Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Great American Bum

“So many men were killed and maimed that Wall Yard became known as ‘The Slaughter House.’ In my fourth, and final, night on the Pensy payroll there, two lads went under the wheels  and the rest of us went home. According to superstition, still quoted on occasion, gruesome mishaps came by threes, and nobody wanted to be the third casualty.” — Service Letters, by Haywire Mac, Railroad Magazine, Vol. 65, No. 6, February 1955


On April 24, 1957 the death of singer/songwriter Harry K. “Haywire Mac” McClintock, born October 8, 1882, at Knoxville, Kentucky, was reported in San Francisco. He once described his father as religiously strict. His heroes were his boomer uncles who taught him songs like ‘The Unreconstructed Rebel.’

As a young merchant marine, McClintock had left the United States and taken up railroading in Rhodesia, then found his way to China during the Boxer Rebellion, where he worked as a newsman’s aide. Next he could be found in the Philippines acting as a civilian mule train packer for the American troops. McClintock would later describe the American-Philippine war (1899-1902) as “the Asiatic slaughter.”

 WOBBLY   When the IWW was founded in 1905 — IWW, Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labor movement against capitalism — McClintock signed on and became what was popularly called a ‘Wobbly’ or, collectively, the ‘Wobblies.’ 

“Quitting my last ship in Philadelphia, I started hoboing westward on the Pennsy and landed at one of the world’s busiest spots, in the dynamic surge of one of the biggest booms in American history. That was the Pittsburgh district in 1902.” — Service Letters, by Haywire Mac, 1955

McClintock “alternated between the coal scoop, the switch key, and the brake club, not to mention the banjo that I tickled in gin mills and honky tonks to get a few bucks.” He met the Wobblie poet and songwriter Joe Hill at Portland, Oregon in the fall of 1910. The pair moved on to San Pedro in 1911, working as longshoremen. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies, and performed at union meetings and strikes all over the country.
 HAYWIRE   Haywire Mac claimed to be the first man to sing Hill’s famous IWW song ‘Preacher and the Slave’ in public. The song was based on the hymn ‘In the Sweet By and By.’ One of Haywire Mac’s most popular songs was ‘Hallelujah! I’m a Bum’ based on another old hymn ‘Revive Us Again.’ It was a Wobbly tradition to set seditious songs to the tunes of old hymns. The Salvation Army competed with Wobblies on street corners and ironically set their own hymns to old music hall and vaudeville songs. (See for instance Footprints in the Snow; The Intercontinental Journey of a Song, by Julay L. Brooks, in The Old-Time Herald, Vol. 13, No.4, Dec 2012.)

“The Southern Pacific will always be linked in my mind with the switchmen’s “outlaw strike” of 1920. I was in that up to my ears. Sixty-four of us were named in a federal indictment charging “conspiring to interfere with interstate commerce,” but the case never came to trial, and Father Time himself voided the indictments.”  Service Letters, by Haywire Mac, 1955

He claimed to have played on a professional ball team and to have studied at the Chicago School of Fine Arts. By 1925 McClintock had his own radio show on KFRC in San Francisco with his “Haywire Orchestry” and played with “the once famous Blue Monday Jamboree.” He married and had one daughter. He was a harbor guard at Wilmington, California, until his retirement in 1952.

McClintock began recording for Victor Records in March 1928 at Oakland, California. Most of his songs were cowboy ballads rather than the IWW songs he is famous for. His recording of ‘Jesse James’ had a subtle anti-railroad/banker subtext but his first topical songs were ‘The Bum Song’ and ‘Hallelujah! I’m a Bum,’ both of which were successful sellers.

 BIG ROCK  In Hollywood on September 6, 1928, he recorded his most famous song ‘The Big Rock Candy Mountains.’ Postcards with the printed lyrics show that he had composed the song about 1906 by cleaning up an older bawdy song sung by hobos. The original song was about hoboes molesting children along the railroad and in the hobo jungles. The bawdy original has not survived but the words of the last stanza were

The punk rolled up his big blue eyes
And said to the jocker, “Sandy,
I’ve hiked and hiked and wandered too,
But I ain’t seen any candy.
I’ve hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I’ll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo’s whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

One stanza was lifted from an old song called ‘The Dying Hobo.’

