Voyage to Hawaii
(Calin Coburn Collection Photos © 2004)
Bob and P'Nuts Nolan with her parents and an group of people either before or after their voyage on the S S Matsonia, January, 1948. The ocean voyage took 5 days.
Many sources lead us to believe that Bob dropped out of sight completely when he retired from the Sons of the Pioneers. That was not quite true. He recorded with the group for RCA Victor and appeared as a guest at rodeos, charitable events and on radio shows at various times, including The Lucky U Ranch Show.
One of Bob's dreams was to retire young and travel the world. This had been a boyhood dream from the first time he had hitched a ride on a freight train. He would, indeed, have been in a position to see the world but for two unfortunate circumstances.
(Calin Coburn Collection © 2004)
The first deterring factor was his loss of a staggering amount of royalties because he had given up the rights to his most famous song, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, early in his career. (See "The Sad History of Tumbling Tumbleweeds" by Laurence Zwisohn.)
The second occurred in 1950 when it came time to pay his income tax. 1948 - 1949 had been a long and exhausting year of touring. It had also been a very profitable year but his agent absconded with most of Bob's earnings - over $100,000. According to Bob, his unnamed agent left for the new country of Israel with the money and was never heard of again.
The last year I was with the boys, I was only home nine days. Plus the fact that when come the time for income tax, my agent said, ‘We’re going to have to find a way for you to borrow some money.’ Now I’d just had a whale of a year. $179,000! And I had to pay income taxes on it and I didn’t have the money to do it. That dirty son was stealing me blind.
Being naďve and trusting is the reason the shysters are drawn to us, see? We are so darn trusting and they know it. So I’ll tell you it was that old Omar Khayyam deal that I used to accuse the agents of. They’d say, ‘These guys are dumb. They don’t need the money. All they need is enough money to buy a bottle of whiskey a day and enough to buy a roof for the girl they’re shacking up with.’ That’s how most of us got our start, our first heartbreak, to find out that we couldn’t trust those we were supposed to trust.
Finally, Bob and P'Nuts were able to leave on a huge Matson Line vessel, The Matsonia, on January 7, 1948. Measuring 18,655 GRT with modern, Hawaiian-themed accommodation for 761 first class passengers, they traveled with P'Nuts' parents. Bob's grandson has one reel of film taken by Mr. Brown on his new movie camera. The film was often out of focus and viewed so often it was worn but there are many good shots of Bob and P-Nuts; many feet of Bob swimming or looking at the Hawaiian scenery.
P-Nuts, lower left on the Matsonia, one of the refitted Matson Line vessels.
Intending to remain for only a few weeks, Bob and P-Nuts found those people so friendly and hospitable that they stayed for two months. One after another, people they met would ask them to spend a few days with them. From this visit came Bob's South Seas love songs.
As soon as
I retired, we started planning the trip. I’d always wanted to go to Hawaii and I
don’t like to fly so we took the boat. It started out to be just a two-week
vacation. You have to remember I’d just retired and my name and my face was
still pretty prominent with the general public. Well, on this boat so many
people recognized me who were Island residents that, by the time we got into
port, I had several invitations to come and stay a few days at different
people’s homes. I didn’t want to offend anyone by turning them down so I
accepted everybody’s invitation.
That was the one and only cruise Bob could ever afford to take, his lone chance to "See the World!" If he had been able to retain the rights to Tumbling Tumbleweeds, he could have traveled all the rest of his life. Instead, he and P-Nuts were forced to live rather simply on the royalties from his other songs. The rights to Tumbling Tumbleweeds reverted to P-Nuts in the 56th year of its copyright - after Bob's death.
Listen: Bob Nolan to Stuart Hamblen, 1979, recalling that voyage to Hawaii.
Check out our Tumbling Tumbleweeds page to listen to a fraction of the recordings made from that memorable song. How much Bob lost when he lost the rights to the royalties - not just the money but in the travel it would have afforded him. Travel, his lifelong dream.