His family immigrated to the United States, fleeing violence caused by the Mexican Revolution. Born in 1912 in a cave on this side of the Texas border, my grandfather, Sixto Zubiate, was a confident, industrious man who seemingly responded to adversity as an opportunity for growth. With little more than a fourth grade education and an entrepreneurial spirit, he was a successful businessman, owning several commercial buildings, an apartment complex, a liquor store and a restaurant.
So what does this have to do with a train in Flagstaff?
My mom told me recently that he picked cotton as a child to help support his family. (Hence, his lack of formal education) However, in 1929, something known as The Great Depression happened, not only affecting tycoons who felt that they had no other option but to sky dive without a parachute onto Wall Street, but also making its way into sleepy little Texas border towns like Shafter and Presidio, towns that would rarely get a glimpse from anyone other than possibly their closest neighbor a mere sixty miles away. Needless to say, fiscal opportunities in those parts dried up and rolled away faster than a tumbleweed in July.
Having no access to skyscrapers, and not really into that type of gory drama, my grandfather decided to head west. The copper mining industry was actually at its peak in 1929, and so Sixto did what any red blooded adventurous seventeen year old would do: he forewent jumping off a building to jumping on a train.
Yes, Grandpa was a hobo, but I like to think he was a hobo with a purpose.
Arriving in Flagstaff, Sixto immediately found employment in a copper mine. He remained there for several years. I’m not sure of the exact dates, but I know that the copper industry took a nose dive in 1932, and that Sixto returned to West Texas, where he restored buildings in Fort Davis, a project of the CCC, founded in 1933, all before meeting and marrying my grandmother in 1939.
He never returned to Flagstaff, although he took his family close by when they went on their one and only vacation to Yosemite National Park in the late 1940’s. On the way back home, with a happy look of nostalgia, he asked if they would like to see his old “stomping grounds”. Tired, hot and probably a big grumpy, his family responded with a definite NO!
It’s times like these that I miss Grandpa, and would give anything to hear his hobo/Flagstaff story. I’m sure it would keep me on the edge of my seat!