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   John Francis O'Connor of Phoenix, 90, passed away February 8, 2008. John was perhaps better known as “The Sidedoor Pullman Kid” - a moniker earned by spending most of his life riding in boxcars of freight trains in search of work and adventure. John was possibly the last of the Great Depression-era hoboes alive, who strongly preferred the wanderlust of the open road to a settled and stable lifestyle. John was born in New Haven, CT on June 4th, 1917. He left home in 1930 as a teenager and started riding the rails to find work. Like other hoboes of the time, John did all sorts of temporary jobs - from picking fruit to washing dishes to working for the railroads themselves. “Sidedoor” crisscrossed the country working like this for the next 25 years - living in hobo camps called “jungles” located at the fringe of towns next to the tracks. In the mid 1950's, John married Florence Wyckoff and settled down in Syracuse, NY. There, he continued to work as a merchant marine and highway laborer. The couple never had children and later moved to Phoenix in 1977. When Florence died in 1985, “Sidedoor” resumed his hobo life, and at age 67 began to hop freight trains again. Only this time around, the rides were for pleasure and mostly limited to upper midwestern states. His independent character and life experiences got him elected King of the Hoboes in 1994 during their century-old annual convention in Britt, IA. John actively rode freights until he turned 82. Although no known blood relatives survive him, John left countless friends behind all over the country - including scores of modern day train riders who regard him as a Legend. A fiercely proud and honorable man, John harbored no regrets about the life he chose to live. Funeral services and burial for John are pending at the White Tanks Cemetery, 15926 W. Camelback Rd. in Litchfield Park.
Published in The Arizona Republic on 2/19/2008
 King of the Hobos laid to rest in West Valley
Lynn French ~ Mulitmedia Journalist ~ 12 News ~ Feb. 21, 2008 6:47pm
   It is one of those obituaries that stops you in your tracks---an obituary for a hobo, one-time King of the Hobos to be exact.
   John Francis O'Connor rode through life as “The Sidedoor Pullman Kid”, a moniker he earned while spending most of his life hopping freight trains in the pursuit of work and adventure. He started riding the rails at age 13. O'Connor passed away last week here in Phoenix at the age of 90. He was laid to rest today in a potter's grave at the White Tanks Cemetery (in Phoenix, Arizona ~ V-Dubya). This was not Sidedoor's final wish, but he may have been okay with it.
   The White Tanks Cemetery lies along a desolate stretch of Camelback Road just west of the 303, directly off the end of the Luke Air Force Base runway. The only roses most of these graves will see are in a commercial nursery farm field to the north. Hundreds of one inch PVC pipes stick out of the ground marking each burial site. The only adornment most of them have are a brass marker about the size of a soup can lid noting the deceased's name and date of death. This is Maricopa County's cemetery for the indigent, those who die with no one to claim them. Despite the lonely departure, they are given one last moment of dignity. It would not be the choice of most, but as they enter the earth in a simple gray box, a minister issues a final prayer, nuns stand witness and a chain gang of female inmates from the county jail bow their heads.
   Sidedoor's wish, according to a longtime friend, was to be cremated and have his remains spread during the Annual Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa. He was named King of the Hobos at the convention in 1994.
   Maricopa County requires a family member to authorize a cremation. Sidedoor has no living relatives. He married Florence Wyckoff in the mid 1950's and they settled for a while in Syracuse, NY. They moved to the Valley and when Florence died in 1985, he returned to the hobo life continuing to board boxcars until he was 82. A hobo owned and operated website, www.northbankfred.com shows Sidedoor at hobo gatherings in 2001 and 2002. The website reports from one of the gatherings: The granddaddy at this year's Jungle is Sidedoor Pullman Kid, an old hobo who started hopping trains in 1930, joining an estimated three million riders on the rails during the Depression. Now 81, he still rides, taking short hops with his buddy, Tramp Printer, and leaving Phoenix during the summers for New York and Pennsylvania. Over the years, he's supported himself as a fruit picker, a gandy dancer (track crew) and a construction worker. “Hoboes are the king of the road,” Sidedoor says joyously. “That's a hard school of people to beat... . You couldn't buy the education I've gotten for gold.”
