As heavy snow swirled over the Mall yesterday, it chilled life in the farmers' tractorcade and mired the encampment deeper in mud and contradictions.
Tractors snorted up and down the gravel walkways with flags and plac-ards, rutting the ground in front of the Smithsonian and toppling a large subway kiosk next to a Metro station.
Farmers, who came to Washington protesting, among other things, the higher cost of fuel, used fuel all day to race each other in tractors, spin their pickups on the snowy ground and churn holes in the newly replaced sod on the Mall.
Farm families, standing next to placards pleading poverty, whipped out expensive cameras to photograph such sights as the burning of a mechanical cotton picker amid the falling snow.
Butane stoves kept the temperature toasty in more than 100 campers and mobile homes while farm wives and children walked to and fro with small bags of souveniers from Washington gift shops.
Over and over, however, the farmers protested that much of the encampment -- like much of farming itself -- wasn't what it seemed.
"Now don't go writing that we were sitting here talking in the comfort of our $40,000 mobile home," said Ruth Miller of Friona, Tex., as the stove blazed in the Winnebago she shares with her husband Roy, 56.
"It's true that we own this, but we bought it with what we made out of a lifetime of farming, and now it looks like we may have to give it up," she said.
They turned their 600-acre grain and cotton farm in the Texas Panhandle over to their two sons last year, Miller said, "and we hoped to make a living, you know, off the boys."
But the boys had to borrow $96000 just for seed, fertilizer and the basic cost of making a crop last year "and barely broke even."
"Now," said Miller, "we may have to take the farm back."
The motor home may be roomy, the Millers said, but they've had as many as 13 people eating in there at one time, and rarely fewer than five others sharing the beds.
Their son and daughter-in-law would be flying home today, creating a little more room, but the camper's sewage-holding tank was full and frozen, and there was no place to dump it.
The Millers and other farmers said most of the trailers and motor homes in the tractorcade were borrowed, rented or donated outright by the folks back home to further the farmer's cause.
"This teacher at our local junior college heard we were coming up here and showed up with a nearly brand new motor home for us," said Dean Holbert, 47, of Concordia, Kan. "Said we could go on and take it to Washington. We're living well up here because of the folks back home."
Holbert said the local bank from which he borrows money for his 1,800-acre farm paid the cost of flying his wife up to join him "just to further the farmers' cause."
But not all the farmers brought their wives.
Joel Owens, 25, of McDonnough, Ga., worked through the afternoon, cursing a balky butane tank on the 25-foot Itaska trailer he shares with seven other farmers.
"We've been in this thing 18 days and had one shower in all that time," he said, wiping his greasy hands on his coveralls. "You think we came up here on a vacation?"
Owens said he had to leave his wife behind because "you can't have her living in a little trailer with eight men," and hotels in Washington, he discovered, can cost $60 a night.
He and his trailer mates, he said, get up about 7 a.m., eat breakfast in the trailer, get lunch at the Department of Agriculture cafeteria and eat supper out of cans heated over the trailer stove.
The trailer's sewage tank is full now and "I don't know what the hell to do about that... Probably just uncork her and let it run all over the ground here."
Owens said he and other McDonnough farmers had bought their year-old trailer just for the trip and will sell it when they get back for whatever it will bring.
Tuesday night, he said, the trailer ran out of butane and there was no heat.
But over near the burning cotton picker a young farm wife in a fur cap and fur-collared coat whipped out a camera to take snapshots. And as the tractors roared past in their aimless parade, the CB radio crackled with the news that "a bunch of the boys going beaver hunting... anybody want to come?"