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Railroad Money
by Newt Harlan

Miss Edie and I went out to Eastgate for lunch over the weekend and had the good fortune to run into my old cowboy friend, Homer Hoffer. Usually when I come across Homer and the boys around lunchtime, I spring for the lunch just for the privilege of listening to the tales they have to tell about their adventures as working cowboys. Well, this time ol' Homer turned the tables on me and invited Miss Edie and me to join him and the boys, and it was his treat since he was spending his "railroad money."

I could smell a story coming up right off because I knew that Homer, like his daddy before him, had never done anything in his life but fool around with working cows and the various other jobs that go with the cow business such as raising hay, building fences and doctoring livestock. I knew for a fact he damn sure didn’t now (and had never) worked on the railroad.

We sat down and, risking a kick in the shin under the table from Miss Edie for being rude and meddling in somebody's business, I excused myself and asked Homer to tell me about the "railroad money" that was buying our lunch.

Of course, Homer and I have been friends long enough that he'd have told me without my asking and, in fact, this was one reason he had invited me to sit in the first place, but protocol dictated that I apologize and ask him about the money so he'd have an excuse to tell the story.

He began, "Newt, remember that little blue bremmer yearlin' bull that I bought from them Seagraves over in Dayton here about three-four years ago and named Blue?" I reckoned that I did, and he continued. "Well, that rascal turned out to be one helluva good herd bull. He kept every heifer in the herd either knocked-up or with a calf sucking, just like a good bull ought to, and every one of them calves he marked, hell, they was ready for market damn near two months before they would be out of any other bull, and every one brought top dollar. Yes sir, he turned out to be a fine animal, just like I knew he would."

Homer realized suddenly that Miss Edie was at the table with us and was as embarrassed as a preacher with a broken zipper on his fly, and started apologizing. Miss Edie assured Homer she knew all about bulls and heifers and having babies and stuff, so she wasn't bothered by cow talk. Homer did one last "scuse me, ma'am" and returned to his story.

"Well, here about two months ago ol' Blue turned up missin'. We was a runnin' him with that little herd we keep down in the bottoms by Victor Switch, and we gathered 'em up for doctorin' and cullin' and we couldn't find ol' Blue. We looked everywhere, even got Ben Radcliff to bring his dogs out to sniff out them yaupon-palmetto thickets, but no luck. We looked for the better part of two days 'til we finally give up."

"Late that afternoon, me and the boys was ridin' along the railroad tracks there at Victor Switch, takin' a little short-cut back to the catch pens where we'd left our trucks, when James Hobbs noticed the buzzards aworkin' somethin' up ahead. We rode on up and looked and, sure as hell, there was something that had been hit by a train laying there by the tracks. Now, I couldn't say it was and I couldn't say it wasn't Blue, 'cause what the train hadn't chewed up, the buzzards had, but it had been some kind of cow."

"We rode on in and loaded up the horses. I was just about pitchin' and squealin' mad about losin' that bull, but like them Mexicans say, 'caca pasa', so me and the boys crawled in our trucks and went on over to the Hitchin' Post for a few cold ones -- kinda drowndin' my sorrows, you might say."

"As luck would have it, ol' Jimmy Ray Forrest was in there, and I told him the story about losin' my bull. We all know that ol' Jimmy Ray is far from being a saint, but them years he spent in the pen up yonder in Huntsville made him a pretty fair jailhouse lawyer, and I guess it ain't too far a stretch from being a jailhouse lawyer to a beer joint lawyer. I know he's always give us pretty good advice and it's free -- or at least it don't cost more'n two or three Budweisers."

"Anyway, Jimmy Ray listened to my story and told me that if he was me, that he'd sue the damn railroad for $5000 for killin' my bull. I figgered I didn't have a chance since I'd only paid $500 for the ol' bull and he probably shouldn't have been on the tracks, but Jimmy said it didn't matter because the bull was just small potatoes to a big company like the railroad and that they'd settle just for public relations. The more beer I drank and the more I thought, the better I liked the idea, and by going home time, me and the railroad were well on our way to going to court."

"Bright and early the next morning, I carried myself over to the courthouse annex in Crosby to see Judge Squatty Dusek about filing suit in small claims court. You know Squatty is married to Maude Tucker, and he hunts and fishes with us occasionally over yonder at ol' man Tucker's place in the Dayton bottoms. He's a pretty good ol' boy -- drinks beer, so he can't be all bad, even for a JP judge. Anyway, Squatty got a couple of his clerks saddled up with me and before you could get a tight fittin' hat off your head, we had us a lawsuit filed against the Sabine and Pacific Railroad right there in small claims court -- and it didn't cost me nothin' but a handshake and lunch for them two gals that helped me."

"Well, time went along and a couple of months passed, and then all of the sudden it was time to show up in court for the trial and I'll have to admit I had me a case of the butterfly belly. I hadn't ever even been to court period, much less to try my own case, but Jimmy Ray told me the night before that all I had to do was to take my receipts and other papers and tell my story and the judge would do the rest."

