Virginia commuters hurrying to Washington yesterday morning on Interstate 66 ran right into the farm strike in the exasperating, unchallengeable form of eight green-and-yellow John Deere tractors - twice as wide and three times as high as a car - blocking both inbound lanes as they rode along at only 15 m.p.h.
Hundreds of cars and trucks crawled behind the rolling road block for about 12 miles, cursing the farmers and their strike over CB radios, until police stopped the tractors after a frantic chase scene. Police said two tractors knocked two police cars off the road before an officer fired two blasts from a 12-gauge shotgun to stop the huge vehicles.
A motorist, blocked by the tractors, declared in a flat Southern twang over the radio before the police arrived: "I declare, for one time I'm on the side of the Smokies."
The motorist, as it turned out, declared himself on the winning side. The police, however, did not win easily.
About one mile west of te Fairfax County line, Virginia State Police tried to stop the eight tractors. But three slipped past them, according to State Police Sgt. Glenn Millner.
Hundreds of cars and trucks crawled behind the rolling roadblock for about 12 miles, cursing the farmers and their strikes over CB radios, until police stopped the tractors after a frantic chase.
Police said two tractors knocked two police cars off the road before an officer fired two blasts from a 12-gauge shotgun to stop the vehicles.
A truck driver, blocked by the tractors, declared in a flat Southern twang over the radio before the police arrived: "I declare, for one time I'm on the side of the Smokies."
The truck driver, as it turned out, declared himself on the winning side. The police, however, did not win easily.
About one mile west of the Fairfax County line, Virginia Police tried to stop the eight tractors. But three slipped past them, according to State Police Sgt. Glenn Millner.
Two state police cars took off in pursuit.
Trooper W. F. Eanes raced his cruiser out in front of one of the enclosed-cab tractors driven by Philip D. Olinger, 16, part-time farmer and grocery clerk who joined the tractor caravan in Bealton, Va., his hometown.
Getting out of his car, the trooper tried to flag down the Olinger tractor, police said. But the young farmer steered toward the center of the high way. This tractor brushed the trooper, knocking him to the ground. Police said Eanes suffered minor bruises.
Resuming the chase, Eanes got back in his car and went after the tractor. During the chase, his car was hit twice by a tractor and disabled, police said.
When another trooper, R. J. Snow, tried to stop the three tractors, his cruiser also was hit twice by tractors, police said. In the end, he was pushed into a ditch by the tractor driven by James N. Loveless, 36, a Remington, VA., farmer, police said.
Fairfax police, alerted by radio, rushed to aid the state troopers, and set up a "running roadblick" of their own - driving slowly in front of the tractors to try to stop them from blocking the road.
This failed when Loveless ran his tractor up over the back of the police car of Fairfax officer, James D. Phillips. The policeman extricated his car, sped ahead and jumped out with his shotgun to end the affair. He shot out the rear tires of Loveless' tractor, ending the farmers' hold on the back-up commuters.
Later yesterday, in the Fairfax County Courthouse, Loveless, wearing a hat that read "We suppot Agricultural Strike," said he and the other farmers were "not trying to break any laws." He said he did not know about a federal law that prohibits farm vehicles on interstate highways.
"We did not want this kind of publicity," he said. He said that in the enclosed cab of his tractor he could not hear or understand that the police wanted him to stop his tractor.
Olinger was charged with hit and run with personal injuries and malicious injury. He denied hitting the trooper with his tractor. But he said in the courthouse yesterday that his "vision, up close, is not that good in that tractor."
The eight farmers arrested yesterday retained an attorney, David E. Schramm of Herndon, who called the tractor incident a "peaceful demonstration" and an "unfortunate happening here in the county (Fairfax)."
The five tractors stopped initially in Prince William County included three driven by farmers from Georgia, who left their homes Monday morning for the demonstration in Washington.
Walter Tonge and James P. Henerson, who wore the red farmer's strike hat in the courthouse yesterday, were charged with impeding traffic.
Leighton H. Kersey, the leader of the disgruntled Georgia farmers, was charged with possession of a concealed weapon a 22 caliber magnum pistol, and with impeding traffic.
In the courthouse yesterday an incredulous Kersey drawled, "They charged me with being a farmer."
He added, "All we came to Washington for was to make our point about the bad prices we are getting for our products." He said that he and his fellow tractor-driving farmers had no trouble with police driving north on Interstate Rtes. 85, 95, and 105.
Olinger and Loveless, who was charged with reckless driving, hit and run and two minor traffic violations, are scheduled for arraignment today in Fairfax County District Court. They were released yesterday on their own recognizance.
The three Georgia farmers will also be arraigned today. The two other farmers stopped in Prince William County and another farmer arrested in Fairfax County were charged with impeding traffic.