Narcotics and freight trains, what went wrong?

Doing a crew changeCN train crew change at Sudbury, Ontario.

I have now been sober since December 2nd of 2006.   For nearly 17 years while hopping freight trains, I was drinking right at about 45 to 50 cans of beer a day, every day, 365 days a year for 17 years solid!   So after I stopped this nonsense, I thought that things now were going to be looking up for me!

I had just flew down from Alaska about June of 2007.  I flew from Anchorage to Seattle, Washington for a cheap one-way price of $212.00.   I had been up in Alaska doing my hobo thing for roughly three months, but had started getting board of the Alaska Railroad, so by coming back to the lower 48, I now would have lots more railroads to hop.

After leaving the Sea-Tac Airport, I took a city bus to downtown Seattle to where I then took another city bus on north from Seattle to Everett, Washington where I would start riding freight trains again.   As soon as I got off the city bus in Everett, I walked down to where Broadway Avenue crossed over the BNSF Railroad switching yards.   I skimmied down the embankment of the bridge down to level ground to where the mainlines of the BNSF Railroad ran.  I already had all the food that I could carry with me inside of my backpack, so after waiting about two hours, a train finally rolled north out of the small Everett yards.

At this point in the year the temperatures were on their way up being that summer was still to come and I had planned on making the most out of the rails this summer and fall.  I had given it a few thoughts of riding freight trains back up in Canada too, so as I rolled northbound on my boxcar that I had caught in Everett.  I had made the decision to go ahead and enter into Canada through the border crossing in the small township of Sumas, Washington.

I rode north until I reached the town of Bellingham, Washington about 50 miles more north from Everett.  Since I had been deported twice in four months from Newfoundland, Canada back in 1992, I was no longer allowed into Canada, so sneaking across the border for me now was a must.   After reaching Bellingham, I then once again boarded another city bus and rode up to the town of Sumas.   After getting off the bus, I walked about one mile and stopped in at the Sumas library where I would wait until dark before I tried crossing the border.

Soon it was dark enough that I could walk from the library down to the BP gas station where I would change over what little USA currency I had on me over to Canadian currency.   I wound up getting two loonies, four toonies, and a Canadian five dollar bill.  (That’s $10.00 Canadian from about $8.55 US that I had on my person).   After getting my last cheap pack of cigarettes at the Tax/Duty Free store for $4.99,  I cautiously walked alongside the main hiway and looked behind me, then in front of me until I saw no other cars, trucks or people looking my way.  I dashed across the small ditch and alongside the tree-line that was on the west-side of the railroad tracks!

I was still inside the USA where I sat in the woods at the tree-line until the Union Pacific Railroad pulled a small length train to one end of the tiny yard that was there. I had stopped right at the last switch.  I hopped up onto a grainer/covered-hopper railcar and hid inside the small round open-end hole on the end-frame of the car.  This small hole was just big enough to where I could fit tightly inside.  The train eventually started moving again back in the other direction toward the border where it finally had crossed back into Canada with me riding this time!

After a long, slow and tight ride on this railcar, we had traveled about four miles north of the border before I got off.  It was so dark too thank God!  I then walked and walked and walked until I got to the town of Abbotsford.  Here the Trans Canadian Hiway ran through Abbotsford where I then took a Greyhound bus down the hiway far enough so I would not look suspicious having a backpack.   (After all, I  looked like a Canadian hitch-hiker to any RCMP should they pass me now)!

I now was in the small town of Hope.  The Canadian Pacific Railroad traversed through Hope, but normally didn’t stop here.  So hopping out of Hope by way of freight train was going to be a challenge for me, or so I thought.   I made camp down alongside the Coldwater Creek area where there were several other campsites already made, so I blended into the surroundings pretty good.  The next day I had one of the worse toothaches that I had ever had in a very long time, so I went to the emergency room and gave a false name so I could be seen.   I showed the on-call doctor my tooth that was bothering me.   He said that he thought it looked abscessed to him so he wrote me out a prescription for an antibiotic and also for a strong pain killer.   The name of the pain killer was “Hydromorph”.   (Canada’s version of a blend of Hydrocodone and Morphine)!  I was given a total of 20 pills to take over a three to four day time period for the pain until I could have the tooth pulled.

Kamloops train yardsKamloops train yard. These are nice grain hoppers to ride just waiting and calling out to me!

After I had taken 10 to 12 of these little pills, I felt as if I owned the world!  I could do anything while taking these pills I thought!   So after taking the entire bottle of 20 pills by the second day, I wanted more!   Thats OK, as long as I had this bad, sore tooth I could get more.  Later that night I had finally caught-out on a CP freight train and had ridden east as far as the town of Kamloops.  As soon as I pulled into this town, I again went to the emergency room and again gave a false name and showed the doctor my tooth as well.  I there too was given another script for this wonderful Hydromorph.  Man it was so, so nice to be able to get high without smelling like booze, having sloshy speech or walking stupor down the sidewalks!  I now had it made in the shade.  I had now unknowingly transformed my addiction from ethanol over to narcotics!    (I had only traded in the glass bottle for the plastic bottle)!   I had only stopped one drug for another, but hadn’t yet realized it!

