Following the Tracks …. Dale Wickum

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During the summer of 1974, with a satchel of cameras, I hopped a freight in Chicago, headed Northwest and wound up circling the country, searching for the whereabouts of railroad tramps.  I stopped and scoured railroad yards at the slightest hint of their presence.  Make no bones about it, mainstream America and its growing population was gradually overtaking the track-side sanctuaries tramps called home. Often times, days, weeks passed without encountering a single tramp. Subsequent journeys in 1979 and 1980 steered me West of the Mississippi where patches of forsaken land provided a temporary outpost for a transient culture. A small path at the end of a rail yard often led to a jungle, maybe a clump of trees, where a man could cook a meal and lay his bedroll on the ground for a night or two.

While gathering photographs, the more time I spent with an individual tramp, a  friendship emerged. We sometimes partnered up, watching each other’s backs, searching for fresh water, and finding a safe place to sleep at night. At times, between long lapses of silence, a story was told, a past revealed. Often, the cameras remained in my pack; what was said or experienced took precedence. Perhaps the best pictures were the ones not taken.

After riding the rails and spending a considerable amount of time with tramps, it was difficult to accept their fate as a vanishing chapter of the American landscape. Most were getting along in years and their images and stories were dangerously close to becoming dust. I remain grateful to have been welcomed into their momentary homes, whether a boxcar lumbering along the rails or a clearing in a patch of weeds. These men passed through life the hard way, reclusive and wary, overlooked and forgotten, and my hope is that I’ve captured their essence and afforded them the dignity of being remembered for who they were, the last of a breed.

The stories sandwiched between the photos were collected bit by bit, sometimes at night by a fire, or waiting to catch out, stuck on sidings, cooking up, directly experienced, or on long hikes to town. What follows is both a photo documentary and a story history cobbled together from memory and scraps of hand-written notes. Through recollections, experiences, actions, and reconstructed composites, I’ve attempted to tell their story. Though the stories and captions accompanying the photographs are representative of the tramp culture, the text placement may not reflect the words of the individual pictured. The photographs and stories are separate entities. And like any storyteller, I struggled to remain as accurate as possible without allowing the truth to stand in the way of a good story.

….143 total images….
photos & text copyright by Dale Wickum
whereabouts: loiteringdog@gmail.com

Russell….Montana 1979

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Yer by yerself. Spen’ mos’ yer time alone watchin’ the country blow by a boxcar door. Ya see people out there doin’ stuff together, ridin’ ‘long the highways in cars, goin’ places in the family style. But a tramp is mostly alone. Sure, ya team up with a guy for a little while, or meet a guy in a jungle somewheres an’ air yer complaints, but’chas end up walkin’ away from it by yerself.  Ya got nothin’ but yerself an’ yer bedroll, an’ ya head out an’ yer back on a train goin’ somewheres alone. An’ where yer goin’ ain’t nobody gonna greet’cha at the station. Yer not no solider comin’ home from a war er somethin’. Yer a tramp, an’ there ain’t gonna be a big crowd waitin’ on yas when ya pull in. They’ll be no one there, an’ ye’ll get off an’ go sit by yerself in a jungle somewheres. It’s how it is. No one waitin’ for ya, no one expectin’ ya. No wife waitin’ in the doorway, an’ curtains in the winda, an’ dog with yer slippers, an’ all like that.

I’ll go ta sleep at night, an’ ev’ry so often I’ll lay there thinkin’ if things was different. Ya know, if I had a wife an’ kids, how’d it be. I never stopped ta settle down. Thought about it plenty, but jus’ never did it. Yeah, I’ll think what if I’d a got hitched up. I wouldn’t be out here sleepin’ on the groun’. I’d maybe layin’ in a big soft bed in a house somewheres, an’ a woman layin’ there ‘side me. It’s somethin’ ta think on, if things was different, how ya’d be.

2.

Clyde….Washington 1980

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It’s some’um happens grad’jl. Ya don’t know it’s happ’nin’. Ya stay on the rails fer a time, ya git off ‘em, mebbe git a room somewhere in a city er some’um, settle down, git a job, mebbe buy yerself a change a clothes. An’ time’ll come ye’ll git tar’d a the job, an’ start ta want ta be out in the open again. An’ there ya are, back on the tramp. First, ya got a destination in mind. Ya think mebbe ye’ll head up ta Oregon er some place, dependin’ on where it is yer startin’ from. An’ then it might happen ya git there an’ ya ain’t quite ready ta go back yet. An’ ye’ll pick another spot; say, North Dakota, an’ mebbe ye’ll git there, an’ mebbe ya won’t. Mebbe ye’ll run inta a guy ya knew from b’fore, an’ ye’ll team up an’ fergit all ‘bout North Dakota. It happens like that till ya couldn’t settle down even if ya wanted to. Trampin’ becomes yer way a life. Ya git use ta livin’ this way. Git so’s ya wouldn’t know how ta go ‘bout livin’ no other way. Sure, ya pick up a job once in awhile, got to ta survive, but it’s nothin’ perm’nent; jus’ ta git a stake enough ta head out again.

Never planned stayin’ on the tramp long as I have. Trampin’s one a them bad habits I jus’ never give up.  First time out I didn’t even have me a sleepin’ bag.  Won my first bag in a punchboard game in Wenatchee. Won an air mattress too, but first night I slept on it was in this gondola had steel shavin’s on the floor. Woke up the next mornin’, an’ the air was all blowed outta the mattress; flatter ‘n a pancake, fulla holes. Once I had that bag, I was set. B’fore that, if it got cold at night, I’d git up, build me a fire an’ git warmed. Sit by the fire all night, keepin’ the shivers off. It’s the only way ta make it without a bag er blanket er some’um.

Twenty-seven years, an’ the longest I been away from the railroad was six months, workin’ on a road crew outside Denver, bustin’ up a highway. First few years I kept tellin’ myself I’ll git off one day soon an’ settle down. Well, I kin be damn sure a one thing; I might talk ta myself once in a while, but I sure as hell don’t listen. Here I am, never did git off. Oh, I’d git off a couple a months, but it never worked. Wound up back on the railroad ev’ry time.

3.

Riding up to Apple country….Washington 1980

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Apple pickin’ time; brings them slimey motherfuckin’ jackrollers out from un’er ev’ry goddamn rock. They’ll be out here on the railroad lookin’ fer tramps got ‘em some change fer bustin’ their backs pickin’ apples. Pickin’ the pickers, they calls it. Some a these fruit tramps, firs’ thing they do when they’s finished an orchard is head inta town ‘n git good ‘n drunk. Hell, them bars ‘roun’ Wenatchee, The Snake Pit, The Arrow ‘n them, they’s overflowin’ when the pickin’s done. All apple money. Goes right from the orchards ta the bars. Them jackrollers is b’hind ev’ry bush waitin’ like vultures fer a tramp’s had hisself his workin’ drinks. A guy comes staggerin’ drunk down ta the jungles, his money’s good as gone. Mos’ guys that’s smart git the hell outta apple country when they’s finished pickin’. If it’s drinkin’ they got on their mind, they git drunk somewheres else, some place no one has the idea they gotta hunk a change in their pocket.

What some a these jackrollers’ll do is ride with ya. Might not even bother to git ya drunk first. They’ll ride with ya, wait till yer in the middle a nowhere, beat all hell outta ya, take yer money, ‘n roll ya out the door. If it happens to be daylight, they’ll roll ya out when the train’s passin’ through a tunnel. ‘At way, them rails in the crummy ain’t gonna see the body. Won’t be foun’ till the next unit passes through. By that time, them sons a bitches is gone.

I’ll come away from the apples with sometimes more ‘n a thousand dollars in my pocket. ‘At’s a lotta fuckin’ apples, an’ I din’t pick ‘em fer my health. ‘At pickin’ money’s what keeps me goin’ all year. Ain’t nobody gonna take it neither. Got me six copperheads, ‘n I’m ready ta put ‘em ta use. I killed two men in my life. Ain’t no killer. Don’t go ‘roun’ lookin’ fer trouble, but I ain’t gonna give some guy comes ‘long ‘n wants my money, I ain’t gonna give it to him on a silver platter. He’s gonna have to do some work to git it.

It’s one thing to git inta a fight, ‘n another ta pull a gun. My father, he always tol’ me if you pull a gun on a man, better be damn sure yer gonna use it ‘cause the other guy might have hisself a gun too, ‘n if he goes fer it, ya gotta shoot him. Ya got no time fer decidin’ what ta do er ‘splainin’ that ya was jus’ tryin’ ta throw a scare into him. Ya got no choice but ta shoot him. Ya might think ya kin always lame a guy, put him outta commission ‘thout altogether killin’ him, but when yer shootin’ fer yer life, it ain’t like shootin’ tin cans off a fence. Yer scared as shit ‘n shakin’ like a leaf ‘n yer damn glad ya kin even point the thing in the right direction, let alone aim fer a certain part of a guy’s body. Time I shot a guy, I leggo six shots ‘n only hit him once. It ain’t like them westerns make it out ta be. Ya git scared, ya shake all over ‘n ya barely know what yer doin’. ‘N even if the other guy come at’cha with a knife er somethin’, aimin’ to kill ya, ye’ll always be tellin’ yerself ya didn’t hafta shoot him.

Ain’t proud ta be carryin’ a gun. Jus’ a soon be rid a the damn thing. Thought a throwin’ it in the river plenty a times, but I dunno, I start thinkin’ ‘bout all the stuff ‘at kin happen. Look’it ‘at Juan Corona shit. Killed ‘n buried twenty-five, thirty tramps. They was all tramps, ev’ry las’ one of ‘em. An’ them is jus’ the ones they found. No tellin’ how many he killed. Know what the judge should a done with that guy?  Make him ride a freight from Bakersfield ta Spookaloo.  ‘At’s all, no sentence, jus’ git him in a boxcar with a tramp er two. I guarantee he wouldn’t make it past the lights a Bakersfield. There’s this other guy, the ball-peen murderer. Goes ‘roun’ at night, knockin’ tramps on the head while they’s sleepin’. Uses nothin’ but a ball-peen hammer. Think they caught that son of a bitch too.

4.

Hood River Bill….Utah 1980

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I think I’d die if I was to stop trampin’. I surely would, I’d lay down an’ die. It’s the only thing I got, trampin’. Got use’ to movin’ durin’ the war. Traveled all over the worl’, seein’ diff’rent places an’ findin’ out how other people lives. Spent fourteen months as a P.O.W. in Korea. When I hit the states, I went to Georgia fer awhile. Stayed aroun’ there fer as long as I could. I’d been use’ to keepin’ on the move, an’ the idea a settlin’ down didn’t appeal to me, still don’t. Trampin’s what I know, movin’ over the country. I s’pose I coulda had it the other way, livin’ in a room an’ eatin’ meals at a rest’rant. Had it that way right after the army. I guess it didn’t suit me, er I’d still be livin’ that-a-way.

I ain’t mad at no one. No one put me on the road but myself. An’ I ain’t sorry. Not in the least. I won’t do no ‘pologizin’ fer my life. I ain’t a bum. I’m a tramp, an’ I’ll stay a tramp. It ain’t a bad life.

I’ve moved aroun’ such that I don’t feel no leanin’s to one partic’lar place no more. Spend most a my time up aroun’ that Hood River country, but I’ll go anawhere the notion takes me. I been back to Georgia, back near where I was born. That L&N mainline runs not twenty miles from there. Rode that line, musta been ten times an’ never stopped. I give some thought to stoppin’.  Got a sister there I haven’t heard from in twenty years. I git to wonderin’ what it’s like there, if it’s the same as it was. But if I go back, it might spoil the thing in my mind. I figger I’m better off leavin’ it in my mind, the way it was when I left.

5.

Odell….Florida 1980

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Been junglin’ on the edge a these swamps so long, I can’t sleep if there ain’t frogs croakin’ in the background. Me and another guy, Jungle Ray, jungled at the pond the month of January. We cooked up ‘possum, coon, fish. There’s a couple a wild pigs loose down there. Never caught ‘em. Ray got close enough to throw his hatchet at one. Hit it square in the ribs, didn’t draw any blood, just bounced off. That ol’ pig went squeelin’ through the weeds and run off in the woods. You can’t catch a wild pig; they’re quick as a cat ‘n smart. Them pigs is one of the smartest animals you’ll find.

Caught an old mudfish. Got a dollar ‘n a half for him over at the liquor sto’. Waited outside the door with it ‘n first guy to come along asks me how much ‘n I told him a dollar n’ a half.  It’s a good spot to sell what you got. You wait there with your catch, ‘n if you don’t ask a high price, it’ll be gone in no time at all. I sold three coons Thursday. Guy give me three-fifty apiece for ‘em. They wasn’t very big. The pond at the South end of the yards is a good place for coon, same place I got the mudfish. If you can’t sell your catch, you can always cook it up for yourself.

Ray ain’t been around for a few weeks. This time of year, you’ll find him down around Pomano. He’s been carryin’ the stick thirty-five years ‘n he kind of runs a pattern. Only time he leaves the South is fall. He’ll be up in Michigan pickin’ apples come September. This last year, Ray ‘n I met up at the pond. I’d come in from Baldwin. It was about midnight ‘n I was lookin’ to jungle in them bad order cars. It’d been rainin’ hard ‘n I wasn’t takin’ any chances sleepin’ out in the open. I’m walkin’ ‘long this line a cars, lookin’ for one I could crawl into, ‘n I see a body under this bad order hopper. I crouch down to see if it was dead or what, ‘n I see it’s Ray. So I says, “Ray is that you,” ‘n I ask him why he’s sleepin’ under the hopper like that. And he said he was drunk when it started rainin’. He was sleepin’ it off in a gondola, ‘n when he woke up, he was all soaked. His clothes, blankets, everything, soaked. He crawled under that gondola to get outta the rain, but it didn’t make no difference, he was wet as a body could get.

It was cold, about forty degrees, ‘n Ray was shakin’ ‘n shiverin’ under his blanket. So I walked into town over to where they got this Goodwill box ‘n rummaged around till I found some dungarees and a couple a shirts seemed like they’d fit Ray. There weren’t any jackets in there, otherwise I’d a got one. I took ‘em back to the hopper ‘n tell him, “Ray, I got some dry clothes for you.” And you know what he did? He tells me he’ll go through ‘em in the mornin’. And he rolls everything up ‘n uses it as a pillow. I’ll be goddamned if he didn’t fall back to sleep all soakin’ wet like that. You get that white port blanket ‘n you’ll sleep through most anything.

6.

William….Nevada 1979

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When it comes to thievin’, most of it’s done by guys who ain’t on these rails perm’nent. Ya c’n always tell a guy who ain’t a real tramp; streamliners, they don’t carry any gear. Watch out for streamliners. A man who don’t have himself any gear is prob’ly desperate enough to steal yours.  Any tramp worth his salt’s got his gear with him. Ya need it to survive, ain’t no two ways ‘bout it. I won’t ride with a guy if he doesn’t have himself a bedroll an’ water jug. I’ll tell him to move on to the next car. Ya can’t take any chances with guys like that. It’s hard enough gettin’ along on these rails ‘thout havin’ to worry ‘bout whether the guy yer ridin’ with is goin’ to knock ya on the head in yer sleep.

A tramp’s got any sense ain’t gonna steal from ‘nother tramp. He might go ‘n steal elsewheres, but not from ‘nother tramp. A tramp spends the better part of his time on these rails, day an’ night, an’ he ain’t gonna do nothin’ where he has to worry ‘bout ‘nother tramp huntin’ him down. A tramp who steals from ‘nother tramp knows he’s livin’ on borrowed time ‘cause sooner er later in some jungle er some boxcar somewhere, he’s gonna run into the guy he stole from, an’ it’ll be all over for him. If a tramp steals from a tramp, he gets knowed all up an’ down the line as a thief. The word gets out fast an’ he’d better do some lookin’ over his shoulder. Guys’ll be keepin’ an eye on him, watchin’ where he’s jungled. Nobody’ll jungle with him ‘cause they’re scared to. They figger he’s gonna get it one night, an’ they ain’t gonna take the chance a sleepin’ in the same jungle with him er they might get it too.

Had my gear stolen once, in San Antonio. I was walkin’ b’tween a row a cars at night, lookin’ for an empty, an’ the train was gettin’ ready to move outta the yards. He was buildin’ his air an’ I was walkin’ the length, quick as I could, lookin’ for a car. I come up on an empty, an’ jus’ as I got to the door, wham! A two by four smacks me square in the forehead. Didn’t even have time to duck. All I saw was two hands grippin’ onto a two by four like it was baseball bat. It come at me from outta the darkness, an’ I never did get a look at who done it. Knocked me clean out.  When I come to, it was still dark. I was lyin’ face down on the track-bed, an’ the two by four was laid ‘cross the back a my legs. My gear was gone, an’ I had a knot the size of a fist on my forehead. Made me so fuckin’ light headed I could hardly stand straight.  Put me in bad shape for some time.

I’ll let a lotta things go by, but a guy that steals a man’s bedroll is the worst thing walkin’ on two feet. Ask most any tramp an’ he’ll tell ya the same. They use’ to have a law in Montana, sayin’ if a guy was caught stealin’ yer bedroll, he’d get hanged. And that’s the way it should be.

7.

Chuck….Nevada 1979

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Caught this drag, nothin’ but a slow-assed work train makin’ its way North. I was ridin’ out in the open on this flat and somewhere’s near Madras a few a them long-haired track workers started throwin’ rocks at me. The train was movin’ pretty slow, so soon’s I was outta sight, I hopped off ‘n stashed my gear ‘n walked back to where they’s workin’. I walked up to one of ‘em, ‘n he sez “What’s the matter, old man.” I didn’t say nothin’. Hit him in the nose so hard he fell over backwards. I tried my best to break it. Don’t know if I did or not. Then the other three guys come after me, ‘n I grabbed a pick handle and began hollerin’ at those sons of a bitches. They was gonna get me good, but I figgered I’d take another one er two down with me. They’re surrounding me like a pack a wild dogs. And their foreman comes over and asks what’s the matter, ‘n I told him what happened ‘n he tells the guy I hit to go draw his pay. He tells the rest of ‘em it’s tramps that built this railroad b’fore they was even born ‘n instead of showin’ some respect, you go and throw rocks at ‘em. Laid into ‘em real good.

He sez to me, “Where you headed?” ‘And I tells him Bend, ‘n he sez, “I’ll see you get there.” I tells him I got my gear stashed about a mile back, and he sez to go get it ‘n meet him back there. I got back with my gear, ‘n he give me a ride all the way to Bend on one a them motorized hand cars.

8.

On the Lookout….California 1974

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There’s some bulls jus’ plain got it out for ya. There’s some bad ones alright. I had ‘em kick me while I was sleepin’. Yeah, that happened in Oroville. The son of a bitch kicks me in the ribs. I wake up n’ he an’ another guy tells me to beat it. My side hurt bad for three or four days. They does worse than that. Got that black son of a bitch in K Falls. That crazy motherfucker carries a shotgun everywhere he goes. Never seen him without it. I knowed guys had run-ins with him. He shot Dogman’s dogs. That’s a fact. Shot ‘em right there in the yards. Goddamned crazy. He burned plenty of tramps bedrolls. Took their bedrolls and set ‘em on fire. He thinks it’s the only way he’ll keep tramps outta his yard.

The way I heard it, he had him a brother in Seattle, a bull jus’ like him. Ain’t ‘xactly sure how it happened, but his brother got himself killed by a tramp. And whoever it is the tramp that done it, had two dogs with him. That’s how come he don’t like dogs. If I had a dog, K Falls is the last place I’d take him. His brother gettin’ killed is what made him mean. Ain’t a tramp in the country don’t know about that bull. He ain’t never bothered me, maybe I’m lucky.

If a yard is hot like that, word travels up and down the line. Keep an ear to the ground and ye’ll know which yards is hot before you even set foot in ‘em. Some yards’ll be hot for a time, an’ then cool down. Like Omaha last year. All summer they’re runnin’ tramps outta the Omaha yards. Two tramps got themselves stabbed within a couple weeks time. Two killings in a row’ll put the heat on. Makes it hot for everyone. A little time passes an’ it cools down, and then some place else is hot. It pays to keep an ear to the ground.

Sooner or later they’ll pick you off. Tramp around long enough and you’ll see the inside a plenty a jails. One night, maybe ten days and you’re out to catch the same line you was throwed off. I got thirty days once in North Carolina on the Atlantic Coast Line. That was in the fifties. There’s bulls like to push a tramp around to make themselves feel like bigshots. They ain’t foolin’ nobody. It’s only little men get pleasure outta pushin’ people around.

9.

Hobo Bob….Washington 1979

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There was this guy they called Christmas Tree. He got that name ‘cause of how he’d go into those Christmas tree lots at night ‘n steal Christmas trees ‘n take ‘em into the taverns aroun’ Spookaloo ‘n sell ‘em. He’d come into a tavern, draggin’ a tree b’hin’ ‘im, ‘n go from one end a the bar ta the other, askin’ guys if they wanted to buy the tree. ‘N when he sold it, he’d go back to the lot ‘n git himself another. Then one Christmas he didn’t show up ‘n ever’body started askin’ ‘bout ‘im ‘n wonderin’ what happened to ‘im. Come to find out, ol’ Christmas Tree’d been ridin’ through Wenatchee in a boxcar, ‘n the door was open only a little bit, a foot er two.  He was pokin’ his head outta the op’nin’, ‘n the units jammed on the brakes er an air hose broke er somethin’, ‘n the train stopped sudden like, ‘n the door snapped shut ‘n cut off ol’ Christmas Tree’s head. Ev’ry year, ‘roun’ Christmas, somebody’ll start talkin’ ‘bout Christmas Tree. They kinda miss ‘im in Spookaloo.

I knew another guy had an arm cut off in Nebraska. It was ‘bout ten, fifteen years ago. This guy rode a boxcar over the hump while they’s makin’ up the train. Them cars take into one another mighty good sometimes. They come down the rise in them hump yards ‘n bang into the line a cars at the bottom a the hill, ‘n ya’d swear they was gonna jump the track, they hit so goddamn hard. ‘N this guy seen the door start ta shut when his car hit, ‘n he put his arm out ta stop it, n’ it took it off, almost. Crushed it so bad, they had ta cut it off.

Most times them doors won’t budge; they’s always bent ‘n shit, but once in a while ye’ll git one that’ll move on ya if the car gits banged ‘roun’ good. I rode through a hump once when I was sleepin’. When my car hit bottom I was throwed forward four, five feet. First off, I thought I was in a wreck. Got up ta look ‘roun’, ‘n it was black as a coal bin in there. The door’d near slammed shut. Only one door’d been open ‘n the force a the hump’d near closed it. There was this slit a light comin’ in from where the door wasn’t quite shut, ‘n I went over ‘n tried pullin’ the door back, but it wouldn’t give. Them things weigh better ‘n five hunnert pounds. It was only open an inch or two, so I waited there by the op’nin’ fer someone to come along. Musta been four, five hours went by b’fore this car knocker come ‘roun’. I could hear his footsteps on the gravel outside, ‘n when he’s passin’ right by the door, I give a yell. I sez, “Hey, git me outta here.” He come over ta the door, ‘n he sez, “You stuck in there?” I sez, “Sure am.” ‘N he sez, “How long ya been in there?” He was kind of a young fella, so I thought I’d shit ‘im a little. I sez, “Three weeks, ‘n I’m jus’ now beginnin’ ta smell bad. Nah,” I sez. “Only been in here a few hours, but I’d like ta git the hell out b’fore this here train pulls out.” ‘N me ‘n him both tried to pull on the door; him from outside ‘n me from the inside, ‘n it still wouldn’t give.  He went ‘n got a few other guys, ‘n they wedged some two by fours in the op’nin’ ‘n pried it jus’ enough so’s I could squeeze out. Took ‘bout an hour ta git me outta there. It’s the only time in twenty-five years I had a door close on me. Most times them things ain’t gonna move.

11.

Three Charlies….Nevada 1979

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They got this horse ranch out west a Elko. Good place to jungle. River runs through there.  There’s maybe ten acres a willas on the town side a the range. The trees, they’s more like bushes, is all ‘bout ten, twelve feet high. Ya stand in the yard and look out across the tops a the willas, and there may be twenty tramps jungled in there, and ya wouldn’t know it, them trees is so thick. Stayed there once, three weeks straight, waitin’ on a busted hand to heal up.

It’s a good spot, but’chas gotta keep an eye on them horses. They’ll be stompin’ ‘round in them willas all night long. Been a couple times I waked up to see them horses standin’ over me, sniffin’ my sleepin’ bag. Could get trampled easy. One time, there was six of us jungled in a little clearin’ right where the willas come down to the water. Had our fire and gunboats smack in the middle, next to where this trail cut through. Each guy was sleepin’ on the edge a this clearin’ in case the horses come through. Must’ve been ‘bout two a’clock in the mornin’, I waked up to shoutin’ and a big ruckus goin’ on like the place was on fire. Charlie’s across from me in his sleepin’ bag, and he’s hollerin’ at the horses. ‘Bout ten of ‘em wandered into the clearin’, and got too close to him, and he’s trying to shoo ‘em away. Well, them horses got all stirred up. They’d move from one side a the clearin’ to the other, each time nearly steppin’ on another guy. Pretty soon, everybody’s hollerin’ from their sleepin’ bags to scare the horses off, and them animals are runnin’ all over the place in the dark. They was spooked more ‘n we were. Guys were yellin’, and the horses was goin’ crazy. I put my hands over my head, an’ rolled into the trees and waited for the horses to break outta there. It was crazy. A miracle nobody was hurt. Every gunboat was stomped to shit. A couple water jugs smashed. There was a couple hoof prints on my pack; didn’t hurt nothin’. Had a good laugh at that one in the mornin’.

12.

Nick….Washington 1980

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The wind comes rippin’ down the Columbia like a hurricane. One time, I come across that bridge over by Wishram. Was on a flat car and had two blankets over me. Had ‘em tucked under my feet so’s they wouldn’t get blown off. Soon’s the car hit the bridge, them blankets was gone. Stripped ‘em off a me like sombody’d yanked the sons a bitches.

13.

Romeo….Washington 1980

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Used to ride the rodeo up in Alberta. Rode every event in the books. My mother still lives up there. Haven’t seen her in years. I come to the states lookin’ for work. Last good job I had was in Chicago, there in Uptown, workin’ for a mover, loading trucks.

14.

Grit….Washington 1980

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Ya walk inta town an’ them people knows ya ain’t one of ‘em. Them people in the store can smell a tramp fer a mile. Don’t make no diff’rence if ya ain’t got yer bedroll with ya, they can tell. Ya ain’t took no bath in two weeks, an’ ya might think think just ‘cause ya shaved or somethin’, ye’ll fit in. Well, no matter whatcha do, they can tell. Ya been sleepin’ in the weeds an’ cookin’ yer food in tin cans an’ stealin’ soap outta the shithouses to keep clean. Ya live diff’rent than they do, an’ it’s writ all over ya.

15.

