Mudcat Café message #149515 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #16028   Message #149515
Posted By: Art Thieme
14-Dec-99 - 06:25 PM
Thread Name: the Little Red Songbook--I.W.W.
Subject: Paul Durst Interview - Art Thieme
I wrote 2 columns about PAUL DURST during September and November of 1982. They were in the show biz newspaper out of Chicago called the ILLINOIS ENTERTAINER...The column was called Art Thieme's Folk World.



Paul Durst is a man I've mentioned before in this column. He was 93 years old when I interviewed him on December 8, 1961. He had lived through some amazing times and he survived. His is a tale of hard times and how to live through 'em.

Art Thieme: How old are you Paul?

Paul Durst: I'm past 93 already. Born in 1868. That's a long time. Now I'm full of rheumatism and can't play no more like I used to play. We'd start playing at 5 PM and wouldn't stop playing until four in the morning. All my partners in the music game--they all passed away. They drank too much, ya know. I didn't drink so much. Some places we was playin' and whisky was comin' so swift. Some got drunk and hit the guitar to beat the band anyhow. There was a friend of mine, he was a Texan; a funny guy, a good guy, ya know. A good feller. But a screwball, ya know. I had to bring him half a pint before I could get him started. He'd play like hell all full o' booze. One time we was playing a dance and he was singing a song:
"Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam..."
And, by God, he hit his guitar, keeled over, and he was dead. Dead as a doornail. Guitar fell out of his hands. And I lost so many partners that way. What I didn't go through...

A.T.--Tell me about hoboing.

Paul Durst--- Oh, in the olden days it was different. When I hoboed I traveled by myself all the time. I had my fiddle in my case---a good solid case. And then over the case I had a good rain-proof bag. I'd put it on my shoulder. I had the fiddle hangin' behind me and I'd hop the freight anyhow. I'd travel to the harvest fields---the wheat fields---pickin' oranges and everything. Worked in Greeley, Colorado picking potatoes. I was in Denver and another hobo came in. Idon't know if he was a Wobbly or not. Said he come from Greeley. I said, "How is harvesting there?" "No, there's nothing doin'" he says. Well, I tell him that's bullshit---there's lots of potatoes in Greeley. I jumped the freight and went out & got there just as the picking was started. So I made $200.00. I made good. I came back to Denver with cash in my pocket.

A.T.---Play a Wobbly song, Paul. One of the old ones.

Conditions they are bad,
And some of you are sad,
You cannot see your enemy
The class that lives in luxury,
So workingmen unite,
You must put up a fight,
For liberty---equality,
Our class is marching on.

Shall we be slaves and work for wages,
It is outrageous, has been for ages,
This world of our belongs to toilers,
And not to spoilers of liberty.
[tune: "REDWING"]

A.T.---Were there many members in the I.W.W.?

It was an international union--a organization---all over the world. In 1905 we split from the Socialist Labor Party. I belonged to the Socialist Labor Party at that time. And then they split. The industrial arm went one way and left the political party on the side. But I told 'em not to split. To fight with two arms is better than to fight with one. But they wouldn't listen. They said they had nothing to do with politics---that they were just industrial workers. That's the way they figured it, but I don't know. You've got to fight with two arms. But we are an international union. No matter what nationality, color, race---anybody who joins the I.W.W. is an Industrial Worker of the World. If he go to China--Japan--Egypt--Africa----as long as you work you're a Wobbly. All over the world. We had lots of Greeks, Swedes, colored folks. We was one time 50,000 strong in the lumber camps. Went on strike. Some scabs came with the blankets and we took the blankets away from 'em. We threw 'em in the ditch. They hollered, "Oh, my money is in there!" "To hell with your money. We told you not to come to work with these lousy blankets." We told 'em to fish the money out o' the piss but leave the blankets there. I been through all that...

A.T.---Where were you born Paul?

Paul Durst---Lakeville(?), Wisconsin. My father came from Switzerland and my mother's folks came from Sweden & Denmark. My father settled down there in 1848.

A.T.---What was the country like then?

Paul Durst---It was wild and wooly. All hills. We tried many places to settle down but the only country we liked---it looked more like Switzerland---was that country out there. My father had a Swiss rifle. The wolves kept breakin' in---we had to build a stockade around our place. Wolves would come and howl at night behind the stockade. It was pretty cold out there at night in those hills. We'd have a little light hangin' at night on the end of the rifle and the wolves'd look at the light and we'd bump 'em off. In the morning we'd find quite a few wolves layin' down there. We'd pull the skin off and make coats out of it. Good warm coats. See the light would shine in their eyes and we'd aim between the glowing eyes; it's all you could see in the dark.

A.T.---Where'd you go when you left Wisconsin?

I went to Minnesota first. I was only 14 years old and I worked on a farm. Later, in Wisconsin, in the lumber camps---Ashland, Wisconsin. We worked cutting logs there. There's hardly nothing I didn't do. I didn't kill nobody and I didn't steal anything. But I done all kinds o' work.


