Skip to comments.For Merle Haggard, a Boxcar Was Home. Now It Needs Work.
Posted on 03/10/2014 3:22:28 PM PDT by dennisw
OILDALE, Calif. The tanker trains loaded with crude oil still rattle down the tracks at the end of the alleyway where Merle Haggard, a living legend of country music, grew up in a boxcar that his father transformed into the family home.
The walls were thick: cool in the summer and warm in winter, Lillian Haggard Rea, the musicians 93-year-old sister, recalled of the boxcar that their father, James Haggard, a carpenter with the Santa Fe railroad, converted by hand during the Depression. It was, she said, just a wonderful home to live in.
Like much of the music associated with the Bakersfield Sound, an unvarnished form of country that thrived in honky-tonks here in the 1950s and 60s, Mr. Haggards is rooted in the making-do values of the Dust Bowl. His parents migrated from Oklahoma in 1935 and, like thousands of Okies, they sought refuge in Oildale, a ragtag collection of camps and settlements on the outskirts of Bakersfield.
Preservationists are raising money to buy, restore and move the boxcar to the Kern County Museum in nearby Bakersfield, which is just under a two-hour drive from Los Angeles. The boxcar is in many ways both Mr. Haggards three-dimensional autobiography and the story of Oildale, population 32,000 and long separated from Bakersfield by the Kern River and a certain state of mind, Gerald W. Haslam, an Oildale native, wrote in an essay.
Mr. Haggard was born in Bakersfield and grew up in Oildale, the tracks a formative experience of his youth. Patricia Puskarich, who lived next door in a vacation trailer, one without indoor plumbing, recalled young Merle teaching her how to put pennies on the rails to flatten them, a prime form of pre-television childhood entertainment, she said.
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I worked the Christmas vacation one year at an orange packing house. My job was loading boxes of oranges into mostly semi trailers.
A couple of times it was boxcars. There was a railroad spur right beside the packing house.
I still remember just how much more a boxcar would hold than a semi. They were much larger than one might think.
Shocking that the boxcar still exists after 80 years...
I have my own memories of Merle. Have known him my whole life. Knew Buck and Bonnie too Buck was the nicer of the two.....like a whole lot nicer. Lol
Not shocking if you knew that part of town. There are many houses in Oildale barely standing...but still inhabited.
And to think, none of the family thought to complain and demand welfare... If I could afford it, I’d like to convert an old train car into a house.
Whjy don’t Obama do something about this area? He has a pen and a phone after all.
Once, on a long visit at my dad’s house, he had me helping to build a second private retreat for himself, located about a mile from the house for the entire family.
He made it super insulated, with homemade double pane windows and old asbestos insulation from junked refrigerated rail cars, and then the outside finished with salvaged, 100 year old adobe from 1800s adobe houses which are much larger and thicker than modern ones.
It’s already being done and hasn’t helped. A large majority of people in that part of town are already on some kind of welfare.
The house in those pictures doesn’t look like it was made from a boxcar to me.
My daddy showed me how to put a penny on the track. You’d have to search for it because it would actually stick to the wheel and may end up 3 or 4 feet away.
We lived in a house beside the tracks. There was a small yard, a gravel street then the railroad. The front door was about 50 from the tracks. When a train came past everyone had to quit talking because you couldn’t hear. It would shake the house. After a while you’d sleep right through it.
Notice that Merles father planted fruit trees and a grape arbor to provide food for his family. I’ll bet they had a veg garden too.
As far as welfare people, in two urban settings I have seen extensive veg gardens right next to housing projects for the poor. The blacks had lots of collard greens growing while in Savannah Georgia after the Viet boat people first arrived. One housing project had lots of Vietnamese and lots of nice veg gardens by them.
Sometimes welfare people take some initiative and do for themselves
Believe me, when the need is great enough, the regime will offer Cali federal guarantees on their state borrowing. 55 electoral votes without having to spend a penny of campaign money is too good to alienate.
“The house in those pictures doesnt look like it was made from a boxcar to me.”
Boxcar must be hidden by so much remodeling and additions to the original boxcar
Buck Owens-—the Bakersfield sound!!!!! The Beatles liked his music!
Jan 29, 2009 - When The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan’s popular TV variety show in 1965, they stunned many by singing a country song, a tribute to Buck ...
Me too! Have you been watching too many reruns of "Wild Wild West" too? Now that was a house....
Tracks ran about 100 yards behind my grandfather’s house...I wish I could hear again those cars going over those tracks late at night...This 60 years ago...Before the seamless tracks...clack, clack, clack, clack............
it would put you to sleep....
Sounds like you were very secure and loved at Grandfathers house. A better time in American history.
Yes, I was being sarcastic a bit. Compared to how everyone is “owed” something today, people then were far more self sufficient.
Lol! No, there is a renovated box car near where I live that sits on a siding near an Ace Hardware store. It’s used as an outdoor office in the summer to sell plants and shrubs from.
A boxcar carries 3 times more than a semi. Railroads are a great way to move goods economically.
A few years ago I almost bought a beautiful old caboose. It was wooden, had a wood stove and built in bunks and eating area. One of the issues was getting it to where it was to be permanently. To go over the rails it had to be inspected and any necessary repairs made. Then it had to be transported over the rails for a fair amount per mile. If I win the lottery tomorrow night I’m going to get one!
There is a railroad museum in Strasburg Pa. Some of the enclosed coaches were made in the 1940’s and have an Art Deco style that I love, but yeah, how DO you move a train car?! It would be awesome to have one.
Moving a caboose is a major deal. It costs a lot of money to have an inspection and pass it. You cannot move a car over the rails unless it’s been gone over with a fine tooth comb. Then it costs - per mile to have it moved. Once moved you have to pull it off onto a spur and hopefully you can keep it there or somehow get it moved to its permanent place.
BTW thank you for the information about the railroad museum. I looked it up. They have more than 100 locomotives and cars there. That’s astounding. I’m curious as to why it is located there. The website didn’t seem to have that information.
Did they sing “Act Naturally”? I seem to have a vague memory of that show.
My favorite Merle song is “Mama Tried.” He wrote a lot of songs for himself and others.
I would figure that most rail cars/cabooses, etc., would be on a side rail in some abandoned railway yard, but what do I know? Anyway, my assumption would be that a car is simply picked up by crane and placed on a flat bed for moving. I can see how that’s expensive. Strasburg RR still runs on a two or three mile track as a tourist train, although some of the local Amish use it to go from field to field. I forget the history of the place, but being a part of Pennsylvania RR, there were plenty of stations and enthusiasts about to have a museum built. There are also cars and engines outside waiting to be restored. It’s a great place to visit.
I just added Keyword: merlehaggard (just above comment #1). Clickable, it leads all the way back to 2002 articles about him :)