Despite his success,
Woody became increasingly restless and disillusioned with New
York's radio and entertainment industry. Feeling the heat of censorship
he wrote: "I got disgusted with the whole sissified and nervous
rules of censorship on all my songs and ballads, and drove off
down the road across the southern states again."
York, with his wife and three young children in tow, Woody headed
out to Portland, Oregon where a documentary film project about
the building of the Grand Coulee Dam sought to use his songwriting
talent. The Bonneville Power Administration placed Woody on the Federal
payroll for a month and there he composed the Columbia River Songs,
another remarkable collection of songs that include “Roll
on Columbia,” “Grand Coulee Dam,” and “The
Biggest Thing That Man Has Done.”
When his contract expired, Woody moved his family back to Pampa, Texas.
Hoping to get back to New York City, and on the radio, he hitchhiked his
way across the country. Woody's constant traveling, performing,
and lack of regular work throughout the early 1940s took a hard
toll on his family. Together with his increasing interest and
involvement with progressive “radical” politics helped
bring about the end of his first marriage.
Woody, poet of the rain-starved Dust Bowl, this mighty stream
of cool, clear water, coursing through evergreen forests,
verdant meadows, and high deserts was like a vision of paradise.
He saw the majestic Grand Coulee Dam as the creation of
the common man to harness the river for the common good
– work for the jobless, power to ease household tasks,
power to strengthen Uncle Sam in his fight against world