Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Guitar Man

He is. Yep, my dad is the guitar man. His birthday is in a couple of days and he will turn 91.
He's also known as Guitar Whitey. Let me explain.
When he was twelve, he bought his first guitar from the Sears catalog for $3.89 and taught himself how to play. Then at age thirteen, he hopped his first freight train.
You can still find him on a sunny porch playing old timey songs, but his train hopping days ended when he was 76. He's got other things to do now, that keep him closer to home. No longer does he feel the urge for going.
My father was a teen hobo during the Great Depression. In 1938, his family fell into hard times. Bobby became a summer tramp, riding the rails picking apples, strawberries and shaking walnuts, from Oregon to California. Every penny he made went to support his mother and father and three sisters. After harvest season, he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps in Montana, until he joined the Navy. After that, he was a merchant seaman, sailor, tugboat operator, deckhand, guitar store owner and a busker. Yes, busking is a job!
Throughout his life, my dad never stopped traveling, mostly by hopping freight trains. It's a freedom thing. Like Merle Haggard sang:
                                          I caught this ramblin' fever long ago
                             When I first heard that lonesome whistle blow...
Even while rambling around the country, he always had his guitar with him. Guitar Whitey, riding trains and singing old time hobo songs, wherever he went.
PBS airs a history series, American Experience: Riding the Rails. It's the story of teenagers in the 1930's who were going through hardships, like my father. Some of these men and women are still around, and in this documentary, they tell stories of freedom and lonliness. My dad is one of the ten they interview. The music that accompanies the film is some good old american folk tunes. The book, Riding the Rails, is also available, (through Amazon of course) or your local library, that include some interesting black and white photographs. I hope the next time PBS airs this film, you'll be able to watch it. Take a trip back into time. You'll be glad you did. And, while we're on the subject of books, if you're curious about Guitar Whitey's train adventures, he wrote about them in his book, Ridin' Free. I've read it five times. It's a wild ride, and all true. Check it out!
Incidently, how 'bout a Happy Birthday shout out to the Guitar Man!
He's probably on his porch in California, playing you a song right now, with my beautiful mother by his side, shakin' the tambourine.


  1. I wonder if your mom and dad know how much they've influenced in little ways people they've never met (i.e., ME and Monner). I sure wish I could get out there and meet them.

    p.s. tell your ma, we need a new Brimley!

    LOVE this pic of Whitey and you!

  2. I'll have ma whip up a brim when we're out there. Do you want one or some mitts or...? Thanks for what you said about me folks. They would loooove you if they ever met you!

  3. well, she does need a new Brimley for next winter! And it's true, in little ways even people you haven't met leave a big impact, I think you're folks are those people. Which reminds me! We need to write Joyce a thank you card!

  4. I loved this so much - a beautiful tribute to/history of your father! Thank you for sharing it. 91 is such a blessed number! My next door neighbor is 91... believe me, I'm watching her 'secrets' to long life. ;)

  5. Hey San, i apprecieate those kind words. xx

  6. Such a beautiful story, such an inspiring man. I loved reading "Ridin' Free" and it will forever be found on my bookshelf next to "Swimming with Trout," close to a beautiful painting of a desert road leading to the Cactus Tree Motel. You've given me so much, and I appreciate it. I hope to get to meet Guitar Whitey someday, maybe he'll even play me a song.

  7. Crazy!! You beauty you! I know Whitey and you would have an immediate connection and I would not be surprised one bit if he played you a song some day. I'm so glad you're here! I've missed you. Time to go sage pickin' again, yah? x