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Traveling peaks, valleys with Elmer Freeman

One Writer’s Perspective

When my wife and I married, it was a match made in heaven. She loves yard sales and flea markets, and I love books. Sitting here scanning my shelves, I see hundreds of books my wife snagged for pennies on the dollar.

One particular Saturday, she came home with well over 200 books from one yard sale. They filled the entire back seat and the trunk of the Chevy. These included many old and rare books such as Count York von Wartenburg’s “Atlas to Accompany Napoleon As A General” (1942) and “Military History of the World War” by Girard Lindsley McEntee (1937). She paid $25 for the whole collection.

You’ve just gotta love my wife.

But it was several weeks later when she came in with a small box full of odds and ends that I landed a true treasure. Buried in the bottom was a diary — “A Line A Day” (1892). The inside cover reads, “This book covers the most varied and eventful period in my life, during the time I was trying to get started, and records many failures, as well as pleasures” — Elmer L. Freeman.

The diary entries run from Jan. 1, 1917-Dec., 31, 1921, and open with 19-year-old Freeman living in rural Freemont County, Colorado.

Within the first few entries, Freeman reveals himself to be a young man of varied and extraordinary talents. He also reveals an impatience, an anxiousness to find his “place.” His amazing and arduous journey took him from the top of the Rockies and two-foot snows to the lowlands of New Orleans and an adult dose of the seamy side of life.

Some excerpts from Freeman’s diary:

Jan. 5, 1917 — Set up static machine at Hamilton’s. Ran phone office. Worked on Buick.

Jan. 23, 1917 — Baled hay 8 hrs. Fooled with X ray at Dr.’s.

Feb. 10, 1917 — Worked on fireless cooker & ran Post Office. Ran phone office. Played games.

March 1, 1917 — Ran light plant.

June 4, 1917 — 1st day on U.S.G.L.O. (U.S. Geological Land Office). (Surveyed) 3 mis. in Bad Lands (Big Horn River region near Worland, Wyo.).

July 28, 1917 — Left camp for (Big Horn) mts.

Dec. 2, 1917 — Left camp for home. (He got home Christmas Day.)

Jan. 19, 1918 — Got call to take exams for aviation.

June 15, 1918 — Frisco (San Francisco) at 8:30 A.M. (to begin flight training).

Oct. 4, 1918 — Flew in #3702. Nearly collided with #1326.

Feb. 23, 1919 — Went for walk in parks. Stayed in town all night. AWOL.

Feb. 26, 1919 — Called before Board on AWOL & recommended discharge. (Freeman was discharged March 5, 1919.)

June 23, 1921 — Office all day. Quit. (Freeman left that afternoon for Colorado, and eventually hired back on with the U.S.G.L.O. in Northwest Colorado).

Nov. 30, 1919 — Packed up to leave. (Freeman arrived home Dec. 21, 1919. He left June 27, 1921 for Wichita Falls, Texas).

June 29, 1920 — Hunted for job (in Wichita Falls) & landed one with Wm. Stacks, Contractor, at $5 per day. Handyman & carpenter’s helper. (Staying) at Stock Exchange, room $8 per wk. $4.13 cash on hand. (Freeman quit July 27, 1920, and went to Dallas.)

Aug. 4, 1920 — Salesman for vacuum cleaners, washing machines. No sales.

Aug. 5, 1920 — Landed job in shipping dept., Butler Bros., $80 per mo. OK.

Aug. 9, 1920 — Lonesome. Sharpened knife.

Jan. 21, 1921 — Laid off. Got let out in force reduction.

Jan. 24, 1921 — Tried to catch C. Lucas for $15 bad check he gave me. No use. Left 8 P.M. for (New Orleans). So ends this chapter, the hardest of any yet.

Jan. 26, 1921 — Arrived in New Orleans at 8 A.M. with $5. Not much town. Hunted job & looked it over. Stayed at “Y” Annex.

Feb. 12, 1921 — Lincoln’s birthday not celebrated here.

April 19, 1921 — To church in eve. Got tangled up in shooting scrape.

May 31, 1921 — Police raids started.

June 1, 1921 — Got my wristwatch out of pawn.

June 18, 1921 — Worked until 1 P.M. Left at 5 P.M. for Bay St. Louis. Walked R.R. trestle to Pass Christian.

June 21, 1921 — To Pascagoula, to see fire damage.

July 31, 1921 — To Biloxi via Excursion. To Gulfport via Electric.

Dec. 1, 1921 — Went in eve to welcome Italian General Diaz at train. Pickpocket lifted my wallet, but I caught him & got it back.

Wally Northway is a staff writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is northway@msbusiness.com.


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