Grand Trunk Railway employees are good track people.

Grand Trunk Railroad locomotiveGrand Trunk Railroad locomotive

Heading up to Chicago on this winter day was a frigid one indeed!   I had hopped a freight train out of the Swift Yards in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, on the Union Pacific Railroad and was now heading north.  I had just crossed the Mississippi River over one of Illinois and Missouri’s oldest rail bridges nearing the town of Scott City where we had our crew-change.  I got ready to bail off my boxcar here because I had started running low on supplies. 

Scott City, Missouri is a nice, small town that sets between St. Louis and Poplar Bluff,  If you were to need to walk to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, it would only take you about one hour to do so.   This day I would not be walking that far, but did need to walk to the store so I could resupply my food bag.   Having no money on me at this time, I found myself a flap of cardboard, took out my black Magic-Marker and wrote in large, clear, fat letters, a small statement that read:  “TRAVELING.  NEED ANY FOOD HELP.  GOD BLESS YOU”.   I sat at the exit light to where traffic exits from Interstate 55 and has to stop at the redlight in order to turn right or left at the road that tee’s after the light.   I sat here for about ten minutes until a small compact car pulled up to stop at the redlight.   Her window rolled down about half ways and this nice lady gave me a McDonald’s bag with two cheeseburgers and then handed me a ten dollar bill!   The next help came from an off duty policeman.  He rolled his window down and handed me a five dollar bill!  After around 45 minutes here at this corner, I had enough food and money then.  So I could now safely buy all the other food that I didn’t get there at that corner.  Plus I now had roughly $78.00.

Later that night, another train came in from the south that I boarded and rode all the way into St. Louis, Missouri.   Within two hours I had caught-out and now was heading even further north toward Chicago.   On the outskirts of Chicago, on the south side, I jumped off my train at a four-way railroad crossover where one train crosses another trains right of way.  This, of course, is as loud as any noise that you could ever imagine!   Steel wheels rolling over and across the steel rails that overlap themselves even amplifies the sound even greater!  It’s like holding your head inside a 55 gallon drum while letting somebody smash it with a sledge hammer as hard as they can!   After waiting here at this crossing until right after dark, a grain train came along slow enough to where I could run alongside and hop up onto a grainer railcar.

I had rolled into South Bend, Indiana around 5 AM the next morning.  We had to stop for clearance in order to cross off of the Conrail’s right of way so my train could roll northward onto the Grand Trunk Railroad’s right of way.   This morning the mercury was reading about 12 degrees!   I had a small Coleman one burner propane stove that I lit and warmed my hands over until I woke up all the way.   After getting all the way thawed out, I went ahead and took out my small skillet that I had wrapped up in a plastic grocery bag and set it atop my stove.  I fried about a pound of bacon that I had brought along from Scott City.   Mm mm!  The smell was so good!  I ate a breakfast that was meant for a king, I thought!

It was almost noon when I rolled into Battle Creek, Michigan, on this train.   I got off right outside the yard-limits and walked about a mile.  I was going to buy a cup of hot coffee, but as I walk down the tracks, a Grand Trunk Railroad employee rolled up in his work truck from behind me.  He rolled down his window and told me that if I wanted to, I could camp behind the roundhouse in the thick woods that lay behind.   I accepted his awesome offer.   I placed my gear in the rear bed of his truck then we drove to where the roundhouse was.   It had taken me about 15 minutes to set up my tent.   I now was too tired to walk for a cup of coffee, so I got inside my tent and went to sleep.

The next morning I was surprised to find a cigar box outside the flap of my tent.  I looked all around and saw nobody that could have left it either, so I picked up the cigar box and looked inside.  There lay a small, orange, New Testament Bible and two fifty dollar bills!  I thought wow!  Who could have done this for me?!   I camped out here in my tent for many days.  I started getting more hours at the day labor outfit that I was working at.   After about two weeks of day labor jobs, I had saved up enough money to finally fly back up to Alaska.

I caught-out from Battle Creek, Michigan and rode into Detroit, Michigan, to where I bought a fairly cheap one way flight from Detroit to Anchorage for $177.00.  I still wonder who it was that gave me the two $50.00 bills!   I still believe it was the Grand Trunk Railroad employee that I met my first day in Battle Creek.

You never know who you are going to run into while you are down and out.  I’m just very thankful I met this wonderful Grand Trunk employee!

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After winning in Las Vegas, I lost big time on the tracks!

Las Vegas freight trainThis is a Union Pacific coal train passing through Las Vegas, Nevada.

I had been hopping freight trains in Southern California for about two weeks until I had gotten tired of the same old things, and I chose then to ride up to Salt Lake City for a while.