Sacramento Daily Record-Union, May 9, 1895
The influence of spring is not lost on the hobo. It even moves him to poetry. The other day the following lines were found in a cell at the city prison that had just been vacated by some tramps. It is entitled ‘The Dying Hobo.’
It was at a Western water-tank,
One cold November day;
Within an empty boxcar
A dying hobo lay.
His partner stood beside him,
With sad eyes and drooping head,
And patiently he listened
As his dying comrade said:
“I am going,” said the hobo,
“To a land that’s fair and bright –
Where the weather’s always warm enough
To sleep outdoors at night;
Where handouts grow on bushes,
And folks ne’er comb their locks,
And little streams of alcohol
Are running down the rocks.
Go tell my Front-street sweetheart,
When next her face you view,
That I’ve caught the Great Eternal Freight –
I’m going to ride it through.
Go tell her not to weep for me –
No tears in her eyes to lurk –
For I’m going to a country fair,
Where no man has to work.
“Hark! I hear the engines whistle!
I must catch her on the fly!
Oh, heaven bless you dear old pard –
It is so hard to die!”
He bowed his head; he dropped his eyes
And he never spoke again;
His partner left and jumped the beam
Of an eastbound tourist train.

The Dying Hobo was loosely based on an old Scottish ballad from the 1840s called ‘Bingen on the Rhine,’ the British music halls knew it as ‘Standing on a Platform.’ A 1906 Railroad Trainman magazine printed the song as either written by or submitted by John Kern.

“A favorite remark was to say you were going to the Indian Valley Line, the IVL being a mythical pike somewhere in the Big Rock Candy Mountains where you could always find a job at top pay and ideal working conditions. Sometimes the term Indian Valley Line was used in referring to death.” — Service Letters, by Haywire Mac, 1955

The Duluth, Minnesota Daily Herald reported in 1910 “ANOTHER PRISON BOASTS OF POET.” A native of Duluth, the young Italian Joseph Colavita, stole some goods from a department store and after a sensational chase was run down by police in Milwaukee and sent to the penitentiary at Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“Among Colavita’s possessions was found a notebook filled with descriptions of places he had visited, and trips he had taken on which he had beaten his way on the railroads, the aggregate making many thousands of miles, his itinerary extending as far westward as Los Angeles, Cal., and as far east as Milwaukee and Chicago. The notes were all neatly written and correctly spelled and punctuated. Also in the notebook was found a poem, “words and music by Joseph Colavita” entitled “A Dying Hobo,” of which the first stanza and chorus follow:
Beside a Western water tank, one cold November day,
Inside an empty boxcar, a dying hobo lay.
As his partner stood beside him, with low and dropping head,
Listening to the last words this dying hobo said.
“I am going to a better land, where everything is bright;
Where hand-outs grow on bushes, and sleep out every night;
Where you don’t have to work at all, or even change your socks,
And little streams of whiskey come trinkling down the rocks.

A 1924 version in the Boston Herald changed the location of the hobo’s sweetheart to Denver and ends

The hobo stopped, his head sank low,
He had sung his last refrain,
And his comrade swiped his hat and shoes
And caught the westbound train.
 RODGERS   Jimmie Rodgers borrowed a line from ‘The Dying Hobo’ for his famous song ‘Waiting for a Train’ (1929).

     (train whistle)
All around the water tank, waiting for a train
A thousand miles away from home, sleeping in the rain
I walked up to the brakeman, to give him line of talk
He says if you’ve got money, I’ll see that you don’t walk
I haven’t got a nickel, not a penny can I show
Get off, get off you railroad bum, he slammed the boxcar door
He put me off in Texas, a state I dearly love
The wide open spaces all around me, the moon and stars up above
Nobody seems to want me, or lend me a helping hand
I’m on my way from Frisco, I’m going back to Dixieland
Though my pocketbook is empty, and my heart is full of pain
I’m a thousand miles away from home just waiting for a train

 BIG ROCK   BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAINS (in the 1928 version McClintock alternated between ‘mountain’ and ‘mountains’)

One evening as the sun went down
And the jungle fire was burning,
Down the track came a hobo hikin’,
And he said, boys, I’m not turning
I’m headed for a land that’s far away
Besides the crystal fountain
So come with me, we’ll go and see
The Big Rock Candy Mountain

In the Big Rock Candy Mountain,
There’s a land that’s fair and bright,
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night.
Where the boxcars all are empty
And the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees
And the cigarette trees
The lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountain
All the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
The farmers’ trees are full of fruit
And the barns are full of hay
Oh I’m bound to go
Where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall
The wind don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol
Come a trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railway bulls are blind
There’s a lake of stew
And of whiskey too
You can paddle all around ’em
In a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain

In the Big Rock Candy Mountain,
The jails are made of tin.
And you can walk right out again,
As soon as you are in.
There ain’t no short-handled shovels,
No axes, saws or picks,
I’m a-goin’ to stay
Where you sleep all day,
Where they hung the Turk
That invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
I’ll see you all this coming fall
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

 READ   more service letters by Haywire Mac, HERE.

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