Friday, March 02, 2007

Box Car Guy

A couple weeks ago I was either talking with or writing to someone when the topic of hitching freight trains came up. Yes, I’ve hitched a freight train every now and then when I was young and it was something I had to be cured of.

There was a railroad line that ran through my home town, the Erie Lackawanna. It was mostly known as a commuter line that ran from Goshen, New York to Hoboken, New Jersey. Once in Hoboken you needed to get off the train and ride the Path Tubes to down town New York City and there you could catch the subway to where ever.

The Erie Lackawanna at that time had two outside commuter tracks and two inside freight tracks. Just as the commuter side had its schedule, the freight trains had a schedule as well which was only obvious through observation rather than a published time table.

To a kid, walking the tracks to where ever you wanted to go was more fun than walking the road or side walks. You could find some cool stuff on the tracks or just see the unseen sights of town. I’d see the back side of buildings and wild overgrown areas where grouse and rabbits lived. It was where you could see things that were untouched and left alone.

One thing I could count on was that freight trains heading North from my general departure point would always slow down to enter the rail-yard in the town two miles ahead. I could hop the freight by where I lived and travel about a mile and a half to another friends’ house. The train speed was just right for getting on or getting off. I traveled this way on several occasions.

One Saturday morning I got on the slowing train that was heading north. I was coming up to my jump off spot when I felt a bump and the box car that sent me rolling back across the hard oak floor. The damn train was picking up speed. It wasn’t slowing down through the train yard.

I stood in the open door watching the scenery go past at a speed a human wouldn’t survive jumping from. I suddenly realized that I had no idea where I was going to end up and that I had no money to get back home when I did end up somewhere.

I rode the train through Suffern, Ramapo and Sloatsburg. Fortunately for me train slowed enough for me to jump off in Tuxedo Park, New York.

It was a long walk home and I've stayed off the rails ever since.


Blogger Boo7 said...

woohooo!! I get to be the first to comment!!!

I always so love your stories always have awesome, interesting, sometimes funny tales to tell and the pictures you pick are always fantastic!!!

I think in a previous life I musta been, among other things, a train hitcher....I've always found that whole idea fascinating!!

Warm hugs to you my friend!!!!


5:55 AM  
Blogger Donna said...

I still love to walk the railroad tracks, and since the tracks are right at the back of our property, I go there a few times a year with the granddaughters. We pick up dropped coal I can throw on my campfire at the cabin, we collect all sorts of animal bones (amazing how many critters get killed by trains). I've never had the yearning to hop aboard a box car, though.

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Moosehead said...

Ahhh a subject close to my heart. In my yute (to make Guy feel at ease and not persecuted), I worked on a rail line in Northern Quebec hauling iron ore to ports on the Saint Lawrence. Started out pounding spikes and due to my bilingual nature and the company being owned by USS Steel (maudit anglais from the US), rose quickly to operating the head end of a mile long ore train. That's ore now Guy - not ho. The rail line was the site of Canada's largest derailment with 164 out of 165 cars coming off and tearing up the track for a mile. The guys at the head end fell asleep with the throttle at 8 going up a steep grade. With a telephone box on the dead man's pedal, the train crested the grade and gathered speed until it went off the track.
Cars were twisted and stacked to 10 high in the rock cuts and when doing the cleanup, were pushed off to the side and left there for years. One guys head was never found. Pretty spooky when passing through the wreck site in the clear moonlit sky - real bummer if your brake pads were iced up too as you felt the train give you a push as though it were alive...Killer grade!
Oh yeah Guy -as with many things,you gotta hit the ground runnin'.

8:19 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Hey folks, y'all need to go and read the comment Walt left on the metric conversion story a couple days ago... Too funny.

Boo, I love you so much that if I were your neighbour I'd cut your lawn for you, darlin. Thanks for the warm hugs.

Donna, I would still love to walk the tracks, but there is only one here and it is now a trolley line. Just not the same.

Moosehead, always a pleasure to read what sort of hyjinx you were up to as a lad. So did they ever pin the derailment on those spikes you said you set?

2:19 PM  
Blogger Mom of Three said...

Pity, because you could have had even more adventures!

Seen that Capital One ad where the family is stowing away on a boxcar because their travel miles were blacked out? They got grandma off that train fast, boy howdy.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Meg said...

OK, boy howdy, I know how romantic it is with all those Woody Guthrie songs and all... but SHEESH - Don't teach your kids to walk on train tracks! I saw a film as part of my training at JobCorps that shows how long it takes to stop a train -- basically, about 6 miles -- so if there is an unscheduled train, you are totally toast if you are on those tracks. They are just moving way faster than you realize. I used to put pennies out on the tracks to watch 'em get squashed flat and then pick 'em up all warm and shiny with Lincoln's head all smooshed... but that film really scared the crap out of me. Be CAREFUL people. Some incredible number of people get hit by trains every year.

8:46 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

I always understood, Mo3 that jumping wasn't the problem, but the sudden stop was.

Meg, I do agree that they are dangerous. I saw a guy get hit once. Most amazing was his boots that were fully laced up flew from his feet and landed a hundred feet away. I will indeed tell the story one day of my near demise on the same stretch of tracks, to drive home the point of their danger.

Though I do admit I would still walk the tracks if they were around to be walked, and I would do so until I become deaf. But then you must have by now realized that I'm just a dopey blogger who enjoys to flirt with the flame for a good story. One day I may be consumed by one of my stories.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

this makes me want to dig out my copy of Boxcar Bertha!

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Moosehead said...

Or better yet, that Lee Marvin/Ernest Borgnine hobo movie. Can't remember the name...

3:14 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

The American Hobo, with Merle Haggard vocals

6:11 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Whoa, Lee, cool for pulling that name out and dusting it off. You get extra points for knowing something that Moosehead didn't as well.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Moosehead said...

Sorry Guys...the movie was called "Emperor of the North Pole" set in the Depression era and I beleive(believe? -i before e except after c and the rest escapes me - somebody please help) set in Oregon. Marvin is the legend Number One with Keith Carradine (Two Bit) his young brash understudy. If you can ride sadistic Shack's train and live, you will be Emperor...Great movie!

3:55 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Figured it out after the smoke cleared, eh Moosehead?

8:28 AM  
Blogger Mom of Three said...

As it happens, my Granny, who passed away in 2001 at age 96 remembered when she was a little girl, her brother, who was 10, died trying to hop a train to a baseball game in Pittsburgh. His legs went under and he bled to death before the horse and buggy could come fetch him to the hospital. 90 years later, my Granny was still sad about this.

10:05 PM  

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