Barry….Washington 1979

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B’fore gittin’ on the railroad, I did me a good lotta rubber trampin’. Las’ car I had was a Buick, ‘n I drove her till she give out. Left her sittin’ by the side a the road outside a Provo, Utah. I was on my way goin’ ta Palisade ta pick peaches, ‘n it started actin’ up. Doggone ‘ectrical system was goin’ haywire, shortin’ out ‘n dyin’ while I was drivin’ ‘long the road. I was figgerin’ if I could make it ta Palisade ‘n git me some work, I’d git ‘nough money to fix it proper. Well, it fine’ly give out fer good, the middle a nowhere, ‘n it shorted out. I pulled it over ta the side a the road ‘n lifted the hood ta take a look ‘n a mess a wires was burnin’ red hot. The insulation was meltin’ off ‘n drippin’ on the ground ‘n I grabbed me a rag ‘n begin ta rippin’ the wires out till the burnin’ stopped. Yanked ‘em out so’s they looked like a han’ful a burnt spaghetti hangin’ outta the hood.  Spent two days tryin’ ta piece ‘em back together, ‘n I never got the thing right. My hands was burnt from yankin’ on them hot wires, ‘n after two days a monkeyin’ ‘roun’ with that shit, I figgered hell with it.

There was some tracks a ways from the road, ‘n the Denver ‘n Rio Grande was runnin’ three, four trains a day through there. ‘N I figgered them’s were the same tracks run through Palisade, ‘cause I use’ ta watch ‘em load peaches onta the trains down by the warehouses.

I got my stuff outta the car ‘n begin hikin’ ‘long the tracks ta Provo,  figgerin’ I’d catch me a train. Had me a shitload a stuff: two suitcases, a duffel bag, ‘n sleepin’ bag. I ‘spect I follered them tracks eight, nine miles b’fore reachin’ Provo.  It was hotter ‘n blazes, ‘n I kept stoppin’ ta rest, settin’ ever’thing down ‘n goin’ through it ‘n throwin’ out the stuff I didn’t need. Ever’time I stopped, I’d lighten up the load by throwin’ out some more a my b’longin’s. I’d rearrange ever’thing, ‘n git rid a somethin’, an extry pair a boots in one spot, a Coleman stove in another.  The first thing ta go was them suitcases. First one, then a little further on, the other. The longer I carried that stuff, the less I felt like hangin’ on ta it. Left a trail looked like the Salvation Army’d been through there. By the time I got ta Provo, all’s I had was my duffel bag, half full, ‘n my sleepin’ bag.  I figger right then’s when I b’came an honest ta goodness tramp. Surprising what a man can accumulate if he don’t hafta carry it on his back.

16.

 

Jerry….Oregon 1980

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Me ‘n George was livin’ pretty good, stayin’ in them derailed Amtrack cars. They had ‘em on a riptrack there outside Pasco. Nobody ever come ‘roun’. We had mattresses from the sleepers to stretch out on. Stayed there pretty near all summer, off ‘n on. Only time we left was to get food stamps, er work, er make copper runs.

All the while, we was scrappin’ the wreck. Pulled more ‘n four hunnered poun’s a copper off them things. Yeah, we’d get about thirty, forty poun’s worth, an’ run it down to the junkyard. Guy we was sellin’ it to give us prime price fer it. All ya need’s a pair a pliers an’ a screwdriver. Ye’ll always find a piece a steel, an old brake shoe er a rock to use fer a hammer.  An’ them’s yer scrappin’ tools.

We finished scrappin’ the wreck pretty quick. Did a job on her. Picked it clean like a couple a buzzards. Got all we could outta the wreck. Then we started makin’ copper runs down to Keddie. George new ‘bout some abandoned telegraph wires up in the mountains there. They’s mebbe a good five miles from the tracks. We hiked it up there, an’ made camp fer a few days, week at a time. Take the grub in on our backs. We’d take the scrap up to Bend to sell it. The yards are a good ways from town in K. Falls, so we’d stay on the train with the copper till it got to Bend. Gotta have two guys when yer doin’ an operation like that. If it happens the train breaks up, an’ ya gotta jungle somewhere fer the night, one guy can go to town an’ get grub while the other guy keeps an eye on the copper.

When we wasn’t makin’ copper runs, we’d go off to Madras fer a day er two an’ weed mint. It’s a stoop job, spend all day bent over, pullin’ weeds b’tween the plants. Kills yer back. The guy pays three-fifty an hour, an’ he’ll hire ya on jus’ about any time. We’d sleep under the bridge down there, right near where Dusty ‘n Dolores shack is.

We was gettin’ by the whole summer on copper. One time weedin’, we foun’ copper. There was this place we’d pass on our way to the mint patch, where people’d throw their junk. The place was filled with old cars ‘n stoves ‘n things. You name it, it was throwed there. After weedin’ one day, we was nosin’ ‘roun’ the junk an’ foun’ eight car batteries in a pile. Well hell, we get three bucks apiece fer ‘em in Bend. There’s copper in them things.

George ‘n I got a couple croker sacks ‘n loaded ‘em up with those batteries. We was gonna get a train an’ take ‘em to Bend to cash ‘em in. Threw the sacks over our backs ‘n started walkin’ fer the tracks. Pretty soon my back starts to feel wet, an’ I didn’t think nothin’ of it till it started burnin’. Them goddamn batteries still had acid in ‘em, an’ it was spillin’all down my back. I leggo the sack an’ ran fer the drainage ditch ‘longside the road an’ sat in the water an’ laid back.  There was only a foot a water in the ditch, an’ I got down in it so’s it covered me. It cooled the burnin’ some, but my back hurt bad. Back a my shirt burned away, an’ my pants had big holes in ‘em from the acid. George didn’t get none on him. Lucky, ‘cause he was carryin’ two still had acid in ‘em. He made sure all the batteries was empty an’ took ‘em down to Bend. Only thing I could do was go straight up to our Amtrack car in Pasco an’ wait fer him. My back got big scabs all over it, an’ the backs a my legs was all scabbed. Jesus, I was in bad shape.  Couldn’ hardly move after awhile. Jus’ laid on my stomach in that Amtrack car.

George came back an’ took care a things while I was laid up. He went an’ got the water an’ grub, an’ he split the money he got fer the batteries with me; that’s what kind a par’ners we was. One night he come back to the car ‘bout three in the mornin’. He’d been drinkin’ in town at Ray’s Tavern an’ somethin’ happened an’ he got in a fight. Banged up a couple guys pretty bad.  He didn’ look so good hisself. His knuckles was all screwed up, an’ somebody’d hit him in the eye. Must a got them other guys pretty bad ‘cause he come back in a big hurry an’ sez we gotta get outta there; the law’s gonna be lookin’ fer him. I wasn’ healed up ‘nuff to travel so he lit out by hisself. He was gonna get a job sheepherdin’ fer the winter. Does it ev’ry year. Said it’d give that Pasco thing ‘nuff time to blow over. He ast me to go ‘long with him, but I ain’t no sheepherder.  Them winters is too hard on me anymore. That Pasco thing must a been pretty bad fer him to run off like that.

17.

Tony, along the Deschutes River….Oregon 1979

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Ain’t lookin’ fer no pot a gol’ at the end a the rainbow. I know things ain’t gonna be any better where I’m goin’, might be a bit different’s all. I been all over this here country, ‘n I know there ain’t no place where somebody’s gonna come out ‘n stick a silver spoon in my mouth. Ya make it what ya’ c’n. But yer movin’ over them rails. Ain’t nothin’ er nobody c’n touch ya when yer movin’. Beats doin’ a nine ta five, lettin’ yer boss tell ya which way is up.

I git to a division, ‘n I might ride back the way I came.  That run b’tween Wishram ‘n Bend, ‘long the Deschutes, I rid that seven times in one week, back ‘n forth, lookin’ out over the canyon.

18.

Bill….Washington 1980

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For a good long while, I didn’t care ‘bout nothin’. Lettin’ myself go. Gettin’ drunk for weeks at a time. Gettin’ to be a bum. I’d wake up in the mornin’ and not remember how I got where I was. I was sleepin’ in alleys and places where you gotta be drunk to fall asleep, they’s so damn scary. Not eatin’ right. I’d get a hold a my food stamps and peddle ‘em for cash; get half their face value and spend the money on drinkin’. Think I’d about givin’ up on livin’.

One night I stumbled into Ray’s, and Ray an’ everybody seen what kinda shape I was in. Ray come over to me and says, “What the hell happened to ya. Where’s your pack and bedroll.” I musta looked like a damn school-kid the way I stood there hangin’ my head. Had no answer, and to tell ya the truth, I don’t know what did happen to my pack and bedroll. Maybe I left ‘em somewheres or sold ‘em or somethin’. That’s how bad things was. Rays says how he hates to see a guy kill himself on the stuff, and he offered me a job to get myself straightened out. He give me a razor, some soap, and a towel and said I could have the back room as long as I worked there; under one condition: that I don’t touch a drop of whiskey. That ain’t easy, livin’ in the back of a tavern and workin’ in the joint without touchin’ a drop. It sounds like a damn backwards thing to do, let a drunk work in a tavern, but I’ll tell you this: it got me straightened out. Got my self respect back. Got so I could look people in the eye again.

All kinds of tramps come into Rays. On a good night you’ll see twenty or more bedrolls stacked by the door. I got to tending bar and guys’d come in I hadn’t seen in a long time and we’d get to tellin’ about shit we’d done at one time or another, and we’d get to laughin’ about it. I started feeling pretty good and after a few months passed, I got back on my feet. Got a new bedroll and a pack and headed out feelin’ alright. I owe Ray for that. I dunno what I’d a done if he didn’t pick me up like he did. Drank myself to death, prob’ly. When I left, he told me I could have my job back anytime I wanted. Might be, in two, three months I’ll head back that way and take him up on it.

20.

Gallagher….Washington 1979

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Trampin’s gittin’ pissed off enough to say fuck it to ev’rything an’ ev’rybody an’ git out. Things ain’t goin’ right, pick up an’ git the hell out. Don’t sit around complainin’ ‘bout it. Git out. Git yer roll, sling it over yer shoulder, an’ move. Got nothin’ holdin’ ya. It’s the lack a responsibility in this life. It’s what keeps a tramp a tramp. Get up an’ move whenever it suits ya. Only worry I got is where I’m gonna sleep at night an’ where my next meal’s comin’ from. That’s it. I ain’t worried ‘bout no one but myself. Don’t play no nursemaid to no one. I got enough trouble feedin’ my own goddamn self than to worry ‘bout someone else.

I been where those people out there are. Stabbin’ each other in the back, an’ makin’ like they’s doin’ ya a favor. I’ve seen the way society works. Gimme trampin’ anytime. Trampin’s hard times, damn sure is. A tramp knows how to git along in hard times ‘cause hard times is all a tramp knows. Now, if hard times come to those people in society, them people livin’ in houses, they’s the ones really gonna suffer. They ain’t use to livin’ this-a-way. There’d be a lot of ‘em couldn’t make it; they been livin’ a soft life too long.

21.

Clyde….Washington 1980

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Down in Mississippi, I was sittin’ along the tracks at the end a the yard, and a woman come out from a nearby house with a plate of food. Handed me the food, complete with a knife and fork. Said I looked hungry. That kind of thing don’t happen much anymore. Still keep the knife and fork with me. The knife weren’t nothin’ but an old butter knife, but I sharpened it up.

22.

The Hobo Express….Washington 1979

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Tramps ‘n Chinamen built these railroads. They laid these tracks, gangs a Chinamen n’ tramps.  Tramps broke their motherfuckin’ backs on these lines; hauled ties, drove spikes, laid rails, all by hand. None a this modern ‘quipment like they got now. I done my share a gandyin’. Gandied in the old days. Worked sunup to sundown on these tracks.

When that highline was finished, The Great Northern, Burlin’ton, the man in charge said any tramp could ride fer free. That’s right, he said let ‘em ride. Guess he figgered that whole line was built on the sweat a tramps, so why not let ‘em ride. There ain’t no way they’re gonna keep a tramp off these trains anyways. A tramp’ll ride the conductor’s mustache if he has to.

23.

 

Andy….Washington 1980

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Hell, it gits too bad, if some’um’s botherin’ me, I jus’ ride it out, ride it outta my system. Ya ride awhile, n’ ya see this worl’s bigger n’ got more problems ta take care a than what was eatin’ at ya. Ya grab yerself a rat’ler ‘n git on down the line somewheres. Ya stay in one spot ‘n ya git ta feelin’ closed in, loosin’ yer grip on things. Ya might git inta a squabble with a guy ‘bout some’um that don’t mean nothin’, but the two a ya’s at each other’s throats ‘cause at the time it seems pretty damn important. Then ya git ya some room, git on a rat’ler, ‘n hell, ya see them diff’rences don’t mean nothin’ on the scale a things. Ya pass farms ‘n towns, n’ yer squabble don’t mean a thing ta any of it. Ya watch the countryside roll by, ‘n pretty soon ya fergit what was eatin’ ya.

25.

Chuck….Washington 1980

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‘58 I hit the road, right outta the army. Army’s the last place gimme a sof’ bed. Slept on nothin’ but hard places since. Hard ground ‘n train cars, like that. But’cha get used to it. Lay a piece a cardboard under ya’s ‘bout the best ya can do. Slept ever’where a man could sleep, junkyards, ev’ry damn place to think of. Come nightfall, ya look for a safe place to crawl inta, ‘specially if the weather’s actin’ up.

27.

Ernie….Florida 1980

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When I’m pullin’ into a town at night, I watch out to see ‘at no on sees me git off the train. I look fer a place to sleep, all the time makin’ sure no one’s got their eye on me. Best to pick a spot where there’s a little cover, in some weeds er bushes. If I know where there’s some bad order cars, I might go over an’ git in one a them. You gotta watch yerself ‘roun’ the yards at night.  Some guys, if they knows where yer bedded down, they’ll roll you soon’s you close yer eyes.

If there’s a jungle fire goin’, stay away. You don’ wanna walk in on a camp in the dark. Wait till mornin’ if you feel like bein’ socialable. Now there’s some towns where I’ll right away build me a fire in the yards an’ sit with my back to some’um. Stay up all night. In some towns, a tramp wouldn’ dare go to sleep, ‘cause chances are he wouldn’ be wakin’ up; place crawlin’ with jackrollers. Sometimes you don’ even wanna build a fire; ‘tract too much attention. I’ve stayed awake a few days straight in towns ‘at’s bad, waitin’ on the next train out.

There’s jungles ‘at bulls wouldn’ be caught settin’ foot in at night. They might come to the edge a the tracks an’ shine their light aroun’, but they ain’t gonna go pokin’ their nose ‘roun’ in the dark. ‘Fraid they’ll git knocked on the head er some’um. That son of a bitch over in Lakeland seen me hop off a westboun’ one time, an’ I run down to the jungle. I knowed he seen me. Had his flashlight right square on me when I hopped off. I ducked in the trees an’ kept an eye out fer him. Pitch dark down there. Didn’t follow me. He walked to the edge a the tracks ‘n shined the light all aroun’. Can’t see nothin’ lookin’ in a woods like you can seein’ out. Didn’t stay more ‘n half a minute ‘fore he went off. Watched him from the trees.

28.

Teto….Nevada 1979

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Been out here a good long while, since ‘54. Been trampin’ the whole time. People know they can trust me. They’ll leave their b’longin’s in my jungle, go to town and know it’ll be looked after till they get back.

Weatherbird, Charlie’s his right name, he’s been camped with me. He’ll pick up and head south soon, when winter sets in. You’d never know it but Charlie played piano with the best of them. Played in them big bands. Played with Count Basie and some of those other big names.

29.

Teto’s Knife….Washington 1980

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Don’t travel the way I used to. Been settin’up camp in one spot for awhile ‘n callin’ it home. Got a good lean-to, near permanent. Las’ year, it was Elko. This year I’m callin’ Wenatchee, the apple yards, my home.  Stayin’ clear a them pear yards; too much goin’ on up there by that ice house.

I make knives to sell. Make ‘em from the crown of the rail where it gets wore over. Break off a piece of that steel ‘n work it till it gets to be a good blade. Takes about three days of filin’ to get it right, to where it’s a good cuttin’ blade. That rail steel is good ‘n strong. Then I set to makin’ the handle out of scrap stuff I find in the yards.

30.

 

Bound Together….Washington 1980

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Mos’ the guys out on the tramp er OK. But’cha gotta be ready fer anything. I won’t git inta a car where there’s more ‘n one other guy ridin’ ‘an I dunno any of ‘em.  Too many things kin happen.  You gotta be ready fer anything. This ain’t no birthdee party.

32.

Trigger….Nevada 1979

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What I do when I get a hol’ a some money is buy me an armful a can goods, an’ get some plastic, an’ wrap ‘em up real good, an’ bury ‘em at night when nobody’s ‘roun’. Bury ‘em wherever I think I might be needin’ ‘em. The day comes ‘roun’ when I be low on change, I dig ‘em up an’ eat good. Got cans buried ev’rywhere, all up an’ down this line. Up north too. Got ‘em ‘long the high line. Wherever I might be ridin’ one day, I got food waitin’. Never go hungry.  Got food at ev’ry division. Got the idea from watchin’ squirrels. Squirrels never go hungry.

Never had none a my spots foun’. Cover ‘em up good, jus’ like they was b’fore the hole was dug. Leave the groun’ to look nat’chl. One thing I won’t do, won’t go to bury nothin’ if I’m drunk. Won’t r’member where the hole’s dug. Happened once in Oroville. Couldn’ r’member where the sons a bitches was buried.

If it happens I ain’t hit a spot in a long time, I’ll dig the cans up when I’m through there, eat the food, an’ bury new cans again. It’s like money in the bank. I won’t never go hungry.

33.

 

 

Trigger….Nevada 1979

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Trampin’ gets in yo’ blood. Didn’t b’lieve it when I was young, but it does. It’s the truth. Ran ‘way from home in ’55.  I was sixteen. Didn’t know a thing. Didn’t know where I was goin’ or how I’d get there if I did know. Ran into an old fruit tramp in Georgia. Met him unda’ a bridge. I was sleepin’ unda’ there, an’ woke up an’ he was sittin’ there with me. Fed me an’ took me with him down to Florida. He wasn’t no queer, nuthin’ like that. Showed me how to catch a train an’ tol’ me all about the railroad. I didn’t even know what a mainline was back then. We picked citrus. Slept in orange groves all winta. He’s prob’ly dead an’ gone by now. He musta been sixty, sixty-five when we met up. That’d put him close to ninety now. He ain’t on the railroad, that’s fo’ sure. Not at ninety he ain’t. Never asked me fo’ nuthin’. Fed me fo’ a week or mo’ b’fo’ we got work. Always thought I’d run into him again somewhere down the line. Never did though. We split up when the citrus was done. Me an’ anotha’ fella made our way out West. Tramped all around the West, workin’ fruit, odd jobs.

My momma told me it takes a lot less muscles to smile than it does to frown. I been stabbed three times and I can still smile. I be fixin’ to head south come winter. It gets in yo’ blood. You stay in a town too long an’ you get itchin’ to move.

34.

 

Russell….Montana 1979

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Worked a job eighteen years. In Maryland. Eighteen years, the same fuckin’ job. Upped ‘n quit one day. Got good ‘n disgusted with the way things was doin’ ‘n walked outta that fuckin’ joint. Worked eighteen years ‘n didn’t have a dime to show for it. Not a dime in my pocket. Figgered I might try my luck elsewheres, so I got on the railroad ‘n headed west, lookin’ for jobs here ‘n there. Worked a couple weeks in Chicago, helpin’ to fix old buildin’s. Got fired from that one. We was runnin’ this long piece a copper tubin’ up a couple floors, ‘n I cut it half an inch shy of how it’s s’posed to be cut, n’ the guy runnin’ the job hollers at me ‘n sez right away to git off the job. Wouldn’t let me finish out the day. I was stayin’ on Madison Street, at the Starr, ‘n nothin’ else turned up, so me ‘n another guy caught outta them Burlin’ton yards over on Laramie.

Been pickin’ up a bit a work here ‘n there, but nothin’ lastin’. Didn’t git no work after that Chicago job till I got to Minot. Me ‘n the guy I was partnered up with was sittin’ in the yards. Had a pot a coffee goin’, ‘n ‘long comes a guy in a pickup, ‘n asks do we wanna work. “Hell yes,” we sez. We weren’t gonna pass up a deal like that, work comin’ right up to ya. We threw the coffee on the fire ‘n hopped in the truck. Didn’t even ask what it was we was goin’ to do.  Turns out it was movin’ a couch. Nothin’ to it. He drove us back to the jungle ‘n sez, “Now, what ya think I owe you boys?” I sez, “Hell, mister, make it easy on yerself; we didn’t work more ‘n ten minutes total.” “Well,” he sez, “here’s five bucks for each a ya.” That ain’t bad for ten minutes work.

It’s jobs like that. Proppin’s the last thing I done. That one, a guy comes down to where that tin shack is in Okanagon. There was four of us jungled down the river from the shack. We’d signed up at the labor office ‘n was waitin’ on a job. Same deal; he sez, “Hop in the truck if yas wanna work.” Man, we was hungry for work. Ev’ry one of us hopped in the back a the truck, took our gear ‘n all. He drove us on out to the orchard. Had enough work for the four of us. That one lasted three days. Ain’t worked since.  Stretched out that proppin’ money a good two ‘n a half weeks. Got some tabacca left ‘n that’s ‘bout it. Got no food, nothin’. Been doin’ without. Been getting’ by on them wild berries that grows up on the hill. Got five er six handfuls in a paper sack, ‘n they gotta last me till I find somethin’. I come up to Montana thinkin’ I’d git me some ranch work. I heard guys tell ‘bout workin’ on these ranches, but there ain’t nothin’ doin’ right now.  I might head back over Spokane way, see what’s doin’ over there. Gotta find me somethin’.

I rid the rails when I was a kid, b’fore settlin’ into that job in Maryland. Been off it a long time, long enough so’s I gotta git use’ to the workin’s a the railroad again. It’s changed in twenty years.  Places it use’to stop, it don’t no more. Towns that ya could count on for work, now ain’t got none. Use’ to be ya could pick up a day er two a work here ‘n there. Hop off the line somewheres ‘n git yerself a little job. But that kind a work, hand labor, is all but dried up. People ain’t needin’ labor like they use’ to.  Machin’ry’s cut into them jobs. Most ev’rythin’s done by machin’ry. Damn few things done by a pair a human hands anymore.

I believe I’d git off the railroad if I found somethin’ perm’nent. Nothin’ to do but keep on the move till I find somethin’. Ain’t likely to happen though. I don’t see no end to this movin’.

35.

Settled in for the ride….Nevada 1979

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You’ll ride some bad ones. Some cars so bad you’d swear they was off the track. Bound to get a bad one sooner or later. Some stretches of track been let go. The old CB&Q between McCook and Chicago, don’t make a damn bit a difference what car you’re on, you rattle ‘round like a loose screw. Lay down an’ try an’ get some sleep an’ you bounce four, five inches off the floor. Bad tracks. Now, catch yourself a loaded grain car an’ some a’ that ribbon rail, an’ that grain car’ll flatten them tracks out all the way, smoothest ride a body could ask for.

Worst ride I been on was a flatcar outta Bakersfield. There was a long string of ‘em, maybe fifteen er twenty in a row. No bulkheads, just this long line of empty flats. The rest of the train was reefers, nothin’ to get inta, so I just climbed on one a the flats. Laid my head on my pack and was lookin’ up at the sky. Nothin’ like a desert sky at night. He started to pull, cranked it out, blowin’ across the desert. An’ them flats was bouncin’ an’ shimmyin’ like you never seen. No weight on ‘em. Nothin’ to hold ‘em down. I was floppin’ around like a fish. Bounced my water jug clean off the car. All I could do was grab a piece a hardware and hang on. Rode that way all night.

37.

Otis….Washington 1980

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I think a my two girls ‘n how they never had no father, not like a kid’s s’pose ta have. I wasn’t much a one. Never seemed ta make it livin’ the fam’ly life. Ain’t much of a fam’ly man. Their ma ‘n I couldn’t get along. She done all the raisin’, her ‘n her sister. ‘N all that time, while those young’uns was growin’ ‘n mebbe needin’ a father ta talk ta, I was out on the road. It weren’t like I didn’ love ‘em er care ‘bout ‘em, nothin’ like ‘at. Why, if I coulda taken them girls ‘long with me, I woulda, but it ain’t no place ta be raisin’ kids, on the tramp. I figger they was better off with their ma.

They was livin’ down in Los Angeles, ‘n I’d go ‘n see ‘em ‘bout once a year, see how they growed ‘n all. Always brought ‘em a present, somethin’ Injun. They liked Injun stuff, moccasins, stuff like that. Made a mind ta hide their presents in my bedroll, ‘n when I showed up at the door, them kids’d climb all over me ‘n tear that thing apart. They always knew I had somethin’ in there fer ‘em.

They’s both growed now; one’s twenty, one’s twenty-one. I’m real proud of ‘em. They’s good girls, on their own, got reg’lar jobs ‘n their own place ta live. They’re doin’ fine, jus’ fine. Jus’ hope they ain’t holdin’ no grudge against me fer not bein’ a reg’lar father. I still love ‘em. Man can’t help but love somethin’s part of his own blood. I done the bes’ thing. They was better off with their ma. I think about ‘em ‘n get ta wonderin’ what they might think a their ol’ pa. Keep their pit’chers right here in my pocket.

38.

Headin’ Out….Washington 1979

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I caught a guy stealin’ from me, an’ I shot him. Idaho Blackie. Shot him, but I give him a fair warnin’. He’d been comin’ ‘roun’ my camp, makin’ conversation, an’ after three, four times a him comin’ by, I begin ta notice some a my stuff was disappearin’. Nothin’ big, but he managed ta get his hands on one thing er ‘nother. I’d come back from town an’ find him in my camp an’ there’d be somethin’ missin’, a can a corn, a little tobacca, anything he could get his hands on. He’d never take a bunch a shit at once; jus’ little things so’s ya don’t notice right off. He was wearin’ out his welcome ‘roun’ me, an’ fine’ly I told him straight. Told him, “If I ever catch ya stealin’ from me I’ll kill ya. Simple as that. Steal from me, an’ you’re a dead man.” He knew I killed a tramp b’fore, so I figgered that’d throw a scare inta him. He didn’t come ‘roun’ me much after that.

Then one day I was jungled on the Columbia and he comes walkin’ inta my camp. Sez he was waitin’ ta catch out. Now, I was watchin’ him like a hawk, watchin’ so he don’t take nothin’. I was waitin’ for him ta get his train so I could leave my shit an’ go inta town. An’ trains were pullin’ out all afternoon, but he wouldn’t budge. Kept sayin’ he’d catch the next one.

I gotta load a shit ta haul an’ I ain’t ‘bout ta drag it inta town ever’time I buy groc’ries. I can haul it if I hafta, but it’s a hunnert an’ fifty poun’s, an’ that’s with my canteen empty. An’ this guy’s a motherfuckin’ cagy character; he knows I’m gonna hafta leave it in the jungle when I go inta town for food. So he’s waitin’ ‘roun’ like a goddamn vulture. Come late in the day, I got tired a waitin’ on him, an’ I sez to him, “I’m goin’ inta town, an’ keep in mind what I tol’ ya b’fore. Ya lay your han’s on my shit while I’m gone, an’ you’ve had it.” An’ I jus’ ‘bout ran ta town an’ back. No way did I trust that motherfucker.

