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Hobo in Missoula in 1968.

January 13, 2016



Becky Cuffe, at right, in front the Milwaukee Road tracks.  University buildings in the background.  The other two guys are Allen Lenhart and Steve Franklin.

January 13, 2016

Three of us in Missoula in the middle of fall, 1968, walked down to the Milwaukee Road tracks.  To smoke marijuana?  Maybe, but I doubt that we would have had any.  I think we were just sort of wandering around in the light snowfall, probably skipping a morning class.  If I remember right, it was Becky, Virginia, and me.

The railroad tracks held a fascination because in those days hobos traveled through, sometimes setting up camp along the south bank of the Clark Fork River.  At most, a few hundred yards north of the University where we were students.

These days the tracks are gone and people run and bike there.

That chilly day, I’m thinking Becky led the way.  In fact, the whole adventure was probably her idea.  Depends on what she had been reading.

The Madison Street Bridge, where the tracks ran under, offered some protection from the snow, but not the cold breeze from Hell Gate Canyon.

An old man sat by a campfire there.  We headed his way.  Finally, Becky walked up to him.

“Hi,” she said, “do you mind if we visit?”

The man looked up at us.  I doubt if we — two women and one man — looked threatening.  Especially because Becky smiled broadly.  She had a round, freckled, face and bright red hair.  Like ‘Wendy,’ in ads these days.

The man said simply, “Okay.”  He had a stubble of whiskers.  He wore denim coveralls and a fleece-lined leather coat.  His hat had earflaps.  He looked like he needed a bath.  He had no luggage.  I figured he was a wino.  Becky took him for more than that.

I wished I had brought my camera, the Argus C-3 I got from my late grandma.

Daniel StruckmanMy mother snapped this photo of me the previous summer, 1968.

After exchanging some pleasantries, Becky told the man she thought he looked very wise.  He smiled and didn’t disagree.  We were all into Eastern religious stories with holy mendicants.  Wise people and kings who posed as poor wanderers.

Memories are not clear, but he urged us to visit the university library to seek important secrets within books.  “They have the secrets, but you have to look carefully because they won’t tell you where they are,” he said.  He didn’t tell us more than that.

It was snowing, so Becky invited him to eat at the student dining facility.  She thought she could sneak him in.  “I’ll pretend you’re my dad,” she said.

He declined her offer.  He sat by his fire as we three students hunkered around it.  Then we stood and returned to the campus.

Oh yes, I don’t remember when he said it, but at one point he got a wild, far-off look, rolling his eyes toward the eastern sky.

He told us that sometimes he could “hear the music.”  He repeated this but did not elaborate.

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