By now I had been hopping freight trains for three years, this warm and drunken night of April 1992.
I hopped a train to the Kirby Yards in San Antonio, Texas. I had really wanted to go out west toward California on this trip. After riding on a grain car all the way from Kirby to El Paso, Texas, I got off, ate a hot meal at the mission, then waited until dark and walked down to the yards and under the Cotton Street bridge just east of downtown El Paso.
I waited for about five hours until finally a west-bound train came rolling into the yards to a stop at the fuel docks, so fuel could be added to the locomotives and a 24-hour service check could be made.
I looked over every rail car that went by me on this train, but didn’t really see any ridable-looking cars. There were several plug-door type boxcars that were closed toward the front of the train, so I walked to the very first boxcar that I came up to, opened up the plug-door on it, and climbed up on top of these huge paper rolls that were loaded inside, and fell fast to sleep.
All day before, I had been drinking “Mogan David” 20/20 wine, so by the time I fell to sleep, I was out like a burnt out light bulb! I slept six to eight hours before I woke up. When I finally got up I noticed that it still was dark. I took out my flashlight and shined it inside the boxcar and noticed that the door had been shut on me during my sleep! It actually was about noon outside of my steel casket and only appeared dark that entire time because I was locked inside tighter than a drum.
At first I thought that I was in a horrible nightmare, but reality hit fast once I felt along the crack of the boxcar door with my shaking fingers. During the night a railroad employee had shut me inside without knowing. He probably called out to see if he got a response, but since I was fast to sleep intoxicated, I gave no reply.
After being locked inside this moving casket and praying for 16 hours with one liter of water, we pulled into the rail yards in Tucson, Arizona, where I banged on the door as loudly as I could and yelled loudly. I was able to attract the attention of a yardman inspecting the train cars on the track next to the train that I was on. He got on his yard radio and asked for the bull (special agent railroad police) to come to where we were once he had the train stopped! After he opened up the door to get me out, I jumped out of the boxcar, got down on my hands and knees and kissed the gravel. Then I gave the yardman & the bull the strongest, most serious handshake that I had ever given a person in my entire life!
After the yardman and bull made sure that I was OK, the bull escorted me off the property with a warning ticket for trespassing.
It took me a good year after that before I ever rode on a “plug-door” type boxcar. Psychologically I was too scared to ride plug-doors after that for a while.
The lesson I learned was to crank in reverse the opening handle of the plug doors, tightening them to the framework of the boxcar itself. Also I learned to bash a rail spike into the tracks the door follows when opening or shutting, making it almost imposable to shut on me.