When I come back, I see he’s got his hands in my food bag an’ he’s stealin’ my motherfuckin’ coffee. I yelled out, “Goddamnit, Blackie, I warned ya. Make your move, an’ it’d better be a good one er you’re dead.” Didn’t think he’d do anything, but he pulled a .22 pistol an’ started pluggin’ away. I dove for my pack, an’ he got me in mid-air, right in the stomach. Bullet went clean through me.  Got a scar where it went in an’ ‘nother one where it went out. I fell on top a my pack, ‘an reached in an’ grabbed my .38 an’ started firin’ at him. I couldn’t get up, so I’m firin’ at him from the groun’.  I had one hand holdin’ my gut, an’ the other hand’s aimed right at him, squeezin’ off roun’s. An’ the motherfucker wouldn’t go down. He wouldn’t stop. He’s shootin’ like a wild man. Shot a hole clean through my coffee pot. Lead was flyin’ all over the fuckin’ place. I jus’ kept squeezin’ the trigger till he fell backwards. Emptied my gun inta him. The sheriff’s deputy said I hit him five times. That guy surprised me. Never figgered on him doin’ a thing like that.

39.

Bitterroot Mountains….Idaho 1974

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Ya see some pretty-ass country from this railroad. Goddamned nicest country ya ever laid eyes on. Them mountain passes ‘n all them pines ‘n waterfalls ‘n rivers so clear ya cain’t hardly tell there’s water runnin’ in ‘em, see clean ta the bottom way out the middle where they’s deep. Then whatta ya go ‘n do, ya git off in a damn railroad yard next ta some smelly ol’ fact’ry er junkyard er someplace, ‘n bed down in a dirty-ass jungle, like ta be a trash heap with so many bottles n’ cans throwed ‘roun’. ‘N ya gotta watch where ya set ‘n lay yer bedroll. Yeah, ya see the best ‘n the worst a this here country. Ya see the best, but ye’ll likely end up spendin’ mos’ yer time livin’ in the worst.

40.

Dirty Blackie….Washington 1979

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Ever’body’s had a raisin’ a some kind er other; a mother ‘n father er someone that’s tol’ ‘em right from wrong ‘n showed ‘em ‘bout gettin’ ‘long in the world. My father, he died when I was young, but he gave me ‘n my brothers as good a raisin’ as a body could ask for. All the time I was a kid I never once heard him cuss. He never drank er smoked; never ‘llowed liquor in the house. He wouldn’t even drink coffee. We had a farm in Oklahoma, a good farm with a house ‘n barn ‘n a sizeable piece a land. We had it purty good, always had food on the table; never did without. None of us was ever left wantin’. Then my father died, ‘n I left school to give a hand with the work. I never got past the eighth grade. Never had the opportunity on account a the work that needed doin’ to keep the place runnin’.

We kept the farm goin’ till all of us was growed.  I’ve got four brothers, but none of ‘em’s on the road.  They live a fam’ly life; couldn’t take livin’ outdoors all year roun’ like this. My oldest brother works in an office. Wears a white shirt ‘n tie ever’day. He won’t have nothin’ to do with me. Haven’t spoke to him in ten years. The only one I keep in touch with is my younger brother.  He’s still in Oklahoma, in the same town near where we grew up. It’s been four years since I seen him last. I left an old car I’d been drivin’ ‘roun’ for awhile, left it there at his place.  It might still be there.  He said he’d look after it. He always followed me ‘roun’ when we was kids.

If I had my way, I’d like to go back to farmin’. Farmin’s the life I’d like to live. Cain’t get started no more, though, ‘less you got a bankroll big ‘nough to choke a horse. Land, good land, costs plenty. When our farm was sold, it went for next to nothin’. Land was cheap in them days.  But farmin’s a good life. I learned a good many things growin’ up on the farm. I learned ‘bout growin’ crops ‘n that kinda thing, but I also learned ‘bout people. One thing my father taught me was to be honest with people. Treat ‘em like you’d like to have them treat you, ‘n give ‘em a hand if they need it. If someone needs help, I’ll give it. I hate to see anyone do without. I never stole from nobody, ‘n never asked for handouts. I’ll find some kinda work to get by on. Plenty a times I been broke ‘n had to work hungry at a job till I got paid. One time I went hungry for seven days ‘n didn’t ask for no handout. I didn’t even know ‘bout food stamps er missions then.  Jus’ didn’t eat till I found work. Only one time did I get food stamps. I don’t go in for that welfare er food stamps. Hell, if I cain’t make it on my own, I don’t wanna make it at all.

42.

Movin’ Along….Oregon 1979

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Too many people in a hurry. Ya see ‘em buzzin’ ‘round in their automobiles like turd flies.  Where they’re goin’, I don’t know. No sense to it, make yerself sick. A tramp, that’s the beauty of it, a tramp don’t have ta be in a hurry. I take my time. Like when I’m breakin’ camp, I’ll take the better part a the day ta make sure ev’rything’s in order. I scrub the soot off the bottom a my banjo an’ cook pot, wash my fork an’ spoon, give my knife a good sharpnin’, an’ make sure I got enough coffee an’ tabacca ta travel with. It takes me a good while ta get ev’rything together to where I’m set for movin’. Got a heap a stuff ta pack. All toll it weighs a good bit. Pack it on my back, an’ carry my bedroll in one hand. I move along, not fast, but I get to where it is I’m goin’.

43.

Staying with It….Oregon 1979

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I move slow. It don’t make no difference; a good tramp’s never in a hurry. I seen two guys the other day, sittin’ over by the rock pile, waitin’ on that Vancouver man. Ev’ry so often, maybe ev’ry fifteen minutes er so, one of ‘em gets up an’ takes a good long look down the main line, expectin’ ta see them units comin’ inta sight. Getting’ impatient, like they had an appointment er somethin’. Spent all day wearin’ out their shoes, an’ they didn’t go nowheres. Musta walked b’tween the rock pile an’ the tracks nearly thirty times ‘fore they fine’ly give up. The railroad ain’t no place for anabody’s in a hurry. A freight train don’t have no use for a schedule. It pulls outta the yards when it’s got it’s tonnage, an’ no sooner, so no use crainin’ yer neck watchin’ on the thing. Ain’t gonna make it get there any quicker. He’ll get there when he gets there, an’ if ya miss it, they’ll be another one comin’ ‘long sooner er later. Ya just stay with it, an’ ya can’t go wrong.

44.

Across the Flats….Washington 1980

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In the old days, the air hoses used to connect under the boxcar door. An’ if you’re going through a town out in the middle of nowheres where the train don’t normally stop an’ you wanted to get off, you kicked the hose apart an’ the train’d come to a dead stop. It’s what they call “shotgunnin’ a train.” ‘Course, you had to run up inta the woods an’ hide somewheres so’s not to get caught.

45.

 

Rolling Refuge….Washington 1980

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Lotta folks say a tramp’s got no ambition. Well, what the hell’s ambition, anyway? To mos’ a them people out there, ambition’s nothin’ but gittin’ their han’s on money. It don’t matter how they git it, long as they git it. A guy might be president a one a them big corporations, an’ people say ‘bout how he’s got all this here ambition. They don’t know all the people he’s stepped on gittin’ to where he is. If steppin’ on people is ambition, then I ain’t got any. I’d jus’ as soon help a guy than to hurt him.

46.

Suspenders….Washington 1980

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The bull there in Wilmar. Connally, I think his name was. Never seen him give a tramp a hard time. Why, he’d come down to the jungle and visit with the guys, you know, askin’ ‘em where they’s goin’ and where they’s been and all like that. Even askin’ about their families. He was just curious. Was always smokin’ a pipe. Think he was born with that thing. He was good to a tramp. I was talkin’ to him one time, and he sez  there’s one thing bothers him about tramps: they’s all alone. They got no one. He sez everybody should have somebody, somebody that cares for ‘em and somebody to look after. That kind of thing. Really seemed to get to him. He retired last year. Plenty of tramps remember him.

47.

Washington….1980

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Talkin’ to hisself, that’s all he’s been doin’ lately, talkin’ to hisself. Dunno what to do ‘bout him.  Use’ to be I could count on him fer anything. Was a good partner. Now he’s all the time jus’ rumblin’ out loud, goin’ on ‘bout somethin’ er other, not taklin’ to no one in partic’lar. It’s the liquor, the liquor talkin’. He’s gonna have to dry out er he’s gonna kill hisself. I don’t pay no ‘tention to him goin’ on that-a-way. Goes in one ear ‘n out the other. It drives some guys nuts.  They won’t come ‘round him. But I’m gittin’ so’s I don’t let it bother me no more. I been kinda lookin’ after him, takin’ care a things. He ain’t so bad when he’s sober, makes sense part a the time. He goes on ‘bout the war, World War II ‘N Korea. He’s a goddamn good old soldier. Spent fifteen years in the army. Seen his share a action. Come through two wars, dodgin’ ever’thing they could throw at him, ‘n now a bottle fulla wine’s got him. I never figgered it’d git him. But hell, ya stay on these rails long enough, ‘n sooner er later it’ll git to ya.

I cain’t let him go into town no more, for fear he’ll git hisself locked up. I don’t mind him talkin’. It’s all crazy talk. I jus’ hope some fella looks after me when I git that-a-way.

48.

Hippie John….Utah 1980

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Ain’t had but a third grade education. Been married twice, ‘n both my wives a-learned me to read ‘n write. I have me some trouble a-spellin’ them big words, but if I kin soun’ ‘em out in my head, I kin come pretty damn close to how they’s s’pose ta be spelt. If I’m a-readin’ a book ‘n come ‘cross one a them ten dollar words, I’ll try ‘n git it’s meanin’, ‘n if I cain’t, there’s fellas in the jungles might know. Ya know, a guy might know a word I ain’t sure about, ‘n I might know one he don’t know. Jus’ ‘cause ya don’t know ev’ry word in the English language, don’t mean yer not smart. There’s so many  damn diff’rent words, I ‘spect there ain’t any one person kin tell ya what they all mean. Got plenty a time on my hands to read. Ain’t hardly never ‘thout a paperback er Readers Digest in my pack. The Readers Digest, read  mos’ a them stories  two-three times ‘fore passin’ it on. Give it to a guy, ‘n he’ll give it to ‘nother guy, ‘n it gits passed ‘roun’ that-a-way.

I git books from places like that bar in Portola. They gives ‘em to whoever it is wants ‘em, er some places’ll charge a dime fer ‘em. There’s a couple a them places where they recycles paper, got books free fer the takin’. They got these big bins a paperbacks that’s throwed away. Got ‘em out back a the warehouses by the tracks. All’s they do is make new paper out of ‘em. Ya git there on a Sundee when they’s closed, ‘n load up on books. They got ev’ry kind ya kin think a.  Mostly love stories ‘n shit, but ya spend some time a-diggin’ through them bins, ‘n ye’ll find a good one, a western er two. The covers is all tore off so ya gotta give ‘em a good goin’ over so’s ya know what yer gittin’. I don’t read them love stories, them romancin’ books. Westerns, read westerns mostly. I’ll give a look at them pussy books once in awhile. They got a slew of ‘em at the recyclin’ place. Scrounge through the magazine bins ‘n ye’ll run across ‘em. But I’ll take a Western any day.

50.

 

Companions….Utah 1980

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Tennessee Red died up in Helper, up there in Utah. They found him lyin’ face down in the creek. His dog was sittin’ along the bank there. That dog stayed right there with Tennessee. They took the body away and everbody expected some sorta foul play, but it come out he died of a stroke. Tennessee was gettin’ up in years.

51.

 

Morris….California 1980

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Ever’ so often I’ll hole up in a shack er some’um, but I gener’ly keep on the move. I keep an extra sleepin’ bag stashed somewheres durin’ the summer, n’ when the col’ weather sets in, I go ‘n git it ‘n stuff my summer bag inside it. Sleep with two bags ‘roun’ me, one inside the other. I stash the bag in someplace diff’rent ever’ year. Last year I stashed it in a old wrecked car near them Lincoln yards.

Had this mummy bag, down linin’. Kept me warm durin’ the winter, but ya couldn’t sleep in it in summer, too warm. Wake up at night sweatin’ bullets. B’sides, I don’t like them pointy ends on them mummy bags. Cain’t move yer feet. Cain’t git out of ‘em in time either. Yer as good as trapped in there if somethin’ happens. I won’t zip my bag up at night. In case somebody walks up on ya, ya kin be out on yer feet in a quick.

52.

Don….Washington 1980

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Got hold of a jug one night ‘n caught out on that Stockton man. I was by myself, ‘n it ain’t good ta be drinkin’ alone ‘cause ya wind up drinkin’ too much. If yas got a guy ta split with, why ya only drink half as much, ‘n ya stretch the drinkin’ out ‘cause yer talkin’ while yer drinkin’. Ya don’t git too drunked up that way. Well, I ain’t started talkin’ ta myself yet, so I drunk that jug pretty quick ‘n passed out. I dunno what I was doin’. I musta still been half drunk, ‘n thought the train’d stopped in Stockton. I got up, went over ta the door, ‘n bailed out, ‘n goddamn if that train weren’t still movin’. Shit, maybe twenty mile an hour. It was dark, ‘n I was drunked up enough that I didn’t know what was goin’ on till I hit the rocks. Hittin’ that track ballast at twenty mile an hour’ll sober ya up mighty quick. I fell head over heals ‘n got cut up bad. I didn’t have no shoes on when I bailed out, so my feet got cut, ‘n my knee, my knee was oozin’ blood. My pants was tore ‘n I could feel they’s wet from where my knee was bleedin’. I dragged myself over ta this truck trailer, ‘n tried ta fall asleep under it, figgerin’ ta have a good look at that knee in the mornin’.

I laid there under the trailer till daylight come, ‘n my knee was hurtin’ bad, throbbin’ like a son of a bitch. I give a look at it, ‘n it was a big gash with this big chunk a skin flappin’ off it. When I got up ta walk, I had ta hold the skin against my knee ta keep it from flappin’ off. I was hobblin’ ‘round like that, holdin’ onta my knee. Didn’t have no shoes er gear. Left my bedroll ‘n all my stuff in the boxcar.

I made it ta Oroville, ‘n was gittin’ weak, layin’ ‘round the jungles waitin’ fer the thing ta stop bleedin’. A couple guys come ‘long ‘n give me some a their gumbo ‘n that give me a little strength. Three days went by ‘n it was still hurtin’ bad ‘n seepin’ blood. I made it inta town ‘n was standin’ in the soup line there ‘n run inta a buddy a mine. He seen what kinda shape I was in ‘n took me ta the hospital. Didn’t wanna go ta no hospital, but I wasn’t in no kinda shape ta put up a fight. They cleaned it out ‘n stitched it up. Healed pretty near good as new.

53.

 

Paul….Washington 1980

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Comin’ through Wyomin’ one time, I got caught in a cold snap and spent the night in a haystack. I was streamlinin’. Was in my shirt sleeves, and didn’t have no bedroll with me, and the temperature all of a sudden dropped down b’low freezin’. There was these stacks a hay in this pasture, and I climbed over the fence and went over and started burrowin’ inside one of ‘em.  The closer I got to the middle, the warmer it was. I crawled on my hands an’ knees, burrowin’ in an’ scoppin’ the hay. Left an openin’ for air and slept warm as ever the whole night. The next mornin’ I worked my way out, and there was about an inch a snow on the ground. The top a the haystack was covered with a layer a snow, but I slept good and warm under there.

56.

Barry….Washington 1979

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Was raised in Missoura. Had us a small farm, little piece a land. We growed our own veg’tables ‘n raised some stock. Raisin’ stock was what I done mostly, lookin’ after the animals. Only steady job I had ‘sides raisin’ stock was janitor work. Had me a job workin’ fer this big comp’ny down home; sweepin’ floors, moppin’, cleanin’ up. Worked that job four years, ‘n they started givin’ me some shit about how things weren’t clean enough ger ‘em, so I tol’ ‘em they could stick the job up their ass. I went back ta raisin’ stock again ‘n that went along good. ‘N then things ‘tween me ‘n my wife weren’t workin’ out, ‘n one thing lead ta another, ‘n I come ta find myself on the tramp.

I got kids, four of ‘em. The oldest one’s fifteen. They never knowed I was a tramp till last year.  Ever’ so often I’d swing down that-a-way ‘n see ‘em, ‘n last year I tol’ my oldest boy what I does.  My wife, she don’t want the kids ta know. She’s been a-keepin’ it from ‘em, but I figger they’s gonna find out one way er ‘nother, n’ better they hear it from me ‘n somebody else. I took the boy aside ‘n ‘splained about trampin’ to him, ‘n how it’s a way a life ‘n nothin’ ta be ashamed a. ‘N I weren’t sure he understood what it was I was sayin’, ‘cause at the time, he didn’t say much. ‘N I was packin’ up my things, gittin’ ready ta head out, ‘n I’m standin’ in the door sayin’ good-bye ta ever’ one, ‘n I sez ta him, “Good-bye son.” ‘N he looks at me ‘n he sez, “Dad, take me with ya. I wanna go along with ya.” I tol’ him mebbe I’d come back fer him one day when he was older. This here ain’t no life fer a kid.

57.

Paul cooking up….Washington 1980

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It’s how things is out here, livin’ by a law ya knows yerself is right ‘n not by what’s writ on a paper by some people don’t know what it is to live on the tramp. See, the way things is a’set up, a tramp got no choice but to live outside the law. Laws are a’thought up by people that owns prope’ty, ‘n ain’t no way in hell them laws is gonna do nothin’ fer a guy that  ain’t got none. Yer all the time tresspassin’. Ain’t no place ya kin go in this country ‘thout ya bein’ a trespasser. Ya rides the railroad, ‘n yer a’tresspassin’. Ya jungle in some field somewheres, ‘n yer a’tresspassin’. Ya cain’t a’git away from it so ya make up yer mind ‘n say hell, I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do ‘n if I git a’throwed in the pokey, that’s too fuckin’ bad.

The other day a yard dick come down ta the jungle ‘n starts givin’ me ‘n another fella the once over. He sez, “Don’t ya know yer a’tresspassin’?” I sez, “Sure I know. I been a’tresspassin’ all my life ‘n I ain’t a’gonna stop now.” He sez,” Well, why’nt you boys go up ta the city park; ya won’t be a’tresspassin’ there.” So we goes up to the park ‘n it’s one a these parks where the grass is cut nice ‘n neat so’s yer afraid to mess it up by walkin’ on it. Well, we a’sit ourselves down over in the corner ‘n start cookin’ up. First cop comes along, gits outta his car ‘n comes over to where we was cookin’, ‘n sez, “What you boys doin’?” I sez, “Cookin’, nothin’ but cookin’.”  He sez, “Ya cain’t cook here. This park’s fer picnics ‘n stuff like that.” So I sez, “We’re havin’ ourselves a picnic, yessir, a reg’lar goddamn fancy-assed picnic.” The cop sez, “Ya gotta have a permit ta build a fire.” Never heard a such a thing. A fuckin’ permit to build a fire. A lotta horse shit. We was gittin’ throwed out anyway, so I ask the cop if ev’ryone in town eats cold food. He sez, “No, they cooks it on their stoves at home.” I sez, “See, it ain’t that it’s again’ the law to have a fire, it’s that it’s again’ the law not to have a house with a stove.” Them laws was writ by people that owns prope’ty.

58.

Night Yards….Florida 1980

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I don’t ride no East coast lines. Hell, ya git East a the Mississippi ‘n it’s hotter ‘n a son of a bitch. Ever’ yard’s got a dick ready to toss yer ass out er take ya to jail. Last time I was East, I wound up in jail, fer nothin’, tresspassin’ er some shit. Them dicks are layin’ fer a tramp. They do it to keep the job. The more tramps they take in, the more the big bosses in the office think the dicks are doin’ their job. It doesn’t make a bit a sense. One guy with a sleepin’ bag ain’t gonna mess up a railroad. I know that; the dicks know that. It’s the big bosses don’t know it.

A dick stops me in Chicago. He sez, “I’m takin’ ya in. Yer trasspassin’ on railroad property.” I sez, “So what else is new?” He tells me they had a load a TV’s stolen off one a the cars. I sez to him, “Do I look like I got any TV’s on me?” I sez, “Ya c’n unroll my sleepin’ bag, ‘n all the TV’s ya find’s yers.” He said it don’t make no diff’rence, he got orders to bring in anyone looks suspicious. I did a night fer that, ‘n next night caught outta them very same yards. It jus’ don’t make sense. A tramp ain’t gonna pull a job like that. Ya need a truck ta pull off somethin’ that big. Ya gotta haul them TV’s outta the yard somehow, ‘n a tramp got no truck else he wouldn’t be a tramp. ‘N a tramp sure as hell ain’t gonna go carryin’ a load a TV’s all by hisself. No, it ain’t tramps stealin’ from the railroad.

Some a them yards, though, they’ll be all over them trains, shakin’ ‘em down. If I know a yard is hot, I won’t even git off the train. I’ll try ‘n git me somethin’ goin’ straight through. ‘N if the train gits broke up, I’ll lay low till somethin’s made up goin’ in my direction. I c’n usually make it through. Might be I’ll have to catch it at night. Been in yards where I spent all night climbin’ b’tween rows a cars, keepin’ ahead a the dicks. I’d see a couple a flashlights comin’ down a row a cars, ‘n I’d climb through the cars to the next row. Been times where it went on like that all night, playin’ cat ‘n mouse with them guys. It’s either keep movin’ er take yer chances a windin’ up in jail. It’s how it is in the East.

The East got no room fer a tramp. The land’s been all took up with buildin’s ‘n concrete. Ain’t no place to jungle. It’s all fact’ries ‘n concrete aroun’ them yards. No place to even lay down yer bedroll. ‘N there’s niggertowns. Some a them yards is in the middle a niggertowns. Tramp’d be clean outta his mind to jungle in a place like that. Only thing to do is keep movin’ er stay in a flop er a mission er somethin’. Them big city flophouses, I stayed in ‘em. Got to if yer stuck in a city. Cain’t go sleepin’ out in a place like New York or Chicago. Be rolled ‘fore ya closed yer eyes. The Legion, that’s one fer the books. In Chicago. Big buildin’, seven er eight stories. Ya git a room, er cage is more like it, six feet by four feet, barely ‘nuff room to turn aroun’ in. ‘N there’s a cot ‘n locker takin’ up half the room. The ceilin’s is all chicken wire. Got rows a cages to ever’ floor, ‘n them cage walls is only ‘bout seven feet high, ‘n the main ceilin’s mebbe three, four feet ‘bove that. ‘N ever’ cage is got chicken wire nailed over it so’s no one c’n climb over the walls ‘n git in at’cha. It ain’t the Ritz, that’s fer damn sure, but yer off the street.

Don’t hardly find no tramps in the East. Ride East, ‘n y e’ll be lucky to run into ‘nother tramp past the Mississippi. Back there, people see ya climb off a boxcar, ‘n they look at’cha like yer from outter space. Been a long time since any of ‘em seen a tramp. Rode two weeks ‘long the East coast ‘n never laid eyes on ‘nother tramp. It’s no place fer a tramp.  Them people back East got no use fer a tramp. They ain’t needin’ a tramp. What they need is stenographers, ‘n, hell, there ain’t a tramp I know takes shorthand.

59.

Bill….Florida 1980

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Marriage. I done it. S’pose it ain’t a bad life if ya find yerself the right woman. My wife jus’ wasn’t the right one. She’d find more ways to spend money n’ ya could think of. She’d a spent a hunnert dollars a day if she had it. The whole time we was married we was broke. We was broke from her goin’ out ‘n buyin’ things we didin’t need. One time I went through the closet ‘n counted my shirts. I come up with seventeen a them things. Seventeen shirts. No man alive needs that many shirts. ‘N I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout cheap shirts either. Good shirts, dress shirts. Goddamn, you can only wear one at a time. Never said I wanted them shirts. Never had to. She’d jus’ go out ‘n buy the sons a bitches. I’d go to work, bring home the money, ‘n she’d figger out a way to spend it. When I left, them shirts was still hangin’ right there in the closet. I walked out ‘n took nothin’ but the clothes on my back.

We had a little place in The Dalles. Her ‘n the kids stayed on there. I’d swing by there when I come through that part a the country. Only reason I did was to see the kids. Most ev’ry time I went to see ‘em she was drunk, drunk outta her mind. She fin’ly drank herself to death. Died six years ago.

My two kids, a boy ‘n a girl, ain’t seen ‘em in five years. The boy must be thirteen now, ‘n the girl, she’s a year older. She’d be fourteen. My brother ‘n his wife have ‘em in Texas. When my wife died, my brother’s wife come up to The Dalles ‘n took the kids back to live with ‘em. She jus’ ‘bout kidnapped my kids from me. Been down there to see ‘em. She don’t care much for me ‘n don’t want me comin’ ‘roun’. She done her best to keep them kids from me. She turned ‘em against me. Last time I went to see the kids, my daughter was nine ‘n she was scared to death a me. She run cryin’ into the other room when she saw me. My own daughter, my own little girl wouldn’t even come near me. That ain’t a good feelin’. ‘N I never done nothin’ to make her scared a me. My brother tried to explain to his wife what she was doin’, but she wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with any kinda reasonin’. She jus’ plain don’t like me, ‘n now she’s got my kids feelin’ the same way. I’m waitin’ for those kids to grow up. Mebbe when they’s older they can understand what happened. Then I’ll be able to see ‘em again ‘n things’ll be diff’rent.

60.

Bill, working the oranges….Florida 1980

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Trampin’ ain’t all ridin’ freight trains. It’s plenty a hard work. They’ll be times I won’t ride fer six months. When I’m workin’, I’ll live in a jungle, but I won’t ride. I won’t be ridin’ outta Florida till the oranges an’ grapefruit’s done. Come spring, when the weather breaks, I”ll head out west to California an’ pick cherries ‘roun’ Stockton. That’ll be in May. I’ll work the cherries fer awhile an’ head up to Washin’ton. There’s a man in Wenatchee let’s me have a cabin durin’ the summer while I work ‘roun’ his apple orchard, doin’ things need tendin’ to; prunin’ an’ proppin’, lookin’ after the orchard, things like that. I’ll stay in that cabin maybe a month er two.  Then it’s pickin’ pears, an’ shortly after that, late September, October, I”ll start in on the apples.  Soon’s the apples are done, I’ll leave Washin’ton an’ make my way back down to Florida. Be in Florda by November, December an’ start on citrus again.

I tried punchin’ a clock. Had me a job workin’ in a fact’ry in Kansas City fer a couple a years. I did a good job. There weren’t never any complaints ‘bout my work. But the job didn’t sit too well with me. I got to feelin’ cooped up so I quit, got in my car an’ headed out to California.  That was in ’57. Wasn’t long b’fore I ran outta money an’ needed a job again, so I hired out on a pickin’ crew ‘roun’ Stockton. Made thirty-five dollars my first day. Darn good money fer back then. A lot more ‘n I made in that fact’ry. I got to thinkin’ it wasn’t such a bad way to make a livin’, so I kept on with it, pickin’ fruit, followin’ the seasons. The wages never did come up to that first day, an’ the work wasn’t all that easy, but I stuck with it. Least there wasn’t somebody standin’ over you, givin’ orders. I got rid a my car in ’63, an’ ‘ve been on the railroad ever since.

