Jan van Heé was sixteen when he ran away from his parents' farm in the Montana buttes in 1937. “I left a note between the salt and pepper shakers: 'I'll be back when I have money and a car.'” He promised to repay five dollars he snitched from his folks.
Born in Holland, where he spent his first ten years with his grandfather, Jan was a city boy when he came to the isolated community near Marysville, Montana. “Farm animals scared me, especially the pigs that looked about ready to eat me. Dad soon changed that. Within a few years, I was doing the work of a man around the farm, working seven days a week during harvest time”
An outsider in a community populated by the descendants of pioneers who arrived in covered wagons, Jan was plagued with problems throughout his school years. Three months before he was due to graduate in 1937, his principal gave him his diploma and sent him home.
Already living close to the belt and forced to slaughter half their herd of a thousand sheep, his father told him he had no paying work for him on the farm. His mother and he didn't get along. When his parents went to bed that night, Jan stuffed his things into a pillowcase and left.
He hiked to the train station at Marysville, Montana, where he heaved his belongings into an open boxcar. “Welcome, ” he heard a voice say from a dark corner.