In 1924, at the age of 14, I started Hoboing until 1926, when I gave it up to be in the Merchant Marines. On my 16th birthday I was at sea. I recently replied to an ad in our AARP magazine asking to hear from “Box Car” boys and girls about their experiences while hoboing. A gentleman named Mr. Uhys was compiling this information for an American history book which is due for publication in 1995. The following is a copy of the form I filled out with my comments.
THE AMERICAN HISTORY PROJECT
300 HICKS STREET
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK 11201
(PLEASE PRINT YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS)
Robert K. Howington Sr.
328 Monroe Drive,
W. Palm Beach, FL 33405
AGE(S) WHEN RIDING THE RAILS 13 to 16 Inclusive
YEAR BORN 1911
AGE NOW 82
SEX M – WHITE
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ETHNIC BACKGROUND? 1/8 Cherokee-Scotch-English
1. WHAT LED YOU TO LEAVE HOME? (I.E. FOR ADVENTURE? TO ALLEVIATE FINANCIAL BURDEN ON YOUR FAMILY? ANOTHER REASON?)
Physically abusive father – I received switch or belting almost daily – sometimes for coughing at night and disturbing his sleep. I have raised 4 sons and 2 step-children and never abused them.
2. HOW DID YOU SURVIVE – GETTING FOOD SHELTER ETC.?
I knocked on doors. Most people were responsive – also restaurants. I had many dishwasher jobs. I slept in barns, sometimes with the owners O.K. My family are Protestants. I gained much respect for the Catholic Church, I always got cash with no sermon. I sometimes stayed in missions and had to work – chop wood etc. or shovel snow and then attend preachings before being fed or bedded down. I worked worm or suckling tobacco or setting out tomato plants, hoeing corn etc. Usually $1.00 a day.
3. HOW DID YOU LEARN THE ROPES?
From stories I heard in the “Hobo Jungle”.
4. WHAT WAS THE MOST REMARKABLE THING THAT HAPPENED TO YOU WHILE ON THE ROAD?
A man in Shelbyville Tenn, took me in. He wanted to keep and raise me. He was so a Rail Road man and lived alone. He was so kind, but I couldn’t stay put anyplace, so I left after about a week, without saying good-bye.
5. WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPRESSIVE SIGHT YOU SAW? (I.E. SCENERY, SPECTACLES, OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT LEFT A LASTING IMPRESSION)
It was when I first saw the ocean and knew this was for me.
6. DID YOU TRAVEL ALONE OR WITH A ROAD PARTNER(S) OR FAMILY?
Once my Uncle Ollie Meade went with me. He was 1 year older than me. We were gone a week – that was enough for him.
7. ARE ANY OF THE PEOPLE YOU TRAVELED WITH STILL ALIVE?
Not to my knowledge.
9. DESCRIBE SOME OF THE MEMORABLE PEOPLE YOU MET – GOOD AND BAD
At a water tank in Tennessee, after hiking about 30 miles, I met a man, his wife, and 2 kids on the way to Connecticut. The kids were about 8 or 9 years old. He was on his way to Connecticut also – No, he didn’t have a job there, but his cousin was a tenant farmer for a rich man there. He had high hopes that he could move in with him and work for him for shelter and food for him and his family. I had a couple of dollars. I went back about a mile to a store I had passed. I bought coffee (5 cents), eggs (10 cents), bacon (5 cents), cheese (8 cents), candy (5 cents), and milk (10 cents). I took it back and we had a feast. They were such nice people. They had left Georgia a week before and had mostly walked. Rides were hard to come by. They were now considering “hoboing” to Connecticut.
At dusk, a train stopped, I said “GOOD-BYE” and hopped on. I hope they made it.
10. WHAT KIND OF DISAPPOINTMENTS DID YOU HAVE WHEN TRYING TO FIND WORK?
My years “hoboing” (1925 to 1927) I had little trouble finding work, but, pay was $1.00 per day standard for me, and I would only work 1 or 2 days, then move on.
11. DID YOU EVER NOTICE DIFFERENT TREATMENT OF BLACK AND WHITE PEOPLE WHO WERE RIDING THE RAILS?
No – except all were amused at barefoot hobo’s misfortune.