I’ll always work fer a guy who pays daily. That way you got the money in yer pocket, an’ not waitin’ on yer check all week, workin’ fer promises. They don’t take promises at the store. I won’t work fer a guy who doesn’t look after his pickers either. Like this colored contractor. He had his kid runnin’ the goat, an’ ever’ time I hollered “goat”, the kid’d be off doin’ somethin’ else an’ my bins’d be filled an’ I’d have to start droppin’ the fruit on the groun’ till he got there. Had me piles a fruit by those trees an’ I had to pick it all up an’ refill the bins when the kid finally showed up with the goat. That’s double work yer not getting’ paid fer. It went on like that all day. When we got back to town, the old man is handin’ us our pay as we’re gittin’ off the truck, an’ he sez, “See you tomorrow, Slim.” I sez, “No you won’t,” an’ tol’ him why. He chewed out the kid, but I never will work fer him again.

A contractor’s got to hold up his end. The guy I’m workin’ fer now, looks after his men. He picks us up in the mornin’, an’ on our way to the grove, he’ll stop at a store an’ lend ever’ man on the truck money ‘nuff to buy themselves food an’ tobaccer fer the day. He knows these guys don’t have ‘nuff money to eat with in the mornin’, an’ they might need a little somthin’ to git theirselves goin’. Might be a guy’ll need himself a drink b’fore he c’n git movin’. He’ll take it outta yer pay at the end a the day, but he don’t charge no int’rest er nothin’. Some a the crew’ll wind up ownin’ him money, on account a what they picked don’t cover what they borrowed in the mornin’. He’ll let it ride. Marks it down in his book, an’ you pay him the next time yer out.

Most guys been pickin’ ‘bout two bins a day; some only end up with one. At six dollars a bin, that ain’t much fer a days work. One er two a the good pickers’ll pick anywheres from five to eight bins in a single day, but to make that kinda money, you got to scramble up an’ down those ladders an’ not stop all day. You gotta work fast, like a machine an’ keep yer momentim goin’.  You got to fill up yer sack, dump it in yer bin an’ be back up in the tree like greased lightnin’.  An’ the sacks, when they’re fulla oranges, weigh ninety pounds. When you got that kind a weight hangin’ over yer shoulders all day, it’ll slow you down some. A good picker’ll let the weight a the sack rest on the ladder while he’s pickin’, but no matter which way you do it, you’ll still feel it come quittin’ time.

These orange trees is good size. Got to watch yerself on that top fruit. Most a the branches is pretty thin near the top. Lotta times the ladder’ll slip off the branches, on account a there ain’t nothin’ sturdy to lean it on. I’ve seen guys break their backs in these groves, fallin’ outta trees.  If I’m pickin’ way up top an’ feel the ladder begin to slide an’ I know I’m goin’ down, the first thing I do’s cover my eyes.  Those thorns on the orange trees is likely to poke yer eyes out on the way down.

The low fruit’s where you make yer money, standin’ on the groun’. I c’n fill my sack in no time doin’ the low fruit. I rip into that stuff like crazy. Don’t pay no ‘tention to nothin’ but gittin’ that fruit off the tree. Last month I got snakebit while pickin’ the low fruit an’ didn’t even know it, on account a how I had my mind set on what I was doin’ an was too busy to take in what was goin’ on ‘roun’ me. I’d been straddlin’ an armadilla hole, reachin’ up into the tree an’ pullin’ off the fruit, an’ I felt this kinda pain in my knee. I thought it was jus’ a thorn, an’ kept on pickin’. It begin to sting pretty bad, so I took off my bag an’ rolled my pant leg to have a look at it, an’ I seen these two holes in my knee. Knew right off what it was. I give a look over at that armadilla hole, an’ there’s a rat’ler stickin’ part way out. I killed the snake, an’ the man in charge a the crew drove me to the hospital.

While I was in the hospital, they was givin’ me all kinds a tests fer my blood. The nurse there told me the rat’ler poison was the least a my worries, accordin’ to what they were findin’ in my blood. She said my blood was fulla that poison they spray on the trees. Said it’ll be with me the rest a my life. Don’t bother me none, ‘cept ever’ so often I’ll git me a rash on the back a my neck from it. It’ll act up if I pick in the rain or when the trees are wet, on account a the water’ll set the poison on the leaves to workin’. Some guys git it bad. Git rashes all up an’ down their arms after pickin’ in a wet tree. Them cherry orchards are the ones to watch out fer. Still use arsenic in some of ‘em. After a day a pickin’, you c’n feel that stuff  burnin’ holes in yer skin.

Ever’ once in awhile, I’ll go an’ set up camp in a grove. Take a weeks groc’ries with me, an’ set up camp among the trees. I’ll have the contractor leave out some bins fer me at night, an’ soon’s I git up in the mornin’, I’ll go right to work. Gives me a few extra hours a daylight to work in.  I’ll have a bin already picked by the time the rest a the crew shows up on the truck. The way it is now, me an’ Billy been jungled out on the edge a the yards, gittin’ up at five ever’ mornin’ an hikin’ two miles to town with our bedrolls an’ packs. We wait on the street corner fer the truck to show, an’ by the time we git out to the orchard it’s well near nine o’clock. It’s a lotta time spent travelin’ when you figger it’s the same thing at the end a the day. We don’t git back to the jungle till after dark, an’ we got to scrounge ‘roun’ fer firewood in the dark an’ cook in the dark. But it beats stayin’ in them shacks they got in some a those groves; payin’ rent on a place ain’t fit fer a dog, an’ buyin’ their high priced food. I’d rather sleep out. On my own. That’s the way I like it.

61.

 

Chuck, working the apples….Washington 1980

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Now a tramp’s got a mind of his own. He’ll work a job fer awhile and one day up and quit all-of-a-sudden like. Just quit and go off ‘thout barely a word. Er he might take a day er two off and do some drinkin’ But when he’s on the job, he’ll work like a mule. Boss, he gotta know that’s just how things are.

62.

 

Creekside jungle….Washington 1980

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People, they see a tramp ridin’ in a boxcar, an’ they might think, man, that’s the life, goin’ from town to town an’ seein’ diff’rent places. It looks easy to ‘em. It ain’t. Ain’t so easy as it looks.  Trampin’ ain’t no romance er nothin’ like them writers make it out ta be. Ya might git on the railroad thinkin’ ye’ll beat the nine ta five, but trampin’s a heap more work than any nine ta five I ever done. On a nine ta five, ya put in yer eight hours, an’ yer through fer the day. But trampin’, hell, trampin’s a twenty-four hour a day job. All the time scroungin’ up enough to eat, an’ lookin’ fer a place to sleep where ya won’t git clubbed on the head. ‘N ya gotta keep at it if yer to survive. Plenty times ya go hungry an’ scrounge outta garbage cans. Nothin’ wrong in it. Ya git the outta date stuff an’ it’s OK. These drive-in rest’rants, they got hamburgers, chicken, ever’thing in their dumpsters. There’s a law, they gotta throw out all the food that’s cooked an’ not sold when they close each night. A tramp once come into a jungle one night with thirty, forty hamburgers in a box. Fed all of us, eight tramps. Them places throw that stuff away. Only trouble is the homeguards git most of it. A tramp pullin’ into a town don’t git much of a chance at them dumpsters. Them homeguards’ll beat ya to ‘em ever’time. They know the right times when ever’thing gits throwed away an’ whatnot, leavin’ a tramp with second pickin’s.

Ain’t nothing fer a tramp ta go hungry fer a few days at a time. Long’s I got my tabaccer an’ water, I c’n make it. Use’ to be ya couldn’t git food stamps ‘less ya had yerself a perm’nent place to live. No address, no stamps. What changed all that was a couple tramps died from hunger, malnutrition er some shit. Now, ya can walk inta the food stamp office, give ‘em yer social security number, tell ‘em yer a tramp, an’ ye’ll git yer stamps. Might be ye’ll hafta wait ‘round fer a week, but ye’ll git ‘em. They might ask ya to draw ‘em a map showin’ where yer jungled. Hell, that ain’t no problem. I know most of these yards like the back a my hand. In Wenatchee, one time, I drawed up a map like ya never seen. Had the railroad tracks on it; the mainline goin’ into the yard, an’ the yard tracks fannin’ out like they does, an’ the river runnin’ long the east side a the yards, an’ the crik that flowed inta the river, an’ the apple orchard ‘longside the crik. I was jungled ‘longside the crik, an’ I put an “X” there, an’ the woman at the office looks at my map an sez I oughta be workin’ fer Rand McNally er one of them comp’nies.

Some towns won’t give ya yer stamps ‘less ya show ‘em ya got somethin’ ta cook in, fryin’ pan, anythin’. Hell, one time they gimme that story, an’ I don’t carry a banjo. I cook up in a gunboat er anythin’ handy. There’s always a gunboat er two layin’ ‘round the jungles. They tell me I couldn’t git my stamps on account a I didn’t have nothin’ ta cook in. Hell, I didn’t argue. I went out ta the parkin’ lot, popped a hubcap off a car, come back in an said, “Here’s my fryin’ pan,” an’ walked out with my stamps.

‘Nother time there’s a whole line a tramps waitin’ at the food stamp office. ‘N them people in the office started pullin’ that cook pot rule. The guy goes in, an’ comes out ‘thout his stamps.  He tells us, “They won’t give ya yer stamps ‘less ya got a pot er pan ta cook with.” Only one tramp in line had him a banjo, an’ he passed it up ta the first guy. That guy went inta the office, got his stamps, an’ come back out an’ give the pan ta the next guy. Them food stamp people saw the same goddamn fryin’ pan all mornin’ long. I ‘spect the handle got wore out jus’ from bein’ passed back an’ forth.

63.

End of the Line….Oregon 1979

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Riding together for a year or more. Look out for one another. Hell, one time we’re on this flatcar out of Del Rio. It’s at night and he’d had a little too much to drink and kept on havin’ to get up to take a piss. You know how them empty flats ride, rockin’ back and forth. He’s staggerin’ around pissin’ off the side, tryin’ to keep his balance and I figgered he’d sooner or later wind up a dead man. So every time he got up to take a piss, I’d follow behind him and grab the backside of his pants by the belt and hold on. Kept that son of a bitch from fallin’ off. Did that most of the night.

64.

Tom….Oregon 1979

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When them cars start hoppin’ the tracks ‘n pilin’ up, fergit it. There ain’t nothin’ you c’n do but ride it out ‘n hope you make it. Them cars is heavy sons a bitches, n’ when they leave the tracks they go where they please ‘n take ever’thing ‘long with ‘em. There ain’t no stoppin’ a derailed freight train. Them cars go wild. I was on the Grey Ghost when it went off, ‘n it’s nothin’ I care to do again. Nine tramps killed. I was the only one lived through it, ‘n I come out ‘thout barely a scratch. I was ridin’ up top a this gondola filled with scrap iron. Ridin’ right out in the open ‘n made it through. Luck, ‘jus’ plain ‘n simple luck. Wasn’t nothin’ I did that saved me. Fact is, I wouldn’t a been ridin’ out in the open if it hadn’t been  all the other cars fit ta ride’d been taken.  There was only a few emptys on the train, ‘n each one of ‘em had a couple tramps aboard. I climbed on the gondola ‘cause it was the only thing left to ride.

It was makin’ the run out ‘cross the flats when it went off. Happened quick. Wasn’t hardly no warnin’, jus’ a loud bangin’, like artill’ry fire. There was this bangin’ up ahead where the cars was beginnin’ ta pull each other off the tracks. I was sittin’ up top a that scrap iron, ‘n could see what was comin’. Them cars was goin’ off one right after another. The car in front a me begin to bounce ‘n veer off the track, pullin’ the gondola ‘long with it. It pulled the gondola off, ‘n set it to bouncin’ over the ties. The wheels were hittin’ the ties, ‘n I was gittin’ the guts shook outta me. The cars were follerin’ each other into the sand, ‘n then all hell let loose. Cars were leavin’ the tracks, jackknifin’ ‘n pilin’ up. Never seen er head anything like it. Metal, twistin’ ‘n screechin’, ‘n cars, one on top of another ‘n rammin’ inta each other sideways. Sets a wheels was flyin’ ‘cross the sand like they was shot outta cannons. The gondola broke free, ‘n cars was on all sides a me, slammin’ inta one another. Cars goin’ ever’ which way. There was a boxcar rockin’ back ‘n forth right ‘longside the gondola, ‘n I kept lookin’ up at it, ‘n ever’time it scraped the gondola I thought sure as shit it was comin’ over on me.

The weight a the iron’s what saved me. The iron made the car so goddamn heavy that when it jumped the track, it kept right on movin’, plowin’ through the sand like a tank. Carried me clear a the wreck. I bounced around on top a the iron till the car nosed into the sand ‘n throwed me out. I hit the sand ‘n rolled some, ‘n that was it. I half expected to git run over after bein’ throwed off the gondola, but nothin’. I laid there on the sand, ‘n it was all of a sudden quiet.  Ever’thing seemed like it stopped at once. Nothin’ was movin’. Cars was layin’ on their sides, bashed in, some of ‘em squashed like accordions. ‘N rails, pulled off a the trackbed ‘n twisted ‘n bent like they was pretzels. The gondola was one a the few cars remainin’ right side up.

I walked away from it, ‘n by all rights I should’ve been dead. Them cars was movin’ ‘long at a good clip when they left the tracks. Pushed a long string of ‘em. Kept the clean up crew busy fer days. There was cars twisted ‘n bent ever’ which way. Ever’day they’d find another body er two. Found the last two guys squashed under a boxcar. The car was turned over on it’s side, ‘n they hooked a crane up to it ‘n lifted it up, ‘n here was these two guys under there.  They was either throwed out the door, er tried ta jump at the last minute. A train’ll jackknife where the lighter cars are. So, where there’s ‘n empty, that’s where it’ll bend. Those guys never had a chance.

Yer chances a makin’ it through a wreck ‘s a sight better the closer yer ridin’ ta the crummy.  Them rear cars are the last ta go off, ‘n when they do go, they ain’t got the weight a the entire train bearin’ down behind ‘em, pushin’ ‘em ‘long. Most a these wrecks’ll begin somewhere’s near the middle a the train where the crew cain’t see what the hell’s goin’ on. A train might be a mile long, ‘n if there’s somethin’ wrong in the middle, a journal heatin’ up, a hotbox, er the brakes is frozen er somethin’, them guys in the units ‘n the crummy cain’t tell what the trouble is, on account a they cain’t see that far. Ridin’ back by the crummy’s yer best bet.  But that ain’t always where ye’ll find yerself a decent car. I pick a car no matter where it is. If it’s a good car, looks like a good rider, I’ll take it. Figger if my time’s up, my time’s up, ‘n there ain’t nothin’ I c’n do ‘bout it.

65.

Rodger….Oregon 1979

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They’s bad ones n’ good ones. Bulls is like anything else, some good, some bad. There’ve been times a bull’s helped me into a boxcar. And there’s some I know pretty good. I’ll give ‘em the high sign if I’m passin’ through their yard, an’ they’ll wave back. There was this one, this kid, he comes over to my fire and says he’s sorry but he’s got to ask me to leave the property. This was on the Erie. I had a pot a beans boilin’, an’ I asked him if he minded if I eat first. He sat there by the fire with me while I et. All the time he’s sittin’ there, I could tell he’s doin’ some thinkin’. You know how it is when a guy’s mullin’ somethin’ over. He’s staring into the fire kinda determined like. After a while, he gets up and says, “ Hell with it. If I have to run guys like you off the railroad to keep this job, the front office can stick it up their ass.” And he got in his car and drove off.

Some tramps won’t budge off a train for the President of the line himself. There’s this time me an’ two guys was on the S.P. over in Dunsmuir. Used to be that was a good place to jungle. Camp right by the river there in the mountains. Plenty a fish. Big trees. I seen twenty, thirty tramps scattered up and down the river bank. Now, they got “no trespassing” signs, “no loitering” signs all over the town. There’s people got vacation homes up there, an’ they don’t want no tramps around. Just a little yard, no bigger than a glorified siding. Tramps been comin’ through there some thirty years, maybe. They got this bull now, shaking everything down. Me an’ these guys was just ridin’ through, not planing on stoppin er nothin’. The bull comes over an’ tells us to get off the train an’ get our asses up on the highway an’ start hitchhikin’. Hell, I figgered what’s this guy tryin’ to prove. I started gettin’ my gear together, an’ one a the two guys I was ridin’ with tells the bull if he wants him off the car, he’s gonna hafta come up an’ drag him off. He started in on that bull, sayin’ how none a them people ‘bout to pick up three old tramps standin’ by the side of the road. He says to come up and drag him off ‘cause that’s the only way he’s gettin’ off the train. Well, that bull backed off an’ tells us OK this time it’s a warning. Warning my ass. No way was he gonna try an’ drag all three of us off that line.

Down in El Reno, Oklahoma there was this one bull’d give tramps a bad time. Anybody with a lick a sense knew that son of a bitch wasn’t gonna last long. Turned out he went missing for three days, and they found him laying in an empty boxcar, shot to hell. Took care a that son of a bitch for good. Lotta guys know who done it, but nobody’s talkin’.

66.

An Onion for the stew….Nevada 1979

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Don’t never trust a tramp sez he cain’t cook. A tramp is the best cook there is. A tramp’ll take anythin’ worth eatin’ an’ make a stew out of it. Beans, spuds, gizzards, onions, any goddamn thing. Cook it right, an’ ya kin make somethin’ don’t taste half bad.

One time I cooked up a panfull a grasshoppers. There was this field out back a the jungle, crawlin’ with them things. Didn’t take more ‘n fifteen minutes to catch a hatful of ‘em. Got mebbe ten er so, an’ cut their heads an’ legs off. Didn’t want them spikey lookin’ legs stickin’ in my throat. Fried ‘em up in a pan. Them things ain’t bad if yer hungry enough. Gotta salt ‘em down good. That’s somethin’ I always carry, salt. Salt, pepper, an’ tabaccer, three things I won’t be without. Pepper’ll help a stew, give it some fire. An’ tabaccer’ll help carry ya through times when ya ain’t got nothin’ to eat.

67.

Mackrel Sandwiches….Washington 1979

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We been partners ‘leven years, on ‘n off. It’s good ta have yerself a partner. Less chance a somebody fuckin’ with ya if they knows they gotta tangle with two guys instead a one.  Ya got a guy ta cover yer back. A partner can come in handy. Like when ya goes inta town fer food er somethin’, one a yas can stay in the jungle ‘n watch the gear while the other makes the run. If ya ain’t got a partner, ya gotta drag yer stuff, pile it on yer back ‘n haul it ev’ry damn place.

B’fore we teamed up, I rid the railroad alone. It can git to ya. Ye’ll start talkin’ ta yerself after awhile. Them four walls in a boxcar ain’t much of a companion when yer lookin’ fer somebody ta talk ta.

We go way back. I can count on him, ‘n he knows he can count on me. We helped each other outta plenty a jams. Been in jail t’gether. Hire out on jobs t’gether. Drivin’ combines mostly. The wheat country, Montana, the Dakotas, we git work up there ev’ry year. Them farmers know us, ‘n they knows we can handle their machin’ry. Them combines is damn good size pieces a ‘quipment ‘n ya gotta know how ta handle ‘em. If ya ain’t got the know-how, nobody’s gonna hire ya on. They can’t afford ta risk ya bustin’ up one a their machines aroun’ harvest time. It ain’t like ya c’n jus’ hop up in the cab ‘n take off in the thing. Ya gotta have the know-how. We work the same farms year after year. Ya git a good name ‘n it gits aroun’. One farmers tells another, “Hey, them boys is good on the job,” ‘n ya got more work lined up fer next year. Important thing is ta stay sober on the job. The wheat’s in, then ya can raise hell. Yer owed a little hell raisin’ then. There’s one guy in North Dakota, a scrawny little guy, use’ta give us a fifth a whiskey with our pay. Damned if he didn’t siddown with us ‘n go to work on that bottle.  I think the son of a bitch drank more of it than we did.

69.

Bill….Washington 1979

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Lost the sight in my left eye. Ya can’t tell nothin’ by lookin’ at me. Still moves same as the good one. Happened from drinkin’. I had me some rub-a-dub ‘n hooked up with this guy, Herb. Herb had him some red port, ‘bout a half gallon. We mixed ‘em t’gether, figgerin’ the rub-a-dub’d give that port some kick ‘n climbed on the SP outta Sparks. Both of us started drinkin’ that shit.  We had us a weeks groceries. Was gonna jungle on the river outside Truckee; do some fishin’.  Nice spot up there. Hike up the river away from town, ‘n nobody bothers ya.

We was on the rear end a this grain car, getting’ drunker ‘n shit; ridin’ through the mountains drinkin’ that mix. I ‘member pullin’ into Truckee. The tracks run ‘long the river there, ‘n I could see the water. The train stopped ta set off some cars. Don’t ‘member ‘xactly how long we was there, might a been ‘n hour. Usually takes ‘em ‘n hour ‘fore yer movin’ again. Well, I”ll be a son-of-a-bitch if I couldn’t sober up enough in that hour to get the hell off the train. Both of us drunker ‘n shit, ‘n I couldn’t move. Herb was pullin’ at my arm tryin’ to drag me off the car, but he wasn’t in too good a shape hisself, so we never made it off. After the train started pullin’ again, Herb got all pissed off ‘cause we gotta ride on into Roseville to get us another train back to Truckee. The last thing I ‘member was ‘pologizin’ ta him. I was layin’ there pissin’ all over myself, pissin’ in my pants ‘cuase I couldn’t get up, ‘n ‘pologizin’ for not bein’ able to get the fuck off the train.

Next thing I know it’s three days later, ‘n I’m in a hospital bed in Sacramento. Still don’t know how I got there. One a the nurses, she tol’ me they brought me in from the railroad yard. Said they couldn’t wake me for nothin’. Out col’ for three days. This needle was stickin’ in my arm.  They’s givin’ me transfusions, ev’ry goddamn thing. No one knew nothin’ ‘bout Herb. He musta been OK. I dunno, mebbe he’s the one got ‘em to get me ta the hospital. My one eye was all out. Nothin’, jus’ all black. They said it was that rub-a-dub did it. It got better some. Got so I could see daylight. That’s ‘bout how it is now. Can’t make out any figgers with it ‘less they’re b’tween me ‘n the sun.  It’s all blurred.

‘Sides that, I been OK. I pass out ev’ry once in a while. Figger mebbe some a that poison is still in my system. It’s the damnedest feelin’. Happened once when I was getting’ into a boxcar in Pasco. I was halfway in ‘n blacked out. Fell out backwards like a cement slab. Couldn’t a been out too long, ‘cause when I come to, the car was still there.

70.

Across the Divide….Colorado 1979

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Got stuck in a rain comin’ over the Rockies on a piggyback. Rained like a son of a bitch. Not a dry spot on the train. Nothin’ to git into. No emptys, nothin’. Soaked ever’thing, sleepin’ bag, grub bag, the works. When I climbed aboard in Denver, the sky was clear as could be, not a cloud in sight, ‘n by the time I hit Bond, it was comin’ down good. Water was runnin’ off the end a my cap like a goddamn waterfall, ‘n my shirt was soakin’ up enough water so’s it was stickin’ to me. Got cold in them passes. The middle a summer, but hit them high passes ‘n the air cools down quick, quicker ‘n ya’ ‘spect. Only time it got dry was goin’ through the tunnels. That Moffat tunnel. That’s one long a son of a bitch. Blacker than a well hole in there. Can’t see your hand in front of your face. Better ‘n six miles and full a diesel exhaust. Them units is pullin’ hard through there, puttin’ out a lotta smoke. And he takes it slow. Don’t want no derailments in them tunnels.

In Grand Junction, when they changed crews, I got me a piece a plastic from a lumber car. I could see it flappin’ ‘round in the wind a couple cars up. Had my eye on it ever since the rain started comin’ down, but there wasn’t no way to git at it till he stopped. Soon’s he set it down, I ran up ‘n ripped that son of a bitch off with my knife ‘n brought it back ta the pig. Wrapped the stuff ‘round me ‘n tucked it underneath me so’s it wouldn’t blow off. There wasn’t enough plastic fer my gear, so I had ta leave it out in the open. Spent better ‘n a day ‘n night ‘n some a the next day layin’ b’tween them big rubber tires, soaked ta the skin. It wasn’t rainin’ straight through, but it might as well have been. It’d come down in buckets, ‘n ease up till it was drizzlin’, ‘n then stop altogether, ‘n then start up again. There wasn’t no tellin’ when it was goin’ to let up, so I stayed under the plastic, no matter if the rain was beatin’ down on me er not.

I got on the Wobbly in Salt Lake. Caught the first thing west soon’s I hit them Roper yards. Comin’ ‘cross the desert ever’thing dried off. I unzipped my sleepin’ bag ‘n spread it out on the floor a the car where the sun could git at it. Had my boots off, ever’thing, had it all spread out on the floor. Only thing didn’t come out OK was a couple paperback westerns. Them things soaked up the water like a couple a sponges. I tried readin’ the one b’fore the pages started stickin’ together, but it wasn’t no use. They was ruined.

Got into Elko ‘n hooked up with four other guys. Knowed ‘em all from one place er ‘nother.  Two of ‘em, Lou ‘n Bob had theirselves a good jungle ‘long the river, so we set up camp there, ‘n each of us pitched in ‘n got us the makin’s fer a stew. It was mostly beans, but we et good.  There was plenty fer ever’body.  Had two big gunboats boilin’ on the fire, ‘n ever’body had their fill. Jus’ b’fore turnin’ in fer the night, me ‘n Bob went over to the yards ‘n got some big sheets a cardboard out of a couple emptys ‘n dragged ‘em back ta the jungle. Didn’t have my plastic no more, on account a it got all fulla grease from underneath that truck trailer. Cardboard’ll keep the rain off ya if it ain’t too big a rain. If it’s jus’ a little drizzle, cardboard’ll do the job. There was enough a that shit fer ever’body.  Had us a good load of it. When we settled in fer the night, each one of us had a piece a cardboard pulled over ‘im.

‘Bout the middle a the night, I feel this soggy hunk a cardboard fall on my face. Son of a bitch if it didn’t come down all night. It wasn’t no kind a heavy rain like I run inta comin’ ‘cross the divide, but it was steady.  Lasted right through ta mornin’.  Soaked on through the cardboard ‘n inta the sleepin’ bag. Ever’ one of us was in the same shape. Five lumps a soggy cardboard out there with a guy under each one. Barely got a fire goin’ in the mornin’. Ever’thing was soakin’ wet. It was still comin’ down the early part a daylight.

71.

 

Nick….Washington 1980

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No two ways about it, I’ll kill a man if he’s outta line with me. I’ll kill him, ‘n siddown on his chest ‘n eat a bowl a stew. Use the motherfucker for a stool. That’s all there is to it. I won’t let nobody fuck with me. I don’t fuck with nobody, ‘n I ‘spect the same from them. I spent fifteen years in San Quentin for killin’ two men. Fifteen fuckin’ years, ‘n them fifteen years didn’t change my mind one way er the other. I’d kill them same two men if it was ta happen again.

