Farm Collector


Galva, Illinois

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

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,

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

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

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

  • Published on Mar 1, 1966
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