Tuesday, October 7, 2008

HOOD RIVER BLACKIES LAST STORY

(THIS IS FROM THE WINTER OF 1984`S OLD WEST MAGAZINE)MANY OF THE OLD-TIME HOBOES I KNEW DURING MY YEARS ON THE ROAD HAD SOME KIND OF TRADE THAT THEY WORKED AT TO MAKE A LIVING.BY HAVING A TRADE I DON`T MEAN THEY PUNCHED A TIME CARD AT SOME FACTORY.BIG TOWN GORMAN,WHO USED TO SHOW UP AT THE HOBO CONVENTION IN BRITT IOWA,EACH SUMMER,CARRIED A SATCHEL FULL OF TOOLS FOR SHARPENINGSCISSORS,KNIVES,OR SAWS,OR ABOUT ANYTHING THAT NEEDED SHARPENING.IN LATER YEARS EVEN HAD A SMALL ELECTRIC GRINDER AND WENT FROM DOOR TO DOOR IN THE LITTLE TOWNS AND SOME OF THE BIG ONES SHARPENING THINGS FOR A SMALL SUM.BIG TOWN ALWAYS HAD MONEY AND I DON`T THINK HE EVER BUMMED A CENT FROM ANYONE.HE WAS A HOBO PAINTER BILL,WHO ROAMED OVER THE WEST REPAINTING SIGNS OR PAINTING NEW ONES,WAS ANOTHER WHO MADE HIS OWN WAYHE WAS STRICTLY A FREIGHT TRAIN RIDDING HOBO BUT CARRIED A SMALL KIT WHICH LOOKED A LOT LIKE A DOCTORS BLACK BAG. INSIDE THE KIT WAS A VARIETY OF PAINTS BRUSHES AND SOME SORT OF OIL.EVEN TODAY IF YOU WERE TO GO TO WINTERS,CALIFORNIA AND LOOK CLOSELY AT SOME OF THE SIGNS IN TOWN YOU WOULD SEE DOWN IN ONE CORNER"PAINTER BILL"HE HAS BEEN GONE FROM THE LAND FOR QUITE A WHILE NOW,BUT HIS WORK IS STILL AROUND.HE TOO ALWAYS HAD MONEY AND NEVER BUMMED. AL THE ENGRAVER WAS IN FACT AN ENGRAVER AND A VERY GOOD ONE.HE CARRIED AROUND AN ENGRAVING KIT AND USED TO GO TO BARS ,CARNIVALS,FAIRS,AND PARKS WHERE HE WOULD ENGRAVE WATCHES OR MOST ANYTHING ANYONE WANTED ENGRAVED. HE DIDN`T NEED POWER TOOLS TO DO IT EITHER. WELL,THERE ARE STILL QUITE A FEW PEOPLE WHO SHARPEN SCISSORS AND KNIVES,AND PLENTY WHO PAINT SIGNS, AND ANY GOOD JEWELER CAN DO SOME ENGRAVING,BUT I AM PRETTY SURE THERE IS NOT ANOTHER HOBO MUSHFAKER LEFT IN THE COUNTRY.IN HOBO SLANG AN UMBRELLA WAS CALLED A MUSHROOM,AND A MUSHFAKEER WAS A MAN WHO MADE HIS LIVING MENDING UMBRELLAS,AND OF COURSE STORE AWNINGS,OR ANYTHING MADE OF CANVAS. BIG WALT STEELE WAS THE LAST OF THE MUSHFAKERS AS NEAR AS I CAN LEARN,AND I DON`T THINK THERE WILL EVER BE ANYMORE OF THEM AS THE STORES NOWADAYS DON`T HAVE AWNINGS,OR AT LEAST VERY FEW DO.THE OLD TIME PRACTICE OF GOING DOOR TO DOOR IN SOME STRANGE TOWN AND ASKING FOR UMBRELLAS TO MEND IS A THING OF THE PAST SINCE NOT MANY PEOPLE USE THEM,AND PEOPLE ARE FEARFUL OF ANY STRANGERS MEANDERING ALONG THEIR STREETS THAT THE LAW WOULD BE CALLED IF BY CHANCE A MUSHFAKER DID SHOW UP. I USED TO SEE MUSHFAKE STEELE WHEN I CAN TO WINTERS EACH SPRING TO THIN APRICOTS,AND OF COURSE RAN INTO HIM ONCE IN A WHILE ALONG THE RAILS OR IN SOME HOBO JUNGLE.HE WAS A HUGE BUT VERY PLEASANT MAN WHO SEEMED TO ALWAYS BE LAUGHING AT SOMETHING OR SOMEBODY.I NEVER KNEW HIM TO HAVE A REGULAR ROAD PARTNER,THOUGH HE DID AT TIMES TRAVEL WITH THE PANAMA KID OR OLD SMOKING JACKET.IN LATER YEARS, WHEN HE SEEMED TO BE THE ONLY MUSHFAKER IN THE LAND THE OTHER HOBOES CALLED HIM "THE