I got outta Quentin in ’65 ‘n got on the railroad. Hadn’t been out thirty days b’fore I was picked up again. I was up in Wyomin’, holed up in this sand shack, mindin’ my own business. It was a big shack, way at one end a the yards, a barn-like place filled with piles a sand. The railroad uses that stuff durin’ the winter, but in summertime don’t nobody go over there. It was a good place ta git in outta the heat. That sand was nice ‘n cool, ‘n I’d lay back on a sand pile ‘n drink wine. I was layin’ there, all stretched out on the sand this one day, ‘n I see this big Indian standin’ in the doorway. He comes walkin’ toward me, slow like, n’ he had one a them yella handled fish knives in his hand. It was one a them knives with the saw ridges on the back, ‘n he was runnin’ his thumb over the ridges, sayin’, “What’cha got for me white man?” He sez, “I’m gonna kill yer white ass.” I never laid eyes on the son of a bitch b’fore in my life, ‘n he sez he’s gonna kill me.  He had the meanest goddamn look on his face ya ever wanna see. I figgered I’m in trouble, ‘n there wasn’t no way a getting’ out of it. I didn’t have no weapon on me, on account a my record.  Couldn’t afford ta risk getting’ picked upon a weapons charge ‘n getting’ sent right back ta prison. Still don’t carry nothin’.

I was lyin’ there with my back ta the sand, watchin’ him feelin’ that knife, ‘n I sez, “Got me a hunnerd ‘n fifty dollars,” ‘n pulled out my wallet ‘n peeled off the bills ta show him. His eyes lit up like a couple light bulbs at the sight a that money. I tossed the wallet next ta the jug a wine down by my feet. I sez, “Here, take my money ‘n the wine, ‘n leave me alone. Jus’ don’t stick me with that knife.” The motherfucker was grinnin’ from ear ta ear, thinkin’ he’s got himself some kinda easy prey. I laid back with my hands b’hind my head like I was givin’ up. He kept a steady eye on me while he was crouchin’ down getting’ ready ta make a move for the money.  First, he reached out ‘n picked up the wallet ‘n then made a move for the jug. Soon’s he grabbed the jug, I scooped up two handfuls a sand from b’hind my head, ‘n threw it in his face. He had the jug ‘n the knife in one hand, ‘n the wallet in the other. Right-a-way I reached out for the knife hand. Got hold of his wrist with both my hands, ‘n started twistin’ ‘n pullin’ with all I had.

Gettin’ that knife away from him was all I could think of. The jug fell ta the sand, but he had a grip on the knife like a vice; wouldn’t leggo for nothin’. We was strugglin’, ‘n he dropped the wallet ‘n started beatin’ on my face with his free hand, poundin’ me ‘n gruntin’ like an animal. I was takin’ a beatin’ ‘n figgered I might not hold out much longer, so jus’ ta get him ta stop, I yanked back with ev’rythin’ I had ‘n pulled him on top a me. Right then he went limp.  I was layin’ under him, ‘n his blood started gushin’ out, soakin’ inta my shirt. I pushed him off, rolled him over ‘n felt his pulse. Nothin’, that big motherfucker was gone. When he fell forward on top a me, the knife musta been stickin’ straight up. It drove deep inta his chest, right b’tween the ribs. Went in, handle n’ all. Only had a little piece a yella handle stickin’ outta him. The butt end made a good size dent in my own goddamn chest. He was a big son of a bitch. His own weight’s what killed him.

I figgered I wasn’t gone get too far with this dead man’s blood all over me, so I hiked it ta the yard office n’ called the law. They come by, ‘n I told ‘em my story, ‘n they took me ta jail.  I wound up doin’ twenty months for manslaughter. Twenty months, ‘n I wasn’t out ta kill the motherfucker. Jus’ wanted ta get that knife away from him.

73.

Keeping Watch….Washington 1980

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One winter in Kansas, a car knocker chased me off the train. I traipsed through the snow to where this old wrecked car was settin’, off from the tracks a-ways, and got inside outta the wind. My feet were startin’ to get where I could hardly feel ‘em. Took my jacket off and wrapped it around ‘em. This cop comes by. His hand was brushin’ the snow off the windshield, and he motions me out. Took me to jail, fed me, and let me warm up and spend the night.

Some guys ain’t so lucky. Couple years back, there was two guys ridin’ over Soldiers Summit in the dead of winter. They had a gallon a wine and fell asleep on top a their sleepin’ bags. Didn’t bother crawlin’ inside. By the time they got to Salt Lake they’s froze solid. White port blanket got ‘em.

76.

Pushing On….Washington 1980

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I stay on the tramp the year ‘roun’ ‘n keep to the North ‘n the West. Won’t have nothin’ to do with goin’ down South durin’ winter. Plenty a tramps winter down in Yuma er Florida er one a them places, but I don’t like goin’ where there’s too many other tramps. If I git to a place ‘n there’s a slew a tramps ‘roun’, I git the hell out. Too many in one place is no good. They’s each one hittin’ the same dumpsters, scrougin’ fer the same scrap ‘n lookin’ fer the same jobs. ‘N there ain’t ‘nuff to go ‘roun’. I keep to myself ‘n git along just fine.

77.

The shade of a bridge….Washington 1980

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Use’ to be them growers is beggin’ us tramps to pick their apples. They’d come right down to the jungles ‘n ask if we wanted to go to work. Now, the wetbacks come up here ‘n take a lotta that work. Seems like lately there’s a picker fer ev’ry apple, too damn many of ‘em. ‘N some a these growers ain’t so happy to have us ‘roun’ no more. There’s growers won’t hire a wet, stickin’ to hirin’ tramps ‘n the like, but there’s them that’ll hire on nothin’ but wets. Hell, ya c’n almost fergive them people fer comin’ up here if they’s no jobs down where they come from, but goddamn it, jobs is scarce here, ‘n the only thing I know is one of ‘em’s got mine. Some wet’s in an orchard, pickin’ ‘n makin’ himself some money, ‘n I’m sittin’ on my ass underneath a bridge, flat broke ‘n waitin’ on work. It’s like I tol’ the fella at the labor office. I come in there lookin’ fer work, ‘n the fella b’hind the counter sez there’s no work; the Mexicans have it all. He tells me they gotta eat too. I sez to him, “They ain’t applied fer yer job, have they?”  He sez, “No.” ‘N I sez, “I figgered as much. It’s easy to be sympathetic that-a-way.”

Lotta guys count on these apples ev’ry year, ‘n when they cain’t find work, they ain’t so obligin’ to whether a wetback eats er not. ‘N when they go to the labor office ‘n the guy there tells ‘em there ain’t no work ‘n they goes by an orchard ‘n sees nothin’ but wets pickin’, they right away figger they got a raw deal. Things are changin’ in this apple country, ‘n if it keeps up this-a-way, goddamn, I don’t know how some guys are gonna make it.

78.

Hobo Bob & Bill….Washington 1979

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I don’t like to get too drunk on the road. I like to keep a half-assed clear head in case somethin’ comes up. Over in Portland, my partner and I were jumped by a couple of guys. Got us from behind. They had bicycle chains and were beatin’ us both on the backs of our heads. They picked the wrong guys to jackroll. We ain’t the type that gives up easy. Fought back with everything we had. Took some doin’. Nobody come out good, blood everywhere, but they run off.

79.

Cold Night Ride….Washington 1980

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One time in Pasco, I caught an empty on the fly. Set my stuff down near the door ‘n settled in for the ride, ‘n after my eyes got adjusted to the dark, I could see this lump over in the far corner. I goes over to check on it ‘n I seen it was a guy layin’ there. He weren’t movin’. I nudged him with my boot, ‘n he was stiff as a board. Dead. Rode all the way to Spookaloo with that dead body in the car. Don’t know who he was, didn’t touch his stuff. Rails prob’ly found him sooner er later.

80.

Leon….Montana 1979

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I pick me up some ranch work fer the winter, in Montana, workin’ horses. Them bunkhouses is heated nice ‘n warm. There’s a fella hires me on ev’ry year, outside a Great Falls.  I stay holed up all winter there ‘n head out again come spring. Usually head up that-a-way in September, October, b’fore the snow flies. Get there b’fore the weather starts gittin’ bad. ‘Bout that time a year I’m ready ta settle inta some’um reg’lar ‘n eat three square a day ‘n git a place ta sleep that’s warm ‘n dry. Ya c’n git yerself in a bad way after six, eight months a steady trampin’.  Things happen ta ya out on the tramp that c’n leave ya wantin’ ta git in somewheres.

Last year I showed up at the ranch with nothin’ but the clothes on my back. Happened on account of a bunch a kids ganged up on me, rocked me ‘n took my gear. Happened in Denver, in the Denver ‘n Rio Grande yards. I was waitin’ on that Wyomin’ man. He comes outta them Burlin’ton yards ‘n takes it slow, ‘n once in a while he’ll stop along that piece a track runs by the jungles. Well, I was waitin’ there, jus’ finished cookin’ up ‘n was puttin’ my banjo back in my sack, ‘n this gang a kids come along ‘n starts ta rock me. Five er six of ‘em. They’s throwin’ rocks big as yer fist. I yelled fer ‘em ta stop, but that didn’t do no good. They kept on a-throwin’ ‘em. One a them rocks hit me in the back a the head, n’ knocked me down. I didn’t black out er nothin’, but I lost my footin’ ‘n went down. B’fore I knew it, them kids was all over me like a bunch a wild dogs.  They pinned me down ‘n took my watch right off my wrist ‘n emptied my pockets.  I was lyin’ belly-flat on the dirt, hopin’ they wouldn’t kill me. I laid there till they were gone.  Didn’t wanna git up fer fear they’d set ta rockin’ me again. They made off with ev’rythin’, all my gear, bedroll. Took it all. Only thing they left me was a crocker sack fulla food I’d scrounged from the grocery early that mornin’. I was beat up bad, so I set there ‘n waited.  Figgered the best thing ta do’d be ta git outta there ‘n up ta that ranch. I give up my gear fer gone.

The Wyomin’ man, he set it down right by the jungle. Good thing, ‘cause I was limpin’ from where one a the kids got me ‘n couldn’t a caught it on the fly ta save my life. I figgered on makin’ it straight through ta Great Falls. That Wyomin’s route’s a slow son of a bitch. Stops at ev’ry short-assed town along the way, settin’ off cars, pickin’ up cars. Does a lotta work. It’s a slow line, but I figgered I’d stay with it ‘n push straight through ta Great Falls. Took me three days, ‘n I stayed with it day ‘n night. I had that crocker sack full a food, but after a couple days most of it started gittin’ rotten ‘n leakin’ out on the floor, drawin’ flies. So I ate the spuds ‘n the fruit that wasn’t rotted bad ‘n flung the rest out the door.

I wasn’t feelin’ good, all banged up like I was ‘n eathin’ nothin’ but fruit. ‘N that fruit gimme the G.I.’s purty bad. Usually I’ll sit on my bedroll ta take some a the bounce outta the ride, give me a little cushion ‘gainst the floor. Well, there weren’t nothin’ ‘tween me ‘n the floor fer three days, ‘n some a that track gits purty bad ‘n sets the car ta bouncin’ like a son of a bitch. ‘N me with the G.I.’s. I had my dungarees ‘n jacket, ‘n that was it. No blanker er nothin’. Durin’ the day it was nice ‘n warm, ‘n I’d try ‘n sit in the door where the sun come in ‘n warm my bones. It got cool durin’ the nights, ‘n my jacket weren’t enough ta keep me warm. It don’t make fer good sleepin’ if ya don’t have yerself a bedroll er blanket er some’um. I rolled up in some a that brown packin’ paper, but that don’t do the job.  The cold creeps under there same as if ya didn’t have no bedroll at all.

I showed up at the ranch, draggin’ my ass. ‘N the boss, he sez, “What the hell happened to ya?”  I told him the story ‘bout the kids, ‘n right off he gives me a change a clothes. After I got cleaned up, I built a small fire out back a one a the sheds ‘n burned my dungarees. Them things was bad. The boss gimme some light work fer a few days, redoin’ harnesses, till I built up some strength ‘n could pull my weight ‘roun’ the place.

81.

Mike, along the Feather River….California 1980

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I was sittin’ in the jungle in Winnemucca, in amongst all these willas, ‘n two city cops come over ‘n ast me if there’s any other tramps aroun’. There was a young guy camped the next jungle over, but I didn’t know what these cops were up to so I didn’t let on anythin’. I tell ‘em, “No one else aroun’ I know ‘bout.” ‘N they left me alone ‘n started beatin’ the brush over by the other jungles. They found that young guy ‘n dragged ‘im back to my camp ‘n made ‘im kneel down on the groun’ in front of ‘em. They pulled a gun on ‘im, ‘n checked his I.D. When they was done askin’ ‘im questions, they sez to ‘im, “Git up ‘n start runnin’.” ‘N he got the hell outta there.

Then they turns to me. They sez, “You was lyin’ to us. You sez there weren’t nobody else in the jungles.” I tol ‘em I didn’t know ‘bout that other guy. They was sayin’ how I was lyin’ to ‘em, ‘n started pushin’ me back ‘forth b’tween each other. Ev’ry time one of ‘em pushed me, I’d fall into the other one, ‘n they’d say, “Hey, yer assaultin’ an officer.” Then one of ‘em started to kick me in the legs. He was kickin’ me, tryin’ to make me fight ‘im so’s he could have a reason to lay into me good. I wasn’t fightin’ back, so he maced me in the eyes. I was blinded ‘n my eyes started stingin’ ‘n I felt this thud on my chest. He hit me hard, ‘n I went over backwards. I was tryin’ to git to my feet. I was bent over ‘n rubbin’ my eyes ‘n they started whippin’ me with a willa switch. Whippin’ me like crazy, ‘n I couldn’t see nothin’. I was all blinded.

They stood me up straight ‘n one put a knife against my stomach, ‘n the other one, he cocked his gun ‘n pointed it at my toes. The one with the knife sez, “You shouldn’t a lied to us.” ‘N he grabbed a han’ful a my beard ‘n cut it off below my chin. Cut a big hunk out of it with his knife n’ told me to keep movin’. They chased me outta the jungle, ‘n I had to leave my bedroll ‘n stuff b’hind.

I caught the first thing smokin’ ‘n landed in Portola. I was jungled by the river ‘n sleepin’ under a piece a cardboard ‘n Hippie John came by ‘n seen how beat up I was. I told ‘im ‘bout them cops. He seen I didn’t have a bedroll er nothin’, so he sez to watch his gear ‘n he’d be right back. Little while later he come walkin’ into the jungle with an extra sleepin’ bag. He gimme the bag ‘thout barely a word. He sez, “It gits col’ in these mountains at night,” ‘n han’s the bag over to me. It was one he had stashed somewhere’s ‘cross the river.  Damn good bag too.

83.

A little Help….Washington 1979

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Last year ‘long the Republican River, there in Nebraska. I was jungled there, an’ was in awful bad shape. My ankles was busted up on account of a guy run over ‘em with a tractor. I’d been sleepin’ ‘longside this farmer’s field in these high weeds, an’ the farmer come ‘long in his tractor an’ run over both my ankles. Got ‘em both with jus’ the one wheel. He took me to the hospital, but they wouldn’t let me stay. They fixed me up, but they gimme the story: no pay, no stay.  But they took every bit of my hundred an’ fifty-five dollars, all the money I had. An’ hell, that farmer didn’t have no money. His crops was all parched an’ dryin’ up under the sun. I b’lieve he was in as bad a shape as me.

Got me a ride ta the next division, an’ set down by the river an’ whittled myself a pair of crutches. I was hobblin’ ‘roun’ down by the water, gittin’ camp set up, an’ tryin’ ta figger out how I’m gonna make it with these two swol’ ankles, an’ who comes walkin’ inta camp but an old buddy I knowed good.  He sees my crutches, an’ he sez, “Don’t look like ye’ll be catchin’ it on the fly fer awhile.” An’ he jungled there ‘long with me. I didn’t ask fer no help, but he give it on his own. He made the food runs an’ water runs, an’ stayed there till it got ta where I could put a little weight on my feet.

85.

Spur Line….Washington 1980

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See, some parts a the country’ll let ya ride, bulls never bother ya. City cops neither. They need tramps comin’ ‘roun’ doin’ the work, pickin’ fruits ‘n the like. Hell, I seen trains stop fer tramps ‘long them spur lines in fruit country. Stop in the middle a nowhere, jus’ like there was a damn station there. Ye’ll see four er five tramps out there flaggin’ down the hoghead, ‘n he’ll slow jus’ enough so’s they c’n all git aboard.

There’s jus’ some places in this country’d dry up ‘thout guys like us comin’ in ‘n doin’ the work.  A lotta that fruit’s gotta be picked at jus’ the right time else it goes bad ‘n ain’t worth a shit. So, lotta towns don’t mind seein’ a tramp come ‘roun’. Up in Okanagon, they built a three-sided shed so’s  tramps c’n git in outta the rain. Got a big tin shed built in amongst the jungles ‘long the tracks.

Ya c’n sure as hell tell when the season’s over. Like when the hayin’s done ‘roun’ Elko. The city cops drive through the yard ‘n tell ya they don’t allow no campin’ in the city limits. Ya wouldn’t catch ‘em doin’ that when they need tramps to git the hay in. ‘N tramps is all they git, the way they pay, ten dollars a day. ‘N once yer out on that ranch, they ain’t about to drive ya back till they got a month’s work outta ya. Oh, ya c’n quit alright, if ya’ve got a mind to walk forty miles back to Elko. It’s like that purty near ever’where. They be glad to see ya when the crops need pickin’. But after that, fergit it, ya ain’t nothin’ to ‘em.

There’s a story I heard ‘splain’s it: ‘Roun’ harvest time, a man ‘n his son are walkin’ down the street in a place like Wildwood, Florida. The boy sees a tramp, ‘n he sez, “Dad, look at that dirty ol’ bum.” ‘N the ol’ man repriman’s the kid, “Why son, that ain’t a bum. That there’s a migrant worker, ‘n ‘thout him, the oranges’d rot in the groves.” Then sometimes after the oranges are in, the same father ‘n son see the same tramp, ‘n the kid sez, “Hey dad, look, there’s a migrant worker.” ‘N the ol’ man sez, “Son, that’s jus’ a dirty ol’ bum.”

86.

Woody….Washington 1980

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Got my social security number tattooed on my arm. So’s if they find me layin’ face down somewhere’s, ‘least they’ll know who they’re buryin’. Both my folks is buried back in Iowa. Got graves with a stone on ‘em. Last time I stopped there was thirty years ago. Stood over ‘em and said a little piece. Ain’t been back since. The only way I’ll get to my hometown again is in a pine box.

87.

Mountain Yards….California 1980

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Tramp spends more time walkin’ ‘n he does ridin’. These yards is built big. Ya come in one end, an’ ya walk a good ways to make yer outboun’ connection. An’ they got these yards that’s built way the hell outta town; an’ if it’s food yer wantin’, yer lookin’ at a long hike to the store. An’ they’ll be times when ya gotta make a connection to a diff’rent line. Say yer on the UP an’ ya wanna git on the Burlin’ton. Ya might have to walk ten, ‘leven miles to make the connection from the UP yard to the Burlin’ton yard. If ya gotta good lotta shit to carry, ten miles is a ways.  I know guys carry a hunnert poun’s a stuff with ‘em. Makes ten miles look like a hunnert an’ ten when yer totin’ that much shit. I try an’ keep it light on account a ya figger yer gonna have to tote yer stuff ‘long with ya ever’where ya go. Whether it’s goin’ to the store, fillin’ up yer water jug, er goin’ to town fer somethin’ er other, no matter where ya go, ya’ve got yer stuff with ya. I carry a water jug, bedroll, an’ pack, but I keep that pack light. All’s I got in there’s my fryin’ pan an’ cook pot an’ a change a clothes an’ a jacket an’ a few odds an’ en’s like my knife an’ pliers an’ stuff. I tote a food bag too. Carry that in one han’. Don’t mind the walkin’ so much, but ya might as well make it as easy on yerself as ya c’n.

Use’ to be these guys called nine-milers, did nothin’ but walk. Walked from town to town.  Never accepted a ride, never rode on a train; walkin’s all they’d do. Got their name from the way those towns in the Midwest is laid out. ‘Bout ever’ nine miles er so, there’d be a town, b’tween the farms. That was in the thirties an’ forties. Ain’t many a them guys left. I run ‘cross one guy in Illinois a few years back, had a big sack slung over his shoulder, walkin’ ‘long the road. I was sittin’ under this big oak tree, had me some coffee goin’ an’ waved him over. Yeah, turned out he was a nine-miler. The last of ‘em far as I know.

88.

Goat….Washington 1980

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Plenty a these guys I know from one place er ‘nother. I might a jungled with ‘em er rode with ’em er somethin’. Ya spend enough time on the railroad an’ ya run inta the same guys time an’ again. An’ ya git ta know who’s on the level an’ who ain’t an’ who ta watch out fer an’ who ya c’n trust an’ the like. Ya ride er jungle with a guy fer awhile, an’ ya find out about him.  There’s them that comes an’ goes, might be trampin’ till they find themselves a steady job, ‘an there’s them that’s been on the road thirty, forty years. Ya git ta know ‘em. Ya git ta know their names an’ a little bit about ‘em.

Some guys have themselves a road name ‘cause they don’t want no one ta know who they are er somethin’, an’ some guys git a name on account a somethin’ there is about ‘em, like East Coast Charlie or Okie Fats. Charlie’s from New York City, an’ he use’ ta run that East Coast route, an’ on account a that he got knowed as East Coast Charlie. He don’t run that East Coast route no more. Spends most of his time in the Midwest. Holes up fer the winter in Davenport, washin’ dishes in a rest’rant. But he’s still knowed as East Coast Charlie. Been on the tramp longer ‘n anyone I know. Last year I run into him in Elko, jungled in them willows out west of town. Know him good. Tramps like him is scarce as hen’s teeth.

Now, you take Bigfoot. Got the biggest goddamn feet you ever seen. You’ll run into him sooner er later. Can’t miss him. He don’t jungle in any one partic’lar spot. That lunker sleeps where he falls. He makes a pretty good fish-head stew.

90.

Lumber Car….Utah 1980

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K.Y. got it over in Elko, on the west side a town at the end a the yards. Him ‘n Boxcar Jan was on the back of a lumber car ‘n K.Y. fell off. Fell right b’tween the cars. They was on that westbound mainline. Train run over K.Y.’s arm ‘n leg; cut ‘em clean off, like a pair a scissors cuttin’ through paper. Never come to. Went inta shock ‘n died. It’s a damn shame. Me ‘n K.Y. got along real good. He took up with Jan, ‘n the two of ‘em was always tagether. Ya’d hardly ever see one ‘thout the other. K.Y. kept a good eye on her. Was afraid she’d run off with some other tramp.

She’s travelin’ by herself now. She gits drunk ‘n raises all kinds a hell. I seen her over in Bend.  A guy was helpin’ her inta a boxcar ‘n he give a shove on her ass ‘n pushed her inside. I was lookin’ for a car myself, so I sez, “Hey Jan, mind if I ride along?” ‘N she got mean all of a sudden, ‘n tells me ta go find another car. Said she’s ridin’ alone. When she’s drunk, she kin be mean as hell, but catch her when she’s sober, ‘n she’s OK. Right after K.Y. died, Jan was over at the mission in Oroville, ‘n right b’fore dinner Jan stood up, n’ got ev’rybody quiet, ‘n gave a toast ta K.Y. Gave a toast to him right there in the mission.

92.

Jungled in the tall grass….Illinois 1979

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Picked my first apple in Wenatchee in ’46. Be pickin’ now if my feet were better. Froze ‘em last year in Galesburg, an’ they’s stiff as boards, don’t bend like they use’ to. The way my feet is, I don’t think they’d make it up the ladders no more. Figgered ever’thing’d be healed up by now, but it don’t look like they’s gonna git any better. My hands an’ feet never stop tinglin’, jus’ the same as if they was asleep. I shake ‘em an’ slap ‘em ‘gainst each other, but they won’t stop tinglin’. They’s scarred up bad, frostbite scars, but that don’t bother me none. It’s the damn tinglin’ drives me crazy. Been through plenty a winters an’ come out OK, but this last one, I dunno, this last one got the best a me.

I was holed up in those bad order cars. Out west a the main yard they got a yard fulla nothin’ but bad order stuff, an’ I was stayin’ in one a them cars. It was cold but nothin’ too bad. Had my winter bag with me, an’ I was inside the car, outta the wind. Then a blizzard come up, unexpected like, an’ started blowin’ something awful. All night long the wind was howlin’ an’ blowin’ snow up against the car. Figgered I could jus’ wait it out an’ I’d be alright. Planned on gettin’ inta some place warm soon’s it let up, but it kept blowin’ for three days. The only food I had was a can a beans an’ a can a dog food, an’ I ate ‘em both the first day.

I curled up into a ball inside my sleepin’ bag ta try an’ conserve heat, an’ the only time I got up was ta take a leak. I laid there for three days, listenin’ ta the wind blow ‘roun’ the car, an’ I was gittin’ weak, an’ my hands an ‘feet were numbin’ up. I figgered I couldn’t take much more. It was either git out in the blizzard, or die in my sleepin’ bag. There was nothin’ to do but git up an’ try an‘ make it outta there. I climbed outta the car, an’ startin’ wadin’ through the snow. Left my sleepin’ bag an’ ever’thing in the car. Walked ‘cross this big field, an’ the first place I come to was a sheet metal shop, an’ the guy there let me inside to git warmed up. I was standin’ ‘roun’ in there, tryin’ to git my blood movin’ again, an’ he said I looked half froze. He took me in his pickup truck to the mission in town, an’ the mission people took me to the hospital. Spent some time in there. Fixed me up pretty good, ‘cept for this tinglin’. I’d be pickin’ apples this season if my feet were better. This is the first season I missed since ’46.

93.

Howard….Utah 1980

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I travel alone. Keep to myself. It’s better that way. Gives me time to sit and think. If it’s good and clear, I’ll stay up all night lyin’ on my back watchin’ the stars against the sky. Don’t even care to talk to no one much anymore. Wasn’t always this way. Was times I’d like to talk to people. It’s not the same, now. Jus’ rather be left alone.

94.

Thomas, Ada, & Sgt. Buster….Washington 1980

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This one night I was sleepin’ in that old tin warehouse on the East end of the yards. Nothin’ but pigeons in there. Place ain’t been used in years. I’ll only sleep in there if it looks like it’s goin’ to storm up. This one night it was pouring down like the dam busted. Makin’ a racket on that tin roof like horses runnin’ around up there. I was just about to turn in ‘n I see these two people crawl in outta the rain. They hoisted their gear inside, ‘n I could see they’s soakin’ wet. They’re standin’ by the door there, ‘n they couldn’t see me back where I was, way in the corner. That place is blacker ‘n a well-hole at night ‘cept for by the door where the yard lights shine in. I called out to ‘em, but they couldn’t hear me, what with the rain comin’ down on the roof.

