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Sidedoor Pullman Kid Catches the Westbound

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RIP SIDEDOOR

 

 

John Francis O'Connor of Phoenix, 90, passed away February 8, 2008. John was perhaps better known as "The Sidedoor Pullman Kid" - a moniker earned by spending most of his life riding in boxcars of freight trains in search of work and adventure. John was possibly the last of the Great Depression-era hoboes alive, who strongly preferred the wanderlust of the open road to a settled and stable lifestyle. John was born in New Haven, CT on June 4th, 1917. He left home in 1930 as a teenager and started riding the rails to find work. Like other hoboes of the time, John did all sorts of temporary jobs - from picking fruit to washing dishes to working for the railroads themselves. "Sidedoor" crisscrossed the country working like this for the next 25 years - living in hobo camps called "jungles" located at the fringe of towns next to the tracks. In the mid 1950's, John married Florence Wyckoff and settled down in Syracuse, NY. There, he continued to work as a merchant marine and highway laborer. The couple never had children and later moved to Phoenix in 1977. When Florence died in 1985, "Sidedoor" resumed his hobo life, and at age 67 began to hop freight trains again. Only this time around, the rides were for pleasure and mostly limited to upper midwestern states. His independent character and life experiences got him elected King of the Hoboes in 1994 during their century-old annual convention in Britt, IA. John actively rode freights until he turned 82. Although no known blood relatives survive him, John left countless friends behind all over the country - including scores of modern day train riders who regard him as a Legend. A fiercely proud and honorable man, John harbored no regrets about the life he chose to live. Funeral services and burial for John are pending at the White Tanks Cemetery, 15926 W. Camelback Rd. in Litchfield Park. Please call the La Paz Funeral Home for the date and time - 602-266-5558.

Published in The Arizona Republic on 2/19/2008.

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Guest The Texas Madman

http://www.azcentral.com/12news/news/articles/hobofuneral02212008-CR.html

 

King of the Hobos laid to rest in West Valley

Lynn French

Mulitmedia Journalist

12 News

Feb. 21, 2008 06:47 PM

It is one of those obituaries that stops you in your tracks---an obituary for a hobo, one-time King of the Hobos to be exact.

 

John Francis O’Conner rode through life as “The Sidedoor Pullman Kid”, a moniker he earned while spending most of his life hopping freight trains in the pursuit of work and adventure. He started riding the rails at age 13. O’Conner passed away last week here in Phoenix at the age of 90. He was laid to rest today in a potter’s grave at the White Tanks Cemetery. This was not Sidedoor’s final wish, but he may have been okay with it.

 

The White Tanks Cemetery lies along a desolate stretch of Camelback Road just west of the 303, directly off the end of the Luke Air Force Base runway. The only roses most of these graves will see are in a commercial nursery farm field to the north. Hundreds of one inch PVC pipes stick out of the ground marking each burial site. The only adornment most of them have are a brass marker about the size of a soup can lid noting the deceased’s name and date of death. This is Maricopa County’s cemetery for the indigent, those who die with no one to claim them. Despite the lonely departure, they are given one last moment of dignity. It would not be the choice of most, but as they enter the earth in a simple gray box, a minister issues a final prayer, nuns stand witness and a chain gang of female inmates from the county jail bow their heads.

 

Sidedoor’s wish, according to a longtime friend, was to be cremated and have his remains spread during the Annual Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa. He was named King of the Hobos at the convention in 1994.

 

Maricopa County requires a family member to authorize a cremation. Sidedoor has no living relatives. He married Florence Wyckoff in the mid 1950’s and they settled for a while in Syracuse, NY. They moved to the Valley and when Florence died in 1985, he returned to the hobo life continuing to board boxcars until he was 82. A hobo owned and operated website, http://www.northbankfred.com shows Sidedoor at hobo gatherings in 2001 and 2002.

