Rural Missouri - May 2018 - 44
Dexter man rode rails across the
Harry doesn't claim any secrets to living a long life, but credits the fact
that he quit smoking, takes vitamins and watches his sugar and weight with
keeping him going.
"That's what kept me from going in the Army was my health," Harry says,
by Zach Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org
adding that when he was eventually drafted in the early '40s Army doctors
rom his room at Cypress Point skilled nursing facility in Dexter, Harry kept him from entering World War II due to the spots on his lungs. "Of course,
Taylor reminisces on a life well-lived and well-traveled. He remembers I wasn't that anxious to go. I was just married and all."
Although Harry and Evelyn would stay in Toledo for 46 years, he never
moments in great detail with striking clarity. And that's no small feat,
seemed to slow down. He left a job cutting gears to work as a general contractor
because this year Harry will turn 105 years old.
"November 12 - Lord willin' and the creek don't rise," the
and television repairman. He returned to the factory at Dana Inc. where,
true to form, he would learn just about every job at the company. All the
Born in 1913 on the banks of the St. Francis River near
while, Harry and Evelyn would visit the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Coast
Fisk, Harry recalls moving frequently while his father searched
and the Rio Grande country of south Texas to vacation and add to their
for work. They traveled between Fisk, Kennett, Hornersville and
growing collection of Carnival glass, toy tractors, guitars and banjos.
The cache numbered more than 1,000 pieces when they moved to
Nashville, Arkansas, and were sharecropping a farm near Bernie
when Harry was 15. Most of the jobs he could do in Fisk involved
Dudley in 1983.
Retirement suited Harry, who continued his lifelong guitar
farming or bartering - mowing the barber's lawn in exchange for
passion by playing gospel music - his favorite tune is Elvis'
a haircut or trading eggs for sugar and coffee. And shortly after the
rendition of the Bill Gaither song "He Touched Me." He became
stock market crash of October 1929 heralded the Great Depression,
Harry, like many men in the following decade, became a hobo.
an accomplished checker player among a circle of friends in Malden
and befriended 1987 Missouri State Checkers Champion and Sikeston
"I tried to learn whatever I could do - sort of a jack of all trades," Harry
says. "You didn't have any choice. You had to have something going for you. native John Cohen. Harry adds that any rumor he was once the checker
I took off along the roads looking for something else. That's been the general champion of Stoddard County is untrue.
"After I played him a few times I could play as good as he could, but we all
trend of my life."
Along with a willingness to work and learn any job available, another skill played pretty much the same," Harry says, adding with a laugh, "Well, I might
be the champion in Stoddard County because he lived in New Madrid County."
itinerant workers of the '30s had to master was jumping freight trains.
Like the glass and tractors, Harry's given most of his Gibson and Taylor
"That's about the only way you could get around other than thumbing on
the highway," Harry says. "They picked you up but there weren't a lot of cars." guitars away, but he keeps an acoustic Fender near his bed. He strums it once
The means of conveyance was highly dangerous and illegal. Once on the in a while but quit playing seriously about six months ago.
"That's when old 'Arthur' got a hold of me," he grins bending arthritic
train, riders had to be wary of security guards - known as railroad dicks -
intent on removing them. While traveling between Malden and Campbell, Harry ﬁngers and nodding at the guitar. "But I'm working on limbering them up.
and eight men were forced to jump from the train while it was still in motion.
I'll be back there."
There's a lot to look back on, but Harry also looks forward. He
"I'd been doing it quite a while so I knew how to throw your body and feet out
to brace yourself and start running," Harry recalls. "But a lot of those people cherishes visiting with friends, fellow parishioners from St. Andrew
Lutheran Church and his family, which includes eight grandchildren
weren't as experienced and when they landed they just started rolling."
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal created the Civilian
and 21 great-grandchildren. Despite rough times and
Conservation Corps and the Federal Transient Bureau program, Harry and
uncertain beginnings, he says given the chance
he would do everything in his life over again.
thousands like him rode the rails across the country in search of whatever
"I'm no fanatic by any means, but I
work was available. His ﬁrst CCC job was in 1935 quarrying limestone
believe in the golden rule and I've tried
outside California, Missouri. He was then sent to a similar work camp in
northern California state. When the job ended, Harry picked fruit with
to practice that," he says. "All in all,
it has been a wonderful life."
migrant workers and helped a carpenter who was repairing a theater.
"Out in California working on the farm you'd get 50 cents an hour,
which was pretty good," Harry recalls. "Back home it was 10 cents an
To contact Harry Taylor
hour and that was if you could ﬁnd something to do."
write him at Cypress Point,
From California, Harry and his friend, Chet, tagged along with
801 Bailiff Drive, Dexter, MO
lumberjacks headed to Idaho. They picked sugar beets in the Gem State and
apples in Washington before heading home. In Pocatello they hopped a freight
bound for Cheyenne, Wyoming and crossed the Continental Divide that
night. Picked up by police in Cheyenne, the two were sent to Lincoln,
Nebraska - this time by passenger train. Harry eventually made
it back to the Show-Me State.
"That was quite an excursion for a young man just out
hoboing, but it was dangerous," Harry says. "I wouldn't
recommend it because I don't think anyone would let you
today. But it was quite an experience."
Back in southeast Missouri Harry found himself
working on a crew building Missouri Paciﬁc Railroad
lines from Poplar Bluff across the Lead Belt in De Soto,
Ironton, Piedmont and Gad's Hill. When the railroad
job ended in 1940, the search for work would
eventually take him to Toledo, Ohio. There Harry met
the woman who would become his wife of 68 years,
Evelyn, at a Dorr Street fruit market. Together they
would raise three children and continue traveling.
RURAL MISSOURI | MAY 2018