Courtesy of Frog Smith, 219 Hubbard, North Fort Myers, Florida 39303 Engine Number Six, a logging engine, owned by Higston Lumber Company when this picture was taken in 1902. It later pulled the first train over the-Flint River & North-Eastern Railroad b
Since the Mar.-Apr. 1965 issue of Iron-Men Album, where I had a little story I have had so much mail, I have been unable to answer all of it, but it was very encouraging. I want to thank each and every one of you through these columns for the nice praise. I will attempt from time to time to relate experiences I have had, and ones I know of which I hope will be entertaining as well in some instances, amusing. All of it might not directly be connected with steam, and I am well aware, that in most cases the readers of Iron-Men Album, might have had or heard of similar instances. With these thoughts in mind, during our spare moments, it will temporarily return us to the more carefree, if not, better days of our youth. If in so doing, I am able to make one of you feel a little better, if only while you are reading it; I shall feel that I have been well compensated for my time in writing.
The little town where I still reside, and lived as a youth, was quite a railroad town. Being of somewhat a nosey nature, I was usually around where the action was, and that was the two railroad stations. We are located on the main line of the C.B. & Q. on the Galesburg Division between Chicago and Galesburg. Today the trains go through sixty or seventy miles an hour. There is a grade west of town here, and that is where most of the coal was hauled from. The trains hit the hump right here in Galva, and as they went eastward, soon picked up a lot of speed after they went by the depot. So, it was quite natural to spend Sunday afternoons riding freight trains. Some times one stayed on too long and when they tried to get off, they got pretty well shaken up; or some one who didn't have too much experience would try to get on the train, and instead of getting on the front of the car, would get on the end, and when it would swing you hard, it would swing you between cars, where you had a good chance of getting killed. Otherwise you hit the side of the car, and just got bruised up a little. I jumped on one, and my foot slid right through the stirrup. My foot went right against the wheel, and had I been six inches taller, would have had my foot right under the wheel. There were a lot of people crippled in those days, employees as well as individuals just hoping on. The railroad usually gave an employee a lifetime job who had lost a (wing) arm, or (pin) leg. A job as either a switch tender or a crossing flagman. Now a-days, very few employees are hurt, and, of course, the former jobs are gone. The switch tender was employed in the large yards where the hums were located. Usually a single track went to a scale. An engine pushing a number of cars would push them one at a time to this scale and there they were weighed, and then cut off, given a little extra push and started down a grade on their own momentum. A rider then would get on this car in motion, get up on top, and give a signal to a switch tender what track he wanted this car to go to so as to make up a train for a certain place. This switch tender would then throw the switch and send this car into the siding, in order to enable the rider to tell at night, where the last car was. There was supposed to be a red lantern on it. He would gauge the speed of the car and try to set the hand brake at the right time. Well, sometimes these brakes worked and sometimes not so good. When they didn't work so good all he could do was get off as soon as possible if he had the time. He also carried a club to assist in putting leverage on the brake wheel. I was a young chap and decided I would try this. The pay was good and the work not too hard. This appealed to me. I worked it a while and everything went good. I was almost beginning to wonder why they paid you for having all this fun, but I soon found out. I was riding on two cars, and gave the signal. The switch changed colors all right and away I went. I started to slow them down a little but I could see I wasn't going to be able to get them slowed down enough. I was on the last car and didn't have time to get off, and less time to make my mind up what to do. I decided I should jump into the air as soon as they hit and I would still be up there when the crash came. Well I jumped when I thought I should but evidently I had not timed things well, as I came down too soon and the first thing I remember, was my neck gave a crack. The stick I was carrying went one direction and the lantern in the other. I never did find the stick. The lantern went out and I did locate that about forty feet away. I came to the conclusion that this being summer and in this part of the country, winter always had come, and when it was icy, I would probably lose my lantern for good. I quit the job as soon as I had drawn a pay. Incidentally, in those days it was one month before your first pay as they held two weeks back and paid every two weeks, so it was quite a job living on fig bars and milk for that long a time.
