Walter Calvin Arnold is a man out of time and place, a survivor, under siege, of a generation that still calls his county "Prince George" without the apostrophe and S. His new tractor is vintage 1949. His old one was new in 1939. He's a Southern Marylander, not a Washington suburbanite.
When Arnold was growing up on the family farm a few miles from the present site of the Capital Centre, Prince George's County was country almost to the District line and the bureaucracy was what they had downtown.
Then came the suburbs. The county's population mushroomed and so did its government. The law of the land became the county code, with its prohibitions and requirements, rules and regulations. But Arnold didn't get the message. He thought it was still the country.
So when the stables on his 32.4-acre farm not far from U.S. Rte. 50 and the Beltway burned down, he hauled some old milk and laundry vans onto his land to store hay and thought nothing of it. That was in 1961. A dozen years later, as development crept closer to his rural domain, law and order invaded the hay and cattle farmer's world. The vans, he was told, had to go.
Ever since, the county bureaucracy has cranked out edicts demanding removal of the vans, citing various zoning ordinances it contends the grizzled, 61-year-old farmer is violating by "operating an automobile junkyard."
They battled it out in court. Arnold won at the courthouse in Upper Marlboro, then lost on appeal in Annapolis. On Friday, three inspectors came to tell him he was in contempt of court and could go to jail if the three remaining vans--one filled with fertilizer, the others with hay--aren't removed forthwith.
"You're at the end of your string now," George Biernesser Jr., county zoning enforcement officer, told Arnold. "You're gonna have to do at least what the judge told you to do now." Before leaving, Biernesser suggested that Arnold show a reporter around "the plantation."
"I don't know where in the hell to put my hay," shrugged Arnold, as the officials drove away. "I'm debating whether to keep on bailing or go buy a shotgun . . . and use it," he said, laughing. "They told us when we went to school the Constitution tells you you can do anything you want to so long as it doesn't interfere with the health and welfare of anyone else," he added, not laughing.
Arnold lives alone in a trailer. It may also be illegal under county law. County inspectors used to cite him for his septic system, too, but since his well went dry last fall, he doesn't use it anyway. Instead, he hauls his drinking water in jugs from neighbors' houses and uses an old privy out back.
Arnold attended school through seventh grade. That was in 1935. Then, "like every damn kid I knew," he went to work on the family farm "while my father laid underneath the shade tree. I knew how to farm, that's all I knew then," he said. "We didn't have no problem with politicians then. Now you need an education to outsmart the crooks, to get along."
Over near Central Avenue, they grew corn, tobacco, tomatoes, canteloupes and watermelons. Of his classmates, Harry Townsend Jr. was the big success story. He sold insurance.
"I was brought up during the Depression. I don't know what good times are," Arnold said. "When they were having good times, I was having wife trouble. I was still having hard times."
He had seven siblings. "All that's got any sense left Prince George County," he said.
He left, too, for World War II. He was in Africa, Italy, France and Germany with the 6617th Engineering Mine Clearance Company. "Souvenir of Italy, 1944," says the white and yellow fabric hanging in his trailer. "When I came back out of the Army, I said the hell with traveling, I had enough of it."
He bought the farm in 1949, from an uncle. That was the same year zoning came to Prince George's County, although zoning inspectors were few and far between. The property had a house, which he now uses for storage. He got his first trailer in 1968. That, too, is used for storage. Located about his property are a dozen "VW" auto crates placed on cinder blocks and one stamped "Indonesian Embassy" that he got from Fidelity Storage in nearby Ardmore.
In 1973, someone offered him nearly $10,000 an acre for his farm, subject to zoning approval for light industry. The people down at Willow Grove protested and won. The sale fell through.
It was shortly after that that zoning officials, acting on a complaint from a civic association they declined to identify, inspected his property. They sent their first notice Dec. 20, 1973. In 1977, they threatened Arnold with 90 days in jail and a $500 fine for each day the vans remained on his property.
"I find Mr. Arnold to be pleasant," said Joyce Ferguson, a zoning inspector who has handled the case since 1980. "He has a very strong conviction about this particular matter. I think he could build a barn for as much as it costs him to fight this through the court."
When the county finally took Arnold to court, he told Circuit Judge Robert H. Mason that the vans, most of which lacked wheels and engines, were perfect for hay. "The sheds are too airtight," he said. "The hay could mold."
Mason ruled that the vans were, in fact, accessory farm buildings and, therefore, exempt from regulation. "Sheds of an odd configuration but buildings nonetheless under the ordinance," Mason ruled. The county went to the Court of Special Appeals, which last November reversed Mason's finding in the case. "Otherwise," the court said, Mason's ruling could "lead to absurb and illogical consequences and wreak havoc with the legislative objectives and purposes duly intended."
The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's top court, refused to review the case. In March, Judge Mason hit Arnold with a $179 bill for court costs and ordered him within 30 days to remove "all inoperable and junk automobiles, trucks and vans and to cease and desist and not in the future to use or permit the use of such land for a junkyard or automobile salvage yard."
The junkyard description bothers him the most. "I haven't got my first damn penny out of it," he said, "and they're gonna throw the book at me."
Except for two or three hours during a child support-custody dispute with his first wife, he avers he has never been to jail. Nor has he ever received welfare or food stamps. He wants to build up his cattle herd of five animals, crossbreeding dairy with beef, but that will take two or three years. Meanwhile, he scrapes by on some savings and money earned operating a backhoe and front-end loader for builders one or two days a month.
With the housing industry in a slump, Arnold explained, he has more time to pitch hay.
As he speaks, the sound of trucks on Rte. 50 can be heard in the distance. Train noises from another direction compete with the rumble of bulldozers from an industrial park that is being built across Lottsford Vista Road.
In the other direction are winding suburban streets and split-level houses, which are barely visible through the trees. The development is called "The Meadows," which better describes Arnold's field leading to it. The homes adjoin his property across a stream known as Folly Branch.