I will write a little about what it was like working on the Derrick Crew, especially regarding Derrick Food, and relate it to you from a Carman's point of view. So it makes seance to entitle this story Derrick Food, although it will discuss other matters as well. Since there is no written record of what it was like working on our Derrick, which was the Atlanta Derrick, for the Southern Railroad, and deals primarily with the time period of the 1970"s and 1980"s. The way things were handled then, stayed that way, until the Railroad, in their total lack of wisdom, decided to get rid of the Derricks, and Wrecker Cranes. I left Atlanta, in 1983, for an outlying one man point, so I wasn't there when the 150 year old tradition of Railroad men handling train wrecks, ceased to be. Perhaps that's a good thing, due to the fact I didn't have to be there at the end, and see our 250 Ton Brownhoist Wrecking Crane roll out of town for the last time, destined to be either scrapped, or live out the remainder of its existence lifting steel, at some Scrap Yard somewhere. I have a few pictures posted on my Derrick and my Derrick Photo Album page, and if you haven't looked at them, maybe you will stop and look at a Historical Piece of Railroad Equipment, that, in many ways, out performed the Sidewinders now being used by Private Contractors, to clear wrecks. But, I digress. That debate will perhaps be discussed in a future story. (I had hoped more Photo's, would have been contributed by now, but for now those are all I have to show you.)
I should explain a few things, so that you can better understand why, we had Derrick Food Supplied to us at Train Wrecks. Those few of us who were permanent Crew Members of the Derrick, were expected to drop what ever we were doing, when a Train Wreck occurred. We kept a locker on one of the Coach Cars, with a Suitcase of clothes in it, ready to go at all times. When a Wreck occurred, it was often an Emergency situation. There was no time for packing clothes, and food, to take, because often fellow Railroad Worker's very Lives may be on the line. There were times when Trainmen were trapped, and injured or killed at wrecks, so we never knew when our quick response to a wreck, might make all the difference to someone. Many were the days, when some family function, or Holiday was quickly halted to race to Atlanta, and man the Derrick train headed for, often many days of hard back breaking work, dragging heavy steel cables back and forth to wrecked Locomotives and rail cars, and reassembling the Trucks (Wheel Assemblies). Wrecks were most often in very remote places. Once the railroad starts at a Wreck Site, they don't stop until the Main Line is cleared, so that the Railroad could once again resume operation. Once the Main Line was cleared, we could ease off some and just work at the site between the times of passing trains. One thing about a train wreck is when it happens, the whole railroad stops functioning for a while, and time to them is money. The Railroads and Unions agreed, and it was put in our contract, that we would be well fed. I mean it aint exactly like you could stop, and go out to lunch very often. But after you have been on the clock for hours, you did tend to get hungry. I recall one wreck we went to, that we worked for, around twenty six hours non stop until the main line was cleared, Of course it was around 13 days all total before the wreck site was cleaned up. Once we got a wreck cleared we would work 14 to 16 hour days, and go to a Motel to sleep at night. The Mechanical Department didn't come under the 12 work law that effects the Transportation Department. They could work us until we dropped.
Years back, the railroad kept a cook car on the train, and all they had to do was stop and eat when it was done, but in later years the railroad opted for bringing take out food to us. That led to more expense to them im sure, but they made that decision. It often led to problems. One passable reason, they discontinued the cook car was probably, due to the time in the early 60's before my time when the entire Derrick was killed on the cook car, when a run away car plowed into it. It often meant some little country mom and pop restaurant came into a windfall of money suddenly cooking, and sending out lots of go orders. Now when a Train Wreck occurred, you might think feeding our little 5 or 6 man crew, would be no big deal, but it was a big deal. Legally we were the only one's who had to be fed, but it never happened that way. A train Wreck is often like a Circus of sorts. There would be us 6 little Indians running around wrecking, and from no where twenty Chiefs would show up. There was always too many Chiefs, and not enough Indians. When there was work to be done, we were the ones doing it all. When it came time to eat suddenly they would all show up. I certainly didn't begrudge them getting to eat as well, but it often seemed, the Railroad Special Services Department, (The railroad Police who inherited the duty of supplying food), often forgot how to count. We were suppose to be fed within the fifth hour of a shift, but when you been on duty several shifts non stop, that's a lot of five hour periods. It would very often be way more hours before food arrived. The Track Repair crews had to be fed as well, but it was common practice to feed everyone if at all passable. Train Crews who were there to move the Derrick around, who by the way were relieved at the ends of their shifts, and Contractors and all those Chiefs who showed up in their Company Cars from lord knows where, were fed as well. That was fine with us, but it really bothered most of us, was when we often had to keep working, while others ate. More often than, I care to count we didn't get enough to eat. I recall once, when my nerves were on edge at a Derailment up near Greenville South Carolina, when I had enough of it. We finally were told we could stop and go eat. I approached the man handing out the food, and he handed me a small plate of food, and I sat down on the axle of a near by pair of wheels and began to eat. It was a small portion of what was suppose to be beef stew, but it was mostly fat. I wolfed it down, and went and asked for another plate of food. I was told, I couldn't have another, because others still had to be fed. I asked the man, "Don't you suppose if, I was at home, as I am suppose to be by now, and my wife didn't put enough food on the table, that, I would most likely have a fit." Well, I was fit to be tied, and I pretty well cussed the guy out on the spot. I went to the Head General Foreman who was nearby and said, "give me your truck keys." He handed them to me, and as I walked away, he said, "where are you going". "Im going to get me something to eat, and when I've done that I will return", and I drove off in the mans truck. I finally found a Hamburger joint and spent my last 20 dollars buying a huge bag of burgers. I returned to the wreck, and took two out for myself, and handed out the others to my fellow Carmen, who were hungry as well, and I sat back on that same axle, and slowly ate my burgers. The food guy, (Can't recall his name now), must have had a good talking to, while I was gone. For years after that, when ever we were at a wreck, he would go out of his way to come ask me if, I wanted more to eat. In later years, they seemed to rely mostly on Waffle House Food, which is ok but, it can get old in a hurry, eating the same stuff over and over. We always's gave any extra food we had to the Train Crews and other workers when we had stuff left over. I think for a long time, I cured them from forgetting how to count, when it came to buying us food. When we finally did get to a Hotel, and got cleaned up, we would hit their restaurant and eat our fill. We were usually starved when we got there, and they perhaps thought we were starving to death, the way we gobbled up everything they had to eat.
I remember one time, we were coming back from a wreck on the Derrick Train, and we were hungry, and hadn't been fed in some time. They would have had trouble finding us anyway, as we were rolling south, and waiting in sidings for other priority trains to run.(Going to wrecks our train was top priority, but returning we went to the bottom of the list.) We were rolling south, when we spotted a Kentucky Fried Chicken Joint across this four lane highway. We called the Engineer and made him stop the Train, and 6 dirty greasy looking Carmen, piled out of that Train, and swarmed the chicken joint. The place was packed with customers waiting to order. As we entered, you would have thought, they never seen working men before. The crowd sort of parted to the sides, like Moses parting the Red Sea, and we walked up to the counter, and had our orders filled with due haste, as im sure they were glad to see we ordered it to go. LOL Later on, after we acquired newer Coach Cars, we got a Microwave Oven and started keeping a few canned good on standby for emergencies.