I caught-out of Los Angeles and rode north on the Union Pacific Railroad to the first crew-change at Yermo, California just eight miles north of Barstow.   Yermo is most likely the worse methamphetamine infested area of California, and this area is rightly called the “High Dessert” for this reason.

After I had made it out of the huge switching yards there, I walked to the small corner store and called Dial-A-Ride for a lift back south into Barstow.    “Dial-A-Ride” is a small city bus service in the area to where you can call them and they will drive out to pick you up.   Once I got off the bus in Barstow, I walked to the homeless shelter mission there and asked if I could take a hot shower since it had been roughly a full week having gone without!   I was treated pretty good here and also was given a couple days worth of canned food.   After camping for two days in Barstow, I was ready to ride again.

After making my way back to Yermo on Dial-A-Ride, I caught-out again on the UP Railroad.  I rode all the way into downtown Las Vegas, Nevada, hopped off my train and walked to the Greyhound Bus station in order to lock my backpack inside a locker so I could comfortably walk down on Fremont Avenue without being bothered by the city police.  All I had to my name as far as cash was $9.00.  I went up to the teller at the Cajun Casino and had her give me $9.00 worth of quarters.  I walked right up to a KENO gaming machine and plopped in four quarters at a time.  I was picking five numbers in hopes that the machine would pick my five.  It finally happened about $3.00 into my game!  I hit all five number bubbles that I had marked!  I won $202.50!  Wow!  I have never won anything in my life and now I had nearly 20 times more money than I came to Vegas with.  I thought that I had better spend one night at a cheap motel, now that I had a bit of money on me. So I grabbed my gear from the Greyhound lockers and walked east of Fremont Avenue down to where the scumbag motels are. Crack, meth, and anything that you can imagine, you can get in Las Vegas!  The cheap priced motel was what I was looking for.  I finally found one that had vacancy. I bought a one night stay there and slept pretty good.

The next day I walked down to an overpass that traverses the train tracks and walked down underneath then sat waiting on my next train north.  After several trains had come and had gone, still no ridable cars had passed.  I sat in somewhat sorrow when just then, at nearing 6 PM, a Double-Stack train pulled up to do its crew-change!  “Double-Stacks” are freight trains that haul these 48 foot long containers that are loaded with anything from car parts to candy canes!  They are stacked one atop the other.  These are priority trains.  This means they have priority over less important trains, so they can really make great time if you are riding on these.  So I loaded my backpack and bedroll onto it then pulled myself up onto a railcar and sat down on top of my gear while waiting to leave.

Finally after about two hours, we started pulling north.   We hadn’t gone far when we again stopped in a siding about seven miles north of town.   I thought that perhaps we were waiting on another train to pass us inside the siding, but this was not the case, and I was soon to find out why we had stopped.  

It had just about gotten dark outside.  We again started moving.  I looked toward the front of the train, up toward the locomotive units and noticed right away that a railroad police officer had climbed up the ladder on a signal pole and was shining his flashlight on the train containers.  What was going on, I thought.  It was now too late for me to have bailed off, so I just sat back down on my pack and waited to get seen and busted. I did!   He ordered the engineer to stop his train, and he took his gun out and pointed it at me then screamed, “Get off the train right now mother fucker”!  “Let me see your hands right now mother fucker, or I’ll blow your God damned head off”!  I did exactly what he said.  I jumped off while still holding my hands in the air.  He hand cuffed me then slammed me to the gravel, then placed ankle cuffs on me.   I said, “All this for trespassing”?    He then said, “Trespassing my mother fucking ass”!  “You are going to prison for federal railroad burglary”!  I said, “Burglary”?!  What do you mean burglary”?  

What had happened is that somebody/someones had got on the train and broke into 21 different containers and I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  In order for him to make his report look good to his superiors, he had to nail someone for the crime, and what no better person than someone riding on the train already.  I was then taken to the Clark County jailhouse and booked on Federal Burglary, Trespassing, and impeding the movement of a railroad train.  My bail was set at $50,000!

I kept trying to tell him to take fingerprints!  I also told him that he would not, by any means, try to pin this on me!  I pissed him off when I added that he wasn’t a good enough cop to catch the real thieves, and that he was such a terrible railroad cop that he could only catch a hobo instead of catching the real culprits. Of course this didn’t help me out any by making him steaming mad.  He knew that I wasn’t the one who did the burglaries. 

21 containers supposedly had been broken into and all I had on me besides my gear was a .49 cent P-38 can opener and I was supposed to have used this for a burglary tool.  I could hardly open up a can of “Soon to be farting” brand beans with this can opener, let alone a thick cast iron shank seal!

This was a Friday evening when I was arrested, so I wasn’t taken to court until the following Monday morning, and even then, this would only be my arraignment and not the time to plea guilty or not guilty.   After the lady judge called my name to stand up, she said, “Time Served”.  She said that there was absolutely no evidence of me being involved in this crime, thus my charges were all dropped! 