12. WERE YOU EVER INJURED OR DID YOU EVER WITNESS ANYONE BEING INJURED OR EVEN KILLED WHILE RIDING THE RAILS?
I was on top of a boxcar with another boy about my age. It was a beautiful summer day, the train was speeding down through Tennessee. It was very difficult to ride in between boxcars. So, after hanging on like this for an hour or so, we decided it would be safe and comfortable on top. We were there only a few minutes when a Brakeman was coming towards us waving a stick like a ball bat at us. My young friend was on one car nearest him and I was on the next. The guy was shouting foul language and coming on strong, do my friend climbed down the ladder and was hanging on the very bottom. The Brakeman also climbed down and was hitting the rungs of the ladder and my friend’s fingers. He let go and took a terrible spill. Then he came at me and I had no choice but to get off. I went back to my buddy and he was a mess. Skid marks all over and a crooked arm that we both knew was broken. We washed up in a nearby stream and walked a couple of hours to a nearby village. There, a nice lady took charge of him and I continued on.
13. DID YOU KNOW ANY SONGS OR POETRY FROM THAT PERIOD?
Big Rock Candy Mountain
May I sleep in your barn tonight Mister
It is cold lying out on the ground
The cold north wind is whistling
And I have no place to lie down
I have no tobacco or matches
I’m sure I will do you no harm
I will always remember and be thankful
If only I may sleep in your barn.
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, just keep on tramping
If I catch you around again, you will wear the ball and chain
So, Tramp, Tramp, just keep on tramping while you can
14. DID YOU HAVE A PHILOSOPHY ABOUT BEING ON THE ROAD?
Yes, Just keep moving to anywhere except where I was. It was a new freedom I had never experienced at home with my abusive father. I considered him a religious fanatic – Spare the rod – Spoil the child. I was next oldest of 9 kids. The beatings were only me.
15. DID YOU WITNESS ANY MAJOR HISTORICAL EVENTS, I.E. THE BONUS MARCHES, THE MEMORIAL DAY MASSACRE, DUSTBOWL, THE LOS ANGELES EARTHQUAKE ?
16. HOW DID YOU FINALLY STOP RIDING THE RAILS?
I found myself in Norfolk Virginia, and saw the ocean. I said, that’s for me. I fell in love with ships, and sea. This I did in Merchant Marines for 7 years.
17. HOW DID YOUR EXPERIENCES SHAPE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?
Number 1, it made me appreciate the better life I finally came by – I always worked hard, just to barely get by until around 1940, and I have prospered somewhat by still enjoying work for a better living at my present age of 82.
18. DO YOU HAVE ANY DIARIES, LETTERS OR PHOTOS FROM THAT TIME?
19. ANY IDEAS ABOUT WHERE WE CAN FIND ADDITIONAL FUNDING FOR OUR PROJECT?
I could make a small donation for $50.00 or so. Don’t forget, I want first copy of your book.
P.S. I am writing what I call Memories. Since I am not rich or famous, they can’t be Memoirs
Near the L & N Railroad yards in Ashland, Kentucky there was a hobo jungle. They had a big iron pot that was always cooking. I wondered if it ever got washed. Anyhow, you were welcome to eat if you contributed anything, such as food or money. I visited and slept there twice. They let me help myself to the food without earning it, probably because of my age.
I rode the trains to no place in particular. Wherever it was going was okay by me. An open boxcar was an invitation to climb in. Once, in severe cold weather, I climbed down into the ice compartment of what was referred to as a “reefer” car, for refrigerators or ice. I spent the night and half of the next day in this thing, all
the while scared of being locked in from above – but I kept warm. There was no ice inside, and no cargo either.
Once coming out of Cincinnati it was snowing big heavy flakes. I watched for an open boxcar door and found none, but a low gondola car approached. Its walls were about 4 feet high. I grabbed it and climbed over and inside. I was surprised that 27 men were sitting all around and leaning back against the sides. This included one black man who had no shoes. Instead, he had potato sacks tied around his feet. Someone asked him why. He said that when he left home with his buddy, he had new shoes and his buddy had worn out shoes. Then one morning (in his exact words) “my buddy beat me woken up”.