   Sidedoor's funeral service was not the fading light of a caboose you might expect under these conditions. It was as raucous as a switching yard with the rumble of F-16s shooting off Luke's runway every few seconds as a fellow hobo, Gypsy Breeze of Phoenix, played the autoharp. A deacon from Saints Simon and Jude Catholic Church in his flowing white robe read from the newspaper obituary. Two more hobos from Elmhurst, Illinois brought wildflowers in a coffee cup, a classic red bandana and railroad spike to grace Sidedoor's casket as it descended into the earth. After the service, Milwaukee Mike and his wife Doris Dooright explained Sidedoor's fate. “We are going to miss him, but he is on the Westbound and will be welcomed into Heaven”. When a hobo catches the Westbound, his spirit goes off into the sunset. Then Gypsy Breeze and Doris Dooright did right by Sidedoor抯 new neighbors. They walked the sparse cemetery straightening brass markers and repositioning the fake flowers that graced a few graves.
 Hobo king catches the westbound
The Arizona Republic ~ Valley & State online print edition ~ Feb. 23, 2008 6:35pm
   It does not speak well of us when the passing of a man known as “the Sidedoor Pullman Kid” is noted on the obituary page of the local newspaper but nowhere else, as happened last week in The Arizona Republic.
   John Francis O'Connor was 90 years old. In his final days he lived in a small Phoenix apartment, from which he sometimes ventured out on a bicycle to visit a local watering hole. But for much of his young life, and then again during his golden years, Sidedoor's wanderlust was bound only by the limits of North America's rail system and his ability to leap into a rolling boxcar.
   “He led an amazing life,” said Mark Catchpole, who has ridden more than a few freight trains himself. “Sidedoor was the last of a breed. Those great old hobos who made their way across country on freights - always working. He knew the land like none of us ever will.”
   Sidedoor was said to have begun riding the rails while still a teenager in 1930. He was born in New Haven, Conn., and grew up during a time when the Great Depression caused many desperate men to hop trains in search of a better life or new opportunities.
   Sidedoor's interests appeared to have less to do with practicality than with beauty, however, at least if beauty can be defined as a search for grace, and grace can be achieved while sitting on the edge of a slowing-moving freight train, the great American landscape scrolling past like the Lord's own diorama.
   “He would quiz you about where you're from and then tell you what railroad went through there and where the hobo camps were located,” Catchpole said. “He could tell you what was special about every place he visited.”
   But while Sidedoor lived a life of zeal and independence, it was not without compromise. He became John O'Connor again when he met and married his wife, Florence. After roughly 25 years of continuous travel, he stopped and settled down, choosing to lead a “normal” life for what turned out to be more than three decades.
   “It's true that he didn't ride the trains while he was married to my sister,” said Gladys Katz. “He worked at different jobs and didn't go back to that life until she passed away.”
   By the time of his wife's death, Sidedoor was in his 60s. Times had changed, but not his sense of whimsy or adventure. So he hit the rails again.
   Each August in the small town of Britt, Iowa, a hobo “convention” is held. They've been gathering there for over a hundred years.
   In 1994, “the Sidedoor Pullman Kid” was elected King of the Hobos.
   When he recently “caught the westbound,” a hobo euphemism for dying, Mark Catchpole made sure that Sidedoor's obituary noted his unique claim to “royalty” and pointed out that he rode the rails until he was in his 80s.
   “He wanted to be cremated,” Catchpole said. “But since he and his wife had no children and there are no 'blood' relations left, he was buried in the county cemetery.”
   His friends are searching for a relative from whom they might get permission to have the body exhumed and cremated. They'd like to spread his ashes on the tracks.
   This may be difficult, however, since they learned recently that O'Connor changed his name as a young man, and no one knows what his birth name was.
   “Isn't that classic?” Catchpole said.
   These days, we tend to rate a person's level of success on a scorecard of professional accomplishments and personal wealth.
   Sidedoor died with a couple of thousand dollars in the bank and few possessions.
   By that hollow tally, he was a pauper, which explains why those of us in the news business failed to properly note the passing of a king.
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