After getting my street clothes back, I walked to the Greyhound bus station once again and bought myself a bus ticket up the line and out of stinking Clark County!  I got off the bus in Saint George, Utah about four hours later, then hitch-hiked about 30 miles west to Milford, Utah crew-change.  I finally hopped out on another freight train that took me on up to Salt Lake City, Utah, then points east.

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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.

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Riding with “New York Slim”, the hobo king of 1998.

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!

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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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Poetic rails

I love waking in the morning,

to the train horns blow,

sitting by my campfire with hot coffee,

nowhere in particular to go.

Hopping into a boxcar in the cold of winter,

when Santa Clause says ho, ho, ho.

riding in the warm rear unit,

when outside lies three feet of snow.

When I first started hopping freight trains,

I had to depend on faith,

Like heading down a steep, steep mountain,

praying for the dynamic brakes.

Traveling here & there,

always on a whim,

I walk into camp & say, “Good morning New York Slim”,

how about catching-out to Cheyenne today?

while leaving camp with a grin.

By the way, I didn’t buy vodka,

since on sale was this bottle of gin.

So drink up you hobo,

today may be your last,

lets get inside that boxcar,

after you finish eating hash.

Lets see the sights in awe,

as we look out the boxcar all day,

the best thing about this trip,

is we do not have to pay.

We flirt with a derailment,

a derailment do we flirt,

if it ever does happen,

let’s hope we don’t get hurt.

So put on the miles as you travel,

each & every day,

from June of every year,

all the way to May.








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Grain train vs. grain truck!

I had just ridden into North Kansas City’s BNSF freight train yard just across the Missouri River this frigid winter’s day in 1999.

I had hopped out of Galveston, Texas two days before on a grain train that had unloaded its loads of grain onto an overseas mega-grainer ship.  This train was now on it’s way back up to the bread-basket areas of the mid west for a mega-load of its own at the grain elevators that so massively dot the Mid West.   I had ridden up through Temple, Texas, the first day where the train fueled up at and the locomotive units were serviced.   The second day of the trip brought me up through the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex and points north until I reached Kansas City.

The temperatures were now only in the lower 20’s and I had so far been riding the outside porch area of a grain car.  I walked to the PDQ convenience store and bought more canned goods, Sunday paper, and a cup of hot coffee.   After warming up my gloves under the hand drier in the rest room at the PDQ, I packed all my grub into my backpack and then walked back down to the railroad yards.

While I was at the store, the locomotive units had been taken off the train.  They had been taken to the roundhouse for a quick servicing before returning to the train.  I knew that I had to ride somewhere warmer than where I had been riding, so I hid out on an empty boxcar one track over from where my train was.   Right after I heard the grain trains brakes air up and it was getting ready to take off north for Lincoln, Nebraska, I climbed up onto the very last rear locomotive unit, opened the door and got inside the cab.   Man, it was so warm and dry inside the cab!   I turned the auxillary sidewall heater up on high and soon fell to sleep once we rolled north out of the yards.

I wasn’t at all sure which grain elevator town that we would be going to for a refill of grain, but I did know that it wouldn’t be anywhere south of Lincoln.   The most likely area that this train would be going would be up around South Dakota or perhaps in western Nebraska, so I was able to sleep without having to worry about getting dumped off at an elevator.

As I slept, the train came to an abrupt halt after the screeching of the brakes and a very loud thud.  We had been traveling at about 45mph down the tracks when an 18-wheeler grain truck crossed the tracks at a road crossing.  It didn’t fully pull all of the way up and across the entire mainline.   We struck the rear end of this grain truck and the trailer of this truck flung into the ditch spilling its whole load out onto the ground!   We had probably continued on another 250 yards up the tracks before the train had come to a complete stop.  The conductor came running back to the locomotive unit that I was riding on and told me that I needed to vacate the unit as fast as I could.  The cops would soon be there on the site to take their accident report.   So as fast as I could, I gathered up all of my gear and climbed down the outside ladder to ground-level and took off as fast as I could toward the hiway.

I had not walked more than a quarter mile when one of the police cars pulled up behind me and asked had I seen the accident.  Would I fill out a report on what I had seen.  I told the police that I was sleeping alongside the fence line when it had happened and that I really had only heard the accident.   I still was required to fill out a report on what I had heard.

Nobody had gotten hurt during this accident, but there have been a total of four times in my train hopping travels where the train that I was riding has hit a vehicle at a road crossing!  In every single event, I had been riding in the rear locomotive unit!  The time that the train I was riding on hit a car outside of Marrysville, Kansas, it had killed a young lady.

I have heard that for every 45 minutes, there is a road crossing/train collision accident somewheres in the USA!

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