Sure we would knock on doors and ask for handouts. Most people were very kind and helpful. I sometimes went to missions for food or lodging. I got it, but first I had to chop wood and sit through a preaching. I gained a profound respect for the Catholic church. I never got a lecture or was asked to do anything. I was given money, usually 35 cents. My family were Methodists.
One day I was on the back of a boxcar with another boy about my age. It was a beautiful summer day, the train was speeding down through Tennessee. It’s very difficult to ride in between boxcars, so after hanging on like this for an hour or so we decided it would be safe and comfortable on top. We were there only a few minutes when a brakeman came towards us waving a stick like a ball bat at us.
My young friend was on one car nearest him and I was on the next. The guy was shouting foul language and coming on strong, so my friend climbed down the ladder and was hanging on the very bottom. The brakeman also climbed down and was hitting the rungs of the ladder and my friend’s fingers. He let go and took a terrible spill. Then he came at me and I had no choice but to get off.
I went back to my buddy and he was a mess. Skid marks all over and a crooked arm that we both knew was broken. We washed up in a nearby stream and walked a couple of hours to a nearby village. There a nice lady took charge of him and I continued on.
Work was sometimes available, such as one job I had. It was in Kentucky tobacco called Worm and Suckle. The damned worms were the size of hot dogs (no kidding). They must be pulled off by hand and stomped. The suckers, when snapped off gave off an ooze. The result was that after a few hours I had a buildup of gumlike goo on my hands a half inch thick and on my shoes it was an inch thick, but the pay was good, $1 per day.
Some jobs where the pay was good: Picking apples in New York state. Setting out tomato plants in Virginia (a real back breaker). And whitewashing fences – these jobs paid $1 per day.
On New Years Eve, January 1, 1926, I spent the night in the sand house and heard the whistles blowing and bells ringing at midnight. The sand house is located in Lexington, Kentucky. It is a large room with a large pot bellied stove in the center. It has an upside down cone (the big wide end is at the top) around the stove which is filled or shoveled full of wet sand, this is called a “hopper”. As the heat dries the sand it slowly trickled down and out. This sand is then used in the engines for traction on the rails. In the drying process it leaves the whole area with warm or hot sand and making a nice place for a cold hobo to spend the night.
One summer day in Roanoke, Virginia, I was very hungry. This was not unusual for me. I did have 5 cents and there was a farmer’s market. In the late afternoon a man still had a wagon full of cantaloupes. I asked if I could buy one for a nickel and he said I could have three for a nickel or I could have the whole wagon load for a dollar. He had been there since daylight and sold nothing.
In 1928, I shipped out of Boston for Texas City on the Severance. This was for a load of sulphur. On the return trip to Boston we hit a violent storm along the Florida coast. Birds and insects of all kinds were blown out to us like storm clouds.
We had a deck cargo of wood pulp, bales of which were washed overboard. One steel I-beam was torn loose, and bent like a pretzel. Our ship lost no one, but another ship 30 miles behind us lost 14 men overboard. Six days later, with the storm following all the way, we arrived in Boston.
You bet I was seasick the whole time, as well as a lot of old salts. The ship rolled so violently at times I was sure it would go all of the way over, upside down. I learned later that this storm was the big one that tore down the Overseas Railroad and drowned a thousand people in the Florida Everglades.
“On the beach”, in Merchant Marine lingo, meant a sailor with no ship or job. In 1929, I signed on the City of Honolulu, a passenger ship. I was an AB Seaman. AB means Certified Able Bodied Seaman, to you land lubbers. Ten days later we arrived in Honolulu.
We were greeted by about 20 natives called “Kanakas” who swam in front of our ship. They would make something similar to a daisy chain. They would begin by letting the ship come to his feet then another and another with feet on the shoulder until the chain was broken. Then they would surround our very slow moving ship.
The passengers would throw coins into the water. The swimmers would dive and bring them up and hold up the coin to show it. Then they would put it in their mouth. I was fascinated by all of this and this island.
