.... when I was fifteen years old I accompanied my Father to work one week..... he was foreman of a welding gang for Southern Railway, and his territory stretched from Bristol, TN in the north to Ooltewah, TN in the south..... quite a stretch of real estate, actually...... and as such, he usually spent most of every week away from home.....

... nowadays the railroad will put you up in a hotel room.... but back then, they'd provide their traveling gangs with a small trailer that slept 8 men..... his "gang" consisted of he & his assistant..... and since his assistant was from Strawberry Plains, he normally traveled to and from work each day from home..... this mean that - most of the time - my Dad was alone in the trailer after work....

..... I bring this up because I'm just back from having nipped into town for some light bulbs & laundry detergent.... and on the drive, I found myself stuck at a railroad crossing while one of CSX's finest slowly chugged its way southwards.... and as the boxcars rolled by, I noticed a gentleman laying inside one of the cars soundly asleep..... (at least I assume that he was asleep and not, well, dead...).....

.... anyway, I was a bit shocked to see someone "hobo'ing" these days..... with surveillance systems, barcodes, homeland security, etc, one would imagine that the railroad police would have a pretty firm grip on keeping people from hopping on a train just to see where it'd take them... I've seen people riding in boxcars before, though, so it must be quite common......

.... when I was growing up, I was surrounded by everything Train-related... my maternal grandfather used to regale me with tales of his own hobo-type adventures from when he was a young man during The Great Depression.... how he caught a train in Sweetwater that was headed north.... on to DC, Philly, and Boston.... west to Columbus, Chicago, and eventually the West Coast.... and finally back to Tennessee just before the beginning of WWII..... I remember thinking back on his stories as being so amazingly romantic.... an adventure born out of something other than what it really was - desperation.....

... and my Father, too..... he'd arrive home on the weekends and tell of far away places where he'd worked all week..... John Sevier Yard in Knoxville, Coster Shop, Lake City, Clinton, Jellico..... he'd give me timetable pamphlets that were tattered and covered in coal dust and I'd soak up each place name..... every town, siding, and yard seemed so exotic..... and my mind would take me there like an explorer.... again, never realizing just how hard of a job it was that he was doing..... how he was frozen in the winter, baked in the summertime, and soaked in the spring and fall.....

... and yet Trains have always been romantic to me..... even now....

.... there's a track near my house, and every time I hear the whistle go, it sparks my imagination.....

.... but seeing that fellow today also reminded me of the first (and only) time that I ever jumped on a train illegally..... I guess I should attempt to write it down..... I was nearly friggin' killed.....

by Eric on December 28, 2008 | Bullshit (11) | TrackBack (0) | SWG Stories
Bullshit So Far

I'd like to hear that story.

Bullshitted by kdzu on December 28, 2008 05:08 PM

um, really should tell the story.

Bullshitted by Jean on December 28, 2008 08:35 PM

That train story seems like it'd be good blog fodder.

As for the fellow sleeping on the train, it might've just been a good union man putting in some overtime.

Bullshitted by G on December 28, 2008 09:22 PM

Great Post,

Brought back a lot of memories, my dad was from a Railroad family as well, coming out of Western Virginia.

Got me in the mood to play my "Jimmie Rogers tribute Merle Haggard CD"


Bullshitted by P'cola Titan on December 28, 2008 09:51 PM

never hopped a freight although I was tempted to a couple of times just for the hell of it.

Bullshitted by GUYK on December 28, 2008 10:16 PM

Yea, I tried the hop the train one time in 1968, my fifty mile ride turned into two hundred and fifty miles! Them dang things don't stop when ya holler whoe!!!!

Bullshitted by Ken on December 29, 2008 12:21 AM

That sounds really cool. Didn't even know there was such a place as Strawberry Fields.

Bullshitted by Cappy on December 29, 2008 09:50 AM

Jumped one on a siding in Corinth one day with a few buds. Swore we'd hang on just till Farmington. The thing got going so fast we couldn't get off it till damn near Iuka, MS, right on the Alabama line. Had to call Daddy to come get us. That and a sore ass put an end to my career of carefree rail riding.

Happy Holidays from Mississippi. I am having a ball. Little bit of everyting this year. Sorry I couldn't get up that way but everyone seems to have a a claim to my person. Perhaps next time.

Bullshitted by Andy on December 29, 2008 11:32 AM

Reminds me of the movie Fried Green Tomatos when Idgie and Ruth hop the train and throw food out to the homeless people. Great movie. Haven't seen trains since I lived in Texas.

Bullshitted by Alaska Kim on December 29, 2008 03:16 PM

The sound of a train in the distance always sounds to me like progress - on the move...

The sound of a train at 3am half a block from your house?? Not so much... ;)

Bullshitted by Richmond on December 29, 2008 04:37 PM

My papaw told me once of how during the Great Depression he would crisscross the country, riding the rails. He said it was both the most glorious and the most terrifying time of his then-20s-year old life.
Sadly, he was on the verge of being taken by Altzheimers and we never got round to the more detailed stories. But when I'd go visit and see an old, broken man quavering in a hospital bed, I'd imagine him at in his youth, perched in joy and delicious fear in the doorway of a speeding boxcar.

Bullshitted by LeeAnn on December 30, 2008 11:15 AM