Bonus column: written by my father

The May 21st column on hitchhikers recalled to my brother an entry in my father's journal, and with a little digging we found it. Following is a transcription taken from his very poor handwriting. It would have been written sometime around 1968 or 1969, during a business trip. Like father, like son...

Left Wellsville NY at 7:30 bound for Warren Pennsylvania on a cloudy, threatening day. A few miles out of town a dismal creature stood in the rain thumbing a ride. Although it is against company policy and common sense to pick up strangers, I did so and was rewarded with the following:

My rider was a 66 year old bum, whiskey on his breath and whiskers on his chin. It seems that he had been in a auto accident some months ago and since then had been treated at several hospitals, Olean[?], Bradford[?], Erie, Warren each taking him for a few weeks, and then, as a charity case, passing him on to the next. He was in the process of walking 30 miles from one to another when I picked him up. He said that he can no longer do any work since his heart was injured when his broken ribs bumped into it. Previously he had been a steeple jack, mason, carpenter, painter and plasterer, all in small jobs; nothing nationally known although he claims to have travelled all over the U.S.A. He was originally from Emerson Nebraska, 18 miles from the nearest neighbor. His father and mother, originally from S.W. N.Y. homesteaded for 18 years and then sold out and returned to N.Y. He told of fierce storms, with winds so powerful that steel wires ran between house, barn and out building for people to hold on to lest they be blown away. The storm s could be seen coming miles away, with clouds as [??] as [??], dropping 5 & 6 kinds of hail. In his youth he recalled winters when meals consisted of molasses bread 3 times a day, for weeks on end. He also tells of vigilante committees, formed when crime got out of hand. A fair trial was given he said, with lawyers on both sides. If found guilty, the punishment for small crimes was banishment but in one case at least, the criminal was seated on a horse with a rope around his neck, its other end on a tree limb. When the horse got hungry he moved off and thereby hung his rider. When dead, the victim was buried vertically with his body from the waist up above the ground. Around his neck was a sign “Vigilante Committee.”

He also recalled the I.W.W. “I Want Work” movement and told how they were bullied out of town by the militia.

During the depression, he hit the road and travelled throughout the land. The biggest [??] he was in was in Corning N.Y. with 300 bums in it. They had a regular tin hut village, and excellent food, stolen from the merchants of the town. When the state police came in, 2 bushel baskets of [??] were taken away before its [??] were razed. He said that many of its bums were doctors and lawyers and they had the papers to prove it.

He related the following: In 1939 he went to N.Y. city for the 1 st time. He arrived in its bus station with $2 in his pocket. While there, he opened his suit case, took out some Bull Durham and began to roll a cigarette. While doing so he found that he was being observed by a [??] cop. The cop asked what he was doing and where he was from. It turned out the cop was also from Emerson Nebraska! The cop invited him into his home, clothed and fed him, got him a job – and wouldn’t take a cent. In addition he took him to the World’s Fair, [??]; the only payment he got was that he would talk about the West. Imagine what it’s like being a man from the West, being in N.Y. because he couldn’t communicate with city people. He still corresponds with my bum.

In Olean he left me with a dollar for breakfast which he hadn’t asked for. We agreed that someday we’d meet again, in that Great Tavern in the Sky.

William S Young 1968(?)

Andy Young
May 21, 2023

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