The tramp Waco, drifting south through Prescott, fell in with a quartet of his kind camped along the railroad track. He stumbled down the embankment and “sat in” beside their night fire. He was hungry. He had no money, and he had tramped all that day. They were eating bread and canned peaches, and had coffee simmering in a pail. They asked no questions until he had eaten. Then the usual talk began.
The hobos cursed the country, its people, the railroad, work and the lack of it, the administration, and themselves. Waco did not agree with everything they said, but he wished to tramp with them until something better offered. So he fell in with their humor, but made the mistake of cursing the trainmen’s union. A brakeman had kicked him off a freight car just outside of Prescott.
One of the hobos checked Waco sharply.
“We ain’t here to listen to your cussin’ any union,” he said. “And seem’ you’re so mouthy, just show your card.”
“Left it over to the White House,” said Waco.
“That don’t go. You got your three letters?”
“Sure! W.B.Y. Catch onto that?”
“No. And this ain’t no josh.”
“Why, W.B.Y. is for ‘What’s bitin’ you?’ Know the answer?”
“If you can’t show your I.W.W., you can beat it,” said the tramp.
“Tryin’ to kid me?”
“Not so as your mother would notice. Got your card?”
Waco finally realized that they meant business. “No, I ain’t got no I.W.W. card. I’m a bo, same as you fellas. What’s bitin’ you, anyway?”
“Let’s give him the third, fellas.”
Waco jumped to his feet and backed away. The leader of the group hesitated wisely, because Waco had a gun in his hand.
“So that’s your game, eh? Collectin’ internal revenue. Well, we’re union men. You better sift along.” And the leader sat down.
“I’ve a dam’ good mind to sift you,” said Waco, backing toward the embankment. “Got to have a card to travel with a lousy bunch like you, eh?”
He climbed to the top of the embankment, and, turning, ran down the track. Things were in a fine state when a guy couldn’t roll in with a bunch of willies without showing a card. Workmen often tramped the country looking for work. But hobos forming a union and calling themselves workmen! Even Waco could not digest that.
But he had learned a lesson, and the next group that he overtook treading the cinders were more genial. One of them gave him some bread and cold meat. They tramped until nightfall. That evening Waco industriously “lifted” a chicken from a convenient hencoop. The hen was old and tough and most probably a grandmother of many years’ setting, but she was a welcome contribution to their evening meal. While they ate Waco asked them if they belonged to the I.W.W. They did to a man. He had lost his card. Where could he get a renewal? From headquarters, of course. But he had been given his card up in Portland; he had cooked in a lumber camp. In that case he would have to see the “boss” at Phoenix.