Johnny Farmer’s hard life began on May 6, 1932, in Holly Ridge, a small community in the Delta, eight miles east of Leland, Mississippi. His earliest memory is of waking up at four to build a fire for the coffee his father and older brothers consumed before heading to the fields for the day. At twelve Johnny was strong enough to plow a mule with his elders and became one of the most disposable pieces in the sharecropping system. Johnny married in his early twenties. His new bride moved into the two-room shack where Johnny was born and lived with his family. Johnny worked the same fields, has never been farther from home than he could walk in a day, when there arose an opportunity to work on a road crew — a definite improvement over sharecropping. Not long after landing his new job, Johnny’s wife was killed in a bizarre accident.
Johnny, like others listed on the payroll book as general labor, worked alongside dozers, graders, and excavators with a pick, shovel, or hoe. Whatever the driver missed with the box blade Johnny fixed with one of his tools. Not surprisingly, he knew how to operate a dozer, and understood precisely how the metal tracks responded to breaking, before ever having the chance to drive one. One day Johnny got his chance, and the rest is history. He became one with the bulldozer, was hell with the dozer, and sat on top of one, weather permitting. For most of the last thirty years. Johnny really is an expert, knows how to low to drop the blade when the ground isn’t all the way dry, how much earth can be pushed and how far until either side begins to slip and trench. Johnny would know if the juice stick should be closer to the rabbit than the the turtle and how much closer — Johnny also knows the answers to a heap of more questions along these lines.