MUSHFAKER" THIS WAS AN HONOR AND DENOTED THAT THERE WERE NO OTHERS.I CAN STILL SEE HIM SOMETIMES WHEN I DAYDREAM,WALKING ALONG AND CLOSELY STUDING ANY AWNINGS THAT WERE UNROLLED IN THE HOPES OF FINDING ONE THAT NEEDED REPAIR.WHEN HE FOUND ONE HE WOULD GO INTO THE STORE AND NEGOTIATE A DEAL WITH THE STOREKEEPER TO REPAIR IT .SOMETIMES HE WOULD PERSUADE A MERCHANT TO UNROLL HIS AWNING SO IT COULD BE EXAMINED FOR RIPS OR TEARS. WALT STEELE WAS A MASTER OF HIS TRADE AND MOST STOREKEEPERS WERE GLAD TO SEE HIM. HIS PET PEEVE WAS THE STORE OWNER WHO HAD AN AWNING WHICH WAS NEARLY TORN TO PIECES AND EXPECTED A MUSHFAKER TO FIX IT LIKE NEW WITHOUT ANY PATCHING MATERIAL.BECAUSE OF THIS,OLD WALT USED TO PICK AROUND IN THE DUMPS FOR PIECES OF CANVAS THAT WERE STRIPED LIKE STORE AWNINGS USUALLY WERE.WHEN HE FOUND SOME HE WOULD CARRY IT WITH HIM TO USE FOR PATCHES.AT TIMES WHEN HE WOULD HIT IT LUCKY, HE WOULD GET THE JOB OF PUTTING ON A WHOLE NEW AWNING AND WAS CAPABLE OF SEWING ONE OUT OF A NEW PIECE OF CANVAS WITHOUT ANY PATTERNS OR ADVICE FROM ANYONE. ALOT OF US HOBOES USED TO GO TO A SMALL HOBO JUNGLE JUST OUTSIDE OF WILCOX, ARIZONA AFTER THE APPLE HARVEST EACH YEAR WHICH WAS IN WASHINGTON AND OREGON,AND WE WOULD CAMP UNDER SOME OLD TREES ALONG THE MAINLINE SOUTHERN PACIFIC,JUST RESTING UP AFTER OUR HARVEST WORK.MUSHFAKE STEELE WOULD OFTEN BE THERE BECAUSE HE TO WENT UP NORTH AND MADE SOME MONEY PICKING APPLES.I`VE SEENHIM SEWING UP A PACK SACK FOR SOME OLDRAIL STIFF,AS THEY WERE CALLED,OR EVEN STITCHING A TORN SHOE FOR SOME GUY WHO MAYBE DID`NT HAVE THE MONEY TO BUY SHOES.HE WOULD NOT CHARGE ANOTHER HOBO FOR HIS WORK.MANY OF THE GUYS HE HELPED OUT WOULD PAY HIM BACK BY INVITING HIM TO EAT WITH THEM OR SHARE A BOTTLE OF WHISKEY,WHICH HE WAS ALWAYS GLAD TO DO.ONE YEAR THE OLD DESERT PROSPECTOR AND SOMETIMES HOBO,MULE TRAIN SMITH WAS PUTTING TOGETHER AN OUTFIT FOR A LONG HAUL ACROSS THE SOUTHERN PART OF ARIZONA,ACROSS THE BORDER INTO MEXICO,AND UP INTO THE WILD SIERRA MADRE MOUNTAINS WHERE HE WOULD SEARCH FOR THE LOST SPANISH MISSION OF TAYOPA.OLD MULE TRAIN HAD MADE MANY TRIPS INTO THAT WILD LAND,ALWAYS WITH A COUPLE OF BURROS AND CANVAS PACKS TIED ON PACK SADDLES WITH WHAT HE CALLED A DIAMOND HITCH. THE TIME I AM TALKING,MULE TRAIN HAD TO MAKE SOME CANVAS BAGS AS SOMEONE HAD FOUND THE ONES HE HAD HIDDEN THE YEAR BEFORE AND MADE OFF WITH THEM.HE FOUND AN OLD TORN TARP,WHICH I GUESS CAME OFF A SEMI-TRUCK AND HE AND MUSHFAKE STEELE WERE MAKING THE PACKS.MUSHFAAKE HAD ALL SORTS OF NEEDLES IN ALL SHAPES BUT HIS MAINSTAY WAS A THING HE CALLED A LEATHER AWL,IT HAD A BIG WOODEN HANDLE WHICH OPENED UP AND WAS HOLLOW. INSIDE WERE SEVERAL FUNNY LOOKING NEEDLES AND A SMALL TOOL FOR INSTALLING THEM IN THE SHAFT,AND JUST BELOW A SPOOL WHICH HELD WHAT I BELIEVE WAS SHOEMAKER`S TWINE.TWO FINE PACKS WERE MADE AND A COUPLE OF BELTS BOUGHT IN A SECONDHAND STORE SERVED AS STRAPS TO TIE THEM