Dakota Datebook

Wanderer

Friday, November 5, 2010

 

On this date in 1930, Myron Sletten wrote a letter to his mother. In the postscript he added, “I see by the looks of the Tatler that you didn’t keep very quiet as to what I was doing.” The Tatler was his high school newspaper and he didn’t exactly want people to know what he was doing.

Myron was a wanderer, or a hobo. And Myron wasn’t exactly proud of it, writing that he was only doing it for the “…dough, ray, me.”

The ’20s hadn’t been a prosperous time for North Dakota’s farmers and the ’30s only got worse. After WWI, wheat prices dropped and the Dust Bowl swept across the state. When people could no longer afford purchases made on credit, the stock market collapsed. Unemployment soared.

Myron decided to find what work he could, hitch-hiking and hopping freight trains. He made it as far west as Washington and as far south as Texas, stopping everywhere in between.

Myron found work picking potatoes and corn, doing yard work, selling magazines and working on the railroads. The foremen there weren’t exactly thrilled to have the 150 pound boy doing the hard labor of railroad work. Myron even flirted with military service, visiting with a recruiter about the Marine Corps.

Having money in his pocket was a good thing, but it could be a problem if other wanderers discovered it. To hide his cash, Myron would slide his money inside an empty toothpaste tube.

Of course there were times when Myron didn’t have any cash. Once, when he was completely out of money and food, he went into a restaurant with a friend. They ordered the woman’s best breakfast. When she found out they couldn’t pay, she refused their work offer. That was the worst.

Though his travels were often difficult, Myron wrote home that he was having the time of his life. He made it home only a few times, stopping twice for Christmas, but missing his father’s death. After two years of wandering, he finally stayed home a while, finding work thanks to his talents handling a modern marvel, a manual adding machine, but with the outbreak of WWII he headed west again to work in the shipyards of Seattle. Eventually he ended up in Montana, as his wanderlust continued.

Sources:

North Dakota History, volume 46, no 2.

“The Years of Despair: North Dakota in the Depression,” by D. Jerome Tweton and Daniel F. Rylance, 1973.

Dakota Datebook written by Alyssa Boge

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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