After I had taken this second bottle of 20 pain pills in only 18 hours, I noticed the next morning that I was getting shaky from the effects of withdrawals.   I needed more and I needed them now!   I was now only hopping freight trains in order to get myself to a new town, to a new hospital emergency room!

Spiral tunnelThis is the famous Spiral Tunnel that wraps around through the Canadian Rockies.  (The freight train below is actually the train I’m riding on)!

The third time I had gotten a bottle of 40 pills for the pain being that I was starting to get smarter in how I told the doctors of the extent of my pain.   I was now conning my way into these ER places.   I would exaggerate my pain to the fullest and it would work every single time in getting me a new prescription, and the scripts kept getting stronger in milligrams and more in the number of pills that I was given each time too.   After my second week at drug-seeking, each ER visit would grant me a bottle of 60 pills by now and were ranging from Hydromorph to Oxycodone!  I now was having severe withdrawals when I woke in the mornings, so I would have to take 15 pain pills at one time and swallow them only after chewing them up into a powder-like paste so they would enter my system faster once they hit my stomach.   I now was severely addicted but this would soon end!

Hamilton yardThis is the train switching yard in Hamilton, Canada where I took yet another hospital emergency room visit to get more pain pills. 

Right at an even solid month of taking narcotic pain killers by way of drug-seeking, I was in the small town of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.   I had slept under a bridge that crossed over the CP Rail yards and low and behold a railroad police officer seen me.  He drove up under the bridge where I lay and asked had I been hopping the freight trains.   I told him that I was from the USA and was only trying to get home where I lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.   He took my Alaska state ID-card and did a background-check on me and the results had come back OK.   I had no warrants at all to speak of, so he then asked me if he could drive me to the hi way so that I could catch a ride to the border and head home.   I was shaking so badly from the narcotic withdrawals that I asked him if he would take me to the hospital so I could get checked out by a doctor being that my abscessed tooth was bothering me.   So he took me to the ER and dropped me there then he drove off.

I entered the hospital and went through my routine of pain, and misery then I was taken back to a room and given a small paper medicine-cup that had six Morphine 20mg pain pills in it to take for the pain with a paper cup full of water.   No more than 20 minutes had passed to when two Moose Jaw RCMP officers walked into my room.  The one officer said to me, “Do you know why we are here”?   I said, “Yes sir!” “You are here because I finally have been busted for drug-seeking”!   Nope!  This is not at all why they were here!   (I now wished that I had another paper cup full of water so I could wash down my foot with)!  Ha ha!

What had happened was that the railroad police officer ran my Alaska state ID-card only with a regular local check.   He later ran me through immigration after he had dropped me off at the hospital.  The prior deportations had shown up on his computer, thus he then called the RCMP and they then came to the ER and took me into custody for illegal entry into a country without first having written consent of the Prime Minister.   This was a felony in Canada!   I then was taken to the Moose Jaw jail to where I really lay in terrible pain and withdrawals!   After roughly 76 hours in custody, I was having seizures and hallucinations my withdrawals had gotten so horrific!  I was again taken back to the same hospital to where I was hooked up to an IV-line and given a large dose of narcotics for both the pain and the withdrawals.

After four days in costody in Moose Jaw, I had a visit from an immigration officer.   He explained to me that I would soon be taken to the city of Regina, Saskatchewan where I could be closer to where my immigration hearing would be taking place and also the court proceedings that were to take place were here as well.  After 13 days of being in jail, I went to federal court and the judge gave me a suspended sentence of “Time Served”, thus I was then handed back over to the immigration officials to where I again was arrested and again placed back into jail.

I now was only being held until my immigration hearing could proceed.  After this hearing, it of course was determined that I would be deported my third time.  The whole time I was in custody, I was very slowly being detoxed down off the narcotics.  My first five days I was given five pain pills a day that were 60mg in strength, then five days after that, 40mg a day, but only three pain pills a day and so on until I had been totally taken off the narcotics safely.

I spent a grand total of 27 days in costody before finally being taken to the border town of Portal, North Dakota and let out on my own in the USA.

I think that this was a life lesson, in that I could have died had I not been taken to jail!   I most likely would have eventually taken too many pills and overdosed on accident.   I now look back on this horrific experience and thank God that I did go to jail and was detoxed safely from the narcotic pain pills!  I had the bad tooth extracted and have not taken one single pain pill since.

I believe life is full of learning lessons, some have to be more hard than others if you are to ever learn that lesson.

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:
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