Grand Trunk Railroad locomotive
Heading up to Chicago on this winter day was a frigid one indeed! I had hopped a freight train out of the Swift Yards in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, on the Union Pacific Railroad and was now heading north. I had just crossed the Mississippi River over one of Illinois and Missouri’s oldest rail bridges nearing the town of Scott City where we had our crew-change. I got ready to bail off my boxcar here because I had started running low on supplies.
Scott City, Missouri is a nice, small town that sets between St. Louis and Poplar Bluff, If you were to need to walk to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, it would only take you about one hour to do so. This day I would not be walking that far, but did need to walk to the store so I could resupply my food bag. Having no money on me at this time, I found myself a flap of cardboard, took out my black Magic-Marker and wrote in large, clear, fat letters, a small statement that read: “TRAVELING. NEED ANY FOOD HELP. GOD BLESS YOU”. I sat at the exit light to where traffic exits from Interstate 55 and has to stop at the redlight in order to turn right or left at the road that tee’s after the light. I sat here for about ten minutes until a small compact car pulled up to stop at the redlight. Her window rolled down about half ways and this nice lady gave me a McDonald’s bag with two cheeseburgers and then handed me a ten dollar bill! The next help came from an off duty policeman. He rolled his window down and handed me a five dollar bill! After around 45 minutes here at this corner, I had enough food and money then. So I could now safely buy all the other food that I didn’t get there at that corner. Plus I now had roughly $78.00.
Later that night, another train came in from the south that I boarded and rode all the way into St. Louis, Missouri. Within two hours I had caught-out and now was heading even further north toward Chicago. On the outskirts of Chicago, on the south side, I jumped off my train at a four-way railroad crossover where one train crosses another trains right of way. This, of course, is as loud as any noise that you could ever imagine! Steel wheels rolling over and across the steel rails that overlap themselves even amplifies the sound even greater! It’s like holding your head inside a 55 gallon drum while letting somebody smash it with a sledge hammer as hard as they can! After waiting here at this crossing until right after dark, a grain train came along slow enough to where I could run alongside and hop up onto a grainer railcar.
I had rolled into South Bend, Indiana around 5 AM the next morning. We had to stop for clearance in order to cross off of the Conrail’s right of way so my train could roll northward onto the Grand Trunk Railroad’s right of way. This morning the mercury was reading about 12 degrees! I had a small Coleman one burner propane stove that I lit and warmed my hands over until I woke up all the way. After getting all the way thawed out, I went ahead and took out my small skillet that I had wrapped up in a plastic grocery bag and set it atop my stove. I fried about a pound of bacon that I had brought along from Scott City. Mm mm! The smell was so good! I ate a breakfast that was meant for a king, I thought!
It was almost noon when I rolled into Battle Creek, Michigan, on this train. I got off right outside the yard-limits and walked about a mile. I was going to buy a cup of hot coffee, but as I walk down the tracks, a Grand Trunk Railroad employee rolled up in his work truck from behind me. He rolled down his window and told me that if I wanted to, I could camp behind the roundhouse in the thick woods that lay behind. I accepted his awesome offer. I placed my gear in the rear bed of his truck then we drove to where the roundhouse was. It had taken me about 15 minutes to set up my tent. I now was too tired to walk for a cup of coffee, so I got inside my tent and went to sleep.
The next morning I was surprised to find a cigar box outside the flap of my tent. I looked all around and saw nobody that could have left it either, so I picked up the cigar box and looked inside. There lay a small, orange, New Testament Bible and two fifty dollar bills! I thought wow! Who could have done this for me?! I camped out here in my tent for many days. I started getting more hours at the day labor outfit that I was working at. After about two weeks of day labor jobs, I had saved up enough money to finally fly back up to Alaska.
I caught-out from Battle Creek, Michigan and rode into Detroit, Michigan, to where I bought a fairly cheap one way flight from Detroit to Anchorage for $177.00. I still wonder who it was that gave me the two $50.00 bills! I still believe it was the Grand Trunk Railroad employee that I met my first day in Battle Creek.
You never know who you are going to run into while you are down and out. I’m just very thankful I met this wonderful Grand Trunk employee!