Librarian of the Locks Serves Barge Workers
GRANITE CITY, Ill. (AP) _ Cold wind whips down the concrete alley of Locks 27 on the Mississippi River as ″Lonesome″ Jim Hearon leans over a fence to lower a bucket of books and magazines to waiting barge workers.
The offering included a farming manual, a Reader’s Digest and Playboy magazine. The Playboy was scooped up, but nothing else. Hearon hoisted up the bucket and began waiting for the next crew to pass by.
For three years, rain or shine, Hearon, 57, has acted as librarian of the locks, providing free reading material to the men and women who ride the river for up to 30 days straight.
Sometimes, they thank Hearon. Most of the time, though, their faces quickly disappear inside the pages.
″That’s the greatest, for them to love the reading so well they lose themselves,″ said Hearon, who usually takes up his vigil after work as librarian at an Army depot.
Chris Morgan, a maintenance repairman at the locks across the Mississippi from St. Louis, said river workers are ″always looking for something to read.″ A local company stopped supplying newspapers years ago.
But about then ″Ol’ Jim showed up,″ Morgan said.
After two military stints, two college degrees and world travels, the silver-haired Hearon found himself in Granite City in 1979, when he landed the librarian job at the depot - and picked up his nickname.
When he took over the library, he found that most people equated reading with KP duty.
″So I wrote a story in a base paper where I’d make up conversations between myself and the lonely Maytag repairman,″ he said. In the story, Hearon tried to outdo his counterpart with tales depicting the depths of his loneliness. Soon, he became known around the base as Lonesome Jim.
On a sightseeing visit to nearby Locks 27, Hearon asked if the workers would enjoy reading to pass the time. They would, indeed, he was told.
So Hearon began regular visits to the locks, sometimes supplying hundreds of books and magazines to a procession of barges from early evening until after midnight. Each volume bore his stamp: ″Compliments of Lonesome Jim, Locks 27, Granite City, Ill.″
The reading material came out of Hearon’s own collection of books and magazines and from volumes discarded by the library.
But after Hearon’s mission was publicized in national news stories, readers around the country began sending boxes of books and letters to assure him that others are supporting him each time he lowers the yellow plastic bucket to the anxious hands below.
U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon of Illinois praised Hearon for giving others the chance to read, and a class at an American school in Oslo, Norway, sent a letter of encouragement.
″It’s like we were all sort of a secret fraternity of people who really love books,″ Hearon said. ″It’s almost as if we had known each other before - that there was this kinship.″