Two-Gun Tony: Portuguese-American Teamster
I was seventeen and clerking simultaneously for two trucking companies, the
Business Agent for Local 57 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was known
as Two-Gun Tony. True to the origins of the union itself in the days when
drivers guided horse-drawn wagons and teams, he referred to trucking companies
as "barns." Large, medium or small
trucking terminals, they were all "barns" to the union. Company owners, on the other hand, seldom called
their companies or their terminal buildings "barns." The owners were in the right,
of course, but the teamsters held fast to "barns." Thus, according to the teamsters, it could be
said that this teen-aged clerk was said to work for a "barn."
it was a "barn" to the union was complemented by the fact, as luck would have
it, that the building still looked like the barn put up originally to house horses
and cows, to store feed and supplies, and to keep tools dry. The building had an asphalt roof and asphalt
siding and few windows. Yet decades
later, when the barn had been repurposed to serve as a garage for trucks and a
shop to work on them, it still looked like a barn. Even the addition of a sliding door opening
and a dock for loading and unloading freight built way down the right side at
the end of the building did little to suggest that the barn was now a trucker's
terminal. The finishing touch-the
construction of a small office to house the boss and the clerk who typed bills
of lading, load manifests, and (rarely) letters-was hidden away inside the
structure. In short, jerrybuilt into a
trucking terminal, the building never stopped looking like the barn it was.
that barn the clerk-typist did his work for two companies-Ancelmo Trucking and
Boston-New York Transportation. That
fact may have confused others, though not him.
He simply thought of himself as an employee of two companies in the same
industry that shared a building.
to Two-Gun Tony. He showed little
interest in this double-duty "barn" serving two companies run by the same Portagees.
On rare occasions he disdainfully toyed
with them. It was no contest. He had additional advantages. He spoke the owners' language, and they knew,
along with everyone else in trucking, that Two-Gun Tony had gone to prison for
the union. With impunity, then, he knew he could win favors or poach money at
this "barn." One Saturday morning, for
example, Two-Gun Tony showed up at the barn, along with two of his union pals.
They entered the office and Tony sat himself at the only desk in the place. It
belonged to the boss (who never sat there) and the clerk-typist.
the first official of the teamsters union the clerk ever met, was short, fat,
fiftyish, always scowling, even when he laughed, a cigar tilted out of the side
of his mouth. Of "his" two guys, one of
them drove the Cadillac and the other kept accounts. The latter was also a Portagee, as Tony told
the Portagees who owned the trucks in this barn. The three of them meant business. They looked tough.
I'm gonna shape this barn up. Everybody's
gonna belong to the union. Get those
guys in here. Get 'em off the
platform. Bring in the garage help. I wanna check some books. If there's anybody
here that doesn't belong to the union, then he's gonna pony up today. Sixty bucks for initiation, and two bucks for
the first month's dues." That was
Two-Gun Tony's opening speech.
Al, I'm tired of this under-the-hat stuff.
This barn's making enough these days-you're tied in with Boston-New
York, and that means that a gypsy outfit like yours has it good. No more sweating around for a shitty at the
last minute. Well, look, that's your
business. All I know is you're big
enough to pay union rates. Live up to
the contract. Time-and-a-half and
everything else. And no more half-way
turnarounds in Madison. I know what
you've been doing. From now on, turn the
trucks around in Guilford, that's the breaking point and pay them that way, pay
them union, a little less for the guy coming out of Brooklyn, a little more for
the Providence driver.
who's first? You son-of-a-bitch, are you
driving in this barn? I pulled your book
two-three years ago. You say you're a
mechanic now? Al, you got this guy
working on motors and brakes? You're
worse off than I thought. O.K. I'll
write you up, but stay off the road. I
catch you there, and the book goes. And
it never comes back. See?
that way he went through everybody who happened to be in the terminal that
Saturday morning. Much to his
disappointment almost everyone on hand was a dues-paying member of Local 251,
and, moreover, their dues were paid up-to-date.
everybody had been looked into, the Business Agent asked his money-man:
"How much is that?" "A hundred
eighty six," was the answer. Tony
scowled, and then looked around the small office with the oil stove prominently
between the two doors, one to the outside, the other into the garage. "Anybody else here? How about you, Al? You paid up?
Wait a minute, how about the kid?
Is he in the union?"
Chris' sake, Tony," answered the truck-owner, "he's a clerk. He types the fucking bills of lading and the
manifest. He's fifteen, sixteen."
if he wants to work in this barn, he's got to sign up too. Give him a form. Al, you put up the dough. He can pay you later. Here, kid, here's a button. Get yourself a cap. Put the button on it. And keep up-to-date on the dues. The union hall is in India Point, in Providence. And make sure these other guys keep
up-to-date. I always have to pull a lot
of books. I don't like to do it, but I
do it when I have to."
three of them walked out of the office, got into the black Cadillac and drove
out of the yard. Al spoke first, "I
guess he needed a couple hundred bucks.
Good thing he spotted you. He
almost had to go out of here short, and mad at us. We won't see him for a while. You, kid, don't bother with the dues. To me, you're a clerk. Stay in the office. Keep your nose clean. And don't fuck the dog."
was not re-elected. When the elections
for officers were held a few months after the clerk had first met him, he
finished way out of the money. No one
knew better than Tony that this was the end.
He was through as an official of
the Union. He bargained with the
re-elected officials. He should get
something for a lifetime of dedication, he argued, for his years of sweat and
good service, for his time in jail. They
let him make a deal for the old black Cadillac he used to ride about in when he
was somebody and took it with him it when he left. After that he tried working on platform for
an interstate trucker, but that didn't work out. He decided to retire. He had a heart condition.
last time the "kid" saw him he was at home with his wife ("this babe stood
beside me# all the time, prison and all," he felt impelled to say) and two
teen-age daughters. The house was in
South Providence. They had gone to see
him because the kid needed union permission to work for a summer, pushing a
greyhound at the A & P warehouse, that is, helping load and unload freight.
He was in college and needed a summer
job. Of course he hadn't even tried to
keep up his membership in the Teamsters union, but all he wanted now was a
temporary permit to work on the loading docks.
Tony said he could help, that he would help. He then took them out into the backyard and
into a narrow, flat-roofed, elongated building.
Inside it was all knotty pine, linoleum squares, and white ceiling
tile. There was a bar, dim lighting, a
couple of tables, and scattered chairs.
They drank beer and talked. He
promised to confirm the deal in a day or two.
He never called back.
Tony Morris died. But he was heard from
one more time-well, sort of. With one of
his daughters about decided to marry, his widow called my boss. "Al, you and him always worked together," she
said, "and now he's dead, I hope you won't forget me and his kids. My daughter's getting married. Can't you send us something?" The boss, who also owned a liquor store, sent
two cases of Narragansett beer in twelve-ounce, non-returnable bottles.