Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sand On The Tracks - A Bum Finds His Beach

It started in a rail yard in 1930...
East Brunswick, Maryland
A hobo was being escorted from the property for the umpteenth and final time.  Scabpicker Rump, whose name is not important, had worked for the B&O, and had helped build and maintain some of the bridges and viaducts that carried the rails over the creeks and rivers that feed the Potomac.  He had been fired for insubordination.

His parents had abandoned him when he was ten, because they had grown tired of his "unflagging need for supper, every single night."  He later learned that they had both been killed in a bizarre ice skating accident the police had labeled "suspicious."  

As he was kicked out of Brunswick yard that chilly fall evening, Lemmy, the burly watchman, who Rump had known for years, gave him a piece of advice that would change his life.  "I know times are tough, old friend, but if you're gonna be a hobo, you gotta head south in the winter - like the snowbirds that migrate from New York City to Florida every fall.  And I hear they still need labor to maintain the FEC's Key West extension."

"That's a mighty long way from here, Lemmy," Scabpicker sighed.

"Think about it, buddy.  Parts of it get washed out by hurricanes every other year, seems to me, and it's all bridges.  They could probably use a man like you."

"Thanks for the tip.  I'll think about it."

Three months of hard hobo-ing later, Scabpicker Rump was working again, helping to maintain, among three dozen others, this bridge...
The old Bahia Honda Bridge, connecting Bahia Honda Key with Spanish Harbor Key - Photo by [Maris]

It didn't take long for him to prove the old "once a hobo, always a hobo" adage I just made up, and within a year, he was fired - for insubordination.  But he had fallen in love with both the Overseas Railroad and the beach.  He occasionally stowed away on trains, but mostly he walked the rails and "his bridges" between Key Largo and Key West.  His hobo name was amended slightly, and he came to be known, down here at the end of road, as Scabpicker Sandy Rump.

And he sat.  He sat on the sand - actually crushed coral, in most cases - and drank and fished and stole coconuts and stone crabs.  Gradually, his hobo life transformed into that of a beach bum.  When the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 destroyed most of Henry Flagler's beloved overseas railroad - this time beyond repair - Scabpicker Sandy Rump stayed in Key West, where he lived his remaining years in challenging but happy homelessness.  

In 1937, his old friend Lemmy received a long, rambling letter from Scabpicker.  Much of it was nearly incomprehensible, drunken blather, but it had one paragraph of clarity:

"People come to these beaches and marvel at the white sand and the iridescent water, but I hardly pay those things any mind.  I love the AIR at the land's end.  I find it utterly delicious.  I am reborn with every breath of it.  It's salty and warm, sure, but there's more to it, down here.  At the beach, even with hardly a wave in sight, the air is filled with sound.  At some beaches, when the wind turns around, the air is filled with sea life aromas that send the snowbirds scurrying back to their hotels, but I love that rotten smell; to me, it smells of life.  During Key West summers, the air is heavy and sticky and the clouds get unruly, but I love that, too.  For it's not just salt or heat or fish, nor is it simply that this place is becoming a playground.  There is something in the air here that I feel blessed and privileged to sense.  This air, my friend, is absolutely soaked through with MAGIC."

Magic Key West Air

[This post was written in response to a prompt - a writing prompt - from my friends at Studio Thirty Plus.  Please stop by and check out some of the fine writers who hang out at S30P!]



  1. I loved this! A hobo feels like a king, nice story Joe!

    1. Thanks Marie! I have to admit, these hobo stories are becoming a bit of a guilty pleasure, for me. It was fun to find a way to connect one of them with a weekly writing prompt.

  2. Linked from Studio 30+ and liked this very much!