Mentioning the Microwave reminds me of an accident I had on the Coach Car. We were sitting in a siding, while the Engines were running around us to couple to the other end of us, and head us back to Atlanta. We had some Coffee there from earlier in the morning, which was quite cold now, but my industrious mind thought of the Microwave. Voila, I can have hot coffee, I thought. I filled a Styrofoam cup with coffee, and zapped it pretty good with all them micro rays. I went and sat down in a seat. That coffee was super heated, and I didn't realize just how hot it was, and couldn't feel the heat, due to the fact it was in a Styrofoam cup. I got that hot coffee to my lips to sip a bit, and see if it was hot, and just as I started to sip, they coupled up with the locomotives. Now most good Engineers can couple up so softly, and make what is referred to as an eggshell coupling. As luck would have it for me that night, the Engineer, decided to see if he could knock us out of our seats. Just as, I sipped, he coupled up. I suddenly had half of a cup of super heated scalding coffee in my mouth, and running down the sides of my face. As the coffee ran down, it burned my face like a Fu Manchu mustache, and ran on my chest, and generally burnt hell out of me. I ran to the sink, grabbed cubes of ice to try cooling off quick. Some of the guys thought it was comical the way I ran to the sink for ice, (perhaps not realizing I was burned), but, I failed to see any humor in it. Needless to say, the Engineer received a few choice words from me over the radio. Except for getting me burned, that Microwave was a blessing for us. We could heat up the cold food they brought us. Of course, we were kind of use to eating stuff like, gritcicles, and dried out eggs LOL A gritcicle is when the grits are so cold you can stick them with a fork, and pick up the whole helping of grits, like a pop cicle.
To finish off this story, I will tell you how horse playing with food almost got me seriously hurt, and quite possibly killed. We still had to old turn of the century Coaches then. One was the Tool Car and the other one we rode in. It didn't have much seating room. I recall there were two sets of seats. Usually two of us didn't have a place to sit, except for some old straight back chairs by the old stove in the corner. The horse play the way, I remember went something like this. Carman Greg Reed was in a somewhat feisty mood and for some reason, that I can't remember, he was throwing cold hard dinner rolls at Carman David Ellington. I was standing near David, and had to dodge a few dinner rolls. One whopped David in the back of the head and he got up from his seat, to retrieve it and return it in the same manner he had received it. As David got up from his seat, and started throwing the roll back at Greg, I seized the opportunity, to acquire the seat David had just vacated. I was almost in the seat, when David realized, he was going to loose his seat, and he promptly rushed to quickly sit back down. We both got there at the same time, and a shoving match for the seat began. I was trying to push him off me and he was determined to shove me off the seat. I underestimated just how strong that fellow was. He pushed me like a football player blocking for a quarterback. That old Coach had old style windows in it, sort of like house windows. As David shoved me back, I was pushed through the closed window which exploded and broke out as I went through it. Glass flew everywhere around me and, I suddenly found myself on the out side of the coach hanging on to the sides of the window sill. I can assure you that, it's a scary feeling to suddenly be on the outside of a train, especially when it's going down the Main Line at forty miles per hour. Having the seat suddenly had less importance than getting myself back inside. I had a pretty good grip by then, and they managed to pull me back inside. We went to the tool car afterwards and got another window that happened to be in storage there, and replaced that window before we got back to Atlanta, and the Foreman, who was asleep at the time, was never the wiser, that it happed at all. Im pretty sure if we hadn't fixed the window some discipline would have resulted for sure. We were pretty good at working together, especially when trying to cover something up.
There are a good many tales about the Derrick and train wrecks, that can and may be told. Hopefully we will add some more. In conclusion, we were a hard working crew, who got along well together, most of the time. I truly wish, I would of had the foresight to take photo's at Train Wrecks, but we were always too busy working to think of such things. Those of us who are still alive, were left with memories, some not very pleasant about Wrecks, that will remain with us all our lives, and I consider it a privilege to have been an Atlanta Derrick Crew member. As far as food goes, you won't find many of us eating at a Waffle House, as we had our fill of that greasy spoon chow.
It all began back in sixty nine,
When I hired on, with the Southern Railway Line
I worked as a Carman, to fixed their trains,
A job that required much use of my brain's,
I surely may, have been off of my rocker,
To ever become a railroad Car Knocker,
For thirty four years, I worked out of doors
Many of my tasks were wearisome chores,
In all hours of the day, in all kinds of weather,
I wore out my share, of the old shoe leather,
Helped kept the trains going, and moved a lot of Freight,
Kept clothes on my family's back, and food on their plate,
But it was oh so hard, due to the inflation rate,
Did a lot of welding, and was handy with a torch,
Only occasionally, myself I did scorch,
Worked on the Derrick, a huge Brownhoist Crane,
Rode it to the wrecks, picked up many a train,
Spent twenty years at an outlying point,
Twice had surgery on the old knee joint,
When trains broke down,
The Car Knocker was around,
When the trains derailed,
The Car Knocker prevailed,
I was always there,
When me they did need,
I was always there with utmost speed,
Then the day came when I got hurt,
They cast me aside, like so much dirt,
The work you did we truly admire,
Now we feel you must retire,
To the goals you set, now others aspire,
we can't use ya no more,
So there's the front door.
As I pass into the Fall of my life,
I surely remember, all the toil and strife,
I look back with pride and to all confide,
Im a Car Knocker, till the day I've died.
Today was one of those days, that didn't go quite as well as one might hope. I ran into several pet peeves that haven't showed them selves lately, and I got to thinking about just how many annoyances there are, that could be considered Pet Peeves to different people. Well there is no limit to things, that could be pet peeves. So, I thought, I would try to list a few of mine. Lots of things annoy people in our daily lives, and while those annoyances are bothersome, most don't fit into my definition of a pet peeve. Like anyone else, I may occasionally gripe or complain about high prices, or the hot weather, or many other annoyances, but they aren't Pet Peeves. My Pet Peeves are usually some little thing, that just gripes me so bad, that it becomes a Peeve, and it usually is something most others don't even seem to notice. I would imagine, people who make lists of Pet Peeves may be someone's Pet Peeve. So as, I list some of mine, I will try to understand why it annoys me so much. In correlating my pet peeves, I have connected them to other words and terms, that either relate to them or are the origin of them. Terms like bugbear, and problem, and boogie bear.
In looking at the definitions, I see one says, a particular and often continual annoyance; personal bugbear: Well I couldn't let that slide, so I had to look up bugbear, since, I have never heard of the word. Wouldn't you know it, I find out, I don't just have Pet peeves, Heck no, I got bugbear's LOL. So now, before, I discuss my Pet Peeves, I will pause to add yet another list of definitions to this story, to connect them. Heck fire, I may yet, find the cause of my pet peeves and trace them all the way back to childhood when, someone said the booger man is gonna get you LOL. So, here is the list of definitions of bugbear. (My goodness, why with the help pf this One Look Dictionary, I could enter a whole new world. I could be a Psychologist, LOL.
Definitions of Bugbear, per various sources:
Warning: Pet Peeves and bug bears might be catching, As I list a few of my bugbears, some may be new to you and you may catch it. Read farther at your own risk. LOL
Now, if you have read the definitions of bugbear, it would seem, if Ralph Waldo Emerson was right, then I am a person, with a little mind. So far in this story, im coming out pretty messed up. Heck, I got Pet Peeves, and bugbear's, and now I have a little mind. LOL. My lord, im falling apart. LOL. That, being said, let us break it down. We will start at the grocery store. Going to the Grocery Store, exposes me to several of my bugbear's, but remember bugbears happen in lots of places. Im just using the grocery store as one example. It begins, when I walk in the door. I very rarely get a buggy that's worth a flip. The person in front of me will always get one that rolls freely and appears to have no problems. Not me, however, because I always get one that wants to roll left or right due to poor wheel alignment, or one of the wheels is flat, or wont roll at all, or some dang string is wrapped around the front wheel, or I get one you just about get a hernia trying to make it go. It has became a major bug bear to me. (Guess, that's where the saying originated, when they say someone has a bug up his arse., One of the definitions of the word problem is, b : a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation.) So next time somebody ask you do you have a problem, you will know he is really asking, if you have a bug somewhere in you anatomy. LOL Heck I always assumed it meant real bugs, and not bugerbears.) It has got to the point that, I will stand there five minutes checking buggies, until one seems suitable. What the heck, why should I strain myself trying to roll one that's so obviously been ran over by at least 3 cars, and a pickup truck, and kicked by a mule. There have been times when some store manager looked at me flinging buggies left and right, looking for the right one, when I thought they would say something to me. Little do they know, im just waiting to give him a 20 minute lecture about proper buggy maintenance. Let us make that one first on my bugbear Pet Peeve) list. (Item one, poor buggy maintenance), (Major pet peeve to me LOL).
