As told by Louis Ehlinger Sr. of Devine, Texas, to his niece, Nancy Ehlinger Saathoff
Thanksgiving and the Hobo
The year was 1939 or 40, and as winter was approaching up north and east, the Hobo headed south for the warm winter in Laredo, as he did each year. Hitch-hiking was his regular mode of transportation all the way from Wisconsin, or wherever he was from. [Louis related that in those days, hobos usually hitch-hiked like this one did. They started riding trains later.] He spent the winters working in Laredo, then, he went back up north to work in the summers.
Along the way, he depended on the kindness of strangers for travel and food. And, so, it was the need of food and drink that led him to one of his regular stops across from the railroad tracks just south of Devine – the home of Willie & Theresa Ehlinger and their dozen kids.
The Ehlingers were known for their kindness in helping others, and this Hobo stopped there about twice a year to ask for a drink of water and sometimes a sandwich or something to eat. They always obliged, and he was appreciative of their help.
Well, this particular day happened to be Thanksgiving Day. It was a nice warm day and the Ehlingers had their doors open to let the fresh breeze go through the long hall from the front door all the way to the dining room at the back of the house. They had just sat down for their meal as the Hobo knocked on the front door. He looked in and could see the table full of food with all the hungry kids sitting around it. One of the boys answered the door and the Hobo asked for a drink of water. Once he got the water, he thanked them and left to resume his trek to Laredo.
Along the road, the Hobo thumbed a ride with “Dutch” Eschenburg who was heading to his ranch in Moore. The Hobo asked for a ride and for food because he was hungry. Dutch said that he saw him coming from the Ehlingers place and asked why he did not ask them for any food. The Hobo replied that when he saw all those hungry kids sitting at the table, he did not have the heart to ask them for any food because that man had so many others to feed already!
Well, Dutch laughed about that and asked the Hobo if he wanted to go to the ranch to eat. He did, and that ended his traveling days. The Hobo stayed in Moore for many years to take care of the Eschenburg ranch for Dutch. (Louis Ehlinger was one of those Ehlinger kids. He was about 12 or 13 at the time.)
War, Thanksgiving, and football – 1944
Thanksgiving in Devine in 1944 was pretty interesting and unusual for our community. Families were already missing their boys who were off at war, so holidays were especially difficult, yet meaningful. It all started with Kelly Field bosses in San Antonio deciding that they could not possibly let off all of their 30,000 employees for Thanksgiving Day! They needed the wartime work to continue around the clock, so they let half of them off the regular Thanksgiving Day and the other half off on the following Thursday for another Thanksgiving Day. Needless to say, with so many citizens in Devine being employed at Kelly Field at that time, family celebrations plans were definitely out of order!
And, as if that was not enough, the Devine Warhorse football team had a playoff game on Thanksgiving Day! This 1944 team was having a very good, undefeated year. They had had only two teams to score on them all season. This led to a District 37-A showdown for the District Championship between the South Zone winner, Devine, and North Zone winner, Uvalde.
The whole community was behind their Warhorses; but, this being wartime, there was gas and tire rationing, which made it hard for folks to follow their team to the games. So, the fans pooled their rationing stamps together to make sure as many as possible made it to the playoff game in Uvalde on that Thanksgiving Day – the actual Thanksgiving Day!
It was a beautiful afternoon in Uvalde with a great crowd. The Horses, who used only 11 players that day and had no substitutions, were coached by a grocer from the community! And, at the end of the game, the teams were tied 0-0! But, Devine won on penetrations, 3-2! They went on to play their Bi-District game the next week where they lost to Edna by only one point. Edna went on to win Regional, which was the highest playoff title at that time.
But, that Golden Thanksgiving Day in 1944 will always be remembered by many for winning the first-ever District title and being the best football team in Devine’s history up to that time. And, importantly, it provided a much-needed source of joy and pride during those years, as WWII dragged on. (Louis Ehlinger Sr. was the 1944 Warhorse QB!)