I quit the ship and stayed on the beach for two and a half months. I actually slept on the beach at Waikiki most of the time. When I decided to leave the island, there was only one way to do this – by watching shipping news to when a ship was sailing and to where it was going.
I had my suitcase packed and had to be on the dock at sailing time. If one AB did not return to the ship in time to sail then they would sing out “Need one AB”.
Eventually, I connected in this manner and thirteen days later docked in San Pedro, California. This method is called the “Pier Head Jump”.
Back in San Pedro – a place that I considered my home port for the three years that I was on the West Coast. I quit my ship and proceeded the usual way. I paid two weeks’ room rent and bought two five dollar meal tickets at the usual restaurant. I would send some money home, usually $20. This doesn’t sound like much, but you should know that $10 would buy enough groceries for a week plus new shoes for a couple of the kids.
Then, I immediately proceeded to spend any remaining cash I had. If I did not find another ship within the next two weeks I could always run up a tab at the eatery and also for my room. They knew that someday I would return and pay up.
When one comes ashore or quits a ship, he’s called a “live one” meaning he has money or is flush. Times were tough, but a sailor’s pay was not bad. An AB rate was $62.50 per month, and that would buy a lot. A $5 meal ticket would last a week. Room rent was $5 per week – and the going price for nooky was $2. But of course, THAT was the farthest thing from my mind after being at sea for a few weeks or months.
While on my ship, the Helen S. Vinmont enroute to Tocopilla, Chile in October 1930, I had a dream. It seemed so real, I remembered the date. In my dream our ship had gone down. My shipmates and I were in a lifeboat and starving.
We drew lots to decide who would be eaten. It was decided that my little brother Mutt, who was a chubby 12 year old would be the one. In the dream no actual eating was done. The result was that Marion or Mutt as we called him lost his left thumb, it had no meat on it, and was just a dried up blackened bone.
Mind you that I am four thousand miles from home. Anyhow, I came back a couple of years later and happened to mention this dream. My mom asked when this was. When I told her the date, she went to some papers and showed me where Mutt had been to the hospital with blood poisoning in his left thumb and the doctor had considered amputating it on the same day as my dream.
Tocopilla, Chile: While based in San Pedro, California, I made two trips on an oil tanker to a town called Tocopilla. It usually took three or four days to pump out our crude oil. We were at anchor rather than docked and we off loaded onto barges.
I had extended shore leave where I met a girl named Salinas. She had a small amount of the English language. I had a small amount of Spanish. We hit it off real good. In this small town it had not rained for 48 years. Most anyone would give you a glass of beer, but drinking water was precious. To better this situation the government was building across the mountains 50 miles away a pipeline to bring in fresh water.
The project was to last two years and they needed workers. So my girl and I decided that I would quit the ship. This could not be done legally so I would do what is called “jumping ship”. I was hiding out at her house and felt I succeeded when we heard four long blasts on the whistle. This is a signal that the ship is sailing. But it did not sail.
Instead they sent out a search party for me, and they found me because I had confided to a good buddy of mine my intentions. So back to the ship and back to San Pedro, California. I never had a chance to return to Chile.
A strange thing happened on our return trip to San Pedro, California. About half way home the entire ship’s crew became very sick with food poisoning. They blamed it on canned shrimp. The most amazing part of it was that I did not get sick.
I stood two extra watches at the wheel steering the ship for a total of six hours stretch. No one was able to relieve me. The mate was upchucking in the wing of the bridge, and the captain was sick down below. As far as I know everyone was real sick. Why I didn’t get sick, I don’t know. I ate as much of the same supper as everyone else.
1931 Corinne, West Virginia. I shipped out on a cargo ship bound for New York by way of the Panama Canal. I returned home, and discovered that dad had died two years prior to this. Mom had a rough time feeding the seven kids at home.
So she made a few batches of home brew. She only sold it to a few friends, close friends. We of course had no refrigeration in those days, but we did have running water in the house. Beer or home brew is supposed to be cold when served.