There, I am walking down the first row of the store, and the buggy, I chose made it about 30 feet before it starts going bump bump bump squeak. I should just quit expecting to ever get a good buggy. Its almost like im being taunted by the buggies squeaky wheels. Ha Ha, got ya again, squeak squeak, the bugbear is gonna get ya again. Several things bother me about the grocery store, that would come under the next item on my list. (Item 2: being cheated or ripped off and manipulated.) I know its mostly just a run of bad luck but a few things, almost makes me wonder, if im jinxed at the store. I can walk up to a huge stack of 10 pound bags of potatoes and pick the only one in the pile, that has a rotten one in it, on the first try. More than once I have gotten home before discovering it, so now, I have to smell the bag before I put it in my squeaky buggy LOL. I can pick a gallon of milk off the shelf, it will be out of date. It took me a while to learn, I better check and see if lids are tight when I pick up a jar of mayonnaise, but those are just annoyances. One bugbear, involves me being ripped off in the meat department. It's small things that irks me the most. Did you ever notice, when you buy a nice steak that looked so good, only to get it home and find the bottom side of the meat caked with the residue of all the bone chips and fat where he sawed it on his saw? Well that is not by accident. He took the time to clean off the top of the meat, so it would look nice and you would be more likely to purchase it. He wasn't being lazy either when he left all that junk on the bottom of the meat. You can scrape off a tablespoon of bone chips, and you should too, unless you like eating bone meal. He left it there so the meat would weigh just a tad more, thereby increasing his profit. They also add water to ground beef to add weight. Ever try to cook a burger and see the water come out and just steam your burger, rather than fry it. Heck if it needs water, I could add that at home for free. They also advertize ground fresh daily hamburger meat. What they aren't telling you is it was ground fresh alright, but yesterdays left over unsold stuff was added back in to it. Did you ever notice, when you break open the meat to make a burger, the inside of it looks dark in spots? That's old meat that was added to it. I cant stand feeling ripped off. If it's old meat lower the price and sell it, don't try ripping me off instead. There is lots of ways the Grocer can rip people off. Far too many to mention now. Oh, and I almost forgot being manipulated. Is it a coincidence that my favorite brand of coffee, or facial tissues, was out of stock? Most likely, not. They have a whole shelf of another brand that isn't selling too good, and they hope you will buy that brand rather than do without. Soon as his junk is about sold, he will drag out a whole pallet of my coffee and stock his shelf. It doesn't matter if im at a grocery store or anywhere else, if a person is trying to sway me to do what they want, I don't like it. Part of my item 2 peeve is, I hate being manipulated.
There, I am with my buggy about full. I've got my rotten bag of potatoes, and my gallon of sour milk, and a bunch of rotten bone caked, water soaked meat, several boxes of an off brand of tissues that's will probably disintegrate in my fingers when, I blow my nose, ( Now wouldn't that make somebody a fine Pet Peeve : Crummy Tissues that leave you needing to go wash your hands.), and I have some weird brand of coffee, that was probably grown some place in China, and harvested by very short Chinamen who couldn't reach high enough to get the ripe coffee beans. I have loaded my stuff in my squeaky buggy, in such a way that nothing will get damaged by something heavy, and I have a couple of half thawed out, probably stale out of date, pizza pies, sitting up flat on top, so all the goodies wont run to one side of the poorly wrapped pizza's. Some where in there is other things, I wont discover until I get home, like some of my eggs are cracked, the mayonnaise will have a loose lid and smell rank when opened, and lord knows what other abnormalities, I will find. So far I've encountered two serious bugbear's, a squeaky buggy and several dollars worth of bone chips and water. Im headed for the check out lines. Squeak squeak bump bump squeak bump, ha ha told ya so, the wheels seem to say. Some how, I fail to notice that every time, the wheels bump, im leaving a trail of sugar through the store, due to a hole in the bag. I almost dread going to the checkout, because there, Im certain to encounter one of my biggest ever bugbear's. I think to myself, how I've done pretty good keeping my cool so far. I see the shortest line and am almost to it when some fat lady, with a thousand dollars worth of the stores defective products, races ahead and jumps in the line ahead of me. For a moment there, I consider bumping her with my buggy, but she has so much padding back there, that she probably wont even notice, or even worse, she may enjoy it. I shudder as, I think to myself, "heavens to mergatroyd", and I quickly find another line.
Now I have been in the store for over an hour. Twenty minutes of which, has been waiting in this line, behind a lady with a small toddler in the seat. He wouldn't be a bad looking kid if MAMA would at least once, take the time to wipe the trail of snot that's dripping from his nose, but she either can't see it, or thinks it's ok to just let his nose run. In the last few minutes the toddler has reached out, and grabbed at least five different pieces of candy from the display case, and held them in his mouth and dirty little hands that mama probably hasn't washed in a week. Occasionally as she reads the latest issue of some smut magazine, she will take the candy from the kid and place it back on the display, for the next unsuspecting shopper to buy, but the kid just gets another one. I think, I will never buy a piece of candy from one of those places again. Finally mama is paying for her groceries. She is digging in her pocketbook for loose change, while she holds a folded twenty dollar bill in her lips, so her hands will be free to dig for change. She hands the cashier the forty seven cents she was looking for, then takes the folded twenty dollar bill from her lips, and hands it still folded to the cashier. To my amazement she takes the money and unfolds it and shoves it in her cash drawer without even considering, she may have just been exposed to typhoid, or aids, or something. I personally would not have touched the money, but apparently the cashier is cool with it.
At this point, in my story, I will go ahead and tell you. My absolute worse bugbear at the grocery store is squashed bread. Im constantly on the guard against it. Nothing irks me quite as bad as to get home and try making a sandwich with a loaf of bread that has been squashed? Have you ever tried to straighten a slice of bread that has been reduced to practically a dough ball? It can't be done, all you wind up with is a ring of bread crust with a large hole in it. While MAMA is paying for her groceries, I get most of mine piled on the counter so they can be rung up. Actually now days they don't ring up, they just beep it (scan it). Now it's my turn, and I tell the young lady as she grabs my two loaves of bread, "I want my bread put in a paper sack please". She sets it to one side, and begins to start scanning my stuff. I make a point to tell the bag boy about the need for a paper sack for the bread. Now here's two used to be, frozen pizza's. Think about them a moment. When they were made at the pizza factory they were made while laying flat. They were stored in a box that said this end up. They were trucked all the way to the store still laying flat. They were displayed in the grocers freezer laying flat. They have made it all the way to this cash register, still laying flat. What does the girl do. She tips them up on the side to scan them. They don't scan right away, sot she flings them back and forth in front of the scanner still up on their side. Well we all know what is happening. All them pepperoni's and little sausage balls and what ever other toppings were on it, are now shook to one side of the box, in fact most of the graded cheese is on one side too. Still they wont scan so what does she do. She deduces it must be all the moisture on the box so she uses her hand to wipe the moisture from the box. That's right, it's the same darn hand, that a few minutes earlier held a disease infested, slobbered up, germ ridden twenty dollar bill. She begins a race scanning my stuff and flinging it down the slide to the bag boy who is stuffing things in any order, in a race to keep up with her, and he is piling the bags in a buggy, on top of each other. Some where down in that pile of defective products is a four and a half pound bag of sugar squashing my tomatoes. My pizza's are in there on their side as well. About that time, I see him toss my loaf bread in a plastic sack and throw them in too. I momentarily loose it at that point. Customers four rows away can hear me shout at the nineteen year old kid, "Boy how would you like those loaves of bread shoved up your nose." I quickly regain my composure, and the manager shows up asking if I have a problem. Heck yes, I got a problem, you just sold me two bags of bread dough that used to be loaf bread, for one dollar and eighty nine cents each. After making the manager get me more bread, I roll yet another defective buggy towards my truck, while I think, darn, I almost made it. I almost got by that bugbear, but I finally lost my cool. The crap we retired railroaders have to put up with....... LOL
Note: I may eventually get around to listing some of my railroad related bugbear's.
