Editor’s note: The following is the first in a three-part series.
By Marjorie Stradinger
Il Divo blared at Silvia’s in Enfield, Conn., where John Dalton and I enjoyed brunch as lavish as the sonorous music. Silvia is Romanian. To die for is her Transylvanian baked sausage, bacon, egg casserole, with onions, topped with asiago and feta.
John Dalton was our mover back in November. I asked him, “Are you related to those criminals?”
He laughed, affirmed. One of his packers looked at me in surprise. Don’t think he knew.
“Outlaws sound so much more romantic than criminals, don’t you think?” I asked at brunch. He chuckled.
“Tell me the Jesse James story,” I said.
“My dad has a letter written to his great-great-grandfather…from Missouri…from my grandfather’s first cousin: ‘I’m babysitting our cousins again and that little Jesse (that would be Jesse James) is the meanest dickens.’ I’ve read the letter. They were U.S. marshals at one time, definitely outlaws and rogues and whatever else you want to call them,” he said.
“They killed people in the Old West, right?” I asked.
“I don’t think they killed that many people,” John explained. “They got shot to pieces in Coffeeville, Kan., trying to rob two banks at once. That’s what Dalton Gang is really famous for—getting their tails shot off in Coffeeville, trying to rob two banks on Saturday when everybody was in town shopping. As word of the bank robbers went off, the hardware store handed out rifles and bullets; everybody was shooting at them.”
“It’s well known Jesse James pre-dated the Daltons about a generation, maybe a generation-and-a-half,” John continued. “They were second cousins to the Jameses.”
“Cousins of your great-grandfather?” I asked.
“Right. Our family was in Kentucky and split when they came from overseas, Ireland,” he said. “Some went to Missouri and migrated to Kansas; others went into Illinois with the promise of cheap farmland.”
John’s family ended up in Salem, Ill., about 115 miles from Cairo (pronounced by the locals, Kay-Ro).
“Southern Illinois has the worst English on the face of the earth. That really nice English they talk in Chicago, it doesn’t go that far south,” John said, tongue-in-cheek.
John comes from three generations of movers, not farmers.
“My grandfather was a mover, my dad, a couple of uncles, all in Salem, about 17 miles east of St. Louis,” he said. “My family started a moving company back in 1928: Dalton Transfer Company. We changed to van lines, then moving and storage. We moved the Midwest to the East Coast. The commerce commission took over, and my grandfather could have gotten cross-country rides…really valuable. He said, ‘I’ll never leave this place, I just need these states here.’ Nowadays, anybody can get the authority. They give it away; at one time, it was a valuable commodity.”
“What do you think of Starving College Student movers, those kinds?” I asked.
“We live in the greatest country on the face of the earth; anybody can set out to do anything,” John said. “Becoming president’s a little bit hard, but if your sights are on having a beauty shop, you can do it. If you want to start a moving and storage company…,” his voice gentle, sincere.
John started riding with his dad at 5; loves his memories.
“I’m attempting to write a book about that,” he said. “A little slow. Hope (readers) come to love this (moving business) as much as I do.”
“What part’s fun?” I asked.
“Meeting new people, learning what they do, learning about their lives,” he said. “There’s a story in everybody—that you’d actually be interested in reading.”
“That’s my concept here,” I agreed.
“I can remember getting spanked when I was 5 for breaking a piece of furniture,” he said. “Dad was teaching us how to pad furniture. You know, those nesting tables where one table goes under the other. We snapped one leg off of each table by getting the rubber band too tight. We asked him about that when we were in our 30s. He laughed, said he’d never have spanked us, but he was loading another driver’s truck. That’s what upset him. I broke somebody else’s stuff.”
“That could have given you a bad feeling about the business—but it made you respect what you’re doing, and him,” I said.
“Going out with Dad, I saw the United States three or four times before some kids had even made it to St. Louis,” he said.
John loves discovering new things. He considered architecture.
“I’m very mathematical, good at drawing,” he said. “I found out architects don’t make anything, unless they’re a senior (status). You come out of school and get paid peanuts.”
In the ’70s, he joined the military.
“I didn’t go to Vietnam,” he said. “I went to Germany and drank beer. A tough job, but I handled it.”
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Oct. 13-19, 2010 issue