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The Drifters

Story ID:6057
Written by:Monte Leon Manka (bio, contact, other stories)
Organization:retired
Story type:Story
Location:Hemet CA USA
Year:1999
Person:Drifter Chelsea Kansas Kid
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THE DRIFTER'S


While waiting in the line at the unemployment office, I, along with four others, was offered a job. We were told to assemble outside. A fat cigar-chewing guy told us we were hired to follow the wheat harvest. We were told that it was possible that we would be gone from home for six months. We would start in Texas and would finish in Canada. I was in a hurry to get out of Loredo and was ready to go. He told us he would pick us up in the morning in front of the unemployment office at 4:00 A.M.

I went to the hotel, packed my toothbrush, clean laundry, my straight razor, and left for the rendezvous.

We met the next morning at the unemployment office and introduced ourselves. Wayne Dale an ex boxer, Felix a big Indian, Wimpy a fat man, and Curly Amen the ex preacher and me, a high school dropout.

The man that hired us had a name that fit his character, Tubbs. He told us if we were at work on time we could go all the way with him. He called himself Tubby. (How fitting)
Tubbs took us to his camp and we met the rest of the gang. We were to be the bundle men and load the racks to be taken to the thrashing machine.

After working all day, we would go to the creek at night to bathe. Tubby would furnish us with soap and towels and we would wash the days dust and sweat off our bodies. Felix the Indian and Wayne Dale did not agree on anything. Wayne got out of the river to dry off and when Felix started out Dale threw a big rock in the river and splashed mud on Felix and his towel.

Felix reached under his clothes, pulled out a big knife, and started for Dale. Dale grabbed a tree limb, stood his ground, and waited for Felix. Tubby stepped between them and told them to save it for the end of the trip and then they could settle their differences. Things quieted down and we bedded down for the night.

The next morning I harnessed and hitched the horses to the bundle wagons and the drivers started for the field.

At the end of the day, as soon as the horses had been fed and supper eaten the bundle men would light up their pipes. The cigarette smokers got out the Bull Durham tobacco and papers and rolled their own smokes, lit up settled down to tell stories of their lives.

Curley Amen started with "I am a preacher." A farmer has driven me from my flock. I preached the Word every Sunday at the Chelsea church. I am what you might call, on the run.
Every Sunday I was asked by one of our congregation to come to one of their houses for dinner. I am a single man and with my good looks,

I was the main topic of conversation between the farmer's daughters.
These farmers' daughters were intrigued by my way with words, my nice smile and I had to be careful because
they all fell in love with me.

One night at the Church Social Mrs. Griffith asked me to go out to her car and help her fetch her pies and cookies she had baked into the Church. There in the dark I took her arm, she leaned against me, and I kissed her.

She melted in my arms and we sat on the running board of her Model "A" and continued to kiss.
Her husband came out looking for her and found us locked together in an embrace, grabbed his shotgun out of the rumble seat and told me I had until the count of three to get out of town. I heard "one" and I ran so fast that I did not hear the number "two" and I am still running.

Everyone laughed and Wayne Dale told Curley if that had been his wife that he would have shot first then counted to three.

We were moving to Canton, Oklahoma, in the morning to start our next harvesting project. We loaded all the machinery on the flat cars, the horses in the cattle cars at the railroad yard, and headed out.

A day later we unloaded the machinery and horses at the Canton Railroad Station and started a job at the edge of town. This farmer had a pretty daughter and we watched Curley closely. We did not want to be run out of town.

This girl would bring Iced tea, lemonade and water to the job site every morning and every evening. We found out Curley was not the one to watch, the broken nosed, cauliflowered eared Wayne Dale was sweet-talking her. While we were drinking he was talking low to her and she would smile and duck her head shyly.

That evening we were sitting in the barn and Felix the Indian told us Canton was his home at one time. Felix was 1/2 Comanche and 1/4 Sioux. He had been sent to school by the taxpayers of Oklahoma and while in college he had a run in with the Algebra Professor.

The Professor told me to quit honing my 'long knife' while he was lecturing to the class. He said that the sound of the knife on the whetstone was irritating to the rest of the class.
I put my 'long knife' away. When class ended I walked out into the hall and I heard a scream. I walked back into the room and someone had cut the Professors throat. I leaped out the window and hid in the buck brush until I thought I could leave. I did not kill the professor but I knew I would be a prime suspect. I headed for Texas and am still on the run.

We told Felix we would cover for him while he hid out until we moved to Alva next Saturday.
The next morning the Sheriff came to our camp and wanted to know if anyone from our group had gone to town the night before. We were questioned separately and I found that it was not Felix they wanted but that the Bank of Canton had been robbed. The robber had taken 15,000 dollars and left the bank personnel tied in the vault.

We all had alibi's but Wayne Dale. He finally told the Sheriff that he had taken the farmer's daughter to the Canton City Cinema. He didn't want to tell the Sheriff because he didn't want the farmer to find out. The Sheriff told him he wouldn't tell. The Sheriff checked Wayne's story, got on his horse and rode on down the road.
The next evening we loaded up the gear and headed for Alva for a three-week job.

PayDay finally arrived and we were paid $30.00 for the month. We headed for the nearest bar. If you were from some state other than Oklahoma, you were not greeted with open arms. The Oklahoma bar patrons glared at us as we walked in. Some of us were from Texas, Kansas and one from Missouri. The local Oklahoma bar patrons made remarks calling us drifters, bums hobos and other names that I could not print.

When we first walked in, those Oklahoma boys looked pretty tough. As we consumed the rotgut put out by the bartender, we felt tougher. Tiring of the slurs and bad mouthing Felix stood and challenged the biggest Okie, to a fight. Wayne Dale stood and said he would take on all comers.