A little later I went to work for the C.R.I. & P. as a station helper, and had an annual pass on the G. & G.E. Interburan that ran from Kewanee to Galva, a distance of ten miles. This line bordered the C.B. & Q. almost all of the way, and on the last trip at night there was always a passenger train going in the same direction. Business was always slow this time of the night and I, not having anything else to do, used to ride, if it so happened there wasn't any passengers on it. There was one motorman, whose name was Jones, and of course, he was called Casey. He would time it so the Interburan left the outskirts of Kewanee about the same time as we did. He would draw the curtain around himself, set his cap on backwards, and race the train to Galva, bearing down hard on the whistle most of the way. It is about like the moongoose and the corbra. The train always crept up and went past but it was a lot of fun trying. The Interburan would get to rocking so much and jumping up and down it would miss contact with the overhead electric line and the lights would go on and off. They were out more than they were on. The road bed wasn't anything to brag about. It was just like riding a boat on choppy water. It seemed to dance as it went along. I believe he was discharged sometime later for not assisting an old lady on the car.
The freight train that was a local carried passengers in the way car or caboose, and this was always an odd assortment, from farmers to school children to shoppers and drummers or salesman. Maybe this is where all of the stories about the salesman and the farmer's daughter started out. All of the freight in those days was handled by the local and I do mean all of it. This included bread, groceries, stoves, corn planters, frozen rabbits in the winter time as well as crates of live pigeons that were later sold in the large cities for quail under glass. The train usually carried several of these cars, a few to unload as well as a few to pick up shipments that were being shipped out. The crew that worked these jobs usually worked them for years and everyone knew them as well as them knowing everyone else. They would drop you off at a certain crossing, or almost any other place you might want. In the summer a few minutes stop could be made between towns where everyone would get a small paid of black berries. In the winter time the two brakeman, fireman and the conductor would shoot rabbits along the right of way. There wasn't any schedule and it took a good many hours to make a trip like this. The cooking was done in the caboose by one of the brakeman. It was a family life and if they stayed away over night the brakeman and the conductor would sleep in the caboose, but the fireman and engineer would have to find their own sleeping quarters. They always told me it was because they were so dirty. I don't know if this was true or not, but I know they didn't sleep with the rest of the crew.
There was a town not too far from here where they had a slow order, as they were working on a bridge, so one day the roadmaster stopped to ask one of the section bosses if they were adhering to the slow order. The foreman replied, 'I don't know', so the Road-master said, 'what do you mean.' He replied, 'well, the front end goes by awful slow and the rear end goes like hell.' Evidently the engineer had decided as soon as he was across it was all right and it didn't make any difference about the other part of the train.
On another run, there was a brakeman that had a nice bull dog that used to travel with him. This was not against the rules so he kept him in the caboose. It was customary when they got into a town he would tie the dog to the brake wheel on the rear end of the caboose, and then when they got ready to go he would put him back in the caboose. Well, all went well until one day he swung on to the front end of the caboose. As he was on the main line and didn't have to close any switch, he forgot all about the dog until the next town. When he got back, all there was left was the frayed end of the rope. It was a tragic death for the dog but one of those things that shouldn't have happened, and wouldn't have, had he left the dog at home.
In early days of railroading, some of the employees were rather questionable characters, and before social security, were able to go under assumed names. These fellows were called boomers and worked railroad jobs when ever and where ever they could. They were usually artist in their line, and the railroads went along with their ways. One time two of these brakeman were talking to a fellow who was trying to sell them a watch. Their train started to pull out and as they gave the watch back and forth to each other to examine, the train kept picking up speed. As soon as it got going fast enough that they knew this non-railroad man couldn't get on, one of them quickly put the watch into his pocket, turned around and grabbed the train. The other fellow in a split second did the same and away they went with the fellows watch. It was several seconds before he realized what had happened to his watch and by this time it was too late. They probably left the train at the next town and were on their way to another job some where else.
