Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Riding the Rails 101

You can get from San Luis Obispo to Seattle on a dollar. I did, with change left over. Of course it was 30 some years ago and I spent the dollar on a pack of cigarettes so these days you better make it 5 bucks. Particularly if you want to smoke. Bear in mind these travel tips are from back in the day and may not hold true today. Southern (or was it Northern?) Pacific may well have beefed up their security procedures after those towers got knocked down. They always had the rep as being a hobo friendly railroad back then.

Woo University Rules of the Rails:
  1. Don't ever jump on a moving train - there are no one- legged hoboes - fall under the train and, if you survive it, you will end up an ordinary bum on a mechanic's crawler, panhandling for sterno in a big city somewhere. I only violated this rule once and that was to avoid arrest. A cop was sitting at a crossing with his lights flashing pointing at me as I walked alongside a freight that was slowly picking up speed. I tossed my dog Fred in the boxcar and jumped in after him, successfully making my escape.
  2. Don't step in the track switch area - the switches are remotely operated. If your foot gets caught you are royally screwed because there's a train coming and you're not going anywhere.
  3. Look for a boxcar with a wooden floor - corrugated steel floors are cold and uncomfortable but a wood floor was rare then and I imagine they may be non-existent now.
  4. Find a large cardboard packing box and roll yourself up in it forming a tube open at the ends. Warm and toasty all night long.
  5. Stay out of the transient camps if you're traveling alone. Bad things can happen.
  6. You can always get food - hop off at any town and hit the mission or Salvation Army. It's a great country, full of Christians.
  7. Stick to the slow freights or you may get hassled by the yard detectives. I rode a fast freight carrying piggyback trailers out of San Francisco once. Best ride of my life. Straight through, stopping for nothing, they even moved passenger trains to the side. When we hit the mountain passes they would bring up 3 locomotives behind to push it up the mountain. Mail train - we was flyin'. Bumped off in Medford. The yard detective asked me what I was thinking riding under a trailer clearly marked "explosives".  "I dunno - just trying to get home." "Well, stick to the slow freights and we won't bother you."
  8. Oh, and ladies. I don't care if you've seen Boxcar Bertha - this mode of travel ain't for you.
Hat tip to Sweet (an old black guy who carried all his worldly possessions in a blue plastic dish tub) and Phil from Wilkes-Barre (nice guy but quite possibly had a bit of a drinking problem) who kept me from being dumber than I was. I imagine you guys are on the slow freight to eternity about now. Hope the floor is wood and the weather is warm.

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