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Wisconsin - who knew?

Illustration for article titled Wisconsin - who knew?

Another eastern Wisconsin post. I used to see guys on carts in the 60's. For your entertainment.



Willie was a railroad section hand. A section hand was one employed by the railroad to maintain a fixed expanse of railroad bed. This was in the late thirties and early forties when the steam locomotive was king. Willie and his fellow section hands on the section crew would replace burned out railroad ties and realign the tracks as they migrated over the roadbed under the weight of the steam locomotive. The burned out railroad ties were also caused by the locomotives or their drivers that would dump their fireboxes when standing still and burn out the railroad ties. Section hands were free spirits, not attached in anyway to a family and relied on the railroad for their lodging and food. Frequently they were running from something or someone or were of foreign birth and this was a job that included food and lodging and no one that asked a lot of questions. To understand them, you had to have a sense of the society at the end of the great depression in the thirties. It was a crappy job but it was a job and they fed you! They came in their own railroad cars and when work needed to be done, they parked in the neighborhood for a time. These gentlemen were known for working hard, eating lots and drinking a great deal. Quite frankly, that’s all they ever did other than work and sleep, with short bouts of intense eating. When the section crew was near a town with a tavern in it, the owner of the saloon earned his trip to Florida for that year. Since the section hands had no place to spend their money, they would be very generous when they came to town to drink. And as they started to get drunk, and it took a great deal, they became even more generous. Sometimes without even realizing it.


Willie retired early. Under the burden of a quart or two of bourbon one evening, Willie passed out on his way to his railroad car parked on a siding. He wasn’t far from home but his legs were hanging over the one of the rails of the right of way when the express roared through town that night and left him about two feet shorter than he was at the beginning of the evening. Actually the train removed not only his feet, but his legs about six inches from his hips. This had a major impact on Willie’s career as a section hand. Although he survived the misfortune and was on full disability with the railroad, life just wasn’t the same. He never really got the hang of the artificial legs they got him. Most of that was due to the fact that Willie didn’t stay sober long enough to learn how to avoid falling off of them. While he would use them on occasion, usually he used a small wooden, wheeled dolly. He would sit on the dolly and propel himself using the knuckles of his hands inside a pair of sturdy work gloves. This was a sight to behold!. Here was this drunk, scooting along the sidewalk, about three feet tall and unable to maintain a straight line of travel. The sight of Willie careening about Elkhart Lake Wisconsin was a fairly common sight in the summer. I don’t know where he hid out in winter but when the snow melted, Willie would resurface.

During this time in the lives of your’s truly and his ner’do well companions, we discovered the joy of Daisy Red Ryder BB guns. We were eleven or twelve years old and literally shot anything that moved and some stuff that didn’t move unless you shot it. During those years in the early forties, Elkhart Lake was a resort town in the summer months. The town was proud of its four large resort hotels on the lake and the population of the town would explode every summer. The guests would wander about the downtown area and around the resort hotels after dinner. We discovered after extensive research that a well placed BB on the tightly girdled gluteus maximus of a female guest would result in such fine sport, we would frequently hide ourselves in hedges or dark places and entertain ourselves. Only one shot was made, and like as not, the victim would blame a bug or something like that. Even if the lady or her escort took chase, there wasn’t anyway they could get close to us. They were dressed in their finery, high heels, and really didn’t know what it was that had happened. In time, we got bored with this and there was always the danger of really hurting someone. So the “monster” was born.


The monster was a small boy, crouched down and in a man’s overcoat pulled over his knees. He wore a rubber monster mask and a mans hat pulled over his ears. When a guest couple would wander by in the dim light, our boy Jimmy would shuffle out of the shadows and tug on the ladies dress. This was accompanied by grunts from Jimmy which always threw the victim into full voice. Here’s this little being, about three feet tall that looks like the devil himself and he is pulling on the ladies dress! At this point, Jimmy would return to the shadows to join us as fast as his crouch would let him. We would appear from the other direction to inquire what had happened, taking the heat off of Jimmy. Since the guests turned over about every two weeks, we could stage another performance in a few weeks and enjoy the spectacle again. Just about this time, Jimmy selected a lady guest that had one grass-hopper too many. When the monster tugged at her frock, she freaked, fell off her high heels and hit the sidewalk. Jimmy didn’t get trampled and got out of there fast. We didn’t do our follow-up and also vacated the area. Back downtown we heard the stories about the lady, a possible heat attack, ruined nylons and the fact that the town MARSHALL was investigating.

The next day Willie rolled into one of the local taverns and was promptly picked up and jailed for scaring the hell out of one of the hotel guests. Although Willie didn’t remember where he had been the night before, the description of the monster sure seemed like Willie on his roller skates full of bourbon. Someone came forward to speak on Willie’s behalf before one of us was shamed into it. The monster retired that night. He was never seen again. The town knew it was that crazy section hand Willie, though.

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