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Hip in Montana in the 1960s.

June 12, 2016

June 11, 2016 @1910

What I learned about being on the bum.  The best lesson of all:  if hitch hiking, stand by a stop sign with your thumb out.  That way, people have a chance to get used to the idea of picking up someone.  Look like the person you want to pick you up.  Look decent.  You know what I mean.  Wear clean clothes.  If you have a pack or a suitcase, put it out of the way behind you.  I’ve done all that and been picked up in less than 10 minutes.


Tom Struckman, about 1964, with nephews Chris and Chuck Angel in Dillon, Montana.

If you want to take a freight train, just go to the freight yard, find a railroad worker, then ask him or her where to get on a train that will take you where you want to go.  Nine out of ten times the person will help you.  Be warned.  Boxcars are notoriously uncomfortable, once you get rolling.  The jolting up and down will rattle your jaws and make you want to stand all the time to absorb the shocks.  Better than a boxcar is a gondola car full of just about anything that will absorb the impact of the rails as you roll along on them.  A load of steel rods or sheet metal is a pretty good cushion.  I’m speaking from experience.

Like Frank Zappa famously said, “I’ve got to do something / to make my life complete.  / I’ve got to live my life / out on the street.”

How did the transition from beatnik to hippie happen for me?

My brother, Tom Struckman, was a true beatnik.  A musician in the 50s, he played the horn, then the guitar in the early 60s.  He and his friends listened — and played — all kinds of classical and jazz music.  They drank beer and wine, recited poetry, read widely, smoked cigarettes, wore black, and listened to Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Pete Seger, and others from the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival.  Tom flunked out of the university at Missoula, Montana, then took remedial courses at the College in Dillon, then went to the University of Oregon at Eugene.  Tom flunked out because he quit going to classes.

When Tom came home after a school term at Eugene he brought with him some issues of the Berkeley Barb newspaper and some Marvel Comics, like Spiderman.  These both had a huge effect on me.  I started thinking a lot about the idea of freedom of thought, freedom from religious dogma, freedom to drop out of society and to turn on to the counter culture that was growing in the cities like San Francisco, Eugene, Seattle, and especially, Missoula, Montana.

I corresponded with my brother by mail while he was at Eugene concerning the counter culture.  Ultimately, I broke up with my straight laced high school girlfriend in Dillon, stole a friend’s car, and drove to Eugene to spend some time with my brother, Tom.  Tom had friends in Eugene, the McVeys, Jerry and Judy.  These three were into marijuana and they shared it with me when I arrived.  They helped me get over the breakup with my girlfriend.

At first, when I smoked it, I couldn’t tell what was different.  Then I felt paranoid, then I learned what being stoned was like.  Lastly, I returned to Montana where I returned the car I had stolen.  Luckily, the friend from whom I had stolen the car forgave me.  Another friend and I traveled to Chicago in the same car I stole and, although we drank a lot of beer on the way, we smoked no grass.  That was me and Tad.  We had permission to drive the car, this time.


Allen Lenhart, Steve Franklin, Becky Cuffe, about 1968.  Certifiably hip.

Finally, in the Fall of 1967, I enrolled at the University of Montana and fell into the company of a mass of hip teenagers who did smoke.  Soon we were smoking socially and enjoying each others’ company.  We weren’t old enough to drink alcohol, so we didn’t.  We did smoke plenty of pot and occasionally took what someone told us was LSD.  Who knows what it was really?  We just had to take the word for it from whatever scruffy character sold it to us.

One thing was clear.  We hippies had to grow out our hair and wear scruffy clothing, such as bell-bottom pants, or we had no credibility with each other.  No credibility meant no pot or other mind-altering drugs.  No pot meant no fun.  Therefore, we all grew our hair long and tried to formulate an ethic that would set us apart, somehow.  Some sort of cross between the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez.  Anti-war.

Next:  Shoeless in Seattle on Hippie Hill.

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One Comment
  1. just re reading…Tom flunked out at U of M even tho he had such a wit and a talent as to write an 18 page term paper in iambic pentameter, in closed couplets. He also wrote one of the best e e cummings poems that e e cummings never wrote.

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