Merle Haggard's whistle-stop train campaign to rally support for financially troubled American farmers has been derailed before it even left the depot--a victim of money problems itself.
Greg Oswald, a spokesman for the country music singer, said Saturday that plans for the weeklong, California-to-Illinois journey by chartered Amtrak train were dropped because the project was $250,000 short of the $606,000 payment required Monday by Amtrak.
But Oswald said Haggard hopes to announce plans shortly for an even more ambitious train trip that would go from the singer's native Bakersfield to Washington.
"The fact is we tried to put this together real fast and we just ran out of time," said Oswald, vice president of Luckenbach Productions, which coordinated the effort for the singer. "We were relying on corporate sponsorships and we had some verbal commitments, but they didn't come through in the end."
In fact, virtually the only money Haggard could count on by late Friday was the $350,000 of his own money that he pledged in hopes of keeping the campaign afloat. Oswald, however, expressed confidence, with sufficient lead time, in obtaining corporate sponsorships.
The original plan was for the train, called "The American," to leave Bakersfield at noon Monday with approximately 200 musicians, farm group officials and members of the press. The train was to stop in 39 cities for rallies on its way to Champaign, Ill., the site of a Sept. 22 Farm Aid concert featuring Haggard, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and other pop, rock and country artists. Concert organizers hope to raise $50 million in farm relief funds.
Haggard was unavailable Saturday for comment, but issued a statement through a Nashville publicist: "I have always considered my country as my soul. I am deeply regretful that my train, 'The American,' will not roll on its freedom trip across our land."