Saturday, June 12, 2010

Adin and the Hobo Camps, by Aunt CB

The camp was small, hidden in a wooded area within walking distance of the Phelps junction. It had to be within walking distance because no one living there had any other means of transportation unless you counted the trains.

Yes, the trains and the junction of two railroad lines intersecting at the outskirts of Phelps created the junction–and thus the camp, a Hobo camp!

The rest of the country may have been celebrating the “Roaring Twenties” but not all had the opportunity to celebrate! The desire was there but not the wherewithall! However, this was the era of trains. They criss-crossed the USA and small lines developed like mushrooms in a dark cellar. The Pennsylvania R.R. came up north along the lake, bringing coal. The New York Central covered an East-West alignment and they crossed at Phelps, creating the junction.

This is where we find our hero, our beloved uncle, Adin Baker sometime between 1919-1921. He’d been drafted into the Army in July, 1918, been trained at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia and ended up in the medical corps. From there he went, part of a replacement unit, to Camp Crane, Allentown, PA, and eventually to Liverpool, England where he was attached to a unit in a military hospital. By mid October, 1918, he’d succumbed to the dreaded “Spanish flu”. The Red Cross was wiring his parents of his whereabouts in NYC and his critical condition. He managed to survive the influenza and was mustered out in January 1919.

We think this war time experience was what lit the travel bug for Adin. In the years before the war he had helped his father on the farm and often worked for neighbors in the area during busy times. By 1913, he was working in Dansville, NY as a brakeman on a dirt train in a construction camp where Uncle Dell drove a steamroller. He boarded with Aunt Nell and I think slept in a tent with others set up next to her cabin. However, he did mention in a letter to Ethel that he’d go home in the fall as he’d rather be there. But as I say, it seemed the overseas experience touched off his wanderlust and he and his father, Byron, had different ideas on how to farm so home may not have been as comfortable when he got there as it seemed from afar.

Be that as it may, he was able, years later, to describe the whole Finger Lakes area and the Southern Tier, almost street by street in some cities, to Harold, who knew it well! He told of hobo camps and good eating, starting up a campfire, pulling out old tin cans from dumps, cleaning them and boiling up coffee. Trapping for woodchucks and rabbits provided good meat and the farmers fields grew all kinds of vegetables to “borrow” and cook. Find yourself tired of the area? Just hop on the next freight train as it slowed for the junction and see where you end up.

We do know that he bought the farm from his folks in 1921. It is evident from old letters that by this time Byron had slowed down (he was to die in 1925) and was having eye problems (Macular degeneration?). There was discussion between him and Kate about cutting out an acre of the farm and building a new little house for the two of them. This never came to be, but Adin did buy the farm from them and began to run it as he felt it should be run, eventually adding a granary to one side of the barn, and a section for horses on the other as well as other out buildings.

He never really lost his desire to travel though–he spoke often of the trips he’d take “someday.” It would seem that the many novels of the old west that he devoured through the years offered mute testimony to his dreams.


Pat said...

How I would have LOVED to have pulled up a seat and listened in as Uncle Adin told Harold about the hobo camps!

Thanks, Ma, for this story.


Sue Kinsella said...

Oh, my goodness, I wasn't sure I was on the right page when I checked in on the Cousins blog! It's beautiful! But it will still take me a bit of time to adjust to the change. Thanks, Pat!

Joshua, Brandy Wood Family said...

Joshua and myself use to sit and listen to (Dad) Lester H. Wood Jr. tell stories about Uncle Adin !! Uncle Adin was a huge roll model for (Dad) Chic growing up !! I've got the same picture of Uncle Adin that came from (Dads) Chic's house. On our trip up to New York we stopped at the Center Lisle Cemetery got to see Uncle Adin's plot. I also beleive I may have Uncle Adin's birth certificate that (Dad) Chic had held onto ... It's amazing the generations and the things find and still have through out the decades !! Happy Fathers Day to all !! _ Brandy and Joshua