 

The website reports from one of the gatherings: The granddaddy at this year's Jungle is Sidedoor Pullman Kid, an old hobo who started hopping trains in 1930, joining an estimated three million riders on the rails during the Depression. Now 81, he still rides, taking short hops with his buddy, Tramp Printer, and leaving Phoenix during the summers for New York and Pennsylvania. Over the years, he's supported himself as a fruit picker, a gandy dancer (track crew) and a construction worker. "Hoboes are the king of the road," Sidedoor says joyously. "That's a hard school of people to beat... . You couldn't buy the education I've gotten for gold."

 

Sidedoor’s funeral service was not the fading light of a caboose you might expect under these conditions. It was as raucous as a switching yard with the rumble of F-16s shooting off Luke’s runway every few seconds as a fellow hobo, Gypsy Breeze of Phoenix, played the autoharp. A deacon from Saints Simon and Jude Catholic Church in his flowing white robe read from the newspaper obituary. Two more hobos from Elmhurst, Illinois brought wildflowers in a coffee cup, a classic red bandana and railroad spike to grace Sidedoor’s casket as it descended into the earth. After the service, Milwaukee Mike and his wife Doris Dooright explained Sidedoor’s fate. “We are going to miss him, but he is on the Westbound and will be welcomed into Heaven”. When a hobo catches the Westbound, his spirit goes off into the sunset. Then Gypsy Breeze and Doris Dooright did right by Sidedoor’s new neighbors. They walked the sparse cemetery straightening brass markers and repositioning the fake flowers that graced a few graves.

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This is not right. Sidedoor should be allowed to be cremated the way he wanted and to be buried at Britt, in the National Hobo Cemetary.

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Guest The Texas Madman

Very true, but unless we can find a Blood Relative to get his remains released for cremation and re-internment at Britt.........................

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Wow, this is the first I've heard of this....R.I.P. Sidedoor...I have a black and white photo of him I took in 2000 at the Pennsburg gathering sitting in a boxcar, looking out the door. It's a great shot of him, and the years of railroads show upon his face. I talked with him breifly, he was definitely a legend, and still wise and verbal for his age. I also think he should have been buried in Britt. I'll try to find that pic of him, and post it up.

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Guest The Texas Madman

http://www.legacy.com/AZCentral/GB/GuestbookView.aspx?PersonId=103768102

 

Guest Book for

John Francis O'Connor

 

"John Q. Public" <sunsetroute@gmail.com>

I didn't realize. I hung out with Sidedoor a bit and he seemed to have that hardcore spirit that noone can break. Anyway, for what its worth, I have a photo of him and I out at Shawmut Siding, AZ

-m0pac

 

March 6, 2008

We always treasured the month long visits from Sidedoor each summer. He treated us like his "kids" and had a special bond with our "fuzzy kids". We will also miss that twinkle in his blue eyes and his sly grin when offered chocolate (his favorite candy) Godspeed to heavens door on the westbound freight.

 

Wisconsin Del and Mississippi Slim

Del and Chrissy Weaver

(MO)

 

February 27, 2008

I'm sorry to learn of you taking the west bound. I haven't seen you since the Hobo Rendezvous in July of 2000. Rest well my friend.

Utah Wildman (Mount Pleasant, UT)

 

I have great memories of sitting on the porch of the "Kitchen Shack" at

Pennsburg, shooting the breeze with Sidedoor, after all the "Kids" were tunred in for the night. He was a hell of a guy.

Fran The Hobo Minstrel (Plymouth, NH)

 

February 24, 2008

We have had the honor to listen and learn from Sidedoor while camping at Shawmut. We loved his humor but he definately had a very serious side. We will miss his stories but are honored to have had the opportunity to meet him. Go with God Sidedoor!!

A#1 & Lady Warbonnet

Jerry & Linda Jackson (Happy Jack, AZ)

 

February 22, 2008

I met Sidedoor at the last Hobo Gathering in Pennsburg, PA. I remember offering him a wrap because he was cold but he thanked me and stated he had money and he could buy a sweatshirt. He was very independent.

