Saturday, March 26, 2016

Singleton tells of an eventful junk-hauling trip to the port of Mobile in 1943

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Putting the junk in the junk yard where it belongs” was originally published in the Aug. 22, 1991 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

I look at teenagers today and wonder how they would perform under the circumstances in which I grew up. I mean no disrespect to anyone, but there were times when things got pretty rough during my upbringing.

The year was 1943; World War II was underway throughout the known world. Everything was rationed, such as items like shoes, sugar, gasoline and many other things needed to help keep the machines of war and the soldiers of our armies on the fields of battle.

The countryside had been turned upside down in the search for the old pieces of scrap metal that had been discarded by the local population prior to the great war. There were people throughout the area who would buy the scrap metal brought to them. And they, in turn, would ship this scrap to various points where it was either loaded on a train or on ocean-going ships to be carried and made into weapons of war.

Capp, a junk dealer, was one of the tightest men with his money there was around anywhere. As the old saying goes, he would squeeze a nickel until the buffalo bellowed. Since he was a junk dealer, he was allowed a greater amount of gasoline by the ration board than the average person so he could operate his ragged old truck that he hauled the junk iron in.

Ragged piece of machinery

There is no doubt; anyone who knew Capp would tell you that they didn’t know who this vehicle could run; it was the most ragged piece of machinery in the country. He never went anywhere that he didn’t get two or three flat tires. He never carried a spare; always the flat tires would have to be repaired beside the road, wherever they occurred.

He would always try to hire teenage boys to assist him in his junk hauling. His reason was that he didn’t have to pay these unskilled young men as much as he would have to pay an older man who knew the value of a day’s work.

The going price for a day’s work was a dollar. The work day started before sunrise and ended when you got back home, sometimes around midnight, depending on how many flat tires he had on that old ragged piece of junk he called a truck. Sometimes, if he was feeling generous, he might buy his hired help a 10-cent hotdog and a soft drink. For this, he felt that you had obligated yourself to him for the day.

Everyone gets caught

But I suppose that everyone, regardless of how smart they profess to be, gets caught at one time or another. Capp let it be known that on a certain Saturday real soon, he was going to carry a load of scrap metal to the port of Mobile to be sold. He also stated that he would buy the lunches for two helpers and would pay $1.50 for the day’s work. Furthermore, there would not be any unloading the truck when the destination was reached; this was to be done with a huge magnet. This, in itself, was almost reason enough to work without pay, just to see this modern day miracle performed.

Finally, with the consent of our parents, my friend and I asked Capp if we could make the trip to Mobile with him and his load of scrap metal. The following Saturday was to be the day; we would leave at the break of day, and if all went well, we would return before dark that evening. I had been to Mobile one time before; my friend had not had the chance to visit the port city, and for this reason he was quite excited.

We were hardly out of the town of Sweet Water before we had our first flat tire. After a long and tiresome ritual of flat fixing, we once again got underway. Near the small community of McIntosh, the flat fixing ritual took place again. If you have never tried to pump a large truck tire full of air with a hand pump, take it from me, it’s no fun and games.

No breakfast

Finally at 1:30 p.m., we reached the port of Mobile. We had had nothing to eat since the night before. We left so early that morning that we did not get any breakfast. We were told that it would be about a half hour before the unloading magnet would be ready to pick up the scrap metal that we had brought.

Hearing this, we proceeded across the street to a small lunch bar for our lunch of one hot dog and a small soft drink. This hardly was one bite for two hungry teenage boys. But we were told that this was all we were going to get unless we wanted to buy more ourselves. Neither of us had a nickel between us.

Very angry with our employer, we went back over to where the ragged old truck was to be unloaded. Our bitterness must have been noticed; a very nice and well-dressed man walked up and handed us a sack that contained two large hamburgers and two large soft drinks. Capp continued to sit over at the lunch bar and stuff his face with food and drink.

The well-dressed man who had been so gracious to two hungry boys appeared to be in charge of the whole working area around us. He instructed us to stand at a safe distance so we could watch the unloading.

The huge magnet swung over Capp’s ragged old truck and with one sweep, picked up almost all the junk on the old truck. A second pass and the remaining scrap metal was dropped on the top of a huge pile about 40 feet high.

40-foot pile of junk

Capp was still feeding his face at the snack bar. Almost unnoticed, a chain had been attached to the front axle of the ragged truck by a man who appeared from nowhere. The huge crane swung around for the third time; the chain was fastened to the hook that held the magnet. Within two seconds, Capp’s ragged junk truck was perched on the top of the 40-foot pile of junk.

It took almost an hour of begging and persuading by Capp before the old truck was lowered to the ground. The well-dressed man stated that he thought the truck was junk also; he had instructed that it be put on the pile.

A sly wink of the eye by the well-dressed man told two teenage boys everything they wanted to know. The long and tiresome trip with a cranky old man and a now more ragged and beat up truck had been worth it all. Two happy and contented boys laughed and winked at each other all the way home.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, moved to Monroe County in 1961 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

No comments:

Post a Comment