Let me insert a little important note here: A Revenue Officer by the name of Mack Day had killed 42 moonshiners already. Whenever he came up on a violation of prohibition he asked no questions or gave no quarter – just opened fire. In one case 4 men were sitting around a still. They were all four killed.
Mom had four quart long neck bottles with the cap held on by heavy wire that could be snapped down and reused by reverse process. Those four bottles were in the sink with cold water running over them. We were in another room, when we heard a loud bang and another bang.
We thought “Oh my God, it’s Mack Day!”. But what had happened was that the home brew had exploded two bottles, one after another. But the other two were okay. My mom knew how to make a potent drink.
Very soon I tired of this life, so back to sea I went to earn some money to send back home. At the time I enjoyed doing this very much.
More Boston: Boston was unique to me. At 16 years old it was quite an experience, not too much of an education. A big ol’ country boy I was. I was woefully lacking in formal education. I had only completed sixth grade. I decided to start improving my education even then.
I decided the sea was for me so correspondence school was available to me in navigation. I enrolled and wanted to go for (eventually) Mate, and Captain’s license, and so on. I soon learned that colors were so very important. At the same time, I learned that I was color blind. I was told I was not color blind, only color ignorant, and that I needed to study colors. That was the wrong idea. I was hopelessly colorblind.
I gave up the idea of a career in navigation. In order to get an AB certificate, I was required to splice line and wire cable and also take a color test. This I tried many times, in many ports and was promptly rejected on colors. I finally passed in San Francisco after two years as an ordinary seaman.
The examiner says, “what’s wrong with you? Are you color blind?” I said no, its the sun’s glare, being outside has bothered my vision. It was also real bright inside. He seemed to believe me, but, he said “you be careful or you might run a ship on the rocks”.
My only trip up the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon. It was night and I was on look out. The pilot and mate were on the bridge. My job was to sing out the light that marked the channel.
Once I yelled out to the bridge, “Red light on the starboard bow, sir”. I heard the pilot say to the mate “Now what the hell is a red light doing on the starboard bow?” I quickly said “Sorry sir. Green light on the starboard bow”.
A shipping office is an employment office for seaman. One such place was run by a man called “Shanghai Harry Long”. There, you sit around the room and wait for them to sing out “Need one AB” or “Two ordinaries” or something in your line of work. Also the office got paid by the number of placements it produced.
If a ship was known to be an undesirable one, or heading on an undesirable journey or location, the men kept track of this. They knew pretty much where everything was going or what it was doing. In other words they had trouble placing men on the ship. So Shanghai Harry would lie about the ship and its destination.
There was also plenty of liquor around the place. Sometimes he would get someone drunk and take them out to the ship, at anchor and ready to sail. To Shanghai a sailor means just that. To put a man aboard against his will or knowledge of the situation.
I was a victim of this in the milder form. I was told that the ship was bound for Norfolk for a load of coal. We sailed as soon as I was put aboard. Then I learned it was headed for Freeport, Texas and a load of sulphur. It took 3 days to load the sulphur. It almost put my eyes out and my nose ran all the while.
The mosquitos were giants and hungry. There was no escaping them. It was midsummer and terribly hot. Even at night I would sleep outside on the deck and completely cover my head and body and sweat. The inside forecastle (pronounced foksul) were loaded with mosquitos, and you couldn’t get rid of all of them. The damn things would bite right through the covers.
Another ship that docked near us had a sailor who went to town, spent all his money and had to walk back. It seems he passed out on the way back and was found dead by the roadside the next morning. The mosquitos had done a complete job on him.
Once away from the dock, heading out to sea, we would wash down the decks, and the sulphur miseries were over. On the way back to Boston, we were into the big 1928 hurricane – the one that caused so much death and destruction in Florida as I mentioned earlier.
The sulphur reminds me that in Beckley, West Virginia, we had apples galore. I was about 11 at the time. We gave them away, we sold them and, whatever we could do to get rid of them. We made apple butter and cider. We saved some by peeling the apples and putting a layer in the bottom of a flour barrel. Then cover them all with sulphur then another layer of apples, and so on, filling a very large barrel. We had no refrigeration or ice box. But believe me the fruit kept, and did not taste too bad.
