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.