Just Nosin' Around with Gus: a Common Man's Odyssey: a Biography
Gus A. Wurdinger 1883-1973, Biographies, California Biography
Gus Wurdinger was born in the South of Market district of San Francisco, California, in 1883. His mother was born in Angels Camp, California, during its heyday; his father was born in Austria and came to the United States, probably illegally, after jumping ship near Buenos Aires and walking over the Andes Mountains. Until his death, just before he turned ninety, Gus crowded adventure and risk into his life because he could not do differently. When he was fourteen, he found himself headed for Hawaii and Manila, on his way to fight in the Spanish-American War, after stowing away on a troop ship in San Francisco. Subsequently, he sailed aboard a barge to Alaska but jumped ship near Seattle and lived there on the streets for several weeks before moving on. He was a boy hobo in central and southern California in 1901, a porter and bar boy at the Sentinel Hotel in Yosemite in 1902, a miner in Bisbee, Arizona, a vaudeville and stage entertainer, a bartender in Rhyolite, Nevada (during in boom years), even a confidante of Joan Crawford’s in the 1920s. For many years he was known as Gus the Gardener in Newport Beach, California and as a restaurateur in Ashland, Oregon. As an old man, still searching for fame and recognition, he walked around the perimeters of Puget Sound in a well-planned bid for publicity and then attempted to ride a bicycle to the East coast the following year.
Throughout his life, he believed that he was jinxed. Try as he might, his adventures were marred by misfortune and mistake. He was never able to reach his goal of becoming a celebrity, either on or off the stage. But his rich “gift of gab” endeared him to hundreds of friends and acquaintances. And he never quit trying to succeed.
He told stories all his life. In his last years, he began to write them down. These stories are remarkable, not for their literary style but for the rich narratives they provide about the life of a working-class man and his family. Gus’s stories were written from the bottom of society, looking up. They are neither pretentious nor poetic. However, three of these stories were published in pulp magazines in the 1960s. Seven more were recently uncovered.
Just Nosin’ Around with Gus, authored by Norm Wyers, is a biography of Gus’s life. The book begins with his early experiences in San Francisco and ends several years after his death, when Gus’s ashes were dropped off the Golden Gate Bridge by his family. That was what he wanted, the fulfillment of a promise made by his grandson before Gus died. He was a true native son of California, very proud of his roots in San Francisco and nostalgic about his many years in Newport Beach, beginning in 1911 when it was a small fishing village. Additionally, all ten of Gus’s stories about early San Francisco, Seattle, Rhyolite, Newport Beach, San Diego, Yosemite and the Sierra, stowing away on the troop ship, and riding the rails as a youthful drifter are included in the book, as they were written.
Gus, San Francisco's native son
San Francisco in the gay nineties
Sierra holdup, 1900
We rode the flume
Rhyolite, 1906 and 1907
Old Newport, 1911 to the 1930s
An unforgettable character
Depot, Lake Grove, OR, ©2002
Wyers Norm and Gus A Wurdinger. Just Nosin' Around with Gus : A Common Man's Odyssey : A Biography. Depot 2002.