A Voice from Beyond: II

“Kirkwood,” he announced, for the duffel bag’s enlightenment. “Time to depart our rail-bound carriage.”
    The next town would be Webster’s Grove, where he intended to stop. Not that he had any business in the small community, or any business being in Missouri, for that matter. However, he did wish to avoid some business that he expected to find in St. Louis, only a short distance farther down the track.
    It was in the larger centers such as St. Louis where those who might catch freight on the fly ran the greatest risk of running into “Bulls.” Two years before he had met some of those St. Louis Bulls and, after they had talked to him with brass knuckles and bung starters, they had helped him detrain in Webster’s Grove.
    With tens of thousands of young men, and sometimes women, riding the rails of the land, railroad companies had hired large numbers of security personnel to discourage these non-paying passengers. Since they did not deem it logical to spend a great deal to handle a problem that was already costing them, very little was spent on wages or training for these railroad “detectives”. It was not difficult to hire great numbers for the work, since there was no other, but the caliber of personnel was not usually high. They were often bullies or “Bulls”, and may have caused more death and injury than falling off or under trains.
    Garnet Smith was one of those who had made a life for himself by finding work wherever the last freight had dropped him. Three years before, in 1932, he had convinced himself that he would be less of a burden to his family if he went off on his own. There were several times, including the meeting with the St. Louis Bulls two years before, when he would have dearly loved to be a burden to anyone rather than a load for someone to dump.
    He remembered his earlier visit to East Missouri with a mixture of embarrassment and pleasure. He should have known better than to try and go through a large center on a long freight, close to a shift change when the bulls would be awake, sober, and at their meanest. However, he also might not have wound up in Webster’s Grove where he met a man who helped to start him on a run of relative successes.
    He made his first visit to “The Groves” – as residents of Webster’s Grove called their town – with the help of two railroad men. One Bull, more attentive than most – or perhaps one who enjoyed beating defenseless men more than his mates – stayed on the train after it passed through St. Louis on its way southwest. As they approached The Groves, he had found Gar Smith in an empty gondola car. As he awoke, Gar was introduced to the attentions of a sawed-off baseball bat. Another bull was sliding into the car while trying to slip brass knuckles over his fingers. Gar avoided certain injury by instead choosing the possibility of injury. He jumped from the moving train.
    With no money, no job, and in no physical condition to take a job after going from 50 miles per hour to zero in seven bounces, Gar spent that first night in The Groves’ jail on an uncomfortable cot and a charge of vagrancy. However, the Sheriff who had arranged his evening lodging had also arranged work for him on the following day. It had turned out to be three of the more pleasant weeks of Gar’s extensive travels.
 to be continued next week

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