Patrick Henry Polk III and his brood had been waiting six weeks for their welfare check. It was the worst winter anyone could remember. Henry Polk was 49, destitute, and disabled by a bad heart. He was a rock mason and cedar chopper by trade, though Henry acknowledged that he hadn’t “hit a lick at a snake” in months. Piece by piece, he had sold his chain saw, then his tools, and finally his furniture to feed his wife and seven children. They had stuck him in a hospital in Stephenville and scared the fool out of him with that talk about putting a plastic valve on his heart. And that’s when Henry Polk did the only thing he could think to do: he put his wife Cynthia and the seven children, ages 4 to 15, in their ’67 Chrysler station wagon and he hooked ’em. For most of September and October, they lived in their station wagon, cooking and camping on creek banks, accepting handouts from churches and charitable agencies, sometimes stopping to visit relatives as they zigzagged through the cedar breaks of Chalk Mountain, Sipe Springs, Glen Rose, Valley Mills, Cranfills Gap, Lampasas, Marble Falls, and Liberty Hill, moving mostly south toward Austin, where Polk was born and lived most of his life.
By late October Henry was too sick to go on, and so was the baby, Kathy, who had a congenital heart condition. The transmission had fallen out of the station wagon, and they had traded it for a ’67 Buick. By Thanksgiving Polk was in Brackenridge Hospital in Austin