While on the beach in Boston I had a very good buddy, a friend who was British. He influenced me to sign on to a British ship: the Bradfyne, registered to Bideford, England. To do this I had to convince the captain that I was British. So my buddy and I cooked up this story that I was born and went to school in England.
We sailed from Boston to Philadelphia the next day. While in Philadelphia we were fed ashore as no fires were allowed. We were taking a cargo of case oil from Philadelphia to Kobe, Japan, and from there to England. The food served ashore in Philadelphia was very good. So I felt good about my upcoming trip.
But as soon as we set sail from Philly, it changed drastically. The captain could order from a menu. The other officers had a lower fare, and so on, until it came down to me which was next to the bottom of the totem pole. This class stuff did not set well with me, and I objected very much. So much so that most everyone made fun of me and otherwise picked on me.
I was given extra work and once a week, a deck crew of about 8 men was issued a large can, about 5 pounds of preserves. The crew would not open them, but would take them home, each taking turns claiming them each week and taking turns taking them home at the end of the journey. Of course, I wanted mine right now. After much hell raising I got mine the second week and proceeded to eat it. The food was terrible.
If I wanted a drink of water, I had to take a tin cup to the steward and he would give me the key to the drinking water pump. I must return the key immediately. In the two weeks from Philly to the Panama Canal, I became quite a nuisance, telling the captain and all who would listen that I was an American. This only caused me more problems.
Upon entering the Panama Canal, I jumped over the side of the ship onto the side of the locks that were pulling the ship through. We had a pilot from Panama that was aboard, which was normal and also the law. The pilot saw me jump, and said to my captain “Isn’t that your man going ashore?” The captain yelled “Stop that man”!
A rather small Panamanian jumped and grabbed for me but I bowled him over and ran. I was desperate. I walked through the jungle for awhile and came to a small village that was built on stilts about 10 feet high. I wandered around for an hour or so and was picked up by local police.
I tried to explain that I was an American. They didn’t believe me or didn’t care. I was returned to the ship as it was leaving the Pacific side of the canal. I felt terrible thinking about my journey to Japan a month away and then to England.
But after about two weeks from the Canal we got word that we were heading for California bunkers. That is fuel oil, to you land lubbers. For the next five or six days, I bugged the captain at every opportunity. He would see me coming and go below, or shut the door on me.
To my pleasure and surprise he called me in and gave me $20 American dollars. My scheduled pay was 5 pounds 5, which was $27.50 at that time. He said, “I cannot let you go ashore or I must pay a $1000 fine if you do. But a launch is coming along side with supplies. You could maybe slip into it and get ashore.”
This I did: it was San Pedro, California. The man who was running the launch saw me emerge from hiding. He said, “I have to take you back to the ship”. I said, “Not while I am alive”. He calmed down when I convinced him I was an American.
On one of my trips from California to Chile I was on the 12 to 4 watch. This means 4 hours on and 8 off. We were using the “buddy system” on American ships at the time. It means every time it is 12:00 I and another sailor are on duty till 4. This is spent in the daytime by one taking the wheel and steering the ship for two hours and the other painting or splicing the lines, maybe chipping rust. Then, changing places for the other two hours.
At night, one goes to the wheel and the other goes to the lookout on the bow of the ship. This is called fo’castle head, (pronounced folksul head). One night as I was relieving the lookout at 12 midnight, I noticed that it was almost like daylight. No moon was out, but millions of fish were packed together as far as you could see, churning the water and causing the light.
I said to the lookout who was getting ready to be relieved, “How long as this been going on?” He said “Since I’ve been here which is about two hours”. I took my two hours lookout, and two hours on the wheel. As my watch ended there had been no change in the fish population situation. We were moving through the fish at 12 knots speed. It makes me wonder. There is no fish population like that now, probably due to the fish-eating population explosion.
On long trips, things seemed lonely but we had an excellent library on board the ship. I did lots of reading and I was studying maps and charts of the stars and constellations. I became very good at identifying them on my two hour night watch.