Employee relationship was of a very personal nature in those days and a lot of hand waving went on. It was customary for one conductor to wave to a young lady about seventeen or eighteen every time he went by their farm. It had been going on for some time so a couple of boomers with nothing but mischief in their mind decided to do something about it. This particular conductor wore a passenger conductors hat. which most of them usually didn't. So one day as they were nearing this particular farm one of the brakeman who had also secured a hat for this occasion like the conductors, got up on top of the caboose and the other brakeman called the attention to the conductor to some minor problem inside of the caboose. While he was thus being entertained, the fellow on top of the caboose made some obscene gesture to the lady who was waving, and from then on she didn't wave any more. The conductor never did figure out what happened and why she didn't wave anymore. It was a puzzle to him.
The salesmen that made these trips were warned by five blasts of the whistle that the train would be leaving in five minutes and made their plans accordingly. A good many salesmen before the day of the automobile, used this type of train to travel all over their territory instead of a horse and buggy. They got to be as well known as the train crew themselves. It was a very good arrangement for every one concerned. It was customary then to get the conductor a little present once in a while. I don't know why, but it was always either a promise or else actually got it, and it was a new Hat: I don't know if hats were hard to come by or not, like every one else, Train crews wore clothes that were a sign of their profession. The engineer had the red handkerchief around his neck, the brass or gold watch chain with his heavy watch. These railroad watches had to meet certain specifications as they had to be sixteen size or larger. A lot of the old ones were eighteen size, had to have either a butler or Montgomery dial on, large easy to read figures. The Montgomery dial was a dial that also had smaller figures on it, a second hand, and in the real fancy ones a little dial showed how much your watch had run down and when it was going to need winding. They had to have twenty one or more jewels, some times twenty three, had to be a lever set. You had to take the crystal bezel off, pull out a little lever and then reset it with the crown. You couldn't accidentally set it that way, it had to be adjusted to five positions and temperature so it didn't make any difference whether your watch was upside down, if you were standing on your head, or if you left it in your pocket and slept on your side or your back. It kept good time just the same. There were a lot more railroad men in those days and all of them had to meet this requirement as time was a big factor. These watches were extremely good and even in those days cost a lot of money, from sixty five to as much as a hundred dollars. Most of the better watch companies made a R.R. watch and special names were given to these particular time pieces. Elgin made a watch that met these requirements and it was called a B.W. Raymond. Webb. C. Ball made a ball special. I understand this was an assembled watch that was made for the ball company by Hamilton. I could be mistaken in this. Hamilton made their famous 992. Illinois made a Bunn Special. E. Howard of Philadelphia made one, but I don't remember the name they gave to theirs. The Studebaker Auto Co. also made watches and several other watch companies made or had them made under their own names. Foreign made watches, regardless how good, were not acceptable. Just recently they are allowing certain grades with certain specs, of wrist watches to be used in lieu of these famous time pieces. A watch usually lasted a lifetime and when a young man got one when he was twenty-one he had a watch for the rest of his life. This was the standard 21 gift as well as graduation.
The fireman was dressed about the same as the engineer; except he had on his left or right leg, depending if he was a left or right handed shoveler, a piece of leather or heavy canvas tied or fastened to his leg to keep the heat from the firebox door from burning his leg. The boomer brakeman were the dandys. Even sometimes sporting derbys. They also wore a blue polka dot shirt, which was known as a thousand mile shirt. I don't know from where or whence the name came from, maybe they washed it each thousand miles. The conductor was dressed a-bout as the brakeman, except he usually had a sign on his cap designating him as the conductor. Of course the Fireman and Policemen show was standard attire for every one and in the winter time the scotch cap was standard equipment. They didn't have any ear tabs, you just pulled the whole cap down over your head. You had a bit of difficulty seeing, but you were kept warm. This was dressed off on top with a small tassel and was usually lined red.