SHUT.I WONDERED WHAT MUSHFAKE WOULD CHARGE FOR TEH SEVERAL HOURS WORK HE HAD DONE BUT WHEN OLD MULE TRAIN TRIED TO PAY HIM HE JUST GRINNED AND SAID"IF YOU MAKE THAT BIG STRIKE BRING ME A GOLD NUGGET".THE NEXT EVENING A BUNCH OF US WERE SITTING AROUND A CAMPFIRE AS HOBOES WILL DO,DISCUSSING EVERYTHING FROM CABBAGES TO KINGS, WHEN MUSHFAKE REMARKED HE WOULD LIKE TO GET A HOLD OF A SMALL PISTOL,THIS WAS NOT AN UNUSUAL REMARK AS MANY OF US PACKED PISTOLS,AND ONE OR TWO EVEN A SHOTGUN OR RIFLE,DISMANTELED AND STORED IN OUR BEDROLL.MULE TRAIN WENT OVER TO HIS PACKS AND CAME BACK WITH A SMALL .25 AUTOMATIC WHICH HE HANDED TO MUSHFAKE AND SAID "HOW ABOUT THIS ONE?".MUSHFAKE LOOKED IT OVER AND SAID "HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT FOR IT ?" MULE TRAIN SAID"IT`S YOURS AND IF I MAKE THAT BIG STRIKE YOU STILL GET THE NUGGETT".OLD MUSHFAKE CARRIED THE GUN FOR YEARS,BUT I DON`T THINK HE EVER HAD TO USE IT.HE JUST HAD IT FOR SECURITY AND I SUSPECT BECAUSE IT HAD BELONGED TO AN OLD PAL. THE LAST TIME I SAW HIM WAS ON THE STREET IN MARYSVILLE,CALIFORNIA,NEAR "JOE`S BAGGAGE CHECK NUMBER TWO" AND HE WAS ON CRUTCHES WITH BOTH LEGS SWOLLEN BADLY FROM SOME DISEASE WHICH I DON`T RECALL THE NAME OF.HE WAS LIKE THE SAME OLD WALT WITH A BIG GRIN.AND SEEMED TO STILL LOOK UPON LIFE AS A FUN THING.BUT I NOTICED THE EYES DIDN`T DANCE WITH MERRIMENT AS THEY ONCE HADAND THE FACE SHOWED THE YEARS AND MILES MORE THAN IT EVER HAD.I TALKED TO HIM A WHILE THEN WENT ON MY WAY TO OREGON. MUSHFAKE DIED IN AN OLD SHACK BEHIND A BAR IN MARYSVILLE FEW MONTHS AFTER I TALKED TO HIM.SOCIETY WOULD CALL HIM A TRAMP OR A HOBO OR MAYBE EVEN A BUM,BUT HE MADE HIS OWN WAY IN LIFE,ASKING NOTHING BUT THE CHANCE TO WORK AT HIS TRADE AND TRAVEL THE LAND.HE WAS ALWAYS KIND AND HELPFUL TO EVERYONE AND DID HIS SHARE OF CAMP CHORES WHEN CAMPED WITH OTHERS. THOUGH HE AND I WERE NOT REAL CLOSE LIKE SOME HOBOES GET TO BE WHEN THEY HAVE BEEN ROAD BUDDIES A FEW TIMES,I STILL MISS HIM AS I DO ALL THE OLD WANDERERS I ONCE KNEW IN A VANISHED WORLD AND I TRY HARD TO REMEMBER THE DANCING EYES,BIG GRIN AND HAPPY FACE. BUT THE IMAGE OF SWOLLEN LEGS,PAINED EYES AND STRAINED FACE KEEPS COMING BACK.AH HOOD RIVER BLACKIE SOMETIMES MAYBEY YOU LOOKED TOO CLOSELY AND SAW TOO MUCH

2 comments:

MORTICIAN said...

I am glad someone else has put stories of dad on the Internet I have a few of them on my site and I bet you do not have a picture of dad,right? do you know his real name (not his hobo name).. He would have liked people to keep on passing out his stories so if you want to know about anything that I do know of dad please feel free to email me

Paul VanDeCarr said...

Hey Mortician,

I'd be interested in hearing more about your dad. I can't access your blogger profile for some reason, so I don't know your email. But please drop a line to me if you like.

Paul
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