Going to jail for hopping a freight train.

CSX Railroad companyCSX freight train pulling into the Mobile, Alabama yards.

I hopped a freight train from Houston, Texas’s, Englewood Yard and rode all night through southern Louisiana on a bad shaking boxcar and squeezed into the Gentilly Yards just east of New Orleans.   I had nearly run out of water on this trip since I stayed on this train when I got to Lafayette, Louisiana.  I remember pulling into Lafayette during the pre-dawn hours that morning and thinking that if I got off there, it would take me hours before I would catch another train, so I just cut my losses and stayed on to New Orleans.  I rode over the famous Huey P. Long train/vehicle bridge that crosses the Mississippi River on its way to the CSX yards in Gintilly.  What a long and high bridge!  When crossing this bridge, you are suspended over an area three miles in length, and at the bridges highest point, you are 278 feet above the Mississippi River!  Two freight trains at once may cross the bridge as well.

Huey P. Long rail/vehicle bridge in New OrleansThis is the east-side of the Huey P. Long bridge. CSX Gintilly Yard is 13 miles east of this point, and the Union Pacific Avondale Yard is three miles over the bridge to the West.

I walked to the Shwagman Brothers mega-store grocery heaven about half mile from the Gentilly Yards and bought my road-grub and a case of Milwaukee’s Best brand Beer for the next leg of my trip.   I had already lucked out once I rode into New Orleans.  The freight train I was riding on kept going right through the west end Avondale Yard and up and over the famous Huey P. Long railroad/vehicle bridge that spans the Mississippi River, into the Gentilly Yard.  Usually you get dropped there in the Avondale Yard and have to catch a completely different train over the bridge to the east end yard of Gentilly, so I was already ahead of schedule, as if I really was on a schedule anyway.

Gentilly Yards have always been a mega-transient area.  This was 1995 when train hopping was just about at its thickest and most popular in my career.  Underneath the I-10 bridge that spans the intra coastal waterway area there were signs all over the place of prior hobos that had ridden into and through that area.  I sat down, made a small fire from dried wood two by fours found lying around, and cooked up some bacon strips for breakfast.

Two hours later, a train came rolling into the yards.  It was broken in half and reworked.  I knew this train would be going east later on.  I walked down the side of this train and found a newer looking covered hopper grainer which had brand new axels under both ends.  I new this grainer would ride smooth.  So, I crawled upon it, rolled out my bedroll, and fell asleep.

After sleeping for about four hours I woke up, already well on my way eastward.   The train had hooked its units back onto the train after being reworked and took off eastward while I was napping.   I rode on this grainer all the way into Mobile, Alabama, around midnight.  Once we pulled all the way up to where CSX did their crew change, I saw a yard worker sewing up another train on the track next to the mainline.   I said to him in a low voice, “Which direction is that train heading”?   He replied, “This train will be going through Pensacola and on to Jacksonville, Florida”.   I knew this train wouldn’t take me north toward Nashville if it were to be going to Pensacola.  So, I asked him about the train that I was on; if he knew where it was heading.   He got on his yard radio and talked to the yard master, asking him where the train I was riding was headed for.   The reply came back that this train also would be heading east to Jacksonville.  So, I really didn’t want to bail off there in Mobile since there weren’t any stores out where I was within four miles.  I decided to stay on and ride this train as far as Flomaton, Alabama, where the rails split and either go north toward Montgomery, Nashville and points north, or south and east toward Pensacola and Jacksonville.  I would just hop off in Flomaton and go north.

After riding in a thick ocean of mosquitoes all of the way to Flomaton, I bailed off my train here going about 20mph.  I threw off my gear first, knowing that if my gear was off the train, I certainly had to get off!   By now it was right about dawn.  I was having the stomach rumbles again.  The last time I ate was nearly 20 hours ago.  I was also out of beer and had the shakes fairly bad.  After hiding my bedroll and my gear real good under the hiway 29 bridge that spans the tracks, I walked to Flomaton’s Piggly Wiggly store and bought more bacon and eggs.  While there I went on ahead and bought a 24-pack of the famously inexspensive Falstaff brand beer for only $7.99.

