Arvel “Sunshine” Pearson's grandfather had living quarters behind the railroad station at Spadra, an Ozarks village five miles from Clarksville, Arkansas. Arvel's father died before he was born and his mother moved into the depot, where she gave birth to her son in 1915. The first sounds the boy beard were the whistles of freight trains rolling down into Spadra.
Arvel's mother had remarried a coal miner. Working as a water-boy in a strip mine at the age of nine, Arvel had been nicknamed “Sunshine” by the miners. By 1929, he had already been working underground for eighteen months. Then the Great Depression hit and the mine closed. He first rode the rails in 1930 and would continue to hop trains until 1942 as a migrant farm worker in summer and as an itinerant coal miner in winter. In 1939, when he was twenty-four, Arvel attended the National Hobo Convention, still held annually at Britt, Iowa. There he became the youngest hobo to be elected “King of the Hoboes.”
His reign ended with the onset of World War II. After serving in the Pacific, he returned to civilian life and worked in the construction trades for the next forty years. When Arvel finally retired as a pipefitter in 1987, he was making $18.75anhour-as much as he earned in a week in a good season on the road during the 1930s.
The closing of the mines left twelve hundred miners out of work. In six months to a year, people who didn't have a place to raise