Hobo's have often been portrayed in the movies as colorful carefree harmless characters. A few have been honestly portrayed as what they actually are or were, which usually is someone who thinks the world owes them a living, and wouldn't think of working for it. Most often, my impressions of those, I encountered were that they were indeed often quite colorful, but couldn't be trusted any farther than you could throw them. So I will mention just a few of my encounters with these mysterious characters, called Hobo's. I really can't see how that kind of life could ever be considered carefree. I should think it was exactly the opposite. I personally like to eat on a regular basis and therefore would never make it as a Hobo. It must be pretty awful, not to know when your next meal may be, or if you will ever sleep in a nice warm bed again.
The Dictionary defines a Hobo as: (noun: a disreputable vagrant ). The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the word origin as:
1889, Western Amer.Eng., of unknown origin, perhaps related to early 19c. Eng. dial. hawbuck "lout, clumsy fellow, country bumpkin." Or from ho, boy, a workers' call on late 19c. western U.S. railroads. Hence facetious formation hobohemia "community or life of hobos," 1923 (see bohemian).
Bohemian (Per the Etymology Dictionary) is: "a gypsy of society," 1848, from Fr. bohemién (1559), from the country name, from M.Fr. Boheme "Bohemia," from L. Boiohaemum (Tacitus), from Boii, the Celtic people who settled in what is now Bohemia (and were driven from it by the Gmc. Marcomans early 1c.). The modern sense is perhaps from the use of this country name since 15c. in Fr. for "gypsy" (they were believed falsely to have come from there, though their first appearance in W.Europe may have been from there), or from association with Bohemian heretics. It was popularized by Henri Murger's 1845 story collection "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme," the basis of Puccini's "La Bohème." Used in Eng. 1848 in Thackary's "Vanity Fair." "The term 'Bohemian' has come to be very commonly accepted in our day as the description of a certain kind of literary gipsey, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits .... A Bohemian is simply an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art." ["Westminster Review," 1862]
I never knew they could be traced as descendants of a whole race of people, like the Celtic people, for instance, but the part of the definition that says, litterateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life, sure seems to fit. I certainly never had a problem in my encounters with them when I referred to them as Hobo's. Can you imagine what may have happened to my person had. I referred to them as a litterateur, or a Heretic or even worse, a disreputable Bohemian. Why, I would have had a fight on my hands for sure. They sure sound like fighting words to me. Sort of like cussing at them, LOL "Why you know what you are, you're a Bohemian." LOL In fact something I just remembered does strike me kind of funny. My father used to tell me of the times during the depression when he Hobo'ed around the country. So. I guess im just a "Son of a Bohemian", LOL.
I was sitting on a Caboose talking to an old Conductor some twenty five years ago and he related one of his Hobo encounters, to me. The conversation began when, I asked him about the Pistol he carried in his grip. He said, "I never go on a trip without it." He recalled a recent time when his train broke down somewhere up on the Georgia Division on a cold December night. He had gotten off his train when it stopped and went and repaired a broken air hose. When he returned to his Caboose, he fount his nice warm Caboose occupied by a Hobo standing by the coal stove warming himself. He asked the Hobo, "What are you doing on my Caboose", but the Hobo acted like he wasn't going to answer. Instead he acted like he was lost or something. He made a move towards the old Conductor, while saying something like "Where am I". The Conductor didn't like the fact the guy was getting closer to him. He promptly answered the Hobo's question as he pointed his 38 Special right in the guys face, and said, "You are in 38 Georgia, and if you don't get off my Caboose right now, they are going to carry you off". The Conductor told me, "it's a good thing he got off because I would have shot him dead."
Riding a Freight Train, may seem like an easy way to travel, but when you stop and think about it, it sure isn't like staying at the Ritz. The accommodations leaves a lot to be desired. Boxcars and Gondolas are usually extremely dirty and there isn't exactly an facilities. Such was the case one Hobo found out some years back. I was working in the Atlanta Receiving Yard and was at the Marietta street bridge, waiting for an inbound train to come to a stop, so I could inspect it. The trains cast iron brake shoes were squealing as they scrubbed the steels wheels, and the emergency brakes shot with a loud whoosh of air, as the train slowly came to a halt. No sooner had it stopped, when this dust covered Hobo jumped down out of the boxcar he had been riding in. I think it was a load of limestone, which is a white powder substance, much the consistence of powder. We were under the bridge and it had rained most of the day there in Atlanta. He knelt down on the gravel of the train yard and began drinking water from the puddle of rain water he was standing in. That old wooden bridge, was world renowned for the large assortment of pigeons, that roost under it, and you can pretty well imagine what was all over the ground, and floating in that puddle of water. I didn't even like having to step in that water and here he was drinking the stuff. He was slurping up gallons of it, it seemed to me. I said, "Boe, do you have any idea what your drinking". He replied, "Yes, Mister Railroad Man, im drinking the best water I've ever had." I aint had a drink of water in two days, now." "I been stuck in that boxcar all that time, breathing pure powder, and im a might parched." I don't know if the Hobo suffered death from the water, but I am sure he later had an acute case of dysentery. I suspect he learned that day to carry water with him. as he traveled around the country in style.
One sunny summer afternoon, as I worked my way southward, inspecting a train, I heard my fellow Carman, who was checking the other side of the train, and was some distance ahead of me, calling my name, "Parks come here, you gotta see this." When, I caught up to him and looked between the cars to see what it was, I saw a Hobo laying on his back with his legs dangling off the end of the Flatcar. The train hadn't been long stopped, so it's a sure bet that was the way he was laying when the train was moving. I thought, it's a wonder he hasn't fell between the cars or gotten his legs mangled behind the couplers or something. I said. "Is he dead". "Naw he aint dead, this old buzzard bait is snoring." I said "wake him up". "Cant wake him up, I've tried", was the reply. We carried metal rods with a hook on them called, pull hooks about 3 feet long with us to open the journal box lids with, and I poked him with my pull hook. I shouted loudly "Wake up Boe". There was no response other than some moaning. That Hobo was drunk as a skunk. Davis, the man I was working with hauled off and hit the guy very hard on one of his legs with his pull hook. That Hobo didn't even feel it and there was a loud thump like hitting something hard. I began to laugh, when I realized that Hobo had a wooden legs. That's why he didn't even know where they were dangling. "If that don't beat all", Davis said as he laughingly whomped him a few more times on the legs. Thump, Thump, Thump, LOL. I got on a nearby Speaker and called the main tower. "Tell the hump not to move this train in track seven" "we got a non paying passenger laying between two of these cars, and while your at it send the Railroad police down here too." Finally we got the Hobo awake, but he was too drunk to even sit up. "What happened to your legs Boe", I asked?" "I got wooden legs", he replied. I laughed and said, "We know that already, but what happened to them?" "Oh. I got ran over by a train back in 59". "Well you sure as hell didn't learn nothing from it did you", I said. He dug in his right front pocket, and pulled out a dollar bill, and had the audacity, to tell me, "Go get me a Coke Cola". That about floored me with laughter. "The nearest coke machine to here is 2 miles away, and you sure have your nerve, Boe." I was truly sorry for his condition, but it was so obvious that, he still seemed to think the world owed him, and that he would never learn. Maybe he thought we would take his dollar and disappear, but I don't know. I don't know what became of him, or if he ever got his Coke, but I bet he's sat around some Hobo Camp, telling the other Hobo's about them time the Carknocker got him evicted from his sleeper car at Inman Yards Ga.
