I had just ridden into Kansas City, Missouri, this early, warm December morning, and had made camp under the I-435 Loop overpass that traverses over the Union Pacific train tracks about six miles east of downtown. The temps were actually in the mid-50’s, so I chose not to build a campfire, but planed on cooking some steaks up later that day. I rummaged around for about 30 minutes in order to find enough burnable wood for a cooking fire later on.
As I sat on top of my army duffel bag reading an article about the Andromeda Galaxy in the National Geographic, I heard a faint voice that carried into my camp say, “Tramp walking”! “Tramp walking”! (By exclaiming this out loud when approaching any camp, you are letting any person/persons know of your intentions upon entering a possibly occupied camp).
Wow! Low and behold it was “New York Slim”, (hobo king for the 1998-1999 year). He had been elected hobo king in Britt, Iowa, that prior first weekend of August at the “National Hobo Convention” that takes place every year the first weekend of August. He, “Tuck”, “CC Rider”, “Pretty Girl”, “Hawaiian”, and another traveler that called himself “Bear” had ridden into Kansas City together. They all had plans to head up to the “High-Line” to ride out to Whitefish, Montana, together.
The “High-Line” is an area of the northern USA that runs from Minneapolis, Minnesota, all the way out to Sandpoint, Idaho, on the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad.
“New York Slim” sat down and took a break after setting up his dome tent about five feet from the soon-to-be-fire-pit. After we all had introduced ourselves to one another, he stated to me, “Shoestring, I have seen your tag all over the rails”! “I’m gonna make you “Hobo Knight of the Rails” tonight”! So after we all had set up our bed rolls where we were going to bed down for the night, and had gotten a good, hot meal of steaks in our bellies, “New York Slim” took out a nice paper sheet about eight inches by five inches that actually was a plaque certificate and wrote my name “Shoestring” on the front of it then signed his name to it designating me “Knight of the Rails”. (This really made my evening)!
Christmas was now only about three weeks away, so “CC Rider” and I the next day walked to the PDQ convenient store that was only a four block hoof from our camp on a beer run. I looked inside the PDQ dumpster that was open behind the store where I found a small six inch tall angel doll! “CC Rider” had the most perfect idea. We would take the angel doll back to our camp to make a Christmas tree near camp, using the angel on top of whichever tree we found to convert.
As we bent over this small, scrawny tree so the top could be reached, “CC Rider” placed the angel on the top then we released the tree back upright and decorated it with aluminum beer can pull-tabs. That was that. We now had a camp Christmas Tree.
After having been at camp for about two days, another hobo named “Bodeen” had been added to our group riding together up to Whitefish. After six days in Kansas City, we caught-out and rode to Des Moines, Iowa, from Kansas City. Next, we again caught-out and all rode on to Minneapolis via St. Paul, Minnesota, and then on westward on the “High-Line” to Fargo, Minot and Havre. After about four days of riding we pulled into the Whitefish, Montana, switching yards and bailed off our boxcar.
By now I had been drinking solid for almost 24 hours a day for roughly five weeks, and was starting to get really sick in the mornings, just like Nicolas Cage had in the movie, “Leaving Las Vegas”. So when we all got off the freight train, I walked over to the hospital and checked myself into the emergency room to be looked at by a doctor. After telling the doctor of the amount that I had been consuming a day in alcohol, I was right away admitted into the hospital so that I could be medically detoxed. Since I had been drinking between 45 to 50 cans of beer a day plus about a fifth of vodka a day on top of that as well, it would be extremely dangerous for me to stop drinking cold turkey, so that’s why I was admitted. The doctors could safely detox me by giving me Valium and Ativan for the alcohol withdrawals. I also would be getting an IV-Line placed in one of my arms so that I could get a banana-bag, (IV bag with vitamins & minerals). Also by having a direct route into my bloodstream through the IV, I could be given more Valium or Ativan right away, should I experience a withdrawal seizure. After almost five long days being detoxed, they released me. I walked back down to the small railroad switching yard in front of Amtrak’s depot. I had only seen one hobo left there at camp. All the others had gone their own ways over the few days I was gone. So later that night I caught-out and rode all the way out west to Portland, Oregon.
I have run into “New York Slim” a few times after this event, but from what I last heard on the rails from other hoboes, he had gotten sick and gone back home to where he was from to rest from riding freight trains. I now only wish that there were as many hobos out on the rails full-time now like there were back in the 1990’s, but it’s like a different breed of hoboes that take to the rails for a ride these days. I do really miss the good old days of riding when respect was the number one priority!