In those days a lot of ticket business was handled by cash. It worked for a better feeling between the employees and the customers. It was customary for some of the conductors to give the company fifty percent while they kept fifty percent for themselves. It was practically impossible to miss a trip or lay off and, of course, vacations were unheard of because the fellow who took your place might have a different idea on the amount that the company got and after a short time, would show up very poorly on the books. Also another favorite trick was to palm the ticket and give it back to you. You in turn then, after you got off of the train, paid him a token amount and had your ticket left to use again or redeem for cash. The railroads had a group of people who rode the trains all over the country. These were known as spotters and often caught these dishonest employees. They were of course, despised by the employee who got fired but it was necessary as they were of their own creation. Of course, these spotters were known, as they moved from one rail road to another, some times women with children, etc.
If you were a good shipper it was possible in those days to get a pass from the company and when you got ready to ship your stock you got to ride to market free. You either rode in the caboose if there were not too many, or else they put an extra coach on the back end of the train. You carried your own lunch, had a coal fired stove and usually no lights. So it was a very uncomfortable trip and stopped in each town to load more stock and you were on the road a long time.
Then there was the wooden farmers match. This implement was not used for what it was originally intended. All railroad employees carried them whether you used matches or not. It was often used as somewhat do it yourself eye surgery instrument. This instrument started in the eye lash and was turned until the eye ball was exposed; another match then picked the cinder out of your eye. Some of these make shift doctors were pretty handy in this type of work. I never heard of any of them graduating into anything like brain surgery or anything like that, but unless you have had a rough cinder in your eye from an engine at one time or another, you don't know what your missing. I suggest you go right out and try to get one and see how good it feels after it comes out.
If you were the adventuresome type, as I was, you were probably what is known as a gawker, or a window necker sticker. That is my own terminology. I always had my head out of the window. It was so windy I couldn't see anything, the smoke got in your nose, and usually a hot cinder or two, but to this day I don't know why I did it, but I did. Maybe I was short of oxygen or was trying to play Russian roulette with the posts as they went by. In the cities sometimes they were closer than they looked.
To go into a little more detail on the cinder removal, I have missed a few of the finer points of the successful operation. It was rather simple and not too sanitary by present day standards. Maybe that is the reason that the Hathaways shirt ads have older men appearing in them. They don't tell how they lost their eye and have to wear the black patch.
The victim, or customer, in either case being the same, was held by a couple of husky volunteers, straight jackets already having been invented but not available. After being well secured, the conductor, who was usually the expert or head man on the project, was practically drooling by this time. He got real close so as to able to better observe the culprit in your eye. When and if he did find it, if it was so he could see it he got it quick. If not, believe you me, he would flush it out. Even if it meant going into your eye. After getting the proper stance so as to enable him to perform the proper foot work, if necessary, he first blew a little second hand breath into your face that was well saturated with mail pouch tobacco. This I presume, was to either act as a sedative or else really wake you up. I believe it served both purposes. If the breath was strong enough and had really woke you up, you probably, by that time, decided you would be much better off losing your eye or at least standing the discomfort of it rather than losing your dinner. But alas, you were too late, you were now committed to whole hog or nothing, and the nothing choice was not up to you. He started to roll the match with the small hairs of your eye lashes catching on first. He always managed to place the match to that when the first part of the operation was done, you either had sulphur or carbon in your eyes, depending on whether it was an un-burned or new match. This would have to be planned, as it couldn't be coincidence. This conductor, usually being at the age of enjoying or participating in anything in the athletic line due to his physical condition, was no better as far as his eye sight was concerned. If he did wear glasses to take care of his 60-80 vision it was of the dime store variety and, of course, bifocals were unheard of. He had to either raise his head or else get real close to the patient and hang them on the lower part of his nose. About now it was impossible to locate the cause of the irritation, or else there looked like so many he didn't know which one was the cinder or the spot before his eyes, so he took his dirty handkerchief to clean up the mess a bit. This was before kleenex. He gave the complete eye ball a swipe across, leaving track that resembled clear cut threads on new Goodyear tires. This movement was only achieved after a lot of practice too. By this time you didn't know whether it was in or out and didn't much care either way; all you wanted to do now was get away and fasten your eye ball back in. You were still not released. The fellow who was sitting behind you, who was setting on the green plush seat and was raising all of the dust while the operation was in progress suggests you blow your nose real hard with your eyes shut. If you still had not got rid of the pesky little cinder you were doomed until nature took its course and were advised to get off of the train to keep from infecting the other passengers, or you were to go to sleep; as if you could sleep with this pain. While you were asleep it would work its way down into the corner of your eye. About this time you were considered discharged, successful or not, and every one on the staff went to the other end of the car, where some one else had probably got one in their eye by this time.
