Those of you who have been to our home have probably noticed the large Hobo painting in our family room of Oklahoma Slim, also known as the "Mayor of Beverly". He is one of the most interesting people I have ever known. Our friendship began on a cold winter night in 1981.
A friend and I were riding the newly abandoned Milwaukee R.R. on a week long railbike trip across the state of Washington. We had a narrow window of opportunity to ride the most remote of all the transcontinental railroads before the salvagers moved in to disassemble what had been the most expensive railway ever built. It was getting dark and a cold wind was blowing down out of the Saddle Mountains when we found the mayor's boxcar shaped shack at the edge of town. I walked up a few rickety stairs to a small wooden platform and slapped my knuckles hard against a weathered door. A gruff voice called out from the back of the cabin, “who’s there?" I told him my name and that Al Parrish from Kittitas had told us to stop by and visit the mayor of Beverly.
We waited a few moments until the door was unlatched. Appearing before us was a wild looking man with a gray beard and a shaggy mustache. The light from the open door revealed a large diagonal scar that ran down across his cheek and disappeared into his chin. He wore cut off pajamas that were badly torn and blew open in the wind to add to the already interesting introduction ceremony. His eyes looked gray and friendly but he showed some concern about us being there and especially on one of his early to bed nights. I quickly mentioned to him again that Al Parrish, the railroad salvager, had encouraged us to meet the mayor of Beverly and that Slim was one of the last true hobos.
His eyes then sparkled and a welcoming expression began to spread over his face and we were invited into the cabin. Heat radiated from a pot-bellied stove in the center of the room. I immediately noticed life-like human figures painted on the wall in front of me. People representing all the different races were reaching out with their hands as if to be warming themselves over his stove. On another wall he had painted a hobo camp or "jungle" nestled near the rails with two red boxcars in the background. Two hobos were seated together on a log sharing food over an open fire.
We talked for over an hour. It became quite clear to us that the graphics on the interior walls of his cabin clearly symbolized Slim's outlook on life. He was proud of his past and shared openly with us some of the good and bad times of his long and storied life. He had run away from home when he was seven years old and he had been riding freight trains for six decades. He was proud to tell us that he was now a rubber tramp and every week he would drive his van fifty miles to the Wenatchee rail yard to serve to the knights of the Iron road his favorite mulligan stew. He was very clear about how he wanted to be remembered and he made a point of telling us the following definitions. A hobo, he said was a migratory worker, a tramp is a migratory non-worker, and a bum was a non-migratory, non-worker. Slim taught me a lot over the years. I felt at times that Slim was observing all of us through a one way glass window and that he could make clearer assessments about our human behavior and societal trends than if he had been mid stream. I wasn't the only one who felt intrigued with Slim. There were several newspapers who ran stories about one of the last true "hobos".
Fast Forward Fifteen Years--- I continued to visit Slim from time to time , bringing him a fruit basket ,or for any reason to pay him a visit. One year he came to Coeur d' Alene and spoke to the students at N.I.C. about hobo life in the twenties . I mailed to him a Greyhound Bus ticket and he stayed in our home sleeping beneath the prized painting of himself that hangs above our fireplace.
The stories he told the students were both entertaining and scary like the time he fought a tramp on the roof of a moving box car until one of them fell off and it wasn't Slim . Ann welcomed this wonderful man and she could tell that he was a man of wisdom. Later we found out that Slim owned an old typewriter and printed his own newsletter in which he would give copies to his friends in Wenatchee and then mail a few copies to old friends. Some of the stories about Slim's life were truly remarkable.
One of the stories from the thirties, however, has always stood out in my mind and I want to share it with my friends. It is in the same formant (original grammer and spelling) as when it appeared in Slim’s newsletter, THE HOBO. Every time I think about bowling I think about this amazing story.
Reprinted from THE HOBO
The judge, whitehaired kindley faced distinguished looking in his court robes he walked with pride to his bench. I wondered what kind of story I could lay on him to get out of this mess.
The first man came up before the bench and said, Your Honor, I am a married man looking for work to feed my … Enough of your stories said the Judge I have heard them all. I,ll have you know I am related to Hanging Judge Parker of Arkansas who cleaned up Arkansas and Okla and I intend to do the same here. (Behind his back he was known as Blackjack Parker because he had his finger stuck in the twentyone hole. (Twentyone days, twentyone months, twentyone years.)
WE ALL GOT
ON THE FARM.
Slim He say, You wanna hang it on the fence (run escape) without a thought I said yes, whats the deal? I got it fixed with the waterboy when we get to the end of the row he start a fight, the guards like it when the guys fight so they geather round, we will be a short bit from the fence and we do it.
The guards could have come out of one mold. White Stetson, tan clothing, wide gun belt holding up a big b elly and a .45 cowboy boots, and sadistic. We waited till the yells started and the guards rode over on their horses to cheer the fighters on. We dropped our hoe,s and ran. I cleared the fence just as the first shot went off over our heads. I heard the fence groan and knew Stub hadent made it, I counted two and fell down just as Stub was getting up, the next shot went off and Stub groaned I knew he had got hit but this was no time to stop, I jumped up and ran like I had never ran before. I hit the creek bottom and ran till I thought my heart would pound out my chest.
I was exhausted, couldent run any more, so crawled behind a boulder and passed out. How long I was out I don’t know but came to when I hear someone moving down the creek bed. I had no plans for chopping anymore cotton for the great State of…..well never mind what State, they have long memories I hadent given my name so lets keep it that way.