Wayne and Felix stood side by side and readied themselves for a fight. The Preacher said a quick prayer and ran out.

As I stood to help, I was hit on the head with a bottle and the next thing I remembered was the doctor saying that he did not think there was a concussion.

The next morning at the breakfast table Felix and Wayne looked terrible. Black eyes, cut lips, bruises and bandaged knuckles. They were laughing and talking about the beating they got. They also got in a few good punches.

The Sheriff of Woods County told Tubbs that he would give him two more days in Alva and he better be gone by the third. We finished in one and headed for Russell, Kansas.

The people of Russell were very friendly and treated us nice. We decided while we were there we would stay out of trouble.

Our first job was on the Thielen farm. This farmer had three thousand acres of wheat and we knew we would be there for quite a while.

This guy and his wife always came out to the thrasher site in the evening when we quit for the day and served fine whiskey to help us unwind. We were brought sandwiches about 10:00 A.M. and later in the afternoon here came the cold tea, water, and more sandwiches. We were all putting on the fat because of the abundance of food and the thoughtfulness of these two good people.
These people were older but it didn't seem to matter they were there every day.

One day Mr. Thielen said something about painting his house. He said he never had the time or always had some good excuse to put it off.

The gang got together that night, talked about the paint job, and decided to do it for him.
The next day was Sunday. When the old couple left for Church the gang got the paint and brushes, and the crew, 35 in all, painted the house. With 35 men painting, the job was finished before church let out and we cleaned the place up and left. When the old folks came home, they drove by their house twice before realizing that it was their house and was a different color.

With tears in their eyes they thanked us and gave each one a hug and a handshake. I found out years later that they wanted to paint the house Yellow, we had painted it White, oh well.

Before we left the Sheriff of Russell County questioned us about the robbery of the Russell State Bank. We were all questioned and allowed to move on.

We packed up and headed for Nebraska. Tubbs had got a contract in Kearny for a week stay. Tubbs called us into the barn and said that one of us was a crook. He didn't know who it was, but the bank robbery's when we were in town were too much of a coincidence. He said someone was lying and if he ever found out who it was there would be hell to pay.

Wimpy was a good worker but he was fat and slow. The rest of the crew had to work harder to make up for his slowness. The grumbling started, and they decided to teach Wimpy a lesson. Wimpy was told if he didn't shape up he would catch hell.

Wimpy was the last to get on the
wagon in the morning and the last to get on at night. Every one was tired of being held up by this turtle. One field was five miles from the campsite and while Wimpy was gathering up his pitchfork Wayne whipped the horses and we ran away from Wimpy.

It took Wimpy three hours to walk the five miles. By the time he got to the camp the cook had cleaned up and had gone to town. Wimpy went to bed hungry that night, he was never late again.

The town of Kearny was twenty miles from the campsite and when we were paid, Tubbs took us into town in his Model "A" truck. We got to town and found that the county we were in was a dry county so no bars or hard whiskey. We were mad.

We got all dressed up in our best Jeans and Overalls, now nothing to do. Wayne Dale told us to wait for him while he went into a snooker parlor. When he came out, he said to follow him. We followed him to a big house on the edge of town and went in.

The owner asked if we wanted some moonshine. We ordered a bottle apiece and left to go next door.

Wayne knocked and a woman by the name of Belle opened the door and we went in. Then Wayne, Wimpy, Felix, Preacher and I walked inside. I had never seen so many pretty ladies in my life. There was Elizabethbelle, Clarabelle, Marybelle and my pick Jezebelle.

We found a table, ordered glasses, and opened the moonshine and here came the ladies. The one I picked, Jezebelle, was a little heavy, not to good looking and had a toothless smile. The more moonshine I drank the prettier she got. The thing she had on was pretty thin and didn't hide much.

Two more shots of Moonshine and she got thinner and prettier. Suddenly the door burst open and the Sheriff said "this is a raid."

We were taken to jail to spend the night. The boss wouldn't bail us out. Tubbs said it was our fault and we should suffer one night in jail.

The next morning the Sheriff told us not to come back in town and to move on. We had terrible headaches the next morning and the heat from the sun was almost more than we could take. Most were so sick from the moonshine that we finished the job that afternoon rather than the morning and the -Sheriff escorted us out of Kearny.

The next day we read where the Kearny National Bank was robbed. Our alibi was we were in jail.
Tubbs decided to skip the Dakota's. We rode the train and moved into Carbon, Alberta.

We had just unloaded and established a campsite and a Mountie rode up and said that the Queen Anne National bank, of Carbon Alberta had been robbed and we were all suspects. We had just arrived and knew nothing about a robbery.

The cook came into the camp and the Mountie told him to come with him. Turns out the cook was robbing the banks on the way up to Canada and we were being accused of the robberies.

We needed a cook and we agreed on Wimpy. Wimpy could go slow and still get the meals on time. Wimpy would also be out of our way in the fields.
We set up the tents on Mr. Johnson's farm and prepared to start the job in the morning. This turned out to be my last stop.

When the thrashing was finished Tubbs and the crew moved out and went back to Texas for the winter. Tubbs told me he would be back next year about this time. He paid me, wished me luck, and left.

Wimpy, Curly, Felix and Wayne took turns shaking my hand and we discussed meeting again next summer and painting the town red. I turned and walked toward the barn.

Mr. Johnson had a daughter, she was cute and my age. She and I decided to go to the movies. She and I decided to marry. I settled down and worked on the Johnson farm and Emy and I lived happily ever after.

Monte L. Manka 12-22-99

(epilogue's follow)