Flomaton, Alabama, has always been a hobo town.  The railroad tracks split there and either go north, east, or west.  Many other hoboes had gotten off there in order to change directions on their never-ending hobo trips.  So, finding fire wood to burn at camp was almost imposible!  I did find enough old lumber lying around to build a fire that lasted long enough for me to cook up my bacon and to boil my eggs in a large coffee can for breakfast.

Flomaton CSX yard officeThe Flomaton bridge overpass in the forground is where I built my camp fire to cook breakfast. The tracks curving to the left go to Pensacola. The tracks here to the right head north to Nashville or south to New Orleans.

Hours passed without a train coming through slow enough at the junction to catch out on.  By the time I heard the train’s whistle, I was buzzing fairly good since I had drank eight cans of beer.  I gathered up all my gear, stuffed it into my backpack, and prepared to hop this train.  I didn’t care by now.  I wanted to ride!  I made up my mind then to just go ahead and catch out and ride east to Jacksonville if I had to, then hop a train out of the Baldwin Yards in Jacksonville, then go north from there.  My freight train came rolling around the bend at around 18mph.  I threw my gear onto another covered hopper and hoisted myself up onto this train and rode on to Pensacola.  About three hours, 55 miles and 15 beers later, I was in Pensacola.   I was just about all the way into the yards when I heard, “Get off the train now”, and “Let me see your hands, now”!  

A regular Pensacola city police officer had gotten a call from a passer-by at a railroad crossing where I was seen and they had called the police on me.  They were waiting until I pulled into the rail yards.   I grabbed my backpack and tossed it off the train.  I was hand cuffed, placed under arrest for trespassing, then taken to the Escambia County jail and booked.   I was placed upstairs on the fifth floor of the correctional facility and given an army cot because the jail was so packed there was not a bunk one for me.

The next morning at 9:00 AM I was taken to video court where I faced a TV screen judge and given a sentence of 20 days in jail!  I thought that for sure since of the overflow that I would be given “Time-Served”, but the judge that I had was a prick!

What a terrible time I had my first few days.  By now I had been drinking roughly a case of beer a day now for two months solid.   By my second day in jail, I was going through alcohol withdrawals so bad that I was taken to the infirmary so I could be medically monitored for alcoholic withdrawal s and seizures. Still, I was given no Ativan or Librium to help with my shakes and delirium tremons.  I had to sweat this one out!   After six days in my medical quarters bunk, I was returned up to the fifthth floor and given my cot back.   This cot was an old army cot with the wooden support bars removed from each end of the cot.  I guessed that a weapon could be made from them was the reason for their removal.  I looked like I was doing impov at a comedy club with the way I looked lying on my cot.  My legs and head were hanging over each ends.  Both arms hanging over the edge.  I am six foot two inches tall.

My 20th day in jail led to my release at 12:01 AM.  My bedroll and gear had been taken to the county building.  It wouldn’t open until the following Monday at 8:00 AM.  This was Saturday.  I walked empty-handed back down to the railroad yards where I was arrested and caught out on another CSX freight train back west to Flomaton, Alabama.  The next day I went to their local thrift store, bought a cheap sleeping bag and a few clothing items, and started replacing my gear.  I sure wasn’t going to wait three days in Pensacola to get my old gear back, that’s for sure!

Later on that same day, I caught out on the train that I should have caught 21 days before!  I finally rode north to Nashville, Tennessee.  To my surprise Nashville was having a military stand-down, where they give out free military gear to the homeless veterans!  I wound up regearing to the fullest and being set with all the wintertime gear that I could tote!

I then caught a freight train out east to Knoxville, then on through Washington DC, and eventually to the New England states.   

About hoboshoestring

I'm a professional hobo of nearly 25 years. This blog is a collection of my most memorable freight train trips; most with photos. First things first, a hobo is someone who rides freight trains and is not a homeless bum on the city streets. I've been hopping freight trains for transportation since 1989. I've ridden over 340,000 miles of steel rails in 49 US states, eight provinces in Canada and 14 states in Mexico. I ride all rail lines in North America. I have hundreds of hobo trip photos that can be viewed by clicking my "Photostream" at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30715417@N04/
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