This poem refers to a fictional railroad so forlorn that it was named for the gila monster, a venomous lizard of the American Southwest. I found originally it in an old poetry anthology I had for years (“One Hundred American Poems” – 50 cents). I liked it for the vernacular language and used to read it to the children at bedtime.
My anthology says that the poem’s author was listed as anonymous, but the internet shows its authors to be Glenn Norton and Louis Freeland Post, a controversial Washington bureaucrat of the early twentieth century. This seems unlikely as nothing in Post’s background indicates he would write such a poem. The earliest publication date is 1919.
THE GILA MONSTER ROUTE
By Glenn Norton and Louis Freeland Post(?)
The lingering sunset across the plain
Kissed the rear-end door of an east-bound train,
And shone on a passing track close by
Where a ding-bat sat on a rotting tie.
He was ditched by the shack by cruel fate.
The con high-balled, and the manifest freight
Pulled out on the stem behind the mail,
And she hit the ball on a sanded rail.
As she pulled away in the falling light
He could see the gleam of her red tail-light.
Then the moon arose and the stars came out —
He was ditched on the Gila Monster Route.
Nothing in sight but sand and space;
No chance for a gink to feed his face;
Not even a shack to beg for a lump,
Or a hen-house there to frisk for a single gump.
He gazed far out on the solitude;
He drooped his head and began to brood;
He thought of the time he lost his mate
In a hostile burg on the Nickel Plate.
They had piped the stem and threw their feet,
And speared four-bits on which to eat;
But deprived themselves of daily bread
And sluffed their coin for dago red.
Down by the track in the jungle’s glade,
In the cool green grass, in the tulas’ shade,
They shed their coats and ditched their shoes
And tanked up full on that colored booze.
Then they took a flop with their hides plum full,
And they did not hear the harnessed bull,
Till he shook them out of their boozy nap,
With a husky voice and a loaded sap.
They were charged with vag for they had no kale,
And the judge said, “Sixty days in jail.”
But the john had a bindle — a worker’s plea—
So they gave him a floater and set him free.
They had turned him out, but ditched his mate,
So he glommed the guts of an east-bound freight,
He flung his form on a rusty rod,
Till he heard the shack say, “Hit the sod!”
The john rolled off, he was in the ditch,
With two switch lamps and a rusty switch,—
A poor, old, seedy, half-starved bo
On a hostile pike, without a show.
From away off somewhere in the dark
Came the sharp, short notes of a coyote’s bark.
The bo looked round and quickly rose
And shook the dust from his threadbare clothes.
Off in the west through the moonlit night
He saw the gleam of a big head-light —
An east-bound stock train hummed the rail;
She was due at the switch to clear the mail.
As she drew up close, the head-end shack
Threw the switch to the passenger track,
The stock rolled in and off the main,
And the line was clear for the west-bound train.
When she hove in sight far up the track,
She was workin’ steam, with her brake shoes slack,
She hollered once at the whistle post,
Then she flitted by like a frightened ghost.
He could hear the roar of the big six-wheel,
And her driver’s pound on the polished steel,
And the screech of her flanges on the rail
As she beat it west o’er the desert trail.
The john got busy and took the risk,
He climbed aboard and began to frisk,
He reached up high and began to feel
For the end-door pin — then he cracked the seal.
‘Twas a double-decked stock-car, filled with sheep,
Old john crawled in and went to sleep.
She whistled twice and high-balled out,—
They were off, down the Gila Monster Route.