Your Family Running, pg 23.

Roger Welsch, philosopher:

“Nowhere are water and life more appreciated than where they are a gift, not an assumption.” When the gift doesn’t arrive, we turn to humor, “jokes that are not meant to bring forth laughter but give a common ground for the sufferers, jokes that blur the pain and sharpen the hope.”

Roger Welsch, realist:

— After 30 years of writing books and teaching, Welsch did have growing pains when he first encountered Lamoreaux’s (senior producer of Roger’s pieces for CBS) New York etiquette. “We’d go out for one story and come back with another,” Welsch recalls. “I wasn’t really used to being shoved around like this.” Welsch relayed his problems to Kuralt, who listened patiently and asked if he wanted to know how to solve them.

“Yeah,” Welsch said. “Shut up and do it,” Kuralt replied.

Welsch complied. “All I needed to do,” he says now, smiling, “was have it explained for me.” By Richard Huff, American Journalism Review.

Roger Welsch, theologian:

“So often a public meeting starts with a prayer, which is fine with me, until the conclusion comes and the Baptist, Lutheran, or Methodist making the prayer ends with “In Jesus’ name we pray…,” essentially saying “…and as for you Jews, you don’t really count and if you want can say your own prayers.” It’s not a cruel gesture but a thoughtless one. And never mind the Buddhists, Muslims, Bahais, Shintoists, etc., who are now our new neighbors…and, one might note, Americans.” ~ New Americans Folk and Traditional Arts Project.

Roger Welsch, teller of tall tales:

  • “Some farmers developed ingenious ways of measuring the speed of the wind. They stuck a crowbar through a hole drilled in an outside wall. If the crowbar bent, then the wind was normal. But if the crowbar broke, well then, it was best to stay inside until the wind died down some.”
  • One farmer and his son went to town and met another farmer on Main Street during the drought years. “Looks a bit like rain,” said the second farmer hopefully. The other replied, “Well, it doesn’t matter much one way or the other to me; I’ve seen rain. But,” he said pointing to his teenage son, “the boy here …”

Roger Welsch, language master:

Nebraska rain gage? … a spent 22 shell with a two-foot funnel

Nebraska wind sock?… a length of logging chain fastened to a post

Placement of a privy?… “Not so close to the main house that it would be a constant embarrassment, not so far that a trip there would be a burden rather than a comfort.”

Roger Welsch, love and marriage counselor:

“An important point to remember in the early stages of courtship is to take full advantage of whatever a woman finds attractive about you. Is she drawn to you because you are a rugged outdoorsman? An avid reader? Because you are easy going and undemanding? Independent and strong? Be that, and enjoy her approval, because once you are married, those are precisely the features about you that she will find obnoxious. About a year into any commitment you will find that this woman who has taken you on as a fixer-upper project is annoyed and then disgusted by your insufficient couth (formerly “rugged outdoorsman”), sloth (“avid reader”), sloppiness (“easy going and undemanding”), inattentiveness and general disregard for her needs and desires (“independent and strong”). ~ Everything I Know About Women I Learned From My Tractor

Roger Welsch, folklorist:

“Okay, so there were no great dramatists or philosophers or poets among my father’s people in Lincoln’s South Bottoms or Mom’s down in the North Bottoms. But here, in this stuff called “folklore” I began to see things of culture my people did have! My step-grandmother Anna Albrandt was winning purple ribbons at the State Fair with her beautiful quilts. That, I was now being told, is folk art…and damned if it isn’t! Why… her “art” is at least as beautiful, even as meaningful as what I was seeing on the pages of my text books and hanging on the walls of galleries, I thought. And there’s music…my Uncle Albert’s lively, wonderful music I grew up with at the Welfare Society Hall just north of the 10th Street Viaduct. I found that my Grandfather Johann Flach wrote and published poetry in Lincoln’s Weltpost newspaper…not odes and sonnets, but traditional German Neujahrswuensche, New Year’s wishes that were carried by him and his cronies house to house on New Year’s Day around the German community and recited aloud…their reward being a shot of schnapps. At each house. All day long… I wish I had been alive, or he had lived long enough for me to join him at least one holiday on those celebratory rounds! My father’s endless (and sometimes contradictory) proverbs, and his humorous jokes and stories. My God…it turned out that I had grown up swimming in a rich ocean of folk ART…beautiful, fascinating, valuable…”

Roger Welsch at Wounded Knee

Roger Welsch, Indian Brother:

  • “So I became a folklorist and was never for a moment bored again. Indeed, the rest of my life has been swept along on the tide of traditional culture. Next, about 1960, I discovered another rich tradition, that of the Omaha Indians. I adopted them, and they adopted me. I always hesitate when filling out census forms because I consider myself 100% German…and 100% Omaha. It’s the logic of arithmetic that’s the problem, not that of my heritage.”
  • “My 40 years of association with Native Americans, especially the Omaha Tribe but also Lakota, Pawnee, Ponca, and Winnebago, have done little for those people. I learned early on that I had little to bring to that table. I have spent my time and energy with my Native friends and family because I know absolutely that it is my own gift to myself. It is I who profit from their knowledge, spirit, truth, wisdom, love, and generosity.”

