In 1935, my Dad’s brother, Otto, a WW I veteran, was in the hospital in Rochester, MN, undergoing tests at the Mayo Clinic. Otto’s condition was serious, so my Dad, Walter, and his brother, Dick, decided to take a train trip to visit him. Dick was a few years older than Dad, and was also a WW I vet. He was a very sociable man. He loved a good story and had the reputation of being something of a practical joker. The two arranged to meet in Omaha and take the train from there to Rochester. Both men had bakeries, Walter in Plainview, and Dick in Cozad. Since these were very confining occupations, it was not often that they were able to take a trip together. So in spite of the gravity of the situation, the brothers were excited to spend a little time together.
When they got on the train in Omaha they noticed that the Porter gave them a strange look. And each time he passed them in the aisle he stared at them at length. Walter began to become uncomfortable and mentioned the fact to Dick.
“I wonder if we’ve done something wrong. That fellow makes me feel like a criminal.”
Dick took another view. “Don’t pay any attention to him”, he said. “We haven’t done anything wrong.” You’re probably just imagining things.”
But as they were returning to their seats from the diner, they met the fellow in the hallway of the sleeping car. He stepped in front of them so they were forced to stop.
“Is you him?” he asked, looking directly at Dick.
“Well, that depends, my friend,” answered Dick, stalling for time. “Who do you think I am?”
“Why, you’re Max Baer, the heavyweight champeen of de whole world!” He didn’t wait for confirmation. “I knowed you was him!”
Just that fast Dick put his hand on the fellow’s shoulder. “Shhh! Don’t ever use that name again.” He nodded toward Walter. “My manager and I are traveling to Rochester to visit a buddy in the hospital. I just can’t deal with all those reporters on this trip, so we’re traveling incognito. I’m counting on you to not blow our cover?. With that he thrust a $10 bill toward the fellow. In 1935 a $10 tip was a sizeable reward, and Walter, never known as a large tipper, almost fainted at the sight of such generosity. But Dick had guessed right. The Porter would have none of it.
“No sir, boss!”, he said “I saw you knock Primo Camera out for the title in New York. That was the greatest fight I ever saw. No siree! Your money is no good on this train a long as I’m here.”
It was true. Dick was a big man, 6 feet tall, and near 200 pounds. He was athletic, about the right age, and he was swarthy. He very easily could have been mistaken for Max Baer.. The two went on back to their seats and chuckled about the incident for a little while, then began to talk of other things and pretty much forgot about how they had fooled the Porter.
After about an hour the Porter came back to where they were sitting. “Would you gentlemen come with me please?” he said, with a great show of authority. Then he proceeded to usher them back to the Pullman car, and into a roomette. “This room is not occupied tonight and I would be honored to have you take it with my compliments.”
This was too much for Walter. He started to explain about the mix-up when Dick stopped him with an elbow to the ribs.
“Well, thank you. What is your name? Frederick. Ok, Frederick, we thank you very much for your hospitality, and we’ll be glad to be your guests for the night”, said Dick, as if this were an everyday occurrence.
“Oh, I is so proud.” He was just beaming.
“In your fight with Camera I thought sure he had you in the 8th round. He came at you with that roundhouse right that would have taken your head off And you ducked under that right so pretty, and came back with your own left and right. That was the prettiest combination ever.” And he would have gone on for much longer, but Dick once more put his hand on his shoulder.
“Frederick, remember, don’t mention my name to a soul. We’ve had a long hard day and we need to get a little rest, OK? Thanks again.”
Walter and Dick did enjoy the accommodations, though several times during the evening the Porter knocked on their door—- to bring them drinks from the bar or to introduce them to another Porter. Each time he would bring up more details of the memorable Camera fight. And each time Dick would go along with the conversation and then admonish the fellow to keep his identity a secret.
When the train was almost ready to pull into the Minneapolis station, where they were to change trains for Rochester, the Porter came one last time to their room.
“Mr. Baer, do you s’pose I could get you to sign this menu you used last night—-for my son. He’d be so proud?”
“You bet, Frederick.”. And he signed the menu with a flourish. “Here you are, and might I say, it has been a real pleasure knowing you. If you get to any more fights I hope you’ll look me up.”
This time Walter was sure Dick had gone too far. He held his tongue until they were off the train, then exploded.
“It was bad enough letting that fellow think you were Max Baer, the boxing champ. But then giving him an autograph. What were you thinking anyway?”
“Don’t worry”, answered Dick. “It will be OK. I signed it just fine.”
“To my pal, Frederick, from You Know Who.”