Next mornin’ I wake up, ‘n I’m gettin’ my gear together, rollin’ up my sleepin’ bag, ‘n them two is still asleep over by the door. Had to walk right past ‘em to get outta there, ‘n I’m bein’ quiet’s I can to slip by ‘em, ‘n them damned ol’ floorboards starts to creakin’ ‘n waked ‘em up. I sez, “Good mornin’,” ‘n they look up kinda suprized, ‘n I see one of ‘em’s a woman. ‘N she asks me if I’d been sleepin’ in there all night, ‘n I sez, “Sure didn’t sleep out in that rain.” I seen the two of ‘em a couple times since, travelin’ together. Last time was up in Sandpoint. They’s camped at the water’s edge, ‘n I come over to the fire ‘n had a cup of coffee.

There ain’t but a few women out here anymore. Not like it use’ to be. Use’ to be men, women, ‘n children, the whole caboodle, fam’ly dog ‘n all, whole families on the move. No more. No kids ridin’, ‘n damn few women. ‘N women that does ride is mostly with a man. Last year, I seen a woman ridin’ alone down in Arkansas. Said she was goin’ to pick srawberries. If I remember correctly, she was streamlinin’. Most times, though, you see a woman on the tramp ‘n she’ll be with a man. Trampin’ ain’t a life fer mos’ yer women. It’s easy to get spoilt fer livin’ indoors ‘n cookin’ on a stove ‘n the comforts a the home life. Once a woman gets use’ to havin’ a roof over her head ‘n indoor plumbin’, there ain’t no way in hell she’s gonna go ‘n live on the tramp. Now, some does it. Not many, but they’s out here. Mebbe they got kicked outta the house or somethin’ or’s travelin’ with their husband ‘cause he lost his job ‘n gotta be on the move lookin’ for work or somethin’ like that. ‘N she’d be ratherin’ on the tramp with her husband than to see him go off by himself. There’s some like that, tryin’ to make it together. Ya see ‘em once in awhile. Ya see ‘em walkin’ along, totin’ bedrolls, ‘n ya think it’s two tramps, two men, ‘n ya get a close look ‘n ye’ll see one of ‘em got some trimmin’s, rings or a bow or somethin’. A woman likes somethin’ fancy showin’ she ain’t lost sight a what she is. There’s one, carries a suitcase. Got some a them little perfume bottles in there. I run into her ‘n ol’ man las’ year in Nevada. They was livin’ in a little squat shack in the willas. The two of ‘em ‘n their two dogs livin’ in a four by six shack, not big enough to stand up in. I was over talkin’ to ‘em one day ‘n she pulls out one a them bottles of perfume ‘n starts dabbin’ it on her neck. Her ol’ man sez, “Ain’t there enough flies around here already.” She didn’t pay no attention. Women ain’t gonna give up their trimmin’s.

96.

Jungle Crew….Washington 1980

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Jack n’ Whitey come inta my camp one night up in Rattlesnake. They was actin’ kinda nervous, ya know, givin’ each other looks outta the corners a their eyes ‘n not sayin’ much. Whitey I didn’ know so well, but I knowed Jack from way back. Know him well ‘nuff ta know it ain’t like him ta clam up like ‘at. Ev’ry time I’d run crost’ him he’d be throwin’ the shit around; tellin’ stories so wild ya knowed they was lies. Mos’ fellas call him Lyin’ Jack ‘cause he tells so many lies. He don’t know they call him ‘at. He goes ‘long thinkin’ ev’ryone b’lieves his stories. Ye’ll nev’r hear the same story twice the same way. Ev’ry time he tells one, he’ll doctor it up a  bit ta make it more int’restin’.

Anahow, we’re three of us squatted aroun’ the fire, ‘n I ask Jack what’s new with him, spectin’ ta hear a good one, ‘n he sez, “Nothin”. Then’s when I knew fer sure some’um’s up. I figger it’s none a my business, so I let it go.

Come next mornin’, I had ta go inta Wishram fer supplies, ‘n neither a those two offered ta go ‘long ‘n help carry the stuff. Now, I’m nobody’s nigger, but I figgered they gotta hash over what it was they had on their minds. Both give me more ‘n ‘nuff money fer their share a the grub, mebbe ta make up fer not goin’ in with me, so I let it go, figgerin’ they’d git it all talked out b’fore I got back.

When I come inta camp with them groceries, things sure changed. The two a them started chatterin’ like jaybirds, askin’ me what’s goin’ on in town, ‘n did I see ana’one we knew, were they’s any cops aroun’, n’ like ‘at. I let ‘em go on fer awhile, figgerin’ if I didn’t say too much, they’d git ta the point. After beatin’ ‘roun’ the bush some, Jack sez, “Well, goddamnit, ya didn’ tell anyone we was out here with ya, did’ja?” Worry was writ all over him, ‘n he tells me him ‘n Whitey er in trouble. The night b’fore, when they’s comin’ in from Pasco, they’s ridin’ on this flat car with some guy wearin’ a red bandanna. ‘N this guy ‘n Jack got inta it ‘bout some’um er other, ‘n the guy pulled a knife on Jack. I guess Whitey grabbed the guy from b’hind, ‘n they threw him off the train. Said it was movin’ at a pretty good clip when he went off. They was scared ‘cause a lotta guys, includin’ some rails, seen the three of ‘em catch outta Pasco tagether.  Jack’s been ridin’ this part a the country better ‘n twenty years, ‘n Whitey’s been aroun’ half that long, so them rails know the two a them by sight. The way they figgered, it was only a matter a  time b’fore someone seen the body lyin’ ‘long the tracks ‘n the cops’d be askin’ aroun’ Pasco who was on the train with the guy.

They ask could they hide out in Rattlesnake with me, ‘n I’d bring ‘em supplies ‘n keep an ear open, jus’ so’s they wouldn’t be seen nowheres. I didn’ mind; they’s both good tramps when ya come down to it. Anahow, I don’t take ta the law messin’ in a man’s affairs. A good tramp don’t call the law. He settles things on this own. ‘Sides, they kept camp, gettin’ firewood, doin’ the cookin’, ‘n washin’ dishes. That Whitey’s a damn good cook. Use’ ta cook in one a them big restaurants in New York. ‘N’ on a ship; he was a cook on a ocean liner.

I was goin’ fer supplies ev’ry day ‘n hangin’ roun’ the yards ta see if I could pick up on anathin’ b’fore headin’ back ta camp. Jack n’ Whitey’d be there waitin’ on me, all the time askin’ if they’re bein’ looked fer yet. Three days went by ‘n didn’ hear nothin’. Talked ta plenty a tramps come in from Pasco, ‘n no one let on about Jack ‘n Whitey bein’ looked fer. The whole thing was a little pecul’r. Some’um like ‘at’dtravel up ‘n down the line quicker ‘n if ya telegraphed it.  First tramp ‘at git off the train’d tell the entire story ‘bout how Jack ‘n Whitey kilt a guy, ‘n the cops er lookin’ fer ‘em. Jus’ like when Carl n’ Jimmy got kilt down in Oroville awhile back. I was in Washin’ton when it happened, ‘n heard ev’ry damn detail in less ‘n two days: how they was shot with they’s own guns, ‘n the guy that did it took of with Carl’s boots, ‘n left his own at their cabin, the whole story in less ‘n two days. ‘N this thing with Jack n’ Whitey happened less ‘n fifty miles from where we was. It jus’ didn’ figger not ta hear nothin’.

Third day they was jungled with me, I come walkin’ inta Wishram fer supplies, ‘n I see this guy wearing a red bandanna sittin’ ‘longside the tracks. Was beat ta hell; clothes all tore up, ‘n ev’ry place there was skin showin’ had a scab er cut er some’um. So I goes over n’ ask what the hell happened, ‘n he tells me he got inta a fight with a couple guys n’ they throwed him off the train.  Goddamn, how ‘at son of a bitch didn’ git himself kilt I’ll never know. Train runs better ‘n forty, fifty mile an hour ‘long there. ‘N it’s nothin’ but boulders ‘n rocks. Ain’t a sof’ place ta lan’ if ya was lookin’ fer one. He said he walked fer three days, all scraped up like ‘at, ta git ta where he was sittin’. On my way back ta camp I give him half a loaf a bread ‘n a can a mackerel. Figgered he was owed ‘at much.

I git inta camp ‘n tell Jack ‘n Whitey they’s someone they should see. They folla’d me halfways ta town ta where the guy was, ‘n they seen him sittin’ there, ‘n the two a them looked like they seen a ghost. Ya kin bet they was sure as hell relieved he weren’t dead. Whitey sez ta the guy, “You awright?” The guy jus’ give a nod. That was it. Nothin’ else. Nobody said nothin’. The guy went on eatin’, ‘n Jack ‘n Whitey ‘n I went on back ta camp.

98.

Loading Up….Oregon 1974

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Been spendin’ the las’ six winters down South. Couldn’ get me to tramp through that snow fo’ nothin’ no mo’. Way I see it, mos’ tramps got any sense go south er hole up somewheres till spring. Me, I feel winter settin’ in, I head straight south, to Florida.

Las’ time I rode in the snow I got fros’bit bad, real bad. Got in a boxcar in Denver with a par’ner a mine. It was middle a January, a col’ mutherfuckin’ January. We was waitin’ ‘roun’ the yards there fo’ a hot eas’boun’; take us to Minnie. We got tar’d a waitin’ there in the col’, n’ climbed on one a them damn locals. That was ou’ mistake right there. Goddamn slowest train you ever see. Nothin’ but a milktrain. Stopped in ev’ry son of a bitchin’ town east a Denver.

Time night come, that hot train passed us while we’s sittin’ on a sidin’ out there in Kansas, Brewster I think it was. If we’d a waited on that hotshot, we’d a been aw’right. We was set off a couple times. Waited on sidin’s till we’d half frose.

One time, we jumped outta the car, ‘n sunk up to ou’ waists; clean up to ou’ middle in snow.  Wade through that shit maybe a couple miles to make ou’ connection. All the time that wind blowin’. Goddamn, that’ll cut you in two out on them plains. Blowin’ the snow into drif’s higher ‘n a man’s head. Seen it bury the side of a train one time. Couldn’ see no cars, jus’ a big heap a snow. Makes walkin’ near impossible. Trudgin’ through them drif’s; you walk a mile ‘n it’ll seem like you walked ten. Takes it outta you. My par’ner jus’ ‘bou’ give out once. We’re halfway to ou’ connection, ‘n I turned ‘roun’, ‘n los’ sight a him. Couldn’ see more ‘n thirty feet, the way they snow was blowin’. He’d been followin’ b’hind me, so I backtracked ‘n found him lyin’ in the snow, curled up like a dog, with the snow blowin’ over him. Jus’ givin’ up. He says to leave him ‘lone. I know if I’d a left him there, he’d a died. Died fo’ sure. Nothin’ to do but pick him up ‘n walk b’hin’ him to make sure he wouldn’ give out on me again.

We got to a car, ‘n I was doin’ OK; always tried to keep movin’, stampin’ my feet ‘n walkin’ ‘roun’.  My par’ner, was jus’ sittin’, huddled in a corner a the car. I kept askin’ him how he’s doin’, ‘n he’d say he’s awrigh’, but I cold tell he wasn’. Had his sleepin’ bag wrapped ‘roun’ him, ‘n not movin’ a muscle. Wasn’ fo’ him answerin’ me, I’d a thought him dead. Them boxcars was like a goddamn deep freeze. Our water jugs froze solid, jus’ one big block a ice.  An’ them sleepin’ bags we had wasn’ worth a shit. You couldn’ sleep, it was so damn col’, ‘n you wouldn’ wanna. I heard stories ‘bout guys fallin’ ‘sleep in the cold ‘n freezin’ to death.  Never wake up. They find ‘em in a boxcar somewheres, frozen stiff as a goddamn boa’d.
Wasn’ long b’fo’ I los’ the feelin’ in my toes. ‘N I askt my par’ner how his feet is comin’ ‘long, ‘n he tells me he can’t feel ‘em. We get into Albert Lea in Minnesota ‘n tried to get ourselves locked up, but they turned us away. Not a man in his right min’ likes jail, but if it’s a choice b’tween freezin’ to death ‘n jail, I’ll take jail anytime.

We knew a place in Minnie’d take us in, so we got ‘nother train. Don’ think either one of us wanted to get on , but there’s nothin’ else to do.  It was like climbin’ boa’d an icebox.

Doctor in Minnie said it was twenty-five below when they brought us in. If ya squeeze the end a my boot, ain’t much there. Los’ the tips a my toes ‘cept the big one. Other foot’s OK. My par’ner was in worse shape. Them doctors ‘bout give him up fo’ dead. Had him more ‘n a month in the hospital. Los’ mos’ ev’ry toe on both his feet. The front part a his boots got nothin’ in ‘em.  He can still get aroun’, still walk. Just’ gotta wear them high lace up boots fo’ support so’s his shoes don’ fall off his feet.

99.

Partners….Washington 1980

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It’s not all the time jus’ the two of us. We ain’t anti-social er nothin’. We’ll hitch up with one er two other guys fer awhile. Some of ‘em we’ll stay with fer a little bit, but it ain’t good ta travel with too many guys. Them local people gits nervous if they see a a whole gang a tramps jump off a train at once. One er two tramps c’n git through a town ‘thout ‘bein’ noticed, but a bunch a guys together sticks out like a sore thumb, ‘n them cops’ll be down ta the jungle, checkin’ yas out.

Hell,we don’t mind if a guy wants ta partner with us fer a bit, ‘long as he’s OK.  If he ain’t, we goes our sep’rit way. Like this guy the other night. He climbs in our car while they’re makin’ a crew change in Bend. We is sleepin’ like a couple logs. Didn’t even know the train’d stopped. We’re both sleepin’ there in the car, ‘n I wake up ta this soun’ like a bear growlin’ er somethin’. I look over, ‘n here’s this other tramp sacked out by the door, snorin’ like nothin’ I ever heard. We’re waitin’ on the main line, so I figgered soon as we git movin’ again the noise a the train’ll drown hin out. Goddamn if he didn’t snore louder n’ the motherfuckin’ train. No shit, ‘n them emptys is fuckin’ lound enough ta leave yer ears ringin’, the way they rattles along, ‘n this sone of a bitch was louder. We got stuck on a sidin’ half the night, listenin’ ta him grunt ‘n growl like some sort a animal.

I threw a piece a wood at him ta wake him up. Told him ta give us a break with that snorin’. So this guy gits up ‘n comes over ta where we’s sacked out, ‘n sez, “I thought I reca’nized yer voice.” Turned out we’d worked with him on a farm in Montanta couple years back. We got ta talkin’ ‘bout where we’s headed, ‘n he sez he’s goin’ the same place, ‘n asks if we’d mind if he partnered up with us fer awhile. So we sez OK, seein’s how we kinda knew him already from that job.

We talked fer awhile, ‘n dozed back off ta sleep, ‘n I’ll be goddamned if this son of a bitch didn’t start up with that snorin’ again, echoin’ through that empty car loud enough ta wake the dead. We was sayin’ how we gotta have a talk with him ‘bout that in the mornin’. Finally I sez, “Mornin’ nothin’, I ain’t spendin’ another night in the same car as that goddamn grizzly bear.”

It was barely gittin’ light when we pulled inta K. Falls. We rolled up our gear ‘n waited by the door till we hit them SP yards. It slows down some when it’s windin’ through all them switches. Soon’s it slowed enough so’s we could git off, we give our gear a heave out the door, ‘n hopped off. Left that son of a bitch ta snore by his own damn self.

100.

Jungle under the highway….Washington 1980

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In the old days ya could leave yer bedroll in the jungle ‘n go inta town ‘n it’d still be there when ya got back. Nobody’d give a thought ta layin’ a hand on it. Not no more, no sir. Set yer stuff down fer ten minutes ‘n it’s gone. Don’t ever leave my bedroll where I cain’t keep an eye on it ‘less there’s some guys ‘roun’ I knows kin be trusted. Then mebbe I’ll leave it with one a them, but it’s gittin’ bad. Tramps stealin’ from tramps. Jus’ yesterdee, some son of a bitch walked off with my extra pair a jeans. I was washin’ ‘em, leavn’ ‘em ta set in a bucket a soapy water in the willa jungle. Them things was filthy ‘n needin’ a good soak, so I left ‘em there while I went inta town. Wasn’t gone more ‘n two hours ‘n got back ta the jungle ‘n they’s gone. Them pants was soakin’ wet when they’s took. I paid twelve bucks fer ‘em in Denver. Still had a summers worth a wear left in ‘em.

‘N California, California’s one place where ya gotta watch yer step. Plenty a guys out there up ta no good. They’ll steal yer pack right off yer back if ya ain’t careful. One time in Oroville I’d been drinkin’ a little ‘n fell asleep unner a tree in broad daylight. Had my head rested on my bedroll. That’s all I had then. My clothes ‘n ev’rythin’ was rolled up in there. I musta been out pretty good, ‘cause when I come to, my head was propped up on one a them big fruit cans, ‘n my bedroll was nowhere in sight.

There was this jungle not far from there. Colored guys, every one of ‘em. I could see their heads stickin’ up outta the weeds ‘cross the tracks. Had me the idea it musta been one a them took it. Weren’t no one else aroun’. I started over the tracks, all the time keepin’ an eye on ‘em ta see if mebbe one of ‘em was gonna try ‘n make a run fer it. Ain’t nothin’ I cain’t stand more ‘n a guy stealin’ from ya, ‘spesh’ly while yer sleepin’. Goddamn, I was mad.  They seen me comin’ ‘n stood up. Musta been five er six of ‘em. I was steamin’ ‘n still feelin’ the liquor when I tromped inta their jungle. I give it to ‘em straight. I sez, “Somebody run off with my stuff, ‘n I’m gonna give yas a good goin’ over, ‘n if yas ain’t got it, yas got nothin’ ta worry ‘bout.” Dunno what I was thinkin’ ‘bout, talkin’ like that ta five er six guys; musta been the liquor. But nobody sez nothin’. Jus’ stood there starin’ at me like I was crazy.

I went over ev’ryone’s stuff. All the while them coloreds watchin’ me ‘n not sayin’ a thing.  There’s this last one, a big guy. I went over to have a look at his stuff, ‘n he steps in front a me ‘n sez ta keep away from it. Well goddamn, I figgered he’s the one. He’s standin’ real close to me like he’s threatenin’ me. His face was mebbe a foot from mine. I could see he wasn’t ‘bout to let me past, so I knocked him down ‘n walked over ta where his stuff was. He got up ‘n come at me like a locomotive, ‘n we both went down ‘n started swingin’. He clobbered me a couple a times. My nose ‘n mouth was all bloody, but I give him two good ones in a row ‘n he stayed down. Fell face first in the dirt. None a them other guys did nothin’. They was standin’ off a-ways, watchin’. Mebbe they figgered he had it comin’. I searched his stuff ‘n didn’t find any part a my bedroll. Never found out who took it, neither.

102.

Cherokee….Washington 1979

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There was this guy, Lonesome Walt. Don’t know his tribe. Him and his brother got a settlement from the BIA, twenty grand, ‘cause they found gas on his land. Well, Walt, he’d always lived on the tramp so he just kept on livin’ that-a-way. He’d be sittin’ in the jungle and send guys on a run for a jug and give ‘em a hunnerd dollar bill and tell ‘em to keep the change. Me, Jesse Montana, and Dewey were jungled with him out at the end of the apple yards in Wenatchee, and he kept sendin’ each one of us on runs. Now, a jug don’t last too long between four guys, so we made a lotta runs. Hell, we told him to keep his money. But he didn’t care. Seemed like he’d just as soon be rid of it. Practic’ly givin’ it away.  By now, Lonesome Walt’s probably broke, I s’pose.

103.

Emerging from the jungle….California 1980

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I was comin’ through South Dakota ‘n hooked up with a couple guys I never seen b’fore. They weren’t streamliners er nothin’, so I figgered they was alright. We found ourselves a spot to jungle fer the night, ‘n started unpackin’ our gear ‘n makin’ camp. The sun was dippin’ way low in the sky, getting’ ready to go down, ‘n I’d found me a nice level spot fer my bedroll. I was pickin’ the rocks outta the dirt where I was gonna sleep, smoothin’ it down a bit, ‘n one of ‘em sez, “What’cha say we chip in ‘n git ourselves somethin’ to eat.” We put our money together, ‘n I told ‘em I’d make the run if they hunted up some wood ‘n got a fire goin’.

I left my gear fer ‘em to watch ‘n made the hike to the store. Bought some bread, beans, ‘n bacon. Had the food in this brown paper grocery sack. The store was good piece from where we was jungled, but I kinda hurried, on account a I left my gear with them guys. I wasn’t gone but half an hour. It was still daylight when I come back. I got almost to the jungle, ‘n here’s one a the guy’s walkin’ ‘long the tracks with his bedroll slung over his shoulder like he’s gonna catch out. I had the paper bag full a groceries in my arms, ‘n I sez, “Hey, were you goin’? Ain’t we gonna cook up?”  He sez, “I was jus’ comin’ to look fer ya.” He sez, “The city police come down here ‘n told us to scram.  We gotta git out.”  “Ok,” I said, “I’ll go back to the jungle ‘n git my pack, ‘n be right with ya.”  The he sez, “No, no, you wait here. I’ll go git it fer ya. I wanna check on my partner anyways.”  He left his bedroll with me, ‘n I set down by the tracks ‘n waited. Few minutes later he come back all by himself, carryin’ my pack ‘n water jug. I sez, “What about yer partner, ain’t he comin’ ‘long?” “Naw,” he sez, “He’s stayin’. Said he was gonna turn in.” I asked ‘im, “What about the food, shouldn’t we give ‘im some? He chipped in, same as us.”  “Naw,” he sez, “He sez we c’n keep it.” He was in a big hurry; set my stuff down, ‘n picked up his bedroll ‘n started walkin’ ‘long the tracks, quick like. I figgered he was jus’ scared on account a them city cops runnin’ ‘im out.

We waited on a soutbound ‘n caught out on a grain car. Once we got ourselves settled into the ride, we dug into the food. We was gonna have to let the bacon go till we stopped ‘n found a place to cook up. We opened the beans ‘n got out the bread ‘n set down to eat on the end a the car. The train was movin’ at a good clip, mebbe forty mile ‘n hour er so, ‘n I got up to drain the water outta the beans. ‘N I was standing’ there, leanin’ over the side, holdin’ the can upside down with the lid on, lettin’ the juice drip out on the track bed. I was watchin’ the wind take the juice, ‘n I felt these two hands push against my back. B’fore I had a chance to do anything, I was fallin’ forward. There was nothin’ but air in front of me, nothin’ to grab onto.  I hit the ground, ‘n that’s all I remember. Out cold.

The next day I come to. I was layin’ ‘longside the tracks, ‘n a bunch a kids was standin’ ‘round me. When I raised my head ‘n looked up at ‘em, one of ‘em sez, “Hey mister, we thought you was dead.” I musta looked dead, all cut up ‘n all this dried blood caked on my face ‘n neck.  But I was alright, jus’ banged up is all. I was sittin’ up, gittin’ my bearin’s, ‘n these city cops come along.  One a the kids’d called ‘em ‘n told how there was a tramp layin’ dead along the tracks.  I told ‘em my story ‘bout how I was pushed off the train, ‘n they said they was gonna have to take me to the station fer questionin’. I figgered they was gonna ask me questions ‘bout the guy that pushed me, ‘n mebbe hunt ‘im down. I went along ‘n got cleaned up at the jail. Then one a the cops asked me if I wasn’t with the two other guys up in Edgemont.  I sez, “Yeah, one a them’s the one that pushed me off the train.” He sez, “What about the other one, where’s he?” ‘N I told ‘him ‘bout how the other guy stayed up in Edgemont, ‘n me ‘n this guy that pushed me caught out together. The cop sez, “He stayed alright. He’s dead. Died from a blow to the head.” A rail found ‘im that mornin’ in the jungle up there. A couple a them rails’d seen the three of us together, so the cops was lookin’ fer me ‘n the other guy.

I told ‘em ever’thing, jus’ the way it happened. Didn’t even know either a them guy’s names.  All I know is the guy that pushed me had a tattoo of Betty Grable on his forearm. They said they was gonna have to hold me on suspicion a murder. I tol ‘em the last time I saw that guy, he was alive, ‘n I didn’t have no reason to kill ‘im. But they said they was gonna have to hold me till a witness turns up or they find the other guy with the tattoo. I was took back to Edgemont to the jail, ‘n waited fer the trial. While I was there they did some checkin’ up on me. I give ‘em the names a two ranchers I’d worked fer, ‘n they checked up with ‘em. Got back good reports too.  One a the ranches was in Arizona, ‘n I’d worked there a good while, so them people got to know me good. They told ‘bout how I was a good worker ‘n wasn’t no kinda killer, ‘n could be trusted, ‘n like that. But I didn’t have a dime to my name fer bail, so there wasn’t nothin’ I could do but sit in jail ‘n wait.

Nine months I waited. Spent nine months in that jail. Got to know some a them cops purty good, ‘n I ‘spect one er two of ‘em b’lieved I was innocent, ‘cause some newspaper guy come to see me, ‘n wrote a story ‘bout what happened ‘n how I claimed they had the wrong man in their jail.  After the story come out in the paper, a woman called the courthouse, ‘n said she’d witnessed the killin’.  She lived in a house ‘cross from where we was jungled that day.

They put me in a lineup, ‘n she picked me out right off.  She said, “He was with those other two, but he wasn’t there when it happened.”  She sez, “He’s the one who was carryin’ the paper sack.” Man, I could a jumped up ‘n hugged her. She went on ‘n told the whole story ‘bout how those two guys started fightin’, ‘n one of ‘em picked up a rock ‘n cracked the other one in the head with it. Her kitchen winda overlooked the spot we was junglin’, ‘n she saw the whole thing.  The cop asked her why she didn’t come forward sooner, ‘n she said she was scared a one of us comin’ back ‘n gittin’ some kinda revenge er somethin’.  She lived there with her sister. It was jus’ the two of ‘em, ‘n she read how I was in jail ‘n claimed to be innocent. Said she had to see fer herself if they had the right one. I tell ya, I kissed the ground when I walked outta there.

104.

Carl….Washington 1979

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I git by on scrappin’, copper ‘n ‘luminum. Make ‘bout thirty bucks a month. Tote a croker sack with me ever’where I go ‘n keep ‘n eye on the groun’, ‘n if I see a piece a copper wire er a ‘luminum can er some’um, I chuck it in the sack.‘N when the sack starts weighin’ me down, gettin’ heavy, I dump it out ‘n sort the copper from the ‘luminum ‘n take it to the scrap-yard fer cash.

105.

John….Alabama 1974

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I was bummin’ the street in New Orleans, ‘n I see this fella dressed ta the nines, ‘n he’s got himself a girl, a blonde on each arm. So I walk up ta ‘im ‘n hit ‘im up fer change. I was all covered with dirt, jus’ got off a train ‘n was fixin’ to git me some work on the shrimp boats. So I tell the guy my bedroll ‘n gear was took by a couple jackrollers. ‘N he sez, “Well, from the looks a ya, that sounds like the truth, but people don’t like to hear the truth. Tell me a better story,” he sez, “’n lie a little.” The guy put me on the spot. Him ‘n the two women was standin’ there waitin’ fer an answer, so I sez, “Well, to tell ya the truth, I’m a professional jet pilot, ‘n I ran outta aviation fuel, ‘n had ta make an emergency landin’ in New Orleans.” I sez, “I’m in kind of a hurry to git back to the plane,‘n I need some money to git me more jet fuel.”  He ‘n the women ‘bout split a gut laughin’ ‘n he gimme ten dollars. Always bum a guy got a girl with him. He don’t wanna look cheap, so chances are ye’ll git somethin’.

