Wednesday, July 28, 2010

While living on the farm I graduated from Shawswick High School majoring in math. My buddy and I cut wood with a cross cut saw evenings and Saturdays for spending money. During the summer of 1935, I dug mussels from the river, walking from the river to home and back, sometimes camping where I cooked out the shells. As soon as school was out in 1936, I headed for California where my buddy had gone the year before. I had to promise mom and dad I would come back in the fall and finish school before they would give me permission to go.

Mom sewed a pocket in the waist band of my boxer shorts where I had ten dollars. I packed a duffel bag with a couple extra pairs of pants, underwear, socks and a razor, and was ready to go.

I started out hitch hiking and by mid-afternoon was in Washington, Indiana, forty miles from home. I decided I would never make it at this rate so I went to the B&O railroad yards and hopped a freight train to St. Louis. I had ridden trains before. Some of the neighborhood boys had ridden trains to the Indy 500, the State Fair, the Kentucky Derby and several trips to the races at Salem. I knew a train always stopped before crossing another line's tracks. I knew that if the engine was flying white flags she was heading down the line and not a local that would leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere. I knew to get in a box car if I could. They were cleaner and warmer. I also knew if I had to catch a train on the run, to catch the ladder at the front of the car in case I lost my grip because I would bounce off the side of the car and not fall between them or under the wheels.

I got in an empty box car in Washington, Indiana, and was on my way again. I was awakened in East St. Louis, Illinois, by a RR worker shining a light in my face and ordering me off the Railroad property. As I left the yards, I met another young man in his early twenties who was also headed west. We decided we would have a better chance picking up a train on the other side of the river. We walked across the bridge and was walking down the street when the cops stopped us. After emptying my duffel bag and no gun or knife was found, they told us the Missouri Pacific yards were at the end of the street we were on and that we could catch a train west there, but for us not to stop until we got there. By the time we reached the yards it was midnight. We found a clearing by a small stream where we laid down and went to sleep.

We awoke about day break. I saw a building a few blocks in the distance that had "Bakery" written on the side. I knew our breakfast was waiting. My knew traveling buddy carried coffee grounds in his pocket. He would make coffee while I was gone. I had learned how to eat on the road long before. Back then there were neighborhood meat markets. One could go into one of these meat markets and ask for a bologna heel (the first cut from a roll of bologna that people wouldn't buy) and the butcher would give it to you. If he had to cut a new stick, sometimes he would cut it a little heavy. Bakers would give you day old bread and pastries. I came back with a large bag of sweet rolls. He had the coffee ready. He had found a suitable can, got water from the stream (this was before all the pollution we have now and one could drink from most any stream you came across) and boiled it over a small fire he had built. From here we got a ride to Texarkana, Arkansas, then to Ft. Worth and El Paso, Texas, Yuma, Arizona and to Needles, California. Water was the hardest thing to come by. A restaurant would not give you water unless you bought something. While we were riding we could usually find a refrigerated car and get ice. In those days a refrigerated car had a space about four feet wide across each end of the car for ice. They had doors about two feet square they used for filling the ice and we used for climbing into the ice compartment when we found one empty. It was one of these ice chests I was riding in when I arrived in Needles. At this time California was trying to keep all transits out. They would pick up hitch hikers and would "shake down" trains coming into the state. They overlooked me and one other fellow I met on the street shortly after getting off. I went to a gas station to use the restroom and while there overheard a fellow who had a truck load of cantaloupes and a broken axle. He was waiting for another truck to transfer his load for a ride to LA. He was as happy as I, for the temperature was over 100 degrees. We arrived at the market shortly after midnight. I don't know where he spent the rest of the night but he let me sleep in his truck until morning. I took a street car from LA to Pasadena. Here I located friends of my buddy, Dale Cooper....

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