Mohawk route on the Delaware & Hudson Railroad.

D&H Railroad locomotive engineerThis “D&H” engineer is switching rail cars in the yard.  “D&H” stands for Delaware and Hudson Railroad.

After I graduated high school in May of 1989, I tried the US Army.  After being all that I could be for 52 days, I was discharged for failing to tell the army about the seizures I had as a child.  After returning back home and into my mother’s arms, I knew I had to do something on my very own without having her look after me any more, so I packed my bags with three changes of clothes, kissed my mother on her cheek, then hit the road. 

I first started out by hitch-hiking instead of hopping freight trains.  I wanted adventure added to things in my life, so after hitch-hiking roughly four months, I chose to hop my first freight train in Laramie, Wyoming one rainy day.  This was one of those days that you say to yourself, “This is the first day of the rest of your life”!  After this first train hop, I kept doing it over and over until I knew it was what I was going to do for the rest of my life, or so I thought!  The following story took place roughly three years after I made that very first freight train hop.

I finally caught out on a grain train the night before from Chicago’s Proviso Yards riding on the Conrail Railroad.  Within ten hours, I bailed off the train in Toledo, Ohio.  Conrail at this time was a huge railroad operating from Chicago through New York and points throughout New England.  The bulls that worked for Conrail were pretty cool as well in that they would usually just spank your wrists then let you leave property with a verbal warning for trespassing.  

As I sat under the overpass traversing the mainlines, it started raining. What better time to have gotten off the grain train that I had rode in on!  Soon water was gushing down the gutter-system of the bridge overpass and onto the tracks below.   Evidence of past hobos rang out through the concrete bridge pillars where hobo “tags” marked one after the other.  Conrail had been crew changing here on their run-through trains for as long as I could remember, so catching back out on a freight train from this point would be absolutely no problem at all.

Night fell upon me as I sat up under the bridge.  8PM showed up on the face of my watch.  A piggy-back train came rolling up for its crew change.   By now the rain had stopped and the stars were twinkling in the night sky.  I gathered up my gear and briskly high-stepped down the embankment of the bridge then down onto the tracks below.  I walked about 15 rail cars behind the locomotive units and loaded myself underneath a JB-Hunt trailer.  Twenty minutes of our departure from Toledo, we were going about 55 mph down perfectly maintained tracks, so I rolled out my bed roll and fell to sleep.

During the night while in deep sleep, we rolled through Cleveland, Ohio, all the way to Albany’s Selkirk Yards where the bull saw me riding under the trailer.  He ordered me off the train.   He placed me in the front seat of his railroad police blazer and drove me the 15 miles from the Selkirk Yards into downtown Albany. He dropped me off in front of the Gospel Mission.  He took his wallet and gave me $17.00 cash.  He said he hoped I would buy a hot cup of coffee or a good square meal.

After the handcuffs were taken off my wrists and my backpack returned to me, he let me go free in front of the mission.  He drove off then gave me one final hand gesture wave goodbye.   I waited until he drove out of sight before starting my eight block walk to where the railroad tracks of the “D&H” railroad crossed the main road where I was.  I crawled up the steep embankment of soil and loose gravel that led up to the rails.  Once on top of the embankment where the tracks go either north or south, I sat down and opened up my backpack and looked in.  I took out a warm and well shaken can of beer and cracked it open, then started another days worth of heavy drinking.

After drinking a few beers I thought I better hide a bit better.  I walked about ten yards deeper into the shrubbery then sat on my backpack. Thirty minutes later a freight train came squealing around the curve.  I hopped out of the bushes and into an open boxcar.  At this point, my travels in 1992 had never taken me on the D&H railroad.  I didn’t care where this freight train went, as long as I was riding this train, I would be more happier than anyone in the world!

About twelve miles of riding, we entered the town of Schenectady, New York.  The train pulled into the old Mohawk Yard just north of town.  Once we pulled into the yard, the locomotive units were taken off my train so it could be re-worked by a smaller, lower powered set of yard switching units.  I bailed off my boxcar and hid my backpack and bed roll in the woods really well.  I then walked into town to the grocery store.  I bought pop-top canned clam chowder, a gallon of drinking water and a fresh case of ice cold beer.

Walking back to the railroad yards I found three dollars cash on the shoulder of the road!  I thought right away this must be a good sign. I lucked out when the bull had given me cash plus finding that money!  This had paid for both my food and beer.  By now the train I had come into Schenectady on was being shucked around and sorted out.  I had to wait until the yardmen were finished with their work before finding an empty boxcar to get inside.

Nightfall came fast enough.  I found a good, clean, empty boxcar. I crawled inside and laid out my bedroll.  I fell fast to sleep.  During the night, five large Delaware & Hudson locomotive units hooked to the set of cars I was on then took off eastward.   I was sleeping so sound I never realized we left the yards.  I was totally unaware of my location.  We rolled into a very long tunnel that was almost five miles long!  Being I was so close to our five locomotive units, by the time I exited the tunnel, my hair was stiff as a board!  I was filthy, dirty and sooty from diesel exaust of the units inside the tunnel, under the mountain.  It was indescribably hot inside as well!   Once we were out the other end of the tunnel, I still was unsure of where I was.  I looked for a water tower that might have a township name on its side, or a company van or truck that might have a town name on its door. After about an hour of not knowing where I was, a school bus had pulled up to a railroad crossing.  As I passed this bus, I was able to read the name, Pittsfield, Massachusetts ISD, on the side of the bus.  I now knew where I was.  I had crossed through the heart of the Appalachian Mountains through the famous Hoosac Tunnel!  I had learned that the route I had taken was the famous Mohawk route.  I also learned the D&H railroad was the oldest railroad in North America as well!

Top of the Hoosac TunnelThe Hoosac Tunnel travels under these mountains here.  This is on top of the tunnel!

After a hammering ten hour trip, I pulled into Worcester, Massachusetts.  I bailed off the train here and made camp.  Later that same day, I again caught out.  This time on the “Guilford” railroad system.  I rode all the way to Dover, New Hampshire, where we made another crew change. I finally made it north to the Rigby Yards of South Portland, Maine by the next evening.

What a magical trip this had been!  I have since rode this very route many times.  Also what a place the state of Maine had been after that for me too.  Eventually I caught out on another freight train and rode up further to Bangor, Maine, where after that I got a hot shower, shaved and washed all my clothing at the laundry mat. I was then ready for my next adventure!

Hoosac Tunnel This is the entrance to the Hoosac Tunnel.  The Hoosac Tunnel is 4.75 miles long!

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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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