Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Random Ramblings -- Merle Haggard's Boxcar House

Merle Haggard's boxcar home; Oildale, Calif.; March 7, 2014
 Not only is Merle Haggard proud to be an Okie From Muskogee, but he's also a proud railfan and model railroader. A lot of that was influenced by where he grew up along the Santa Fe tracks in Oildale, Calif., on the fringes of Bakersfield. The line that is still used by oil tank trains passed within a few feet of the Haggard home, and its influence can be heard in the song "Oil Tanker Train" on Merle's latest album Working In Tennessee. In that song, Merle relates the joy he felt when his father bought him a model oil train for Christmas.

Not only did Haggard live near the tracks, but his house was actually a converted refrigerator car that his father, James, rebuilt into a house during the depression. He added a pop-out dining area and other modifications have been made throughout the years. Today, the house sits under a tangle of vines, although still occupied.

A timely article in the New York Times on February 24, 2014, documented the history of Hag's home, coming out just before I headed west to California for Winterail. Since I was heading from Los Angeles up to Stockton via the Central Valley, a stop in Oildale became a priority. While the Times article didn't give the exact location of the house, an internet search did give an approximate intersection, and using that and the tracks as a guide (along with a photo in the Times article) I soon found the house. You really have to look to see the refrigerator car -- its the lengthwise section parallel to the street. A front entrance has been added, somewhat masking the car. Being a country music lover (Cash, Willie, Jones, Hag and Waylon) this was indeed a highlight of my trip.

So what will become of Hag's Boxcar? The Kern County Museum is raising funds to buy it, move it and restore it to the way James Haggard modified it. The current owner will get a new house on the same footprint as the boxcar. Yes, it will be looking better than ever, but I still wanted to get a photo of it sitting in its original place where the first thing Hag remembered knowin' was a lonesome whistle blowin' and a young one's dream of growing up to ride...

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