Riding in boxcars and smoking crack!

This had been a long trip.  I had ridden a shaky boxcar from Spokane, Washington all of the way to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in four days. I was so glad that this trip was over.  I had experienced nothing but rain, rain and more rain while I was in the northwestern USA for nearly an entire week.  I really wanted to make tracks as fast and as far as I could in one single ride. This way I would be influenced more by culture shock than by rain soaked britches!

The suburb of Fridley, Minnesota, is where the BNSF railroad has their switching yard at.  It contains a hump where gravity is used to sort rail cars throughout the yard.  Fridley is around four miles northwest of downtown Minneapolis.  Fridley is more or less a ritzy part of town.  I have always had a problem with the police there.  Whenever there is a homeless-looking person in Fridley, the cops are always called out to investigate what that person is doing in such a well-to-do place.  I always get asked for my identification and am treated like a worthless bum here as well.  I even had been given a trespassing ticket one winter day while I slept under an overpass in Fridley. I never paid the fine.

After hiding my backpack and gear in the bushes here out near the tracks, I walked to the grocery store to buy my road grub for the next leg of my trip.    I bought several pop-top canned goods of chicken corn chowder, chili beans, and fruit cocktail, along with a couple of pieces of fresh fruit.   This was the time of year where meteorological changes were more and more evident in the air as this was late September.  I was pretty far north still, and I hadn’t planned on any place in particular where I wanted to go next.  I did know that I would be headed south since cooler nights were more prevalent up along the high-line where I had been lately.

I had not been back at the BNSF yards for an hour when I saw another rail hobo walking out of the switching yards.    I said “Hey, how are you, tramp”?  and before long we had both made plans to travel together and go down south to Texas.

That afternoon we both took out our cardboard signs, walked a few blocks to where the interstate exited onto Brainard Road, and took turns “flying the sign”.   It’s not illegal to panhandle in the state of Minnesota, so once we both had been carded by the Fridley Police Department and let go, we each had made well over $275.00 between us.  After gearing up again on just enough food between us to get down to Texas, we hopped onto a grainer rail car on our way southeast toward Chicago.

The very next morning we rode right into the Blue Island Yards just a tad west of downtown Chicago.   Instead of hopping another train just in order to get to the Homewood Yards, we boarded one of Chicago’s Metra Rail public transit trains for $4.50 to downtown and then rode on out to Homewood via Metra.

Homewood is another suburb of Chicago.  It lies on Chicago’s south side in quite a rough neighborhood.   The railroad company that owns the Homewood Yard is the ICG (Illinois Central & Gulf).   The ICG runs from Chicago down to New Orleans.   Also ICG runs from New Orleans to Baton Rouge & from Jackson, Mississippi to Hattisburg, to Gulfport.

Right after we got off Metro transit, we walked about two blocks to where all southbound freight trains head out of the yard.  Low and behold there was a grain train just about to pull out and head south.  We headed briskly toward our soon-to-be train and scouted for a good, clean car to ride.  After hopping on a grain car and getting our gear arranged where we could comfortably sit, we left Chicago headed south.

After being on the move for about 15 minutes, our train had gotten up to its maximum speed we would be traveling, about 45mph.  We looked at each other giving one another a gentle smile that only two free and happy people in the world could ever have!   We knew we were different from most other people, we were hobos!

When we had been traveling five hours, we started our approach into the north side of Champaign, Illinois.   This is where the ICG has its first crew-change after leaving Chicago.   You can get off here with the knowledge that all other trains stop here to crew-change, so getting off and then back on would be no problem.  We decided to just stay on and continue south since we both had enough food/water.   We traversed through Matoon, Illinois, southward until we got to our second crew-change about another 150 miles further south than Champaign.  We stayed on until we finally pulled into Fulton, Kentucky, our third crew-change point along this line and got off here.

My hobo partner knew several persons here in Fulton from visits to Fulton before, but he didn’t think that it would be wise for me to follow him to these homes, so I just stayed at the camp that we made and watched both our gear while he went for a personal visit.   I thought that was sort of strange that he’d not invited me to come along, but hey, we all have our reasons for certain things.   He came back about four hours later acting really hyperactive, then very depressed just an hour later.  He left once again and went back to these persons house while I stayed at camp again.  I now started to worry if I had picked up a wing-nut of a partner that may be schizophrenic.

After another two days of traveling with him, we had already by this time gotten to New Orleans and changed over to the Southern Pacific Railroad. (Now Union Pacific Railroad).   We had done this change once we pulled into New Orleans.  We boarded the freight train and were nearing Houston, Texas’s Englewood Yards.  These yards also were in a bad area too, but when riding trains, entering these bad neighborhoods are unavoidable nationwide, no matter who you are.  He jumped off the train and I soon followed.  Again I wound up watching his gear while he disappeared into the ‘hood.   This time around though, he came back much later.  That’s OK, everybody has their own certain reasons for doing what they do, right?

About eight hours later we again both hopped another train, this time bound for San Antonio’s Kirby Yards.  While we were in Houston, he must have gone in and out of that ‘hood 10 to 12 times!   I still had no idea why he was taking so many visits in and out, but I would very soon find out!

Once we were inside another rolling boxcar, we passed another freight train rolling next to us, when suddenly he jumped out of our boxcar while the train was moving!   He was screaming “Help me!  Help me!  Help me!”  I gathered up all our gear, bailed off the boxcar while our train was moving at 10 mph, and ran back to where he lay on the gravel.

After both trains had cleared the tracks and were gone, I gathered myself, our gear,  and him.   I  got us across the tracks near the trees, then lay him down in the grass and screamed at him, “What in the Hell was wrong with you”?   What were you thinking, you dumb-ass”?  He said that he seen a flatcar that he wanted to jump onto.  Then he said that he was going to jump back into our boxcar from that flatcar once he made it safely onto the flatcar!

I found out later on that what he had been doing was going over to the ‘hood to buy crack and that he was addicted.   That explained everything.  What a mess!  He had been smoking crack ever since Minneapolis without my knowing about it.

After I got myself together, got him back on his two feet, we said our goodbyes.  I told him “I can’t be riding trains with someone who uses crack.”  Drinking liquor had already caused me several terrible disasters, and I sure didn’t need him ripping me off for crack money down the rails somewhere!    I know what crack does to people, and just having alcohol & weed around was too much to chance. So I continued on out west to Arizona by myself after that.  I sometimes wonder what had ever became of that guy, or if he’d ever gotten help for his addiction.

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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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