This is the story of my old Smoking Jacket. You may assume it refers to a jacket worn by someone while lounging around their den smoking. My jacket however was much more. For many years, it was sort of a trademark of mine. I became attached to that old jacket. It was comfortable, and nice and warm in the winter time. Winters working out in the train yards, and on the open Repair Track, were very cold. Most Railroad Jobs are outdoor jobs. Sure they have some office jobs, but, by in large, most are outdoor jobs. It's kind if hard to get a train indoors. Many was the day we tried to think of a way to get one indoors. Days when it was so cold, your lungs hurt when you breathed. Your feet became like Popsicle's, from standing in snow and ice, or bone chilling mud puddles. Your hands and fingers rebel and refuse to come out of your pockets anymore. Those are the days, when you wonder, why, don't I live in Florida, or somewhere warm. Those were the days, you wished you were an Engineer, sitting up at the throttle, of a Locomotive, with a big heater, blowing on you. More than once, I have had some Engineer tell me how hard they have it, and I had to set him straight. "Come down here on the ground with us for a while, and you will be glad to get back in your nice warm Locomotive." Those were the days, that my jacket and I were like best friends, and were inseparable.
It wasn't much to look at, but of all the jackets, I have had over the years, it was by far the most practical. It was a large oversize parka actually, that, I brought home with me from the Navy. It was designed for use as foul weather gear. It was drab military green in color, and had a large hood. What made it so practical, was not only the fact that it was warm, but was loose fitting, and you could get several layer's of clothing on under it and still not feel like you were trapped in a cocoon. Most jackets on the market these days, limit your ability to move when you have long johns and a sweatshirt, and a thick flannel shirt, and occasionally a sweater on under it. You can't even let your arms down to you sides hardly, and your very uncomfortable. I personally find myself feeling claustrophobic , when im bundled up like that. But what's a guy to do, he has to stay warm, when he's outside most of the day. I don't know for sure what everyone did, but I relied on my old smoking jacket.
How it became a smoking jacket, is quite simple. It was dubbed a smoking jacket, by some of my fellow Carmen. It wasn't because I smoked but rather the jacket smoked, on many occasions. When you spend many hours with torches and welders, in the performance of your work, it is quite common to get your clothes full of burn holes, from hot slag and molten metal. It is not uncommon to occasionally have your clothing catch on fire. Such was the case one cold day when, I had my welding hood down and was busy welding some front draft stops, in the center sill of a box car, that I had jacked up high, and was standing under it to weld, over my head. Often when you welding, a small spot will start smoldering, and you just knock it out and keep working. That cold morning, Carman Ellington stopped and spoke thru the open end of the center sill, and said "your jacket is smoking", I replied, "knock it out for me, OK", as I continued to weld. He said, "You don't understand, your really smoking, in fact your on fire." By the time, I got it off, the whole back side of it was on fire, and I had to stomp on it to extinguish the flames. Being somewhat attached to it, rather than toss it in the trash, I hung it in my locker, and a few days later, I took it home with me and sat several hours replacing one whole section of it with a large piece of material, I cut from another jacket, thereby rendering it fit for duty again. Of course it wasn't even the same color material, and by then it looked like something a homeless man would reject wearing. In fact it was looking pretty rough, and had seen much better days. The next morning, at Seven A.M. sharp, I appeared on the Repair Track wearing it. Someone said, "Parks is wearing his smoking jacket", and it was forever after called a smoking jacket. The old jacket served me well and kept me warm many years.
I took an outline point job in 1983 and worked out of a truck out on the line of road for the remainder of my career. It was nice to be able to get in the truck on winter days and run the heater on high, and be just a snug as a bug in a rug. There were a few times when I had to work at Derailments out in a train yard somewhere, when it had snowed and on several occasions, I stopped at my locker, and dug out the smoking jacket. If anyone criticized my ratty jacket on those occasions, I would just say, "What's the matter, aint you ever seen a genuine smoking jacket before." In 2003 when I left the railroad, I went and cleaned out my locker, and there in the back was the old smoking jacket still ready for service. It was with some remorse, that, I gave it a final farewell, and thought of all the times it kept me warm over the last 34 years, and tossed it in the Trash.
This story begins in late September of 1969, with me sitting on a Trailways Bus. If you have ever traveled across a sizable portion, of this Country on a Bus, you know about how I was feeling at the time. Believe me, if I had a car with me, I sure wouldn't have been on that bus. You travel from town to town along the route you are taking, and stop at every bus station along the way. That makes the trip so much longer, and only increases you desire to get there faster, even stronger, but it does no good, because it wont speed up the trip. You see people come and go, and if your lucky a few of them may actually speak to you. But usually they just sit and stare at each other. I was getting cramps from having sat so long. I was sitting there wishing, I had taken an Airplane, instead of a bus, just to save a few bucks. "Here I sit with over a Five Hundred dollars in my wallet, and I could have took a plane" I thought. Then I reflected on why, I had made that decision. I had to try to save some of the money to get by with, until I again had some money coming in. I had no idea, what the future had in store for me, so being frugal was the order of the day.
At the next stop, a woman got on the bus with several children in tow. "Do you mind if Tommy sits with you", she asked. " No Mam, I don't mind " I said, while I thought to myself, surely he will speak to me some, and I won't have to listen to some old wino sit and snore, like I had earlier in the day. Speak, really wasn't the word for it, because Tommy had a thousand questions and he asked them all for the next couple of hours. I sat patiently answering his questions. Questions like, "Why are you wearing that funny round hat", "Well, its called a Whitehat and it's part of my uniform", "Why is your suit all blue and got them funny white stripes on the collar and around your wrists", "These are my Dress Blues, all of us sailors have to wear uniforms like this", "Why is a bird on your arm", "That's an Eagle but we call it a crow, It just means I am a Petty Officer". "Do you wear that suit all the time". As I sat answering his questions, my mind slowly drifted back over the last four years, since I had left my home in Eau Gallie, Florida, to go off, and serve my country, and of how yes indeed, I had worn a uniform all that time. Little did Tommy know, this was probably the last full day, I would wear a uniform, because early next morning, I would be at my destination, and would once again be classed as a civilian. A civilian with no job, and an uncertain future. All I really knew was, that I was going to give it a try, and if it failed, I could always go back and reenlist in the Navy.
We were nearing the town, where Tommy would be getting off, and I had learned that Tommy had no Father figure to look up to, and I kind of liked the kid. "I want to be a Sailor" he said. "OK Tommy we will enlist you right now" I told him. "Really, honest and truly", he said. I stood up and reached up, and retrieved a small hand bag. I had on the bus with me, and pulled out a Whitehat. "Raise your right hand", I said "And repeat after me". He raised his hand while smiling from ear to ear, and repeated the shortened version, that I gave him. "I Tommy do solemnly swear" "to uphold the Constitution" "and protect my Country", "Against all enemies" "Foreign and Domestic", "I will bear true faith and allegiance", "and obey all orders of the President of the United States" "and all orders of my mother", "So help me God". It felt right to me as, I placed the whitehat on his head. and told him, "I hereby proclaim you, a Seaman Recruit". I saluted him, and said, "Welcome to the United States Navy." He returned my salute, very proudly. I straightened his hat for him and said, "Now always, keep that hat squared away". "A good Sailor always keeps his hat squared away." As he got up to leave the bus he stopped and gave me a big hug, and I said "Bye Tommy", and he walked proudly off the bus. I felt kind of proud myself, and hoped, I had made a small difference in his life.