‘Nother time I put the bum on a fella fer some money ta buy shoes. He sez, “What’s the matter with the ones ya got there on yer feet?” ‘N I sez, “I jumped in a boxcar in Del Rio, ‘n it didn’t have no floor, so I had ta run ‘long inside till it stopped in San Antone’.” I told ‘him ever’thing went ‘long fine, ‘cept my shoes wore out jus’ ten miles b’fore the San Antone’ yard limit.

Groc’ry store parkin’ lots; them er good fer bummin’. There’s always people comin’ outta the store with a little bit a change in their pockets. Ya git throwed outta them places pretty quick if ya ain’t careful. Them managers, they don’t like ya comin’ ‘roun’. One time I was bummin’ the parkin’ lot a this Safeway, ‘n the manager comes out ‘n chases me off. Little while later on I come back ‘n start bummin’ again, ‘n he ‘n ‘nother guy come outta the store ‘n throw a bucket a water on me. They run me off again, ‘n I went ‘n sat in this vacant lot. I was sittin’ there, soakin’ wet, ‘n I got ta thinkin’, ‘n I figgered fuck ‘em, I’m hungry. So I went on back ta the store. This time I went inside ‘n went straight over ta the milk ‘n grabbed me a quart, ‘n then I got some cheese ‘n some crackers off the shelves, ‘n sat down in the middle a the isle ‘n started feastin’ on the stuff. I had that quart a milk open, ‘n them cheese ‘n crackers was spread out in front a me on the floor. People was standin’ ‘roun’ gawkin’, but I didn’t pay ‘em no mind. I jus’ set there eatin’. Wasn’t long b’fore the cops come. The cop, he comes over ta where I was sittin’ ‘n puts the han’cuffs on me.  He sez, “Don’t ya know that’s again’ the law?” I sez, “’Course I do. I didn’t fall outta the sky awhile ago.” He sez, “Whatta ya doin’ then?” I sez, “I’m survivin’. I’m hungry.”

He took me over ta detox, but I wasn’t drunk so they let me go. That detox ain’t too bad a deal though. I don’t drink; ye’ll ever catch me drunk, but if I need to git inside somewheres, ‘n sombody’s got a jug a wine, I might take a swig, swish it roun’ in my mouth ‘n pour a little on my coat so’s it smells like I been drinkin’ ‘n go over ta detox ‘n spend the night. It ain’t a bad way to git yerself inside fer the night if yer in a place got jackrollers creepin’ ‘roun’.

Sometimes I’ll put the bum on a guy to git ‘im thinkin’ I ain’t got nothin’, so’s he thinks I aint’ got a cent on me. Like if I’m sittin’ in the yards ‘n a couple tramps come by, I’ll say, “Hey fellas, got a cigarette on yas?” I might have a pack a tailor-mades in my pocket, but I’ll ask ‘em anaways, jus’ to set ‘em thinkin’ I got nothin’ worth takin’. ‘N if they has the idea a jackrollin’ me, they might think, hell, why bother with this guy; he ain’t even got himself any tabacca.

106.

Orange Picking Crew….Florida 1980

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Yeah, Cowboy’s the best goddamn picker you ever see. Strip an orchard in nothin’ flat.You name it: apples, cherries, lemons, oranges, an’ he’ll pick two bins ta everybody else’s one. Never seen nothin’ like it. Goddamn guy’s a blur the way he goes through a tree, runnin’ up an’ down the ladder. He’s the only guy I know c’n make any kinda money in them Florida oranges. Got them twenty foot wooden ladders down there, like ta weigh a hunnderd poun’s. He moves them things ‘roun’ like they was nothin’. Hell, them ladders, they git the least little off balance, an’ down they go. Goddamn things is more awkward n’ an armful a snakes, an’ he moves ‘em ‘roun’ a tree like they was made outta toothpicks.

He’s knowed all up an’ down the line, from Florida ta Washin’ton. Don’t think them growers an’ contractors don’t know ‘bout him either. They watch him, an’ soon’s he calls it quits fer the day, the boss’ll call ta ever’body else ta finish up. I seen ‘em come over an’ say, “Well, Cowboy, how you doin’?” An’ Cowboy’ll let ‘em know he’s workin’ on his last bin fer the day, an’ the boss’ll holler out, “Finish up yer bins men, last bin.” Them bosses know their fruit ain’t gonna move outta the grove any faster ‘n Cowboy c’n pick, so when he calls it quits, the word goes out fer everybody ta knock off.

He’s a clean picker, don’t hardly leave no fruit on the trees. Some guys is sloppy pickers, leave a good lotta that top fruit on the tree, leave it ta rot.  Them growers like a clean picker.  Means there’s more fruit fer ‘em ta sell. If Cowboy cain’t make no money in an orchard, then you know it’s a bad orchard. I seen him walk out of an orchard, jus’ up an’ quit, on account a the fruit wasn’t right, too small er somethin’, an’ take three, four guys with him. See, these fruit pickers know if Cowboy think he  ain’t gonna make no money, they sure as hell ain’t.

He’ll make more in a day ‘n anyone on the crew, but he ain’t stingy like some guys. One time me an’ him was pickin’ oranges, an’ this Mexican kid was workin’ the next tree over, an’ Cowboy sez ta the kid, “Hey kid, how is it that you ain’t in school?” An’ the kid tells him how he’s gotta pick till he gits ‘nuff money so’s the ‘lectric comp’ny don’t shut off the lights in his house. Come the end a the day, we’re sittin’ on the crew bus, ready ta go back ta town, an’ the driver’s callin’ out our pay. An’ he calls Watson’s name, Bill Watson, that’s Cowboy’s right name, an’ he goes an’ gits the money from the driver, an’ sits down in the back a the bus an’ han’s ten dollars over ta the kid. He han’s it to him, an’ he sez, “Give the ‘lectric comp’ny my regards.”

107.

Montana Blackie….Washington 1979

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A bull caught me three times in the same day. The first time, he chases me outta the yard an’ tells me he don’t wanna see my ass on railroad property again. I ain’t one ta argue ‘less there’s a call fer it, so I started walkin’ outta the yard. I made like I was walkin’ out, ‘n soon’s he was nowhere in sight, I ducked inta a shanty. Waited a few hours in there, ‘n tried ta catch out a second time. Damned if he didn’t catch me again. He tol’ me he’d take me ta jail if he even seen me ‘roun’ the yard one more time.

I knew good ‘n well I was gonna make it outta the yard sooner er later, so I did the only thing I could do. Foun’ me a spot off railroad property where I could see ‘em makin’ up the trains. I was crouched down in amongst this thicket, ‘n soon’s I seen the next train gettin’ get ta pull, I made my way down ta the tracks ‘n started ta climb aboard an empty. ‘N I’ll be a son of a bitch if that bull wasn’t waitin’ there fer me. He comes walkin’ over, ‘n ‘fore he could say anathing, I didn’t even give him a chance ta open his mouth, I sez, “Come on, take me ta jail. Come on, let’s git it over with. Take me ta jail.”  He sez, “What?” I sez, “Take me ta jail. You might as well. It’s either that or I ride this freight train outta here.” He was shakin’ his head; said he never seen anyone so boun’ n’ determined ta git on a train. I tol’ him I been doin’ it fer forty years ‘n I ain’t a-gonna stop now. ‘N give my things a heave inta the car ‘n rode out on that train.

108.

Billy Jack….Washington 1980

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We tramps ain’t angels. Plenty of us fucked up somewhere’s ‘long the line. Fucked up one way er the other. But’cha cain’t hold that ‘gainst a man. Damn sure cain’t. Don’t make no difference if you’ve fucked up, er ain’t fucked up; out here yer all the same. The jungle’s the only place I know where ya c’n siddown at a man’s table an’ be welcome most anytime. Cain’t do that out there. Goddamn right ya cain’t. If I walk into a jungle, an’ there’s a pot of coffee goin’, I won’t have to say nothin’; I’ll git some offered to me. It’s sharin’ what’cha got. Mebbe I’ll have some grub on me, an’ mebbe the other guy will too, an’ we might put the two together an’ come up with a damn meal worth eatin’. I might never a laid eyes on the guy b’fore, but we’ll wind up sharin’ a meal together, no questions asked.

A tramp don’t ask any questions. I don’t ask any, an’ I don’t want any asked me. That three-fingered Mexican I been junglin’ with; I don’t know his name, an’ don’t care to know it. Don’t know where he’s been er where he’s goin’. Goddamn don’t matter. Might see him once a year er so, an’ that’s it. We jungle a few days together, an’ don’t run into one anther fer another year.

If ya don’t like the conversation, ya pick up an’ move. Pick up ‘an git her ass out. Git over an’ sit by yerself somewheres . If I don’t like the comp’ny, er one of us don’t like what’s bein’ said, one of us gonna move. Nothin’ holdin’ two guys together but themselves. I”ll tell a guy what I’m thinkin’. I speak my goddamn mind. If he don’t like it, he c’n move along.

109.

Headed North….Oregon 1979

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There’s  guys ya wouldn’t think carry guns that do. Down in Yuma las’ year, these two young guys was ridin’ with me ‘n another tramp, an old timer. To look at this guy, you wouldn’t think he’d put harm to a fly. Nothin’ but skin and bone, hair’s all white, walks all bent over. An ol’ man. We’re crossin’ the desert in a boxcar, an’ these two young guys come over to where he was sittin’, an’ one of ‘em sez, “Hey ol’ man, what’cha got in that sack fer us?” Ya know, gittin’ set ta roll him. Now I don’t like gittin’ in somebody else’s fight, but this guy’s an ol’ man, an’ them two was gangin’ up on him like two dogs. So I got up from where I was sittin’, ready for some trouble, ‘n he waves his hand. “Siddown,” he sez, “I got somethin’ fer these boys right here.” An’ he reaches inta his pack, ‘n pulls out a .45. He points it at them two, “This is what I got fer ya,” he sez. “Wanna poke yer nose ‘roun’ in there ‘n see if there’s somethin’ else ya might want?”

Goddamn, he had them two punks crappin’ in their pants. Surprised the hell outta me too. I rode ‘longside him plenty a times. Never had an idea he packed a gun. Them two was beggin’, “Take it easy ‘ol man. We didn’t mean nothin’.” Scared as shit. He backed ‘em over in a corner ‘n held the gun on ‘em all ‘cross the desert. They was havin’ ta ask his permission ta git up ‘n pee. Once, we pulled over on this sidin’, ‘n he sez to ‘em, “You boys oughtta be damn thankful this here train’s ridin’ on ribbon-rail; this thing’s got a hair trigger.” Shit, them’s were two scared sons a bitches. Next division, he tells ‘em ta git the hell outta the car. Told ‘em if he seen ‘em git back on the train, he’d come back there an’ shoot ‘em sure as shit. It’s what I mean, ya’d never ‘spect a guy like ‘at ta be packin’ a gun. Goddamn, ‘at ol’ man pullin’ a gun like he did. What the hell, ya gotta protect yerself.

110.

Poodle Frenchy….Washington 1979

 

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Some guys got it out for me ‘cause I got all this stuff. At one time er another, some of it was theirs, an’ they sold it ta me. They get on the wine an’ come over ta my camp an’ say hey, gimme a few dollars for this fishin’ pole; I gotta get me a jug. That pole might be worth forty dollars, but a guy needin’ a drink’ll take the goin’ price a wine for it. These guys dry out an’ run inta me sometime later, an’ they say here’s three dollars, gimme my pole back, er my axe er whatever it was they sold me. An’ I tell ‘em no, a deal’s a deal. An’ they got it out for me, tellin’ me they’re gonna get their stuff back if they gotta knock me on the head ta do it. I tell ‘em stay off the wine an’ next time they’ll hang onta their stuff. I keep my stuff once I get it.

Yeah, there’s guys got grudges ‘gainst me. I watch my step, an’ don’t turn my back to nobody.  There’s a guys’d like ta get their hands on me anyway they could.  Might kill me while I’m sleepin’ if they had the chance. I wire up my camp, just in case. Got this coil a bailin’ wire, ‘n I stretch it out ‘bout knee high off the ground; stretch it out so it goes all the way ‘round the camp.  I rig it so no one can get ta me ‘thout runnin’ inta it. Take it down durin’ the day so a guy walkin’ by the jungle can’t see the set up an’ maybe figger out how he can step over it. Ev’ry night b’fore turnin’ in I rig up the wire, stake it er wind it ‘round some trees er rocks.  Can’t see it at night, ‘specially if yer not expectin’ it. If it’s a perm’nent camp, if I’m there for a good while so’s ev’rybody’s getting’ ta know where I’m jungled, I”ll stretch out two er three wires at diff’rent heights, like a fence. The knee high one’ll usually do the job. Couple times guys been tripped up by it. One night I heard this thud, an’ I looked up from where I’d been sleepin’, an’ here’s this guy laid out flat in the dirt with his water jug ‘n bedroll throwed out in front a him. I sez, “What the hell ya doin’?” Thought maybe he was after me. He sez, “Lookin’ for a place ta sleep.” Tol’ him he couldn’t stay there. It was my camp. An’ he asks me if I put that wire up. I sez, “Sure did, let’s me know if someone’s comin’.” Well, he started cussin’ me out, callin’ me a dirty son of a bitch, an’ he picked up a two by four an’ beat the hell outta the wire till it busted.  He was none too happy ‘bout bein’ tripped up by that thing. He picked up his b’longin’s an’ tromped off an’ yelled back, “Next time I’ll wrap it ‘round yer neck.” I stayed up the rest a the night, case he had the idea a comin’ back an’ tryin’ it sooner ‘n he promised.

Got me a cabin on land the gover’ment staked out. B.L.M. land. Didn’t know it was even called that when I built it. Been there fifteen years, ‘n it’s still standin’. ‘Course I gotta make repairs ev’ry year. Las’year I got up to it, ‘n the roof was caved in on the north side. Got her fixed b’fore the snows started gettin’ heavy. Middle a November I hike up there, along the river. Spend the winter, three, four months; about all I c’n take. I get feelin’ cooped up, ‘n by the end a February er so, I’m clawin’ like an animal ta get outta there. Soon as winter starts to break, I git my gear t’gether, ‘n me ‘n the dogs head out. Catch a train. Tracks run along the river. Follow ‘em to a sidin’ ‘n wait fer somethin’ to stop.

Been married once, b’fore comin’ out West. The perfect woman fer me would a been Sacajawea, a woman who could put up with a little hardship now ‘n then. Ain’t had a perm’nent woman since my wife. Never found one akin to my way a thinkin’. There’s always the cat houses in Nevada if that’s what yer after. There’s one I use’ to go where the girls give my dogs a bath ev’ry time. Can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself, but if them dogs could talk, they’d be of a different opinion. They’d roll in the dirt soon’s we’d leave the place.

Seen lots a places, done lots a things. Been a gandy hobo. It’s fellas like me built these railroads. I worked on tracks from the Rockies to the Pacific. Ain’t been east a the Rockies in near thirty years. And I don’t care to go, judgin’ by what they been sendin’ out here lately. Yessir, I’ll die on this railroad, ‘n I won’t mind goin’. Ain’t complainin’, don’t get me wrong. I lived a good life, better ‘n most. I’m jus’ outta place in this moderin civilization.

112.

California….1980

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They caught up with Frenchy last year. Ever’body knew he’d get it sooner er later. He never took nothin’ from me; treated me good, but I hears stories from other guys. Might be all’s they is is stories, guys talkin’. He weren’t no thief, that he weren’t, but he managed to get himself on the bad side a too many guys. It was two guys got him. Stabbed him. He was jungled on the Columbia, west a Wishram.  Had himself a lean-to at the water’s edge, ‘an them two come right down to his jungle in broad daylight an’ stabbed him. Cut him up bad. Sliced up his liver, an’ he come a hair’s breadth from dyin’ on the spot. The way I heard it he sold a cabin to them two for a hunnert an’ thirty-five dollars, ‘an the cabin wasn’t even Frenchy’s to begin with. Them guys found out they been took, an’ they come lookin’ for Frenchy, wantin’ their money back an’ that’s when he got it. The law caught up with the guys that did it. Caught ‘em tryin’ to cross that trestle goin’ over to Oregon. But that didn’t help Frenchy none. He still had a hole in his gut, and I heard he died sometime later on in the hospital. Hatchet George is lookin’ after Frenchy’s poodle dogs, all four of ‘em.

113.

Bill’s Shack….Washington 1980

 

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I come to Trails End twelve years ago. Come in from Spokane. It was winter, February, an’ I had nothin’ but a furniture pad fer a bedroll. I was with another fella, an’ we rode through Wenatchee, an’ the snow was comin’ down heavy, so we stayed with it, didn’t even git outta the car. Rode over the Cascades, an’ wound up in Everett. Took up in abandoned house soon as I got into town. Some a the windas was busted out, but it weren’t a bad place. Kept the rain off. The rain comes down pretty good ‘round here durin’ the winter. I was stayin’ in a couple places, that old house an’ a sand warehouse, sleepin’ in one er the other. An’ this cop seen me ‘round, an’ tells me to jungle way out on Pidgeon Creek. I sez, “Hell no, that’s not fer me.” An’ he sez, “Well, you might try the dump. You look like you might be able to make it out there.” An’ I been here ever since, workin’ the dump, pullin’ out scrap, copper, brass, an’ haulin’ it over to the scrap-yard. Built my shack outta the dump. Got ev’ry stick a wood, ev’ry winda, door, the works, outta the dump. Worked on the place five, six years b’fore finishin’ it. It’s built up on pilin’s ‘cause of how the river rises ev’ry year. Water comes down from them mountains an’ swells the Skykomish twice it’s size. Durin’ the flood a ’75, the water com up an’ ‘bout carried the place away. It was rainin’ an’ rainin’, wouldn’t let up fer nothin’, an’ the river kept gittin’ higher. It was washin’ ‘round the pilin’s, swirlin’ ‘round an’ running fast.I was keepin’ an eye on it, an’ it kept inchin’ it’s way up the pilin’s till it came right up to the bottom a the floor. Came up quick an’ started workin’ b’tween the floorboards. Had a reg’lar current runnin’ through the place. All night long, the water kept on risin’. I stayed up an’ sat on my table. Sat up there all night, watchin’ the water swirl ‘round the room. It rose almost halfway to the ceilin’ b’fore it begin to go back down.

Don’t go nowhere no more ‘cept the store and post office. Git a place like this, and your practic’ly a prisoner to it. I lock it up if I leave, but you can’t be gone long er one a them winos’ll come in an’ steal you blind. Some a these fellas is out to git a jug is all. My dog’ll guard the place fer me; keeps most a them types out. Use’ to have jus’ the one dog, the three legged one. She got that leg a hers caught in a trap, and the vet had to take it off. She’s doin’ fine now, but fer awhile there I didn’t think she’d make it. She come close to dyin’ on account a bein’ in the trap fer so long. Had her leg caught thirteen days. I jus’ figgered she run off somewhere an’ disappeared. Then one day I found her. I was makin’ my way through the brush up along the river, an’ there she was, lyin’ on her side, near dead, an’ her foot was caught b’tween these steel jaws. She was half starved. Her ribs an’ bones were pokin’ out so’s it looked like her skin was stretched over barbed wire. Could barely lift her head. I carried her back to my place an’ got some food into her an’ took her on up to the vet. She’s OK; gits ‘round on them three legs same as if she had four.

She’s a good warnin’ dog. Barks an’ warns me whenever somebody’s walkin’ ‘long the tracks.  It’s a good thing, ‘cause ever since that murder in ’78, I don’t know what to expect. That was when Red an’ Blackie was shot. Triple murder. Red, Blackie, an’ this young local boy was killed. Red an’ Blackie was shot up at Red’s shack. Red had the shack furthest upriver. You follow the old Milwaukee Road tracks, an’ come to a trail, an’ the trail cuts through the woods an’ winds up at Red’s, right by the river. It happened I was the one found the bodies. I was walkin’ over there by Red’s and found that local boy lyin’ dead on the trail. I went up to Red’s shack and peeked in the winda and ‘saw Red and Blackie lyin’ dead on the floor. This other guy was with me, and he peeked in too, and he  sez, “I hope it’s not Blackie, I hope it’s not Blackie.”  But we went inside, an’ sure enough, it was. The two of ‘em, shot in the head. I know who did it, ev’rybody does. Ain’t no secret. It was a guy’d been stayin’ with Red ‘bout ten, ‘leven months.  The guy came to Trails End, an’ Red was good to him, took him in. They caught up with him and put him on trial, but he got acquitted on insufficient evidence. I went up to the trial ev’ryday.  Got ten dollars a day to testify. The guy woulda been convicted, but, trouble was, they never found the gun, the murder weapon. They even dragged the Skykomish fer it, thinkin’ he throwed it in there. Never came up with it. He musta hid it somewhere. Ev’rybody knew damn well he did the killin’s, but he got off. And then he went back East an’ shot another guy. They got him fer that one.

Things’ve been quiet since the murder. There’s another fella took up livin’ in Red’s old place, and a couple new places been built, one upriver, and one downriver. All in all, Trails End’s simmered down. My cats an’ dogs, and keeping’ up the place keeps me busy. I’ll stay on here long’s I c’n. Don’t know how much longer that’ll be. Don’t feel like jumpin’ an’ snappin’ anymore, jus’ ain’t got it in me. My wood’s all chopped fer winter, and long’s the river don’t act up, I’ll be makin’ out alright.

114.

Jake’s Shack….Washington 1980

 

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Where ever I go, I build me a shack ‘n live in it till it gets tore down. Over in Wishram, I built me a shack ‘n I wasn’t livin’ in it three days b’fore the railroad come along ‘n tore it down. I been lucky here. Built this one more ‘n a year ago ‘n it’s still standin’. Got all the materials from the dump. You can find practically evr’thing you need over there. People throws away windows, evr’ goddamn thing. I’ll stay here till they send a guy around to knock the place down. Then I s’pose I’ll go somewhere’s else.

115.

Paul….Washington 1979

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Ya keep that soot off yer fryin’ pan if ya cook over a piece a steel. Git yerself an ol’ piece a tin, sheet metal, er some’um ain’t got holes poked in it, an’ put it over the fire instead of a grill. Ya cook right on top a that piece a metal. Gets red hot. Ye’ll see it glowin’ in the dark, but yer fryin’ pan won’t git all blacked up. Keeps it nice an’ clean so’s it won’t git soot on yer gear when ya pack it away.

‘N a salt sack, I carry a salt sack with me. Rub it ‘round the inside a the fryin’ pan ‘fore an’ after ya cook up an’ won’t nothin’ stick to it. Goddamn clean as a whistle. Ya finish cookin’, an’ all ya gotta do is wipe it out with that salt sack.

116.

King James….Oregon 1980

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Them Southern tramps goes ‘bout trampin’ all together diff’rent. Mos’ them guys, when they gets on a train, they got nothin’ but the clothes on their backs. No gear, no water, bedroll, nothin’. I’ll always get a hold of a sleepin’ bag ‘n water jug, ‘n mebbe some ‘um ta eat. Ya won’t catch me getting’ on a train ‘less I got me some gear.  Them guys that stay in the South is use’ ta them short runs. It’s a damn sight diff’rent out West. Can’t go ridin’ through Nevada ‘thout water. Ya’d be spittin’ cotton all the way.

The South’s got some good jungles, but they’s mostly off railroad prope’ty. Them bulls is all the time chasin’ tramps out. Ya go down there ‘n ya spend the better part a yer time runnin’ from them bastards. Ya can’t be seen in the yards. Gotta build yer fire off railroad prope’ty er ye’ll lan’ yer ass in jail. It’s an automatic night if yer caught in Georgia. I been pulled off trains in the South and the East ‘cause some son of a bitch called in, sayin’ they seen a tramp on a train.  Gotta stay outta sight when yer ridin’ East a the Mississippi. Can’t sit in the door ‘n look out at the sights like ya can out West. Gotta keep hid, tuck yerself way upfront inside them cars.

One time in Florida, me ‘n a guy they call Preach was ridin’ in a gondola, ‘n an Amtrack train, a passenger train, passed us on the next track. One a the Amtrak conductors seen us in the gondola, ‘n radioed the bulls. When our train pulled inta the yards, they was waitin’ for us. We could see ‘em shakin’ it down up ahead. We jumped up b’fore they got us ‘n made a run for the brush.  The yard lights were on, but it was dark enough that they didn’t see us. We’s squatted in these briars, watchin’ ‘em shake down the train, ‘n Preach sez he left his bibles in the gondola. He carries a pack with a bible ‘n a bunch a religious books in it. Don’t hardly carry nothin’ else, jus’ them books. He’s OK ‘less he’s drinkin’. Ya catch him drunk, ‘n he’ll rant enough ta fill ten bibles. He’s only a tramp part time. Got hisself a fam’ly in Georgia ‘n spends half the year with ‘em. I think he works as a carpenter when he’s home. So I sez, “Preach, leave them books be.  Ya prob’ly got the motherfuckers memorized anyway.” But he had ta have ‘em. The son of a bitch bolted outta the briars ‘n climbed inta the gondola.

He got the books ‘n was climbin’ back out, ‘n they got him. There was two of ‘em, young fellas, ‘n they was scared a Preach. Made him put his hands on the back of his head.  Both of ‘em had their guns drawn, ‘n the one had his gun right up ta Preach’s nose. Thought the kid was goin’ ta kill him. He was shakin’ so bad he had ta put both hands on the gun ta try ‘n keep it steady. I could hear Preach talkin’. He’s tryin’ ta calm the kid down. He’s sayin, “Relax son, take it easy. I ain’t armed; no one’s gonna hurt ya.” They marched him outta the yards at gunpoint, ‘n all the while I was crouched in the briars waitin’ ta hear a gun go off.

Preach ‘n I ran inta each other a couple months later in Georgia, ‘n he was still carryin’ them goddamn books. He said he got ten days for that time in the gondola. I sez, “The way that kid was shakin’, ya oughta be glad yer alive. Ya come close to meetin’ the man inspired those books yer carryin’.”

119.

Grain Cars….Illinois 1979

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Ghost cars. Gotta watch ‘em. Might be a single car makin’ its way through the yards, pushed from a long way off. Just coastin’. With them new journals, them new bearings like they got today, they’ll roll ‘thout barely a sound. Might be going only five miles an hour, but they’ll cut ya in two just the same.

120.

Jim….Oregon 1974

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I was born a hundred years too late. Things is too damn civilized fer me. Been livin’ out in the open long enough ‘at I don’t fit in with civilization the way it is. I’ve become uncivilized accordin’ ta the modern way a livin’. Livin’ alone out here you get to do a lotta thinkin’. You get ideas about things. Ideas ‘at ain’t in accordance with how things is set up nowadays. My thinkin’s right by my own self. I got things in my mind the way I think they should be. An’ I live by my ideas close as I c’n, ‘cept if I’m in a town er somethin’. Then I gotta live by the rules set up by modern civilization er else run inta trouble with the law.

