By Rebekah Wilson
A local author’s first published work chronicles his travels as a runaway teen and his years hitchhiking across the continent in the 1970s.
Nate Rector, 58, or “Tennessee Nate” as he is often known, published his first book, The Runaway Files, Dec. 24.
Rector worked as a machinist for 10 years and a commercial fisherman for two years. He has also been a mechanic all his adult life.
Writing, however, never loomed as a possible vocation until rather recently.
“I’m not a writer,” Rector said. “What possessed me to write this book — I felt compelled to write it — was to leave something for my kids and their kids.”
He was born in Stuttgart, Germany, adopted and raised in the East Bay Area in Richmond, Calif. He said he had a good relationship with his father and a decent relationship with his mother. He said that his adolescent years were restricted by his parents, and he suffered from depression throughout high school.
Rector said it was hard being sheltered and living near hippies.
“I’m biracial,” he said. “So the black kids didn’t like me. Some of the white kids liked me, but the hippies liked everybody, so that’s who I hung with.”
He said the hippies congregated across the Bay, as well as in Berkley and San Francisco. He said that growing up during the hippie era had a great influence on him. He listed Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and other musicians as some of his other inspirations.
“I had few friends and couldn’t do much after school, so when I got out on the road, I was wild,” he said.
At the age of 15, he and his friend, Jim Tucker, took the train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The whole trip lasted about 24 hours because the California Highway Patrol found them and returned them to their parents.
He said the next time, when he and Tucker were 16, they found some money in a driveway. They ditched class and walked to Tilden Park in Berkley to rent horses. They rode the horses over the hills into Walnut Creek where his horse lost a shoe on the pavement.
“We had to unbridle them and send ‘em home,” he said. “We slapped ‘em on the behinds and they went back.”
From there, he said they walked to Concord and hitchhiked to Stockton, then Sacramento and on to Auburn.
Rector said his friend would not listen to him.
For instance, a highway sign warned that pedestrians, bicycles and motor-driven cycles were prohibited.
Rector said people were allowed to hitchhike if they stood in front of the sign, but that if they stood behind it, the CHP would pick them up.
Of course, the CHP found them and called Rector’s father.
“My dad came to get us,” he said. “He was furious.”
The last time he ran away from home became a six-month trip to Mexico following John Steinbeck’s steps in his book, Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Only 17 at the time, this trip marked the first time he left the United States. Rector went to stay in Guadalajara, Mexico, with the family of a foreign exchange student from his English class named Maria.
Rector entered Mexico illegally. Today, visitors must have a passport, but he said that when he went to Mexico, the government only required that people register at a border town that was 60 miles from the interior. He detoured around the town because he was a runaway and thought officials would send him back.
Maria had said that her family would help him find work, but when he arrived they treated him like a stranger. Rector said he felt lost and alone. He camped by a river for three days.
Then he met Pablo, a poor hotdog vender who lived in a washroom on the roof of an apartment building. Rector slept outside. Inside the building, a man was hiding because he was wanted by law enforcement in the United States. He thought Rector would attract police and dropped him off outside of town.
He was crying on the sidewalk when a Mexican man named Vincente saw him. He gave him a place to stay and a job at an impound lot cleaning cars. Vincente had three daughters who called Rector “Archie” because he looked like the red-headed Archie Gomez, a character in a comic strip they read. He played soccer and went downtown with them when he was not working.
Rector said he might have stayed longer, but he got very sick from the water. His illness forced him to go to the American Consulate, which contacted his parents. They flew him back to California. He never saw Maria or Mexico again.
After four years working as a mechanic in the Air Force, he spent five years hitchhiking and visited 43 states.
Rector wrote his book recounting these events in two months. The work was published by Xlibris and is available online and in bookstores. Books can be purchased at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Xlibris Publishing and Amazon. He said most copies are selling overseas in India, Croatia, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia, but added that he has sold some here as well.
Rector joined the Air Force in 1973 as a mechanic. When he got out, he worked at a McDonald’s restaurant for a year.
“Then I got the hankering to travel again,” he said.
In his book, Rector tells about these runaway adventures and the following years that he spent hitchhiking.
He married when he was 26 years old. His wife was 16, and he said she was very friendly with guys. He said it was a bad marriage and lasted only two years.
“I hit the road after that to forget,” he said.
Later on in life, Rector said he continued to experience what he calls “hitchhikers’ syndrome.”
“I just hit the road when things went wrong,” he said. “I didn’t stay in places too long.”
Eventually, he visited the South and met his wife, Linda, in Jefferson, N. C., in 1986. He has one daughter from his previous marriage and one daughter with Linda.
He and Linda have lived in Stoney Creek since 2000.
Rector enjoys writing, camping, travel and working on Mercedes Benzes.
He is a member of multiple Internet forums devoted to discussion of the Mercedes Benz. He mentioned that another Nate Rector is also active in these forums, so his publisher suggested he use a penname to differentiate between the two. He decided to use the name Tennessee Nate when participating in these online forums.
He is currently disabled and working on another book about his years as a commercial fisherman. He said the book will explain how he and fellow fishermen fished and lived on the ocean.
“Sleep is a torment on a boat because you dream about home and your girl,” he said. “And it’s so real.”
The Runaway Files is currently only available in English, but Rector said he would like to get it translated into Spanish.
He wants to retire in Mexico.
“I dream of it often,” he said. “I wake up crying. That’s why I want to get the book written in Spanish—so my friends can say, ‘Yeah, I remember him.’”