Mama Jo (Blue Springs,, MO)

 

February 22, 2008

I met Sidedoor Pullamn Kid at the National Convention of Tourist Union #63 in 1987, and ran into him for several years since. In 1990 he and I, and Fry Pan Jack rod the Milwaukee Road out of Mason City, thru Marquette Ia., and down into [What he termed as Du-"B"-"Que"] Dubuque Ia. [although many Hobos including myself have always called it Du-Puke] Our Hobo Nation has had the honor of having him present at many different Hobo Events across the Nation including - Pennsburg Pennsylvania, Baldwyn City Kansas, Pullman Illinois, Amory Mississippi,

Dunsmuir California, Washington D.C., Staples Minnesota, and North Freedom Wisconsin. When I say the Hobos still on-the-road referrd to him as THE BOSS it is to say he was referred to this way with THE HIGHEST RESPECT!

Jon Macleod (East Cleveland, OH)

 

February 21, 2008

Some of my fondest memories of the "original" Hoboes was sharing Nightrain and good coversation around a campfire with Sidedoor.

Rest in peace my friend.

Nobail (MN)

 

February 21, 2008

Thanks Sidedoor for the tremenous conmpliments you bestowed upon me at Baldwin City and in Staples, You'll be missed amoungst the Tramp/Hobo family forever and a day. Frog, 97 Hobo King

Gerard Fortin (Helena, MT)

 

February 21, 2008

Indelible memories -- a life spent in the free frame of well-earned and generously-shared legend, with a light-footed, twinkling jig for every tune along the way!

Ron Miles (Nisswa, MN)

 

February 20, 2008

It was an honor to know you dear friend. Thanks for the dance in Pennsburg, I will never forget it, nor will I ever forget you! With Love,

Lady Nightingale of Serenity. (Abbot, ME)

 

February 20, 2008

words can't express hole that is left in all the lives this special person touched.

Half Track

Half Track (MN)

 

February 20, 2008

The first time I met The Side Door Pullman Kid was in Pennsburg , Penn. I was impressed and conerned when I saw him climbing up into the box car. I know we spoke a few times but I don't know what we talked about. He was an interesting man to say the least.

Queen Lady SonShine 2007-2008 (Guilford, ME)

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Guest The Texas Madman

Thank you very much gentlemen!

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This was brought up at the last Hobo Foundation meeting. Sidedoor is eligble to be buried in Britt at the Hobo Memorial at no cost. We need to contact legal people in Arizona to start the process of moving him.

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Dear Friends,

As most of you know the 1994 Hobo King, Sidedoor Pullman Kid, was buried in a cemetery for the lost and forgotten in Phoenix, AZ in 2008. It was Sidedoor's wish to be buried in Britt, but with no known relatives it has taken some time to get this accomplished.

Since 2008 several of us have been working to bring Sidedoor home. Good news! We finally have a breakthrough in our efforts to have is body exhumed, cremated and brought to Britt for burial in the Hobo Memorial Cemetery. Unfortunately, this will cost $3,500 to accomplish.

We are asking for donations to help toward returning Sidedoor Pullman Kid to his proper burial place.

Checks can be made payable to: Sidedoor Pullman Burial Fund and should be sent to: Sidedoor Pullman Burial Fund, c/o First State Bank, P.O. Box 8, Britt, IA 50423.

Thanks in advance for your contribution.

Sincerely,

Connecticut Shorty

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Flatcar Frank, Stretch Wilson and I all know Connecticutt Shorty and her sister, New York Maggie, personally. They are the daughters of a famous tramp, and they are very active (and I would say, influential) in the tramp community. They are not trainhoppers, of course, being "ladies of a certain age", but they do meet the definition of a hobo, i.e. "one who travels to work." They own a home in Britt, Iowa, and they travel down to Arizona and Florida in their little RV motor home (like a van with a camper body) in the winter to jobs down south.

 

Maggie and Shorty are decent, honorable women. You can trust that any money you send to Connecticutt Shorty will be used EXACTLY for the intended purpose, I guarantee it.

 

K-Bar

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