I’m sixty-three years old. Came out West a young man. Watched the country grow. Watched places no bigger ‘n a crossroads grow into big towns. Land’s bein’ et up by civilization. It’s getting’ so you can’t go nowhere ‘thout runnin’ into a “no tresspassin” sign. Use’ to be you could go off, camp anywhere you like, fer as long as you like. Nobody there botherin’ you, tellin’ you to move along. Plenty a room b’etween people so’s they’re not getting’ into each other’s way. Now, you got subdivisions, factories, buildin’s, all on top a one another, takin’ up the land. Some a the best jungles is now covered over with concrete in one form er another. There’s no more elbow room. Somebody’s got a piece a paper on ev’ry piece a land in the country, sayin’ how it’s theirs. Means somebody’s fool enough to try ‘n own somethin’ was here b’fore the human race was even thought of. Means you gotta be on land got a paper on it in a courthouse somewhere.

122.

William, Along The Milwaukee Road….South Dakota 1974

 

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It’s hard ta say how a guy gits started on this railroad. I’m sixty-four years old, ‘n it feels like I been out here long’s I can remember. I got no family, no one. Grew up on a farm in Minnesota.  Good soil up there. Ya hold it in yer hand ‘n squeeze it ‘n it’ll keep it’s shape. Good black soil.  Worked that soil all through the depression. Fine’ly lost the farm in ’36; couldn’ make a go of it.  People was strugglin’, havin’ a hard time a things, makin’ do any way they could. I got on the wrong end a the law ‘n went ta prison in ’37. Got give years fer armed robb’ry. Done my time ‘n hit the street in ’42. The war was goin’ on ‘n I tried enlistin’. Had a brother was killed fightin’ in France. Me ‘n him was like glue when we was kids, done ev’ry thing t’gether. He was in on that robb’ry with me in ’37 ‘n got clean away. I r’member sittin’ in prison thinkin’ what a lucky stiff he was. There I was, doin’ five ‘n he was out on the street ‘n we both done the same thing.  Turned out he wasn’t so lucky after all. If he’d a got himself caught, he’d a never gone inta the army ‘n been killed.

The Army wouldn’ have nothin’ ta do with me, on account a my record. So I started driftin’ from town ta town. I’d take a job once in awhile, doin’ farm labor, buckin’ hay, that kinda thing, nothin’ perm’nent. Farm work was somethin’ I knew. Plenty a farms hired on extra hands ta help out with things. Didn’t have the machin’ry they got now. When the work was done, I’d draw my pay ‘long with the rest a the hands, ‘n move on. Never stayed in one partic’lar place. Plenty a guys on the tramp in those days. Seemed like ev’rybody was on the move.

Passed some towns a couple hunnerd times. Seen ‘em change. Some git bigger ‘n some die.  Some towns that use’ ta be big divisions, now git passed by. Nothin’ stops ‘less they got orders.  Ya see ‘em dry up grad’jl. First mebbe a movie house gits boarded up, then the stores go, ‘n then the hotshots fly by ‘thout stoppin’. Some towns, all they is is railroad towns. Only thing keepin’ ‘em ‘live is the division. Wishram’s like that, ‘n Wildwood. Lotta towns that way.

Worked all over the Midwest: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota. Kept ta the small towns. Wilmar was a good place. Last division on the low line b’fore ya git ta Minneap’lis. Use’ ta git work at Hanson’s Silo. Ol’ man Hanson’d always hire on a tramp. He’d come down ta the jungle, ‘n ask if any of us tramps needed work, includin’ guys that was drunk. He’d tell ‘em ta sober up ‘n he’d be back for ‘em the next mornin’. He’d drive ya on out ta his place, ‘bout ten miles outta town, ‘n put ya up in cabins. They’d feed good, ranch style. Ev’rybody’d sit at these long wooden tables, ‘n the girls’d pile food on yer plate like ya never seen, much as ya wanted, heap the food on. Them breakfasts: eggs, hotcakes, bacon, ham, sausage, anything ya could imagine they’d set out in front a ya. That stuff goes pretty good with a man’s been on the road, eatin’ can goods ‘n not eatin’ right, ‘n mebbe drinkin’ ‘n not eatin’ at all. Some guys git drinkin’ ‘n loose their appetite, might not eat nothin’ for days. Gotta build their strength up if they’s gonna be diggin’ silo foundations.

All my life I worked the groun’, Wyomin’ groun’, Nebraska groun’, Minnesota, I know ‘em all.  They’s each one diff’rent. Wheresoever I might be settin’, I’ll reach down ‘n scoop up a han’ful a soil ‘n run it through my fingers. I can tell a good soil by pickin’ it up ‘n squeezin’ it in my hand. Now that Nevada soil’s got a good bit a sand runnin’ through it. Can’t hold it’s shape, runs clean through yer fingers like it was water. Not good ‘n rich like Iowa groun’. Don’t mean it ain’t good fer  growin’ nothin’, jus’ ‘cause there’s san’ in it. Means the groun’s good fer a certain type a crop, like maybe hay. There’s some crops that’s suited fer a sandy soil. Gotta pick the right crop ta be growin’ in the type a groun’ ya got. It’s something ya git ta know from workin’ all over the country on diff’rent types a groun’. A farmer, the only groun’ he knows is his own. He might be born, live, ‘n die, all on the same piece a groun’. Stay on the same couple hunnerd acres all his life. Me, I walked, worked, ‘n slept on groun’ in most ev’ry state there is.  Seen crops pop up outta the desert san’, good crops, right outta the san’ in California. That’s somethin’ maybe a patata farmer in Wisconsin might not know about. He knows patatas alright, but he don’t know ‘bout which crops do best in san’, ‘n ‘bout irrigatin’, ‘n what needs doin’ ta keep a crop from shrivelin’ up under a desert sun.

Use’ ta be I’d give some thought ta gittin’ my own place. A place ta call my own ‘n raise a good cash crop. But’cha look at what it costs ta run a  farm now days ‘n yer better off forgittin’ ‘bout it. Farmin’s done by big machin’ry now, ‘n that stuff costs plenty. A good combine’ll run ya in the neighborhood a seventy-five thousan’ dollars. ‘N me, I ain’t had more ‘n five hunnerd on me at one time in all my life. Five hunnered don’t even put me in the runnin’. I give up thinkin’ ‘bout my own place long ago. It’s somethin’ wasn’t meant ta be. ‘N if it wasn’t meant ta be, no sense hashin’ it ‘roun’ in yer mind. Does ya no good ta think on all the things ya don’t have. Ya gotta think ‘bout what’cha got. I got my health, ‘n I ain’t been sick, doctor sick, since I was a kid. I don’t drink or smoke, ‘n I still got all my teeth. Been carryin’ a sack ‘n bedroll ‘roun’ with me for forty years. Done a lotta walkin’ ‘n my legs is still strong. I c’n still make it. I c’n lift a hunnerd pound bale a hay ‘thout wheezin’. Ain’t nothin’ for me ta pick five, six bins a apples a day. Do work a man half my age’d had trouble doin’. ‘N do it ‘thout belly achin’. I c’n make it, farm or no farm.

123.

Jungled on the Columbia River….Washington 1980

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A while back, I went home, seen my momma in Georgia. Stayed a week, visitin’ my brothers an’ sisters an’ seein’ their kids. Been a long time since I seen the fam’ly. Too long a time. I been livin’ a diff’rent life, an’ it made me diff’rent. Made me so I didn’t fit in. Wasn’t one of ‘em no mo’. Bein’ home made me do some thinkin’. It was home; same house, same piece a groun’ I was born on, an’ same momma I was born to. But it ain’t home to me no mo’. I don’t b’long there.  If home is where you feel ilke you b’long, then I s’pose the jungle’s my home. It ain’t the kind of home where you could say there’s a house built on it or somethin’ like that. It’s jus’ a place, a place where you feel right about bein’.

124.

Joe….Alabama 1974

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I leave people alone. I’ll walk a big circle ‘roun’ trouble. I do my work, keep my nose clean.  When ya start addin’ it up, when ya come down to it, I’m a workin’ stiff. I worked more jobs ‘n ya could name in a day. I’m on my way to Amarilla; work in the oil fields. Pays good. Jus’ come off a carnival job, settin’ up, tearin’ down, workin’ the rides. Six months. Don’t pay nothin’, but I needed a job an’ took it. Worked so damn many jobs I cain’t think of ‘em all. Washin’ dishes, loadin’ boxcars, pickin’ fruit, like that. I been a cook, fry cook. Bes’ damn fry cook aroun’.  Mos’ tramps is good cooks.

125.

Mainline Jungle….Alabama 1974

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It’s mosquitas at night, flies durin’ the day. Them goddamn bugs work in shifts, jus’ like they’s workin’ fer a damn fact’ry. Ya spend yer life outdoors, ‘n ya gotta ‘spect some nasty dealin’s from mother nature. If it ain’t bugs, it’s the weather er some’um. Heat in the summer ‘n cold in the winter. If it’s rainin’, ye’ll most likely git wet. If it’s snowin’ ye’ll git cold. Yer out in it mos’ the time, ‘n what it is the weather decides on doin’ is what’cha live with. You live it. You may not like it part a the time, but ye’ll live through the worst of it.

Slept in places so thick with mosquitas, they was like soup. Wake up in the mornin’, ‘n find dead ones in yer hair ‘n ears. Them big red ones, feedin’ on yer blood all night, gettin’ bloated up so big they c’n barely fly. It’s like that all over the swamp country. That L&N from New Orleans to Florida, makin’ runs through them bayous ‘n swamps. Ev’rytime that train stops, them mosquitas’ll be at yer throat. Them little bastards come right in the car to where yer ridin’.  Don’t take ‘em but a second ‘fore they’s all over ya. They smell ya out. Ya be swattin’ ‘em, tryin’ ta keep ‘em off ya ‘n cussin’ out the damn hoghead fer stoppin’ in the son of a bitchin’ place. Be like ‘at all summer, ‘speshly if yer ‘roun’ them swamps.

I jungled in a place in Florida, on the Seaboard line, fer a couple-three days, had mosquitas so bad they’d ‘bout drive ya outta yer mind. It was on the edge a this big swampy lake. Lake was fulla alligators, but they never come up into camp. Hell, after three nights a mosquitas buzzin’ in yer ears, ya’d welcome a gator in camp jus’ ta have some’um aroun’ that din’t make no buzzin’ soun’. Had a blanket I’d git under, but it didn’ do no good. I’d no sooner git under it, ‘n a hundred a them little bastards’d be under there with me, buzzin’ in my ears. Got so bad I’d git up ‘n run aroun’ camp ta shake ‘em off me. Fine’ly couldn’t stand it no more. Drivin’ me outta my right mind. Got so I started talkin’ to ‘em, cussin’ at ‘em ‘n yellin’ like I was crazy. I was runnin’ aroun’ camp, yellin’ like a crazy man, ‘n ran up ta the yards, ‘n caught out on the first thing movin’. Didn’ pay no mind where the goddamn train was headed, long as I got them bugs blowed off me. Left a goddamn good cast iron banjo in that jungle.

126.

Bill….Washington 1979

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Headin’ up to Bend one winter, a guy tried to take my boots while they’s still on my feet. I was in a boxcar with these two guys. Never run into either one of ‘em b’fore. Got into the car with’em in K. Falls. Caught it jus’ as it was comin’ outta the Burlin’ton yards. They was already in the car, ‘n I sez, “Mind if I ride with yas?”  The one jus’ shook his head.  Didn’t say nothin’.

None of us said much. The train was movin’, ‘n we settled in fer the ride. I stretched out on top a my sleepin’ bag, ‘n those two were sittin’ right ‘cross from me with their back to the wall.  Halfway to Bend I fell asleep, ‘n after some time passed I felt this tuggin’ on my foot. I thought I was dreamin’ er somethin’, ‘n it kept tuggin’, ‘n woke me up. I opened my eyes jus’ a crack to see what was goin’ on, n’ here was this one guy pullin’ on my boot. He had the laces undone, n’ was tryin’ to git it off my foot. I leggo a kick square in his face. Kicked him so hard he fell back against the wall ‘n blood come spurtin’ outta his nose. Broke it, prob’ly. He sat there holdin’ his hand over his face. Sat right where he fell till we pulled into Bend.

I warned his partner not to make a move, ‘n he said he hardly knew the guy, jus’ teamed up with him in the K. Falls yards. Couldn’t be sure he was tellin’ me the truth, so I sez, “Don’t neither one a yas come near me.” I rolled up my bag ‘n didn’t take my eyes off either one of ‘em till the train stopped.

Dunno what that guy was thinkin’ ‘bout when he did that. He was damn lucky he got off the way he did. I should’ve thrown him outta the car right then ‘n there. Most guys would’ve.

128.

Sheepherder, Cooking Up….Nevada 1979

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The old timers, some of ‘em got shacks in a railroad town, not far from a division. That way, they kinda keep in touch with who’s doin’ what. There’s that bunch in Wishram, Hatchet George and them. They all got shacks up the hill. I think a couple of ‘em even got runnin’ water. Then there’s some shacks over in Everett. Bill and Jake built ‘em some pretty nice places. Them guys in the shacks is pretty much settled down; don’t ride like they used to. But they’ll come down to the yards and catch up on things. There’s other guys ain’t so sociable. There’s Whistlin’ Jack over on the Columbia. He’s got himself a shack, been there nine years. It’s in a clump of trees below the tracks. You could pass within a hundred feet of it n’ not see it if you weren’t lookin’. Pretty well hid. Brush growed up all around it. He’s a loner. Don’t want no one comin’ around, not even another tramp. If I see him squatted by his fire, I’ll give him a wave, but that’s about it. If a guy don’t want to go associatin’ with the human race, it’ not my affair, let him be.

129.

Stan….Washington 1980

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A dog is good to have around. Best warnin’ device a man could have. No one’s about to get near me when I’m sleepin’, not with a dog on the lookout. Travelin’ with a dog er two’s a smart idea. Even if it ain’t a big dog, it’ll wake you up when somethin’s comin’. A dog’ll growl at the least little sound in the dark. They do it fer their own protection, but you hear ‘em growl, ‘n it gives you time to ready yourself fer what’s comin’. I’ll tell you somethin’ else, I don’t keep the dog jus’ fer protection. I keep him ‘cause it gives me somethin’ to look after, to take care of.  Lookin’ after the dog might be the only thing keepin’ me in my right mind. Prob’ly go actin’ like a crazy man ‘thout him. Me an’ the dog get along fine. I’m good to him. Prob’ly treat him better ‘n I do myself. It’s a good life fer him. He wouldn’t like bein’ cooped up in civilization either. Hobo was born in a boxcar. Born ridin’ over the bridge on the Columbia.

134.

Lou….Nevada 1979

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Up near Pateros, apple country. I took sick ‘n couldn’t barely git outta my sleepin’ bag. Had a fever ‘n was burnin’ up ‘n shakin’ at the same time. Figgered there was nothin’ to do but wait it out. I was gettin’ weak. Didn’t know what to do. Then these Mexican kids, three of ‘em, come into my camp ‘n seen me layin’ there with the shakes. One of ‘em asks if I’m OK. He could see I weren’t in too good a shape, ‘n asks if I was dyin’. Don’t rightly remember what I told ‘em, but they ran off ‘n come back with food and a water jug. They come back at the end of each day for three days, bringing food and water. Sandwiches, tortillas, rice ‘n beans. Must a been pickin’ with their fam’lies. Never did meet their folks, but them kids, the way they give me help, they was raised right.

135.

Passing Through….Washington 1980

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Ya gotta know how ta talk ta them rich people. Ya cain’t git in with ‘em less ya knows how ta talk to ‘em. Now I kin sit ‘roun’ the jungle ‘n jaw the better part a the day with a couple other tramps. They’s reg’lar people. But them people that’s rich, I wouldn’t know what ta say to ‘em.  They sit down ta supper ev’ry night like they’s havin’ a party. Eatin’ off a table cloths, with all sorts a spankin’ clean utensils laid out in front of ‘em, set jus’ so, ‘n talking high society. They be speakin’ a whole ‘nother language. I wouldn’t know what they’s talkin’ ‘bout, wouldn’t fit in with ‘em. Couldn’t make reg’lar conversation like I kin elsewheres.

Lotta them rich people won’t have nothin’ ta do with ya ‘less yer one of ‘em. Ya gotta look the same as they do. Dressin’ in the right clothes. The proper attire. Ya cain’t jus’ go down ta the Sally ‘n pick yerself out a suit ‘n white shirt ‘n tie, ‘n be one of ‘em. Ya might think ya look like ya got it in with the bank, all dressed up like that, but them rich people see ya, ‘n they knows ya ain’t one of ‘em. They kin tell. Maybe the tie ya got on ain’t the right kind, er yer suit’s outta style, er somethin’ like that’ll give ya away.

The stuff ya know ‘bout don’t count fer nothin’ in that high society crowd. Makin’ do’s what’cha know ‘bout, survivin’ ‘n gittin’ ‘long ‘thout hardly nothin’ at all ‘cept fer a little gear maybe. Ya don’t know ‘bout which is the right manners, ‘n wipin’ yer mouth with a cloth knapkin. I know ‘bout sayin’ grace. That I know. Ain’t done it in a good long time. Use’ ta say it when I was a kid b’fore ev’ry time I set down ta eat. I s’pose I should be sayin’ it still, but’cha fergit ‘bout them things out here.

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Portland Man….Washington 1980

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It’s a sight when that moon starts shinin’ on the river. I bet I rode that Portlan’ man hunn’erds a timems in the dark n’ ev’ry time I’ll sit in the door n’ watch the moon shinin’ on the water. It’s something to see. One night I was ridin’ with this fella, ‘n we’re lookin’ out over the river, passin’ a jug he had, ‘n he says, “Sights like that ya don’t’ get tired a. Not like a woman. Ya see the same woman enough, an’ she’ll wear on ya. But not sights like the moon on the river.  Ya never get tired a seein’ that,” he says.

It was somethin’. Ya should a heard him. Dunno whether it was the wine, the moon, the river, er all three, but whatever it was, brought out the poet in him. He started in ‘bout all sorts of ideas ‘bout that stuff. I ferget most of it. It was five years ago, but some of it made pretty good sense.

I fell asleep after awhile, ‘n when I woke up, he was nowheres aroun’. I wasn’t sleepin’ long ‘cause when I woke, I half sort a ‘spected to hear him still talkin’. I looked aroun’, ‘n his bedroll ‘n water jug was near the door where he’d left ‘em when he climbed aboard. It was still dark, so I checked both ends a the car, figgerin’ mebbe he’d gone off to sleep in one a the corners.  Nothin’, jus’ disappeared. That fella was nowhere to be foun’. Walked the car twice jus’ to make sure. Give it a good goin’ over. He was gone, an’ that Portlan’ man don’t make any stops, so he couldn’ a got off nowheres. And if he did get off, he’d a taken his things with him. Figgered he must a fell out the door. Dunno what happened to him.

First I thought I’ll jus’ tell the cops all I know, an’ that’ll be that. But I started givin’ it some thought, an’ I figger those cops ain’t likely ta believe me. They’ll say I pushed him er somethin’, ‘n I’ll get my ass in jail on a murder charge. Jesus, I started gettin’ scared. I didn’t need no murder rap. I been in jail b’fore. Got a record long as a grocery list, an’ this thing wouldn’t look too good on me.

When the train pulled in, I hopped off b’fore it hit the yards ‘n hid out by the tules, west a the bridge till the next northboun’ come in. Ya can bet yer life I was on that next train. Didn’t come back to this part a the country fer six months. Never did hear nothin’ ‘bout it. Never even touched his things, jus’ left ‘em in the car. I r’member watchin’ that empty pull away with nothin’ but his bedroll ‘n water jug in the door. Almost wish I’d gone through his stuff, ya know, to find out who he was. Happened five years ago, ‘n never mentioned it to anyone. It’s something stays on yer mind.

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Still Movin’….Oregon 1979

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I don’t go stayin’ in missions ‘n Sallys the way some guys do. Once in a while mebbe, but I ain’t no mission stiff. Might be times I’ll stop in ‘n clean up, get a shower ‘n shave ‘n a meal ‘n be gone’s quick as I can. Jus’ don’t go for ‘em. They got these rules ‘bout what time ya do this ‘n the other ‘n, I dunno, I’d rather be sleepin’ out if it’s warm. Now, some a them places ain’t half bad.  Oroville, there’s a good mission for ya;  bes’ food outta any of ‘em. ‘N Spookaloo, there they got a deal where they locks up yer gear for ya. Got a room they keeped locked. Can’t no one get in. Thing is fulla nothin’ but gear; bedrolls, packs, suitcases, sacks, all got a tag on ‘em sayin’ who it b’longs to. That way a guy can’t go sayin’ somethin’s his if it ain’t. They gives ya a ticket, ‘n when ya wants yer stuff back, all ya gotta do is hand it to ‘em. Let’s ya go out ‘n leave yer gear b’hind ‘thout havin’ to worry ‘bout someone lammin’ off with it.

They goes by the rule book, the Bible. ‘N that’s one book’s got more rules ‘n comman’ments ‘n anathing, I ‘spect.  I figger I picked up enough r’ligion from them ear beatin’s to last me the rest a my life. Ya gotta keep it on the straight ‘n narra’ ‘roun’ them places. Ain’t a one of ‘em ‘llows liquor. Ya can’t go checkin’ in if they see yer drunk. Ya gotta least look halfway sober er they’ll send ya over to detox.

Few years back I worked for a Sally. Trucker helper, go ‘roun’ in them trucks pickin’ up stuff ‘n loadin’ it. Ya get a roof over yer head ‘n three square ‘n mebbe five bucks a week for tabacca. It ain’t bad if ya wanna get in outta the cold er somethin’. Mos’ them places gives ya one free night a month if ya ain’t on one a them work programs. One night ‘n that’s it; yer back on the street. If it’s cold, some of ‘em’ll let ya sleep on the floor a few nights. There’s places, couldn’t ‘xactly call ‘em missions, they got a deal where they stays open all night; like Talbots, down in Lakeland. Guys can get outta the cold ‘n drink coffee. Don’t ‘llow no sleepin’, can’t go stretchin’ out on the floor. Ya gotta be either standin’ er sittin’ up. Guys go in ‘n just sit by theirselves mos’ the night, sittin’ up at these long tables tryin’ to keep half-assed awake, some of ‘em leanin’ against each other to keep from fallin’ over.

Gets crowded in them places: missions, Sally’s. Guys sleepin’ like a bunch a sardines, ‘n boun’ to be some of ‘em goin’ through the D.T.’s. Yer sleepin’ in a room with twenty, thirty guys, ‘n they’ll be four, five goin’ through it, hollerin’ all night long, havin’ nightmares, n’ seein’ things, thrashin’ ‘roun’ in their beds.  Keep ya up half the night.

There in Alabama, I think it was Birmin’ham, I checked into a Sally, ‘n the sleepin’ room was all bunk beds. Get more guys to a room that way. Had me a top bunk. The middle a the night I wake up, ‘n there’s this young black fella pinnin’ me down ‘n tellin’ me to take it easy. He’d been sleepin’ the next bunk over. I sez, “What the hell you doin’?” He sez, “Man, you was hollerin’ ‘n kickin’ like a wild man. Thought you was gonna fall off the bunk.” I tol’ him, “In that case I s’pose I oughta thank ya.” It’s  why I like sleepin’ on the ground; ain’t nowhere to fall.

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Andy, Paul, & Earl….Washington 1980

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They was makin’ up that midnight Hobo Express over by the sawmill in Omak. There was ‘bout ten of us waitin’ to catch out. We was sittin’ there by that sidin’ where they bring the chip cars outta the mill, lookin’ fer somethin’ to git into. ‘N they kept draggin’ these loaded cars outta the mill, nothin’ but loaded chip cars ‘n flats fulla logs. ‘N ya don’t wanna go ridin’ nothin’ like that.  Them logs move ‘roun’, ‘n no tellin’ if one of ‘em’s gonna roll over ‘n squash ya. Them logs is pretty good size, ‘n I wouldn’t wanna git caught underneath one of ‘em. Now, sometimes ya c’n ride those chip cars. Climb up on top ‘n dig yerself a little burrow in the chips, ‘n it ain’t too bad a ride. But the mill’s been gittin’ all they c’n inta them cars, fillin’ ‘em up ta the top ‘n then some, ‘n they put these nets over the top ta keep the chips from gittin’ blowed out. So if ya git up on one of ‘em, yer ridin’ in the open, most likely.

They got that train made up ‘bout midnight, ‘n there weren’t nothin’ ta ride ‘cept one grain car.  Chips ‘n logs; the rest a the train was chip cars ‘n log carriers, full up. Right off, three guys grabbed the front a the grain car, ‘n I climbed on the back, in amongst that machinery, that hydraulic stuff. The rest of ‘em was ridin’ any damn place they could. When that train pulled outta Omak, guys were hangin’ onto it in places I wouldn’t give a thought ta ridin’. I seen one guy climb b’tween the cars ‘n settle down on the grate over the couplin’. That ain’t no place to ride, ‘specially at night. Them cars give a sudden jerk forward er backward,  ‘n it’ll throw ya right off.

The train pulled inta Wenatchee ‘bout four, five in the mornin’, ‘n I got off ‘n jungled in the apple yards. Then later on in the mornin’, the word goes out that one guy didn’t make it. He fell off somewhere’s up near Malott. Some guy works fer the railroad found him lyin’ by the side a the tracks a couple hours after dawn. His leg was cut off, ‘n he was dead. Bled ta death right by the side a the tracks. Laid there all night, bleedin’. The train run clean over his leg; cut it off jus’ b’low the knee. No tellin’ how it happened.  He coulda fallen off b’tween the cars, ya never know.

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Earl….Washington 1980

 

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These cool mornin’s, I c’n feel the dampness creep inta my bones. I’ll be stiff all over till I git up ‘n git me some coffee goin’. That wetness’ll come at ya from both ways, the groun’ ‘n the air. I’ll try ‘n git me some cardboard er plastic, maybe, to lay down under my bag. Do a good job a keepin’ the groun’ dampness out. But the dew’ll be layin’ down thick on the top. That dew c’n git wet.  Some parts a the country it’ll soak inta yer sleepin’ bag like it was rain. Ever’ mornin’, b’fore rollin’ up my bag, I stretch it out in the sun to dry off. Git it good ‘n dry b’fore rollin’ it up, else it’ll be soggy ‘n damp when it comes time ta crawl back inside. Yeah, I stretch it out ta dry ‘n make me some coffee. Time I’m finished with the coffee, the stiffness’ll be outta my bones ‘n the bag’ll be set to roll up.

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Steel Rails….Pennsylvania 1974

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Some nights I’ll stay up an’ watch town after town pass by. All them houses with people sleepin’ inside, an’ me slippin’ through in a boxcar. Seems like ya don’t b’long out there. Ya get the feelin’ like yer a ghost er somethin’. Ya move along like none of it can touch ya. All them people in all them towns doin’ pretty much the same thing everwheres, an’ yer jus’ watchin’ it all.

THE END

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