To me the News butcher was the Cosmopolitan of the train world. He wasn't too much older than I was and certainly handled himself with a worldly air. He was polished and well traveled; probably had never been further than a hundred and fifty miles away from home, but to you that was a long way, never having been that far yourself. He knew of the latest stories that he had overheard, with a sharp ear, from the traveling salesman. Usually adding a few imaginary words of his own. I believe he was employed by some other company than the railroad. Something akin to the Fred Harvey House on the Sante Fe. He carried a couple of wicker baskets, included in these he had candy, chewing gum, cigars, cracker jack with a prize, apples, soft drinks, pop corn, and salted peanuts. His line of peanuts were well salted and then you could be sure and have to buy something to drink from him. He continually went through the train. On his first trip he stressed the things to eat, on the second the beverages, which consisted of strawberry and cream soda and soda water. The cream soda looked and tasted just like rusty nails. The strawberry was brighter colored than any strawberry was in its natural state, very tangy and warm. He usually waited until both customer and pop got hot. The men who did dare to wear white shirts, usually had a white handkerchief around their neck with their collars open.
I never had the nerve to take a chance on the cream soda but I can readily attest to the fact the strawberry was a very heady drink to say the least. Having debated for a trip or two and deciding to buy it. I stopped him and after shaking it up several times to either awaken or stir up the contents, he removed the cap with a quick flip of his wrist. Part of the cork from the cap remained but that was the customers lookout. It had all of the appearances of two gallons of detergent trying to get loose out of the top of the bottle all at once. Being booth greedy and dry, I clamped my little tater trap right over the neck of the bottle so as to be sure not to loose any of the precious liquid. Fortunately I had both hands around the bottle because if I hadn't, talk about a tiger in your tank. This was the original I would have either been in orbit or else the bottle would have taken off like a Cape Kennedy mistake. Well, believe me, I didn't lose anything including the gas. Those bubbles had one thing in mind and that was to get away from being confined and that was out of the bottle, into my mouth and right out of my nose, without once or one bubble stopping. It felt like it came out of my eyes too, but I believe this was imagination on my part. Luckily I did not have a cold or the usual sniffles that every kid had in those days and there was nothing in the way to obstruct it or block the passage. If there had been, I might not have been here today to tell about it. When it got done fizzing and I was half suffocated from the effects of the carbon dioxide or what ever it was, the shade seemed to be a little lighter than the balance that was in the bottle. I didn't know if I should call the doctor or the conductor. I didn't know it at the time, but had it been blood, I would have set a record for fast bleeding to death. Probably the first child to have his entire blood supply emptied by pressure. Now that my head was completely full and not a thing in my stomach, I turned my head, with my mouth still on the bottle, and tried to convey a distress signal to my mother. The only way I could do this was to roll my eyes, I couldn't motion or wave as I was yet afraid to let go of the bottle with one hand. The look I gave her was sufficient for her to take note of my precarious predicament. She knew by this time that I was still going to be counted among the living, so she gave my shirt a swipe with her handkerchief to soak up some of the villainous liquid and with a quick maneuver that proves the hand is quicker than the eye, gave me a good clout on the side of the head. By this time I had a good taste of both life and the strawberry pop and having more desire for the later. With no reluctance, I handed her the half empty bottle, of which just a few drops had managed to go down my gullet and wind up inside of my stomach, the proper place for it. Not having acquired the habit or taste in these few drops, I decided the best way would be to get away from it all and go to sleep. From past experience, while it might not taste so good at first, after a few moments after you got it cleaned up, it was better to suck your thumb anyhow.