Roger Welsch, Ambassador of Good Will:

  • “Dannebrog is historically a very Danish town…the name is the romantic name for the Danish flag, which flies on our main street every day. I listened as a neighbor and friend lamented that Danish is no longer heard on the streets here on a day-to-day basis as it was even within his own lifetime. I agreed and we commiserated. But before an hour had passed, this same man was growling about the “damn Mexicans…why won’t they learn to speak American if they’re going to live here?!” Well, I assured him that they are learning English soon enough…after all, exactly how many languages did he speak?! And the first generation of American born were becoming American way too fast for my taste, forgetting their wonderful traditions even faster than the Danes had forgotten theirs. How soon will it be before we all lament the passing of those days when we used to hear the music of the Spanish language on the streets of Nebraska cities and towns?”
  • “In these days of travel terrorism by religious zealots and airline corporate officers, it’s getting harder and harder, ever more dangerous, increasingly uncomfortable to travel to foreign countries to meet international friends, enjoy exotic and interesting foods, buy gifts from authentically traditional artists and craftsmen. Hey! We live in Lincoln! We can do all those things without leaving our city limits! The world is coming to us …if only we take the trouble to park our cars and step through the shop doors.”
  • “There are some things about the process of changing from a New American to an Establishment American that amaze me. It first struck me with the Omahas. After what they have gone through in their history and to some degree still put up with in a culture that doesn’t understand or fully accept them on their own ancestral grounds, why would they bother to have anything to do with us? Where’s the anger, the hatred? Well, it’s not there. Not much of it anyway. Far from being discouraged, dismayed, or disappointed in my reception within Native American circles, I have been amazed again and again and again at the generosity and kindness of my Indian friends, their willingness to share their culture, their food, their fun, their songs, their wisdom. Working within immigrant circles is a new experience for me but I am already having resonances of those same feelings I got from the Omahas. Bosnians, Kurds, Afghanis, Iraqis…whatever disappointments, insults, or injuries they might have suffered from America…on purpose or accidentally, here or in their homeland…they have each and every one expressed to me a willingness not simply to accept us, our nation, our ways, our ideals, but to embrace them wholeheartedly”.

Roger Welsch, Comedian Extraordinaire:

  • The International Liars’ Hall of Fame — The hall is the brainchild of the town’s most famous citizen, Roger Welsch, who appeared with Charles Kuralt off and on for 10 years on CBS’s Sunday Morning show.

    "The main street in town is even named Roger Welsch Avenue," explains Welsch, a humorist and author. "That sounds like a big deal, but it only means I have to shovel the snow off of it in winter," he adds with a straight face. "We don’t plow it; it’s not that big a street."

    (Personally, I love to hear Roger tell about tourists who hear of an upcoming International Liars’ Hall of Fame Annual Parade and contact him for the date so they can attend… Hint…There IS NO parade! They lied!)

  • The Welsch Rules of Tractor Collecting…ah, if only I had read this list sooner…maybe I could have devised a strategy to stop my son and husband from collecting the 70+ Evinrude snowmobiles that fill our once-lovely orchard…

As I glance through the index for Love, Sex and Tractors, I note that good ole Roger does offer advice on just about everything — from Jethro Tull to borrowing tools (we know that promise…) to Nietzsche to the Roger Welsch School of Thought for Successful Relationships With Women (That one ought to be something, but I refuse to assume responsibility for how readers use material contained in books that I recommend, so you are on your own, guys.) to ZZ Top. Yes, David has spent the last several years sharing Roger’s preference for ZZ Top as well as for old tractors.

One day, a few months and several Roger books after that enlightening car ride, David mentioned how much he wished that he could meet Roger. I suggested that he at least write a fan letter, and when he expressed concern that it would be an annoyance to Roger, I reminded him that I like to hear from my readers. He went to his room, coming out later with a sealed envelope, beautifully addressed to: Roger Welsch, Dannebrog, Nebraska. To David’s delight, Roger answered the letter and so began the wonderful friendship. Roger later explained that he was very impressed to receive mail from a child who not only restores tractors, but who would write a letter to an author without it being a classroom writing assignment.

When Roger spoke at a John Deere tractor show in Moline, IL, David and his dad drove there to meet Roger in person. Roger was expecting them and quickly realized that the eager young fellow in the front row must be David. David spent the next days helping Roger sell books at his booth, and did well since David had read every book and was able to make recommendations to buyers. When Roger spoke in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we all attended, and David again manned the book table so Roger could sign autographs. In addition to such visits, and hundreds of emails, many gifts have been sent in both directions — jerky and maple syrup from Michigan to Nebraska; books and tools from Nebraska to Michigan.

When David was asked what he wanted for his 16th birthday, he named but one gift — to spend the day with Roger, working in his shop. Yes, we did drive our son to Nebraska to share his birthday with Roger Welsch, and Roger’s wife, Lovely Linda. That very special privilege, from such a very special friend, was a gift to be remembered forever. How many other friends would wait at the end of a publisher’s printing press in order to grab the very first copy of Tractor Trilogy so he could present — the autographed First Edition of the First Edition, to a young boy from rural Michigan on a special birthday?

Still, the greatest, grandest, and finest gifts of all are the ones that Roger Welsch has given, and continues to give to America with his stories; his insights; his creative usage of the language; his caring, and his concern, for people of all hues.

Roger Welsch and David, Grand Rapids, MI

May I present my dear friend, Captain Nebraska, Roger L. Welsch, author, humorist, historian, student of Mankind.

**If you would like autographed copies of Roger’s books, or books that are no longer in print, you are welcome to use this link or write directly to Roger.