In 1967 I transferred from Calexico to Indio and met a whole new set of
characters. Ralph Shaw was an IPI who had somehow worked himself into a
straight midnight shift where he did nothing but check freight trains
coming west from boarding points in Yuma and El Paso and bound for Los
Angeles. Aside from the one time he found himself working with Wenton
Tennant (Mr. 5 X 5 recuerdo) Ralph's pairings with rotating partners
assured those partners of a lively shift in the Indio train yards.
Ralph was an aggressive, talented, PI who made an art of checking
trains. Unfortunately , the PIs who tried to follow the agile and very
athletic Shaw usually ended up getting hurt trying to do the same things
Ralph did every night. To his credit Ralph encouraged all his partners
to work safely and not to follow his lead. I particularly remember
Ralph boarding a slow moving freight as it came into the yard and
started through the switches. The trains had speed limits in the yard
but they got to rocking in the switches. Ralph would walk the tops of
the box cars and lean over the sides to look in the cars. If he saw some
human form he would swing over the side and into the car. The rest of us
mortals worked those freights from track level clamoring up into the
cars when we had to. Sometimes we found hobos and sometimes wets.
Ralph's system was faster but, then again, we had nothing but time.
The Indio yards probably received 6 or 7 west bound freight trains a
night and Ralph also had a plan for down time between trains if there
was nothing else going on. His money making schemes on midnights
included stuff like bagging up spilled cattle feed from box cars (he
would fill up a burlap bag every night which he gave to a brother up in
San Berdoo who had a few head) and catching rattlesnakes (and anything
else) which he sold. I didn't object to his sweeping up the feed but I
drew the line on his burlap bag of snakes in the scout. Ralph was a
hustler and the straight midnights facilitated a couple of day time side
jobs. He loaded furniture for Mayflower Moving in the mornings and
plowed fields for the rancher from whom he rented a house. (That
probably paid the rent) We always wondered how he got away with all this
but like I say he caught a lot of wets.
After I left Indio, Ralph transferred to DEA and I later learned that he
died in a DEA plane crash in Mexico. R.I.P. Ralph, he was one of a kind.
One more story. Ralph was about 35 at the time and completely bald (not
a common occurance at the time and NOT by choice) and he was kind of
touchy about it. One morning we had a station full of wets we were
processing and somebody loudly asked Ralph if he had any relatives in
Mexico. Ralph said "No, why?" The PI said that "this wet might be
related to you" and told the wet to stand up and take off his hat. The
wet was completely bald (again, maybe the only bald one I remember
seeing) and even the wet laughed while the rest of us roared. Ralph got
really ticked and stomped out of the office.