This same butcher had newspapers and literature of the day; Liberty, Red Book and American Magazines, as well as the Blade, a weekly newspaper that never seemed to make much difference what the date was. The same stories it carried all seasons. Then for the men of the world, or the smoke house gang, he had Capt. Billy's Whizz Bang as well as the Police Gazette. Then to some of the more gullible, a sly wink with explicit instructions not to open these until they either got off of the train, or else in the seclusion of their hotel rooms. A customer after having received this set of books at a very fancy price found them to be copies of funny paper characters of the day. After two days of showing these to his friends and associates at the pool hall, any similarity to their original characters was purely an accident. The Katazjamer boys couldn't be told from Maggie and Jiggs. After the train unloaded, or a customer left, he gathered up all of the papers and folded them up nice. I don't know if he resold them the next day or turned them in for credit. I know he didn't pick up them just to make a tidy effect in the coach. Some of these enterprising itinerant merchants went on to better stations in life, one in particular, Thomas Edison. So as we look back there are some of us who might remember a particular conductor, who used to yell out when he got into Chicago, 'All out, last stop, Union Stock Yards.'
Along with the era of steam trains and our more leisure way of life before there was social security, unemployment insurance and the dole; there existed since time began until the present, a breed of people that had the wanderlust. These go back to the days of the Egyptians, when followers of the army lived off of the land on leftovers. Today they no longer need travel, as the Government has taken them from the roads and byways of the country. So this once proud group is lost forever unless something unforseen should happen which would cause even more to live off of the land, as the individuals did, who were nonconformists and unorthodox, like the late Andy Gumpp wore no mans collar. That was the Great American Wanderer, known under several different grace de plumes. They could hardly be called a fraternity or a brotherhood, as there was no common bond that bound them other than all being individuals, and each and every one a free man, who could in his own way dictate his life and live it as he saw fit. In most cases, there is almost as much mystery about them as there is about the gypsy. One of the strange things about these individuals, and I say individuals as each one was an individual. He has a blend of all creeds, color, nationally and religions. No one was ever disqualified from becoming a member, possibly in later years this individual will go down in history as the early American nomad. He was not a pioneer in any sense of the word, he followed the path of least resistance, an end to his or her liking and whims. There were three or four distinct branches in this heritage of smaller limbs of the American Tree of life, consisting of tramps, bums, hobos, and boomers.
Every town or hamlet, whether or not they knew it, had these ambassadors on the road. One of your local people might disappear for a time, no one knew where he was, or what he was doing, and usually no one cared. Eventually he would drift back, and soon again he was on the move. Once he was infected with the wanderlust, neither time nor economy would stop him. The lowest member of this type was the tramp. He would not work for any one or anything; he would sleep in hay stacks and do light pilfering, only for the necessities of life. He had no personal belongings, sometimes not even a razor. He never had any money and always wore poor clothes, scrounged around the lower parts of the town and would beg for what he wanted to eat. Mentally I also believe he was at the bottom of the scale as his attempt at even keeping half way clean or presentable was sadly neglected.
In the second echelon was the bum. This was one step ahead in the club, if you can call it a club. He would occasionally work at some simple menial task, not very long, and wanted nothing steady. He was continually putting the bee on some one to help him. He was usually better dressed and possessed a few personal belongings. At that time all who were on the road, and most of them shaved and carried straight edge razors, and it was somewhat of an unwritten law that they be wrapped in brown paper, tied around securely with string. It was worn around the neck.
Dick Smith, my father, better known as 'Stuttering Dick', pulled the first train and nick-named the road the 'Ticknoe, Tooten & Hell-Western' that day and the name has stuck ever since. He made the inaugural run in 1903, and died in 1905.
Number Six passed on in 1908 when she overturned off a burning bridge, killing her engineer Dan Connell.
