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The grace and impeccable timing of Utah Phillips

I met him in Pioneer Park, standing tall in the grass and sun. We drank together and talked. We talked of freight train routes and travelin’ light, the escape and adventure … slum gullion and the hobo jungles. I had crossed his path but we had never really met. We connected that day.

I recalled my stories of traveling on the Southern Pacific, the Great Northern and staying in a hobo jungle near Minneapolis, Minn. Of course, he had passed that way before me and yet he listened to my stories before he told me his. The stories complemented and filled in some spaces for each of us. There was the mutual respect of fellow traveler … the instant comradeship in that day of green grass, sun and beer.

We talked of the engine’s power, the clickety clack, the choice of destination, the giving up to the trip. We talked of waiting, patience and getting there … the endless tracks. We talked of sorrow, injustice, power, attitude and action.



I told him about the old man in the Minneapolis hobo jungle who taught me about the preparation and eating of slum gullion. He had found us a ride via the switchman on a hotshot heading for Seattle. “She leaves at 5:25 a.m. … take the last 27 cars to the rear … it’s a five day run.” About two days out, in the evening, the train slowed and I turned to thank the old man for his help and he was gone; almost as if he had vanished … silently, without a trace; not a whisper nor a goodbye. Utah Phillips said, “sometimes it happens like that.”

Well, damn, here I am now and I have turned to thank him and he is gone. He taught me some about the rails and a lot about life. But mostly he taught by his presence, tone, availability, easy grace, insight, overview, personal fire and how he did things.




He’s up and switched routes on me. One I have never been on. I can just see his spirit sitting up on the edge of the bed from the side of his sweet wife and touching his feet to the boarding platform. All he had to do was take one step up onto the Midnite Special that had stopped just for him. It arrived right on time … on tracks that only he could see. “All aboard … going up!”

Of all the ways a king of the road can pass … this was the very best. What a way to go. Loved by his wife, beloved and revered by family, friends and a lot of folks in this community. He always had impeccable timing. He just slipped out … on a hotshot bound for glory.

What a warrior! He came, he saw, he conquered. He has captured our hearts and minds. He has guided us to endure, change and create … with humor and a flair. I don’t think he got a round trip ticket, but you know, all those routes interchange somewhere.

Drop by anytime, Utah. You are welcome in my heart. I would recognize you in a dream or sign by tone, action, fire of spirit, creative concept or the kind of tricks you played on us. Maybe we can communicate about changing a few things in the blueprint of cosmic and human design. Put in a good word for me, will you? … and I will put in a good word for you. I will be sending you my e-mail.

With love and an abundance of blessings from a fellow traveler.

Rich Moore lives in Nevada County.


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