Buddy Holcomb - The Boy with the Fishin' Pole

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Sun Jan 25 16:43:03 EST 2009

A year ago, I entreated the Indefatiguable Ole Detective, Ken Miller, for information about that classic and widely used N&W publicity photo depicting a Tom Sawyer'esque young boy with fishin' pole in hand, can of worms at the ready, and bandage on toe, propped against a tree and looking down from a cliff at a Class Y hauling a manifest freight along a riverbank.

Ken, who is never non plussed by even the most abstruse questions, sent me the negative number and the date of the photo, and stated that it was taken just west of Roanoke, and was posed on an escarpment which was later demolished (for lack of a better word) during excavations for the Veteran's Hospital.

Last evening, quite by chance, I was moving some books and ran across the May, 1941, number of the N&W Magazine, which carried this photo on the cover and captioned it "Railroad Man of Tomorrow."  By good fortune, His Grace the Editor commented on the photo in his opening feature, "The Cupola."  Saith the Editor:  "P.S. - Name of the boy in the picture is 'Buddy' Holcomb, son of Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Holcomb of Roanoke,  'Buddy' is ten years old. 'Some day,' he says, 'I'm going to be an engineer.'

Well, now !  Here we have something to go on !  Wouldn't it be delightful to track Buddy down and get the story behind the photograph ?

Buddy must have been born in 1930 or 1931 (which would make him 78 or 79 years of age by now.)  

A check with www.ancestry.com was fruitful.  Unfortunately, the 1940 Federal Census is not yet up on Ancestry (the 70 year period hasn't expired.)   However, the 1930 Census shows a Joseph W. Holcomb living in the Highland Ward of Roanoke, age 33, with the following other persons in the home: 

Margaret Holcomb, age 30
Jean B. Holcomb, age 6
Joseph W. Holcomb, Jr, age 3/12 (i.e. 3 months)
Virginia E. Berkes, age 65, a "lodger"

All of the above persons were shown as having been born in Virginia.

Joseph W. Holcomb (the father) is shown as a Mechanic employed by the Automatic Musical Company. 

"Buddy" is a common moniker for a Junior, so I think we have a match.

Okay, boys... I've done the spade work.  Now, you go and find Joseph W. Holcomb, Jr. (or his descendents) and get the story behind the photograph !

-- abram burnett

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