After having had a short layover in Chattanooga, I was on yet another bus, and headed into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Home for a good many years had been on Jasmine Street, in Eau Gallie, Florida, but I was headed to my parents new home, in a town, I'd never heard of before. Having recently retired they had bought a farm in Morganton, Georgia., which was a far cry from sunny Florida, that I grew up in. I was remembering the time, I had got on another bus, four years earlier, to leave for the service. I was flat broke when I left, and as I got on that bus, my father had handed me a five dollar bill, and said "here son, don't spend it all in one place". (It, by the way, was rapidly depleted ten minutes, after I got to the air port in Jacksonville.) I could write a book about my life in the preceding four years, but that will be another story, if I ever decide to tell it.
As daylight broke, I found myself looking out the window at lots of woods and mountains, and curved highways, that looped back and forth, and seemed to get no where. I sat thinking, Oh yea, I've got one terrific future ahead of me here. There are no houses, no towns, but I'll just bet there's jobs around here to be had. Must be a job behind every one of these trees. Well, I guess, there must be jobs, chopping down some of these trees. What in the world have, I got myself into. Why did I tell the Navy, where they could put their measly seven thousand dollar, reup bonus. At least, im coming home alive, a lot of the guys didn't make it back, especially those who were drafted and sent straight to Viet Nam, It's a good thing, I joined instead of accepting that dang draft notice they sent me from the Army. My train of self pity thoughts were interrupted by the voice of the bus driver speaking to me, "time to get off this bus Sailor". Looking around, I realized we had arrived in a small town. "Is this Blue Ridge Ga.?" I asked him. "Nope, this is Murphy North Carolina," "you will switch to another bus to take you there from here", he replied. I got off the bus, and after having found out when I would arrive in Blue Ridge, I got on a pay phone and called the phone number, I had scribbled on a small piece of paper, in my Jumper pocket. My mother Helen answered the phone. I don't care to get into the spefics of why, but I always referred to her as Helen. I told her where, I was, and that I would be in Blue Ridge around eleven o'clock, and I would get a Taxi from there. She laughed and said, she doubted any Taxi even existed around there, but I would be met at the bus station.
Nearly a year earlier, I had received a letter from home, saying my father had bought a new car, but couldn't afford to keep it, although, I now suspect he just didn't like it, because he had went right out and bought a bigger car. The car was mine if I wanted it, and all I had to do was make the payments. Included in the letter was the payment book to make the payments. Yep, that's the Old Man alright, I thought to myself, he's still manipulating people as always. He got him self out of a lot of situations that way. If ever a natural born salesman ever existed, it was him. I knew I was going to need a car when, I got out anyway, so I just got a head start on it. A buddy asked me "What's that", pointing at the payment book. " I reckon, I just bought a car", I said. "What kind of car"? Looking at the book, I said, "it's a 1969 Mercury Montego". " What color is it?" "Don't know, and the book don't say either". I went below decks to write home, and tell them it better be parked and not driven, other than to run it occasionally to keep the battery charged.
I got off the bus at Blue Ridge, and saw Helen standing across the street. I was glad to see her, and she gave me the biggest hug, and a kiss, and said welcome home son. Being reunited as a family, is definitely like coming home, but this small town in the mountains of North Georgia, would take a lot of getting use to, before I could consider it home. "It's great to be home", I said. 'Where's Dad", I asked. "Oh he's not here he's gone to Florida on business", "But he will be here in a few days", she quickly added. "How did you get here then", I asked. She handed me the car keys and said, "I drove of course." "Which car is it", I asked. "It's that green one sitting there, now you can drive us home". "You know. I don't have a drivers License, anymore", I said. "Well, that's OK because I don't have one either, in fact you might as well know, I've never had one", and she laughed. I was speechless for a minute. She had been driving for years. I had known since the age of fourteen, when, I learned to drive, and finally took notice of her driving abilities, what a terrible driver she was, but it had never occurred to me, that she could have such flagrant disregard for the law. I joined in on the laughter, and in fact we laughed most of the way home. On the way home, I expressed my disapproval of him having left her stranded up here in this wilderness, and was about to ask what in the world, ever possessed them to move here, but I didn't, because by then she was saying how much she loved living in the mountains. So, I kept my mouth shut, and didn't say it. Stopping for a red light, I saw a State Trooper, and politely waved at him.
(You Can skip this paragraph, if you reading in a hurry.)
If you have read this far in my story, you probably are wondering, or perhaps, you have forgotten by now, how this story, has anything at all to do with, How I got a Railroad Job, but I assure you it does. I must admit, I can be slow, about getting to the point though. It's just my style of writing. My 12th grade English Literature, teacher, used to get quite flustered at the way, I often use long, "run on sentences" as he used to put it, and I doubt he would be at all surprised to see that, I still do it. All this particular paragraph is really about is, me giving my brain a break, before continuing, with the story. LOL Perhaps, just in memory of him mind you, I can thrown in a few more comma splices, heck, I've only got a couple hundred so far. Maybe, I will end a few more sentences in a prepositions, and split some infinitives, or commit the ultimate grievance, and dangle a few more participle. I suppose the point, im making here is, I write just to record, my memories, and not to impress anyone. So, if you have read this far, your not an English Teacher. or you would have quit reading in the first paragraph. LOL (Back to my story)
We arrived at the farm, and I was impressed somewhat. It was a quite adequate white frame house, but I wasn't over impressed. I saw her eyeing me to see my reaction, and I sort of laid it on a bit thick perhaps, of what a nice place it was. I noted, how nice the scenery was though, and how quiet and peaceful it was, and told her the place was lovely. I could see why she probably liked it so much. It was a far cry from looking at the flat land, of palms and Australian Pine Trees of Florida. I guessed, she had her fill of Florida. I decided, not to ever bring up the subject of living in Florida again, to her.
Upon entering the house, I saw my old dog "Boots", and she barked at me, before figuring out who I was, and she let me know how glad she was to see me, and had a look, Like, Oh im sorry, I didn't mean to bark at you, I just thought, I would never see you again. I swear, that dog thought more like a human, than a dog. While Helen was gone to the restroom, I made my habitual walk to open the refrigerator, and see what was there. When, I was a kid, I used to frustrate her no end, by just randomly opening the refrigerator for no obvious reason. It would always be the same stuff in there , that was in there five minutes earlier, when you had looked, but a kid can never convince himself. Perhaps some magical power may have produced some tasty delight, just waiting to be found. Soon a kid learns to have an instant answer ready. "What are you doing in the refrigerator"? "Oh, im just getting a drink of water", and occasionally, I would use a more moronic answer like, "Im just looking to see if the light bulb is working." Now that, im older, I think the reason, I did it, was because it felt good to get cooled off by the cold oozing out of the refrigerator. You always doubled up on refrigerator visits in the summer time. Im 59 years old now, but still occasionally, I will go look in the refrigerator, sometimes frustrating my wife, no end. She will sometimes admonish me when we go to visit someone's home, if she sees me anywhere near their refrigerator. LOL Not that id ever do that. LOL "I just wanted to see if their light bulb is working."
