Excerpt from "Orphan Boy," a first-person biography of Russell J. Milne. By Russell J. Milne, Jr.
I was born in Monon, Ind., February 10, 1904÷six months after my dad died. Mother later remarried and moved to Gary, where she bore Elizabeth. I was five and Elizabeth was a few months old when Mother died of appendicitis. My stepfather, not knowing anyone there, went back to New York, leaving my half-sister and I. Elizabeth was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Brink of Glen Park, Gary, Ind.; I went to live with Grandmother Milne.
When Grandma died, I was shifted for several years among relatives, and once, at around eight years old, was given to strangers who wanted me for chores. When I neared 11 years of age, one of my uncles÷who never had children, and didnât want any÷put me on a train, alone, going far west, toward another uncle living in Montana.
At 12, I struck out on my own, working numerous farms and ranches, laboring hard from sunup until sundown. Jobs were scarce during the winters so I rode the grub line, many times going hungry, cold and always no place to call home. If I was fortunate to find work, I labored in freezing conditions÷some days 20 below.
By 17, I was a full-fledged ranch and farmhand. I could do any part of the roundups, even castration. I harvested fields encompassing Poplar, Mont., throughout Kansas and into Canada. I burrowed deep down in copper mines at Butte, Mont., while underage and, within a year, advanced to blasting.
I rode many rails and kinds of trains when roaming; wherever the locomotive stopped, I hopped off and did chores, in or near town. Usually I stayed two or three weeks before catching another freight.
I traveled back to Indiana at age 18 and worked various places: Illinois Steel Mill, Pullman Co., Gary Railways, Elgin-Joliet and Eastern Railroad, Standard Oil, Sheriffâs Department, Indiana Harbor Sheet and Tub Mill, Anaconda Refining Co., and Builders of Boxcars.
When the Depression elevated, I was out of work like thousands of others. I couldnât find any jobs and I didnât want handouts. So I started vending eggs and additional farm products. I was thriving until the banks closed, wiping away my small funds. Again I embarked on my own, picking up discarded bottles and peddling these at speak-easies. After saving a few greenbacks, I bought perch from the great fish markets of Chicago, scaled and washed the merchandise before selling it to taverns and stores. I began gaining and grew ambitious for something else; thus, I jumped into hauling coal, which quickly led me toward black dirt excavating.
Eventually, I broke loose from pennies to dollars, acquired lots of equipment, and became known around the area as ăThe Black Dirt King.ä I also purchased three farms, fixing one up as a showplace. Several years later, failing health forced me to sell everything and retire.
Since I liked traveling and seeing different cities, I entered the Greyhound School and emerged a driver. I loved every minute. Upon marrying for the second time, I resigned, obtained 40 acres, and set up a farm.
After two or three years of doing nothing, I developed restlessness and launched back into business÷-not as large as before, but still adequate. Subsequently, physical problems pressured me into quitting again, selling out, and moving my family to Daytona Beach, Fla. I purchased a new apartment building, which my wife and I operated. The Holly Hill Police Department hired me as a patrolman.
During my Florida occupation I ran for constable, and, following the election for sheriff, was a real estate broker. I was also Chief of Police in South Daytona twice, and once at Altamonte Springs; a switchman for Florida Coast Railroad (briefly); top salesman with mobile home sales; and a security guard at a large motel. Now Iâm biding my fleeting moments, selling at flea markets.
I have traveled considerably across this country, from place to place, curious of each-and-every type of work. I want to try as much as possible before time runs out.
Iâve been on top and at the bottom. I recommend that young and old keep going, as long as the Lord gives you health. Enjoy the life youâre given, letting no man stand in your way, and always trusting in God. N
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