I picked up a fist size rock and prepared to discuss the situation and nearly brained Stub as he walked around the boulder. He was pooped also so we rested a bit, I looked at his back, there was three buckshot under the skin, I got out my switchblade and dug them out.
We had to move so set a hard fast pace for hours until we came to Cornbread County line which was also the State line, we felt a little safer then but still kept moving along. We crossed a couple roads with care stayed in the woods until we came to a railroad, we walked north and I wondered if this was the same feeling the blacks had when they was trying to escape the south and I bet it was.
Just getting dark, in the distance I hear a train whistle, Stub I say, you ever grab one of these things? Yeah he say, Stub I say you sure you know how to do it? Yeah Yeah he say, O K then but catch on the front not the back of the car you understand? O K he say. The front NOT THE BACK.
The freight was moving at a good clip but I had cought faster and knew I could get it. I grabbed a handful of boxcar and swing up and looked back, everything went into slow motion, Stub ran along side of the freight a bit and grabbed the eBACK of a car, it whirled him around in between the cars and broke his hold and he was on the rail. I don’t remember dropping off but had to do it and see what I could do. The train disappeared in the dark, he lost one leg the right one below the knee, It wasent bleeding much but I took my belt and put on a tournimquet anyway and told him I would go for help.
I went back a mile to a little shack I had seen and told the man what had happened, he cranked up his Model T and drove up the right of way until we reached Stub, he was still in shock but when we loaded him in the truck he yelled to get his leg cause they might be able to sew it on.
We chugged into this little town and found the hospital, a small place, white building, green lawn and the heavy smell of magnolias. I pounded on the emergency door but could get no answer so ran around to the front and down the long hall to where a nurse was setting. I told her of the problem and she pulled out a form and ask WHO is going to pay for this. Dammit I say the man needs help now we can fill the form later. No she say we fill the form first. I ran out the door and back to the truck, we put Stub against the door and I told the farmer to beat it and never tell anyone how he had helped us.
I grabbed Stub, a leg and ran around to the front and steped just inside the door.
Anyone who bowls would have admired my next step. I took three running steps let my arm swing just right and sailed Stub,s leg down that long hallway. It slide right up against the desk of this budding Florence Nightingale with a bang and left a little line of blood all the way. I told the nurse, if this man dies I will charge you and this hospital with murder. I tore out the door hit for the bush,s and hid.
I laid in the busues for over an hour and watched the room I figured they would bring Stub to and the rain came down, this brought out the smell of magnolies, I hate magnolies. They brought Stub in and put him to bed, I knew where he was so left for the yeads to hunt for a boxcar to sleep in and even as wet as I was I did go to sleep.
The next morning I went into the hospital and into Stub,s room, Slim he say I was hoping you would come back to see me, I kept out something for you to eat. He held out a buttered biscuit just as my fungerd touched it it slipped and fell to the floor butter side down of course. There was a brief struggle between my hungrey belly and the dirty floor and the floor lost, I grabbed the the biscuit and gulped it down.
Slim he say I always been a Hex to others, you know how I got the name Stub? He held out his hand, the first finger was gone I dinged a packing houre and had a nice bunch of mety bones, was chopping them up to cook while the boys was out trying to hustle stuff to go with the stew. I was hacking the bones with a heavy piece of iron and dam if I dident hit my finger and wack it off I just wraped it with a rag and went ahead and cooked the stew.
It was agood stew, we was all happy with full bellys setting back with a smoke and I thought I would have just a taste more, was digging in the bottem of the pot and found a finger-nail…. It dawned on me I hadent look for the finger and somehow or other it had popped over into the stew. Now I am on the horns of the well known dilemma should I tell the boys or not, If I tell them they might get sick and maybe beat on me somewhat, I dug a little hold and buried the fingernail.
Stub I say I got to move, yeah he say, don’t worry about me they don’t want any one legged cotton chopper. I took a quick look in the hall to see if the nurse was around then slide out fast and headed for the yards.
In this life style you must be aware at all times of things, cal it E.S.P if you want. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck and knew someone was watching and spoted her, a nice looking little old lady setting in a swing on her front porch. When I got to her gate I turned in and walked up to her, Tipping my hat I said Mam, I am a very hungrey man and I wonder if you have some work I might do for a little food?
A half mile away I hear the north bound freight hiball this was no time to diddle around, I flat out ran for the yards bull or no bull. Cought it on the fly and as I waved goodby to the southland I swore I would never go south of the magnolia line again. Years later I did go south tho and paid for it but that’s another story. Those cottonpickers have long memories.
Names of some of my friends.
CHOO CHOO jOHNSON
Oklahoma Slim was born in 1914. His home life was rough and he began to hang out with a street gang at age seven, stealing food to survive. The law caught up with him and put him in a boy’s home. He picked up a little education at the home and busted out and began to hop trains. (freights and passenger) When he would ride passenger trains he would ride the BLIND which was a spot between the tender and the baggage car where it was hard to spot a human being. In the twenties and thirties he would sometimes ride under rail cars on the rods and brake beams and when the weather was good he would sit on the cat walk on the roof of a boxcar. From the forties on he rode in open boxcars or where ever he could find a spot that was relatively safe.
In February 1999 Oklahoma Slim caught the westbound. He is buried less that 10 feet from the main line of Burlington Northern R.R. in the little town of Quincy, Washington. Carved into his grave stone is the following inscription:
“OKLAHOMA SLIM – PLAY THE HAND THAT IS DEALT YOU