As soon as, I opened the refrigerator, I noticed something, I had never seen, in my past refrigerator visits. There was nothing there. It quickly dawned on me, that the cupboard was bare. They had no food. Oh there may have been a few staples, but there was no food. I closed the door, and returned to the living room, as my mother was coming out of the bathroom. She knew me pretty well, and im sure she had deduced that I had looked in the refrigerator because, she spoke up and said, "Your Dads retirement check hasn't started coming in yet, That's why he's gone to Florida". I said, "make a grocery list, we are going to the store." She protested, but I put my foot down and insisted. Thirty minutes later, we were pulling into the grocery store, and as we entered, who should I pass coming out. It was the State trooper, I had waved at earlier that afternoon, so I waved at him politely, again. Going through the store, she noticed, I was putting a lot more things in the buggy, than she had on the list. Her protests went ignored though and soon the buggy was full. I think the bill came to a little over a hundred dollars, which these days might feed a family two days, but in 1969 it was a fair amount of groceries. She was worried about how much I had spent. She could be quite the skimpy shopper, if left to her own demise, but this time, I prevailed. "Your Dad will pay you back", she said. "No, I wont hear of it. In fact, don't even tell him we went shopping", I said. For supper, that night she made me something, I hadn't had in a long time. We ate high on the hog. I gorged myself on fried salt pork, and gravy, and biscuits. Later that evening as we sat watching TV, I got up and went to look in the Refrigerator. "Do you want a glass of water", I said. I really didn't want any water, it just looked good to see that her refrigerator wasn't empty.
The next day, she wanted to show me around the mountains some, but I concluded it was time to go get a Driver's License, and she rode along with me. She had no intentions of getting a License though. I went into the Troopers Barracks, there in Blue Ridge, took their written test, and passed it by the skin of my teeth. I should have failed, but im a good guesser at multiple question Test, and I got lucky on a few wild guesses. They said, go out side and take your Driving Test, when the Trooper, returns, from whoever he's testing right now. Soon the Trooper returned and got out of that car, telling the young lady, who was somewhat rattled, that she was welcome, to come try the test again tomorrow, if she wanted to. I concluded she had failed the test, and assumed it must be a humdinger of a driving test. When the Officer turned and took the paper work from my hands, he looked up at me. You guessed it already, LOL It was the same Trooper who the day before had received my friendly waves. "Let me see you Learners Permit", he said. "Oh, I don't have one", I replied. Maybe he declined to pursue the questions he had, because of my quick run down about just returned from the Navy, and about how, I once had a Florida License, but we walked to my car, and he got in after Helen got out to wait for me. I thought, Lord, don't let him ask to see her License. He spoke politely to her and off we went. The test was a real doozie, too. I made two left turns, one right turn, and stopped at one red light in town. We went around the block, and was back at the station. Heck, I could have passed that test back when, I was twelve and driving my brother David's car around in the back yard. I recall, I did have a few problems in the back yard, though. I seem to remember running into a telephone pole. That wasn't too much trouble to get out of because, I just blamed it on the rain and the wet grass. What was hard to explain, though was all the doughnuts dug up in the back yard to my father, the next day, and why the telephone pole now had a distinctive 30 degree tilt to it.
That evening, my father returned home. We were sitting and watching TV that evening, after eating a big supper, when my father asked me what I was going to do about getting a job. I told him, It had been a long time since, I had a vacation, and that, I planned to just visit with them a couple of weeks, then I would go get a job. "Just need a little vacation from work for a while", "Besides, I have a few bucks saved to tide me over for a while", I said. I assumed he was cool with that idea, and it seemed like a reasonable thing to me. It was just good to be home for a change, instead of gallivanting all over the world. If you have ever been without any immediate family, for four years, you might understand, the need just to be around family for a change. For the first time in weeks, I had made it thru two whole days without being worried about my future for a change, but he had just spoiled that for me.
The next morning, I awoke to the smell of bacon frying, and Coffee Brewing, and biscuits in the oven. I hit the deck and got dressed, and after shaving and getting cleaned up. I walked into the Kitchen. I said "Sure smells good in here". MY father was sitting at the dining room table and had the newspaper open and reading it. If, I had looked a little closer, I would have noticed he was thumbing through the want ads. I sat down as the food was being placed on the table. We had a nice breakfast, and it was nice to eat some eggs without occasionally biting down on egg shells some Ships Cook hadn't prepared properly, and drink some coffee, that didn't taste like it was made with water dipped out of the ships engine room bilges. After we finished, I complimented my mother on making such a good breakfast. By the time, I headed thru the Living room, my father was already out there and was sitting in a rocking chair, with the Atlanta Constitution paper, flipped open to the want ads. This time, I got the drift of what was on his mind. Whether it was the fact he was truly concerned about my future, or the fact he was afraid, I was home to be a loafer for the rest of my life, I don't know. I was however feeling, I had about worn out my welcome. As I was passing where he sat, he said "When you gonna get a job son". I kind of lost it briefly and said, "This was sure a short vacation", but it fell on deaf ears. "Here's a job" he was saying, while looking at some menial job ad that, I would have never considered. Looking over his shoulder at the want ads, I saw one large ad, that covered at least a third of the page. I wasn't even close enough to see what the words were, but I reached over his shoulder and pointed my finger at the big ad, and said, "Hell, Ill go to work for those people right there."
"What", he asked as he took another look at the paper, and at the ad he had overlooked all morning. He began to read it aloud. It said something to the effect of: SOUTHERN RAILWAY, now accepting applications for Switchmen, Trainmen, Brakemen, and Rail Car Repairman. Note: Rail Car Repairman, requires knowledge and experience in welding, blueprints, metal fabrication, and requires a high mechanical aptitude. "I will apply for the Rail Car Repairman Job", I interrupted. At that point in the ad he stopped and said, "You can't get a railroad job". it says welding, and all these other requirements. I had already received a lot of info before, I left the Navy about the possibility of working at a Fire Department, because in the last four years, I had specialized in fire fighting, and had taken every test and school the navy had to offer, on the subject and had in fact excelled in it, and had achieved the rank of E5 studying it. I just wasn't sure firemen were paid enough. Now, I was, on a whim, actually ignoring all my training, and going to actually consider, applying for some job, I never heard of before. I thought to myself, all that training, and in a fit of anger, im picking a job by wildly pointing my finger, at an ad in a newspaper. The ad did however have it's appeal to me. "Why can't I work for them", I said. "What do you think I was learning when, I took three years of machine shop in High School." If there is one thing Mr. Frank Lewis had taught me, in those three years of teaching me, it was welding, blueprints, and metal fabrication. "I don't know how to get to Atlanta from here, but if you will point me in the right direction, I will find it", I said. I thought to myself, he's still manipulating me, and I just fell for it hook line and sinker. He has just ended my vacation and in five minutes has me off looking for a job, just like he wanted to. "Point you the right direction", he said, "Hell, I will take you there".
The next morning around nine a.m., we arrived at the Southern Railway Office Building at 125 Spring Street, and my father pulled up to the curb and parked right in front of the main doors. I looked up at the large gray building, and told him "the sign here says no Parking". "I doubt you will be here long", He said. "I will wait for you right here". It was obvious to me, he had no confidence in my chance of getting a job there. I thought, well there's a positive attitude, if ever, I've seen one. I exited the car and entered the building, and was directed by the nurse, at the nurse's station to go down the hall to the last door on the left, which I promptly did. On entering the large room, I saw around twenty or so men sitting there waiting at two long tables. There were some signs one table for Trainmen, Switchmen, and Brakemen, and the other table had a sign for Rail Car Repairmen. I pulled up a chair, and sat at the end of the appropriate table. Perhaps half of the men there to apply for jobs, were sitting at my table. I thought, well chances of getting a job now are much slimmer. I sure never expected to see this many folks looking for a job. There were two doors at the end of the room, that were passageways from one side to the other, obviously leading to other offices. A man entered thru one of the doors, and said, "May, I have your attention", "Today we are only accepting applications for Trainmen, Brakemen and Switchmen." He then exited thru the other door. He wasn't out of the room good before there was a scurry of chairs sliding back, and men suddenly deciding they wanted to sit at the other table. I was now sitting alone at the end of a ten foot long table, with lots of elbow room, and there were perhaps nineteen men trying to squeeze up to the other ten foot table, which was suitable, for maybe half that many folks. I sniffed my armpit, wondering if, I had a bad case of body odor or something.