The third member of the fraternity was the hobo. He was usually of higher intelligence and was not above pulling a caper. Once in a while breaking and entering, etc. He was always on the move, never staying over one day in a town. He dressed fairly well, by their standards, was a glib talker. He would, if absolute necessary and there was no other way around it, work a bit. Usually this type had done a stretch somewhere and, of course never discussed it. Each and every one had somewhat of mystery about themselves. They were very careful and reluctant to discuss their past personal life. Whether this was self-imposed, boasted their ego, or really had something to hide I do not know, but it seemed to generally prevail. Maybe this is what made them the types they were.
The last one, but not the least, was the Boomer. He was usually of average or above intelligence. They were the ones that would work at anything, preferable railroads, hard rock mining, steel erection, printers, barbers, painters, etc. In the early days of the century it was not uncommon for one member of a train crew to discuss something with the other four members and find that they were all boomers and probably only one of them had ever been over the line before. This type of man was very capable and above average. He could fit in anywhere in his line and was truly the journeyman of his era. They were usually known by a number of different names, alias, as well as nicknames, and large construction companies, as well as railroads, would advance them transportation to get to a job. The tradesman who went from apprentice to journeyman usually was most highly skilled as he had worked so many different places and had acquired so much experience that he could out do the home guard as the home town boy was known. He was experience personified and would not only openly brag about it, but also fill the bill as well. He lacked only one quality and that was staying with it. He couldn't very often get his roots in deep enough to remain long in one place. There seemed to be just one more move to make to the Uptoia that he was seeking and he was sure it was either just over the next hill, the next one, or around the next corner. In this respect he did have perseverence as he seldom, if ever, gave up. Those that dig in and remain had to be closely watched in certain seasons and times of the year lest the wanderlust get the best of them. I don't believe any of them were ever really happy being confined, usually by the bounds of matrimony. It just so happens they were not cut from that piece of cloth and there was no way in changing them. They just didn't seem to thrive on the confinement.
Invariably, they traveled alone. This applied to all branches of this service. They did keep track of each other after a fashion, by word of mouth over the grape vine. Some of these people whom this author (and I wasn't one of them) can write about was Rex the wire worker. From whence he came or where he went no one seems to know. It was rumored he, as a young fellow had studied for the priesthood and somewhere along the line was bitten and smiten by the wanderlust. Leaving the higher echolons of learning at that time in the middle of the night, he was exceptionally clever with tools and his hands. He would purchase new light gauge wire in local hardware stores and would then fashion out with the aid of nothing but a pair of pliers and a file, pant hangers, letter files, paper clips, and a number of other similar items which he would then sell. On one of his last trips he was unfortunate enough to lose a hand under a railroad car. He was a spasmodic drinker and evidently went to sleep or fell off a moving train. He died in Canton, Illinois a few years ago. From coast to coast and border to border these disciples of the road are buried in potter fields with no stone to mark their going and no one to remember their comings It is hard to consider them as once little children. Certain ones made annual trips through Galva, some semi-annual, it all depended on what route they had established and what their schedules required of them, far as they had strayed from obligations, etc. It seems they were unable to completely shake the shackels of human behavior and after a fashion, in their own way, still maintained some what of a regular pattern, whether or not they would admit or even knew it existed themselves.
There were all different travelers as to the distance and territory they alloted to themselves. There were county stiffs. These were the somewhat weak and timid who weren't too sure of themselves and they never got very far away from home base. They were always with some one they knew a little and dire circumstances could turn too. This doesn't mean they were in their home counties. It meant it was a county they had taken a liking to for some strange reason or other. It might be even in the other part of the country but there was some fascination that held them within the confines of this particular area. Even they probably didn't know the answer or cared even less. There were the state men who covered the particular state and maintained a tight schedule and could almost be counted upon to appear about like the Swallos of Capastrano on a certain date. The coast to coast men were the elite of the Fraternity. They usually followed the sun, spending the winter months in the not to deep south or south west and then in the spring moving north over the same route like the robins. These were the North and south boys, time was not too great a factor to them, it was the ones who went from the east to the west, who had a much tighter schedule, consequently, they had to move faster and take bigger jumps.