There were many entertaining porpoises. Now they are called dolphins, which bugs me somewhat because we eat dolphins or Mahi Mahi as it is called in Hawaii. I would see the porpoises coming from far off. They would make a beeline for the bow of the ship, and swim and play a few feet from the front of the bow, until tiring of this and then leave all at the same time.
Once on a trip from Boston to Rotterdam, an eagle landed on our mast. I believe we were almost out of sight of land. It stayed with us the whole time on the 12 day crossing. I had the 4 to 8 watch and would see him, or it, fly away each morning and later return with a small bird, and once he had a fish.
It would proceed to eat the catch and squirt white paint all over the deck. But no one wanted to shoot him down. We felt that he was one of us. So we tolerated it. We knew we were nearing land and were keeping a sharp eye out for lands end, so called, as it is a first chance or sighting of land. He took off and we knew he had sighted land. A half hour later we sighted it.
We docked in Rotterdam and after securing ship no one went ashore that night. When I woke the next morning and it had snowed. There was about 2 inches on the deck and a boy 10 or 12 years old was skating up and down the deck. No skates, just his wooden shoes.
I was surprised to see this, as I considered it storybook stuff. This proved to be correct thinking when I went ashore. In the city, there was no evidence of wooden shoes or windmills anywhere.
But my second trip ashore I wanted to see the countryside. I hired a taxi. The driver spoke English fairly well, and for less than $10 a taxi could be had for 24 hours. I wanted to go out back where I saw much windmills and wooden shoes.
One night I walked a girl to her home. They call themselves “Candykids” or “Business Girls”; mine was a CandyKid. This means absolutely no nooky. Business Girls means prostitutes. After walking her to her home I was lost and wandered around for about 3 or 4 hours.
On two occasions I saw a policeman and tried to explain my situation. Neither of them could speak one word of English. I would say “Ship Saco on Cottondryke near Skedamskeike” and point, no luck. Finally, I heard a ship whistle and headed in that direction and back to my ship.
Embarcadero: While on the beach in San Francisco (remember now that “on the beach” means no ship, or the opposite of “at sea”) I was walking down Embarcadero which is on the waterfront. It is also called Skid Row by the people who live there, the natives.
Two guys were talking and one stopped me while the other started up a shell game. He had a small board in one hand and three English walnut halves in the other. He would slip a pea under one shell from between his fingers. This was so that any dummy could spot the trick, even me. I had been victimized by this once in Baltimore.
I did not want to get involved, besides, I had only less than one dollar. But his buddy, known as his “shill” says “Which one is it under?”. I said “I don’t want to bet”. But he said “Go ahead guess”. I picked the correct one and the operator handed me a dollar bill.
The shill says out of the corner of his mouth “Go ahead, take it”. So I did. They repeat this and now I have two dollars. The shill says “Bet the two dollars”. But I ran as fast as I could and mingled with the crowd with my new wealth. I didn’t get caught, and it would have been too bad if I had.
Another day in Frisco I was attending a carnival. I was attracted to a game in progress where the operator was behind a counter. He was spinning numbers on a board in back of him. Some young country boy type (something like myself) was betting money and would lose each time. The operator says “Well, you have not lost yet. The money is stacked right in front. With one win you would get it all right back plus the same amount from me.”
Finally the young man says “I have no more money”. The operator says you have one more chance to win and you can’t lose. Get five dollars and come back. I will leave all the money right here. I waited. A few minutes later the young man returned with five dollars. The operator spins the numbers and said “you lose”.
The young man called him a dirty crook and threatened to beat him up. The operator says if you want to fight then take off your glasses. He took them off. The operator reached under the counter and pulled out a claw hammer and hit the poor guy on the top of the head. He went down like a felled ox. He was carried away by two men I believed to be friends of the young man. I don’t see how he could possibly have lived after a blow like that, right on top of the head.
Also while I was in San Francisco they come out with what they called a robot. It was a traffic light, and every street corner had traffic cops and a little stand. But this they put in was an electric operated light. I think this was in 1929 or maybe 1928. This was the first traffic light that we had ever heard of and it got much publicity. It was billed as a robot. Headlines in all the papers “Robot Directs Traffic”.