A.T.---Tell me some more about your days hoboing, Paul.

Paul Durst---When I was hoboing I never had to knock at the back door. All I'd do is take my fiddle out and go to some farmer's house. I'd be out in the country when I'd hop off a freight. I'd stand by the gate and start playin' my fiddle. Pretty soon they all come out. "Come in, mister. Come in!" There wasn't any music around or radios like ya got now. So they took me in the house and fed me. Sometimes I'd stay two or three days...

A.T.---I've heard folks call you Buffalo Bill, Paul. How'd you get that nickname?

Paul Durst---I took two trips over to Europe with Buffalo Bill. I had my chin whiskers like Bill and I looked like him.

A.T.---Paul, could you tell me that story again---about the trip & the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show?

Paul Durst---It was the last trip he made to Europe. We didn't know nothin' about hoof and mouth disease but in Europe they know all about that. So the German government found Bill's animals had the disease so they destroyed all his animals. Only one cow was left. We came back in an old freighter. Took us five or six weeks. Buffalo Bill only had a few dollars left and he talked to the captain and he took us on for so much a person to take us to America. It was a slow boat. Finally we got back here. Now I can eat breakfast in New York and eat dinner in London. That's quite a change, isn't it?
[On returning to America, broke, Bill Cody was refinanced by another great showman, P.T. Barnum.]

A.T.---Did you ever work on the rivers?

Paul Durst---On the Mississippi River. I built a boat one time. Flat bottom. Twenty feet long. Built it in St.Paul and traveled clear down to New Orleans on the boat. We jumped the Minihaha Falls and gave an exhibition; made a few dollars. Sold the boat for $25.00. Yeah, I went through all kinds o' things. Now I'm just an old hobo---just gettin' by. I came in with nothing and I'll go out with nothing. To hell with it. Why should I worry about it?

A.T.---Can you remember any of the old hobo songs?

Paul Durst---
Why don't you work like other men do?
How the hell can I work when there's no work to do?
Hallelujah, I'm a bum,
Hallelujah, bum again,
Hallelujah, give us a handout
To survive us again.

Is that on the record now? Let me see how it sounds. Look at this, here, Pete...
[This comment was made to Pete Leibundguth, the owner of THE FRET SHOP on 57th St. (Chicago's south side Hyde Park neighborhood) where Paul was living in the back room----and where I was conducting the interview.---Then I played some of the songs back so Paul could hear his recorded voice and fiddle playing.]

A.T.----Paul, did you know Joe Hill?

Sure. I met him on the coast. We went on a boat to Honolulu and all over.He was a Wobbly. He had a sister in Sweden. You see, his name was not Joe Hill. His name was Hilstrom. They shortened the name. I was in Utah when they shot him. The capitalists and the copper kings didn't like the working man's songs. Joe Hill wrote the working man's songs. They shot him. Rough times. In Ludlow, Colorado [a miner's strike] we were all fenced in with wire fences all around us. You'd touch the fence and you'd burn your hands! [electricity] You couldn't get out. What we didn't go through, boy. They had us fenced in. You had to sleep out in the open. The weather was tough and everything.
You will eat by and by,
In that glorious land above the sky,
Work and play, live on hay,
You'll ge pie in the sky when you die,
That's a lie...

That's Joe Hill's song.---He wrote that.

A. T.----Was hobo life like you sing it in "The Wabash Cannonball"? Did you really ride on the rods and the brakebeams under the cars? And tell me about the jungles.

Well, we'd sit around the jungles and have the stew pots going, coffee makin' in the cans. They had regular places for the hobo jungles in those days. Sure. And when something was left over it wasn't destroyed. It was put in a clean can and put away. If another hobo goes through he'd have something to eat. It was a regular system. Not now. There isn't a system like that any more I don't think. You can't go close to the train no more. The diesel engine will pull you in and kill you. The suction is so strong. In the olden days you could catch freights anyplace. Everything goes fast now ya know. And when they get there they don't know what to do with themselves. I know one guy who says he can't walk no more.Whenever he goes someplace it's in a car. He forgot how to walk.

Well, it's gettin' chilly in here now. Think I'll go in the back----warm up. Thanks for everything.

Paul Durst had a stroke a few days after I made these tapes. He was taken to the hospital and a clergyman was called to give him the last rites. The folks at the hospital thought the stroke to be more serious than it actually was. Paul opened an eye and saw the priest hovering over him. He got pretty incensed and tried to toss the guy out of his room. (Paul was a lifelong atheist.) Paul recovered from this little episode. Shortly after returning home from his hospital stay (Christmas eve---1961) Paul moved in with an old girlfriend.

I never saw Paul Durst again.

About 2 years later (I think) my attention was belatedly drawn to an article printed in the Chicago Sun Times about an old fellow with long white hair and beard who had been found frozen to death in a makeshift hovel built into the lower level superstructure of the Michigan Avenue Bridge in downtown Chicago.

The only posesssion the old man had with him when he was found was a beat-up old fiddle.

Art Thieme
September and October, 1982