"My case was supposed to start at ten in the morning and I got there at about nine to make sure I wasn't late, and also I wanted to kinda get an idea about what went on, seeing as to how I ain't ever been in court before. Well, I found me a pew towards the back of the room and settled down to watch the proceedins. I ain't no sooner got settled in my seat than this little short, fat, bald-headed fella, wearin’ a western cut suit and a pair of ostrich hide boots with a dance hall shine on 'em, plopped his butt down beside me and asked if I was Mr. Hoffer."

"I allowed that preachers, bill-collectors, bankers and other folks after my money called me that, but most everyone else called me Homer. He smiled and offered his hand to shake and said that he was Don Crenshaw of Crenshaw, Davis & Ford and that he was representin' the railroad in this matter about my bull. Not knowin' what else to do, I shook his hand. While we was shakin', he asked if I would step into the hall with him, so we could have a few words without disturbin' the court. We stood up and I followed him out into the hallway, wonderin' if what I was doing was proper or not -- you know, fraternizin' with the enemy and all."

"Well, he didn't leave me too long to think about it. Just as soon as we cleared the courtroom door, he turned to face me and said, 'Mr. Hoffer -- Homer -- I asked you out here to tell you that the railroad values you as a neighbor and regrets very much the fact that you lost your prize bull. We are prepared to pay you fair value for the animal without our having to go through the court process, saving you and me a lot of trouble.' He asked if that sounded agreeable to me and I told him hell, yes, because I didn’t have no hankerin' to sit down and go through all them questions and answers with a judge and a lawyer, me being just an ol' country boy. He said that there was one little matter we needed to discuss."

"In my papers I was asking for $5,000 for the bull, and his clients were only prepared to offer about $2,500, saying that although they had it on good authority that bull was indeed a good herd bull, that he wasn’t purebred and they thought $2,500 was a fair price. I did me a little quick arithmetic on the deal: $500 to buy the bull, few or no expenses since then, so that made me a neat $2,000. I'd heard somewhere that I should get something for pain and suffering, so I told him I'd settle for $3,000 and knowing that a lawyer could find a loophole in the Ten Commandments, that I wanted cash in hand before I settled anything. Newt, let me tell you, that sonuvabitch had his billfold out and counted out thirty $100 bills before I could blink twice and put them in my hand. I recounted them and put them in my pocket. He handed me two or three release forms to sign, which I did, we shook hands and that was that . . . well almost."

"I guess that him being a big-shot lawyer and all, he felt he had to rub it in a little, so he told me: 'You know, Homer, you saved my client about $2,000 by signing these releases. I didn't have a case. The conductor had nodded off and when they passed your place, the train was going fast enough the engineer said he had no idea whether he hit a dog, deer, bull or batman. I didn't have even one witness or a leg to stand on, so the judge would've probably given you the full $5,000 and maybe some more for good measure, had we gone to trial. I just bluffed you.'"

"I let the smooth mouthed bastard gloat for a minute before I nailed him."

“Mr. Crenshaw, I'm glad you took the time to share that with me. I was wondering how I was going to fare in court today, it being my first time and me being a poor ol' dumb country boy and all, going up against a high dollar, experienced lawyer like you. But Mr. Crenshaw, I want to tell you, the thing that had me really worried the most about my case was that damned Blue bull showed up in my pasture this morning.”

"It sure was a good chicken fried steak Homer bought us with the 'railroad money' . . . "


Newt tells us about himself:

I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of a few brief sojourns and the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've spent the more than 65 years of my life within spittin’ distance of the place where I grew up. I managed to cram a four-year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that remarkable feat, I am a former student of six different schools, which sure helps the odds of rooting for a winner in sporting events. The academic standards committee had a moment of weakness and I was the fortunate recipient of a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

I'm Southern to the bone. The sound of “Dixie” being played gives me goose bumps and I stand and remove my hat. My yard dog, B.J., controls the squirrels, cats, meter readers and peddlers around my place. I’ve picked cotton by hand, plowed behind a mule, churned butter, shelled back-eyed peas, and for the first 12 years of my life, went without shoes from April until October. Several of my friends regularly hold conversations with mules, but as of yet I can’t get the danged mules to answer me. I think grits are as much a part of breakfast as bacon, eggs and cathead biscuits. I think ain’t is a perfectly good word and don’t plan to quit using it just because some damnyankee dictionary writer arbitrarily thinks it ain’t.

I've been married for 30-some odd years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. I'm now retired after having spent the better part of the past 37 years traveling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama, trying to sell steel products. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories.

E-mail Newt at: Newt281@embarqmail.com

Want to read more of Newt’s stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
Railroad Fireman
Curing Colds
Belly Waddin' Lunch


Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.



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