A short while later two more men entered the room, from the same door the other man had. One was telling all the men at the other table to get up and follow him, and as they all exited thru the same door everyone else had. The other man approached me as I sat thinking, there goes the ones most likely to get a job. He asked, "What are you here for"? I held up the section of newspaper in my hand, and said, "Im here to apply for a Rail Car Repairman Job." He tried to tell me something about not hiring them now, but I interrupted him, by telling him, "your Ad speficaly states....". he interrupted me and said, "Have you ever been arrested"? I started to say shouldn't the proper term be, have I ever been convicted of a crime, but I just replied "Nope". He said, "You wait right here", and he left the room. Sitting there alone in that huge room, I began to develop a complex, so I once again sniffed my armpit. Surely, I don't smell that bad do I? In a few minutes the man returned, with a stack of papers. He sat them in front of me, handed me a box of pencils, and said, fill out these papers regarding qualification and job history, and then take this Mechanical Aptitude test, and again quickly left the room. I debated with myself as to whether, my armpit needed a resniff, but decided that this was just their short and to the point way, of conducting interviews. Filling out the few pages regarding job history and stuff took a little while to do, but the fairly thick Mechanical Aptitude test was a breeze, and I finished it in under an hour. In a little while the man returned, and collected my papers, and casually thumbed thru them. I presumed it was to determine if the application went from this point , to farther up the chain of command, or to some waste basket somewhere. "Follow me Mr. Parks", He said. I recall thinking, these sure are some talkative folks around here, as I followed him down a hallway. I sat outside an office a while in a wooden chair, waiting to see if some one around there, carried on conversations, that consisted of sentences longer than three syllables, or if I was gonna be shown the front door.
After a short wait, I was escorted into an office, where, I met a man in a white shirt and tie, sitting behind a big desk. I shook his hand and sat in his interview chair. "I have your application here and the results of the tests you took", he said, as I sat on the edge of my seat waiting. He paused a minute or two as if in deep thought, and said, "You have great qualifications, and your just what, we are looking for", "The last Carman school, started over a week ago", but "I think from looking at your results here that, you are a very smart man and will have no trouble catching up." "I am going to push your application straight through, but your gonna have to get all the medical stuff done right away, so your gonna be busy the rest of the day attending to it all." "Get it all done and you will start school Monday morning." "Welcome aboard" he said. "Take these papers down to the nurses station, and you will be directed where to go from there." I shook his hand, and had crossed the room and had my hand on his door knob, when it registered in my brain, like a bell going off, DING DING. (Money...We haven't talked money). I turned and faced him saying, "just one thing". " Yes Mr. Parks", he said. "How much will I be making."? He glanced down at his papers as if, he didn't already know, and said "The job pays $3.49 an hour." "Thanks", I replied and as I turned the door knob to leave the room my brain was going, DING DING $$$ DING $$$$$$. Somehow, I managed to get out of the room without shouting, Hot Dang. I was thinking, wow Im gonna be rolling in dough, now that's considerably more than any Fireman job would pay me. A considerable load of worry had just gotten a lot lighter. A short trip to the Nurse's Station, followed, where, I filled out a ton of Forms. I was directed to go from there, to a Dr. Rice's Office on Peachtree Street, for a physical exam. I probably could end this story here, but no story about this subject would be complete, without mentioning a certain Old Company Doctor.
About two and a half hours after entering the Southern Building, I walked out the front doors. I looked for my fathers car, knowing he had probably had to find himself a parking space some where. I walked down the Street, and finally found his car. He was sitting there circling ads in the newspaper. I got in the car and he was saying, he had more places, that I should consider putting in an application as well. I guess he assumed, I had just put in an application, and had no answer yet. "You should go put an application here", he indicated from his paper. I said, "nope cant do that", "What I got to do is got to this office on Peachtree Street and see this Doctor." "What", he said. "Yep, I start school, Monday Morning". "What does it pay"? When I answered him, his little built in adding machine started running. "Why that's Uh Uh a lot of money", I interrupted his brain strain and said, "it's about a Hundred and Forty a week, and it's a whole lot more, than what I made in the Navy, it's a pretty good starting salary." "Thanks for bringing me down here", I said. I thought to my self, a vacation would have been nice though, Here I am home from the Navy three days, and it's off on my own again. I guess it's true what they say, you can never go home again.
In the past four years, I had been to many Doctors, and medical facilities, I had been poked and prodded, examined from head to toe many times, received lots on inoculations, and when I cut my hand half off somewhere off the coast of South America, in the raging Atlantic, I had it sewed back together by a Hospital Corpsman, who wasn't even a doctor. In all those times, I felt secure in the knowledge that they knew what they were doing and that they had performed their procedures under sterile conditions. My visit to the Old Railroad Doctor's office was a horse of a different color however. I entered the dark poorly lit, dusty office. There were some old magazines laying there from sometime back in the fifties. There was no staff, just an old doctor who looked like he would fall over if you didn't prop him up in a corner somewhere. It was like going back into time and walking into a scene from an old black and white Frankenstein film. He banged on me with a hammer a while, I think just to see if I would say ouch. He listened to my heart with some old time rusty stethoscope. He wrapped his rubber torture device around my arm and synched it up tight. Guess he wants some blood I figured, but I couldn't see any of those metal thing sterilized needles are suppose to be in anywhere in that office. He turned to an old white enamel wash basin, and I thought, good at least the old geezer is sanitary, he's gonna wash his hands first. Instead of washing, he reached and picked up a large old time hypodermic needle off the back of that wash basin, where normally one might expect to see a bar of soap laying. He ran some rusty looking water from the tap over it, and began to shake it off. This aint happening, I thought, Im imagining things. He grabbed my arm and came at me with that old needle. The needle was bent and looked dull. It wasn't even pointed, it was just a blunt end. "Dock shouldn't that thing be sterilizzzzzzzzzzzzed", but he had stuck it in my arm before, I could get the words out of my mouth. "No, it's fine" he said as he withdrew a large volume of blood out of my arm. Must be part of the routine here at the railroad, I thought. They want to see if I can take a little torture. "Come with me", he said. I walked and he stumbled down the hall. Dang, I hope this old geezer don't croak before we get through here. I thought. "We are gonna x-ray ya now" he said. We entered this room with a large x-ray machine, that was old as the hills. He must have brought it with him from the medical school he attended back in 1925. He began to x-ray ever bone in my body from head to toe at every angle possible. The old machine made a loud buzz every time he took a picture. On we went, BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ BUZZZZZZZZZZZ BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ BUZZZZZZZZZ one x-ray after another. I became a bit concerned as I have had enough training in Nuclear Biological and Chemical Warfare School to know, too much radiation is bad for you. BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ Dam Dock BUZZZZZZZZZZZ How many BUZZZZZ Roentgens of Radiation BUZZZZZZZZ are you exposing me to here? No wonder he wasn't worried about germs on the needle. Hell there aint a germ on, or in me alive anymore. BUZZZZZZ BUZZZZZZ "Oh not more than a couple of hundred Roentgens I reckon" I began to pull my hair to see if it was falling out yet. I should have brought my dosemeter with me, Dang. When I get to dad's car, im gonna drink half of that bottle of Jack Daniels that's under the seat.
In 2003 when fate lowered the boom on me, and I was injured, my 34 year Railroad Career ended. At that time, I was making somewhere around 23 dollars an hour. I am now making up for all the lost vacations, I never got to take. I rest, relax, and occasionally write a story or two.
I even mow the lawn occasionally. I never did roll in dough, because the cost of living kept a faster climb than my salary, but I get by and im still alive. What more can a man ask than that.
Footnote: I am truly proud to have served my country in time of war, and would do it all again. I would be in the line where they signed up for the U.S. Navy.