Merle Haggard’s sister, Lillian, outside the family’s boxcar home in Oildale in a picture dated Easter 1945.

Photo courtesy of Lillian Rea

The Haggards came to Bakersfield the first time in 1929. Their first visit was in search of a healthy climate for Flossie. They were here when the stock market crashed in October 1929. They had been living in the Great Lakes area, where bitter winters were detrimental to Flossie's health. The September heat in the valley sent them back to the more moderate climate of Oklahoma in November 1929.

They returned to California on July 15, 1935, and rented a house on Sixth Street. They visited the Brethren Church, at Palm and A Street, where they met Marianna Bohna, granddaughter of pioneer Christian Bohna. When she learned that Jim Haggard worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, she asked if he could create a house out of a "box car" that she owned sitting at the back of a lot in Oildale. Their first meeting did not go well as Miss Bohna, during the course of the conversation, asked in her "school teacher" manner, "Where are you from?" Jim proudly answered, "Oklahoma." She firmly replied that she understood the Oklahomans would not work. Jim, not a shy man, looked straight into her beautiful blue eyes and said, just as firmly that he "had never met one who wouldn't."

She was impressed. He had been working on box cars as a carpenter and understood what she wanted. He told her he would take a look at it and let her know. After church he and Flossie drove to Oildale for the first time and found the lonely box car looking very much out of place sitting on the back of a weed-covered lot.

Jim Haggard was never without a job. When he arrived in Bakersfield on July 15, 1935, he took a job managing a small dairy on Panama Road. That was considered a temporary job and he continued to place applications for others. In less than a month he was hired at the Santa Fe Railroad. He would take care of the dairy duties, then work all day at the railroad and return home for the evening dairy duties. He had only Saturdays and Sunday afternoon to work on the box car.

While working on the project, Jim Haggard saw the wisdom of buying the property and living in the "box car" house while building a home on the same property. Jim Haggard just may have been the creator of the "pop-out" rooms now used in motor homes. He added two "pop-out" rooms extending the living space. It was cozy and energy efficient.

By now they and Miss Bohna had become good friends. They discussed buying the property and Miss Bohna agreed. They bought the property for $500, with payments of $10 per month. The Haggards moved into the box-car house on September 15, 1935, just two months from the date of arrival into Bakersfield. Miss Bohna gave Flossie a small organ and a treasured oval mirror to grace the walls of the "box car," now a home.

It was soon surrounded with a lawn and trees and fence covered with climbing red roses. This cherished home did not have a front door key. There was no need, for it was a truly safe community.

I still have the "Marianna Bohna" mirror.

The Haggards were not part of the Dust Bowl migration. Merle was born April 6, 1937. The Dust Bowl occurred during the years of 1936-1940 and was located in the Oklahoma panhandle, Texas, Kansas and Colorado. We lived in eastern Oklahoma.

Many of the things that the Haggards brought with them are now part of the Route 66 display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

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