Dad was born 1904 in Monon, Indiana. He lived with his grandma near Knox on a small sand farm for two years (ages 5 to 7), until she died. Russell was then shuffled between relatives – often strangers – to work for his room and board in Hammond, Indiana. At the age of eleven dad was put on a train to Montana, where he worked numerous farms and ranches around the area. He describes the town, Indian Reservation, farm and ranch life. At eighteen he traveled back to Indiana.
This is a biography of my abundant experiences, beginning when I was orphaned at the age of five in Indiana, 1909.
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 eleven years of age, one of my uncles put me on a train, alone, going far west—toward another uncle living in Montana.
At twelve, 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 twenty below.
By seventeen, I was a full-fledged ranch and farmhand. I could do any part of the roundups, even castration. I harvested fields encompassing Poplar, Montana, throughout Kansas and into Canada. I burrowed deep down in copper mines at Butte, Montana, 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 eighteen and worked various places: Illinois Steel Mill, Pullman Co., Gary Railways, Elgin-Joliet and Eastern Railroad, Standard Oil, Sheriff’s Department, Indiana Harbor Sheet and Tub Mill, Anaconda Refining Co., and Builders of Boxcars.
When the depression elevated, I was out of employment like thousands of others. I couldn’t find any jobs and I didn’t 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 “The Black Dirt King”. 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 forty 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, Florida. 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 I’m 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.
I’ve 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 you’re given, letting no man stand in your way, and always trusting in God.
Russell J. Milne, Sr.
Orphan Boy by R. J. Milne, Jr. available online at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and Authorhouse.com