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Holly Johnson: George Hormel’s life on the road

I have recently been reviewing “The Open Road, Autobiography of George A. Hormel” in preparation for an upcoming event. (Keep your ears open for details on that project in the near future).

I had forgotten how much information chapter 5 gave about George’s days traveling as a hide buyer.  At that point in his life, he was actually willing to do anything for work and he was seeking a new opportunity in Kansas City.

However, George soon found out that he wasn’t the only able-bodied worker looking for a new path.  He and a roommate from Chicago were discouraged early as he described in the book.

“When we boarded the train, it was packed with job seekers like ourselves. All young male Chicago, apparently, were on their way in search of better fortune in the West, looking for the riches that are always to be found in the place to which you are going.”

George stated that, “There were no ‘welcome signs’ awaiting us in Kansas City.”

After being turned down for employment in packinghouses and in railroad yards, he approached a hide and wool house operation.  Initially told that there were no positions suitable for someone like him, Major J.N. Dubois relented and offered George the role of hide buyer.  This stepping stone would lead George back to Chicago, then to Des Moines and eventually to Austin. Of that time, he wrote, “I worked the towns along the Missouri Pacific Railway on the Missouri side of the Kansas boundary as far as Joplin, then crossed over into Kansas, working my way back toward Kansas City.”

George’s position with Dubois ended with an abrupt betrayal that would return to his mind when he experienced a similar deception in 1921, but that story is in a different chapter of the book.  George evaluated his first experience as an over the road businessman in this way: “It is more than possible that if this trip had been a failure I should have rejoined the ranks of the working man permanently. The trip was just enough of a success to encourage me to trust myself and to hope for larger future.”

George may have entitled the manuscript of his life “The Open Road” based on his experiences while on the road in the middle United States.  Another reason is explained in chapter four, but maybe I’ll talk about that in a different column.

On another note, you might recognize the name Dubois in regards to someone other than George’s KC boss, but you’ll have to read from chapter 10 for more on that topic.

Upcoming Events

The Historic House will be open for walk-in tours on Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. through August 15. These hours are in addition to our weekday hours of M-F, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

FREE for members and children under 18 yrs, $5 for non-members.  Children under 18

Music @ the Mansion Lehto & Wright

7 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10

Please bring your own chair and be prepared to social distance.  Face masks recommended. Free event

Hump Day History: History from the Original Fairgrounds Building

Noon, Wednesday,

Aug. 12

Presented free on Facebook Live