But going way out in the social strata was the International. Indian Joe was one of these. Early in the century it was reported he lost his family in the Galveston flood. I presume to get away, he decided to temporarily take to the road. Well little did he know, that once he was infected, there was no cure. My last account of him was three or four years ago. At this time he was eighty four years old, read well without glasses, spent a lot of time reading yesterdays newspapers and was very well versed in International affairs; as well as having a very good working knowledge of not only the United States but world geography as well. He slept out all year, claimed he couldn't sleep on a bed as it would sag and make his back sore. The last few years he spent on the White River in Arkansas. Indian Joe had been shanghied out of Frisco, shipped to China on a three sticker, jumped ship, wound up in Russia and eventually worked a coaling ship on the North Sea. Coming into Hamburg, Germany, he worked his way back to the States on a boat that was carrying a load of horses from Scotland. His tales were numerous and authentic. We were never able to catch him in a falsehood or making a false claim about having been somewhere and wasn't. These fellows could tell you almost any station or any given railroad line in the U.S. and where every jungle or jail was located and what kind of a town they thought it was. In recent years, the small handful that are left have turned to highway travel instead of the railroads. One of the better known travelers of this type who is still alive today, however in retirement, having being able to accumulate a little social security as well as a govt pension from World War I is Bottles Johnson. This name was acquired during prohibition. This fellow would travel the cement highways with a sack on his back and would pick up bottles where he sold them to the bootleggers in different localities who were unable to get bottles in other manners. He would easily cover twenty five miles a day and thought nothing of it. Winter and summer it didn't make any difference to Bottles.
Hard Road Blackie was another one of these travelers. He did nothing but pick up non-ferrous metals, such as copper, wire, brass, etc. He, too, has gone to the big Rock Candy Mountain, having passed away in Collinsville, Ill.
Harry Althouse, who claimed Muscatine, Iowa as his original home, did not have any teeth and claims to be the original inventor of peanut butter. It seems he was working in a restaurant in Minneapolis, a friend of his came in, and knowing his condition, offered him a bag of peanuts, knowing he would be unable to eat them. Well, Harry accepted them graciously. Took them back to the kitchen, ground them up, and proceeded to show off in front of the donor that he could still relish them. Don't take my word for it, but that was supposed to be the day that peanut butter was discovered.
Cowhide Dutch, another one, met an untimely death. He got off a moving freight train near Alpha, Ill. ran into a switch stand and was seriously hurt. He crawled up into the weeds and wasn't found for several days, dead, of course.
The Democrat spent sometime in Galva, where he came from. One day, after being around several months, he disappeared, and where he went no one knows. He did garden work around here.
Tex King of the Tramps was about the same as the legendary Kilroy was here of world war two. His initials appear on practically every wooden station in the United States, whether or not he had help in doing this or not I don't know. If he didn't he must have had a long life to accomplish this. His signature was Tkt with an arrow pointing in the direction in which he is going from that spot. Lone Jack, whose right name was supposed to be Richard Bond, was a merchant of type. He sold combs, needles, etc. It seems that each and every one of these if they were to give what was supposedly their right name was always extremely simple, like Dick Allen, Harry Jones, Frank Short, etc. Magazine Specs, a fellow with very bad eyes, who always had a bunch of magazines under his arm and could be found under a tree enjoying life to the fullest. Then there was the student of the bible with an appropriate nick name of the Preacher. He claimed to have been raised in an orphanage in New York. He came west when he was young. He spent a lot of time in Missions in different cities and was well read as far as the bible was concerned. He traveled under two names, Howard Thompson and Myron Schumaker. The Flying Dutchman was a sail maker, who fixed awnings and always had plenty of money. He learned his trade working canvas on the wind jammers. Springfield George, who was a mush faker, that was the term used for an umbrella fixer. Toledo Slim, who ground and sharpened knives and scissors. I could go on and on, however my knowledge, as I have put it down on paper here, is very obscure. Probably my own fault but at the time when I had contact with them little did I know that theirs was like the red mana vanishing era. So maybe they too had their place on this earth and having fulfilled their mission, which might look strange to us, might have not been so strange after all.