My First Train Ride
Train Dummy - Rebecca
April 18, 2004
St Louis Frank, left me by the Hobo campfire at 6 A.M. in Amory, MS
on Sunday April 18, 2004. I contemplated waking Stretch up in order to
distract my thoughts of chasing after the RatPack limo in tears. Stretch
was laying up against the fence sound asleep, but as 'ole K-9 Burlington was keeping
guard; I didn't want the responsibility for waking up the entire jungle or
getting my head tore off.
then looked for Bobby Blues' tent, but a big gap in the tent jungle was
apparent, so I concluded that Bobby Blues wanted to keep his mystery alive with
such a quick disappearance. You see, that's how it goes in the Hobo
world-when you gotta go, you just gotta go.
I still had my dad's backpack slung over my shoulder, along with his little
blue duffel bag full of raisins, granola bars, and cans of sardines, as I stared
into the flames wondering what the meaning of my life was at that point in
time. A part of me was singing the old blues song by Hasil Adkins,
"What the Hell was I Thinkin'?", but yet I had my own fire burning
inside with the excitement of riding a freight train for the first time.
I was telling myself how blessed I was that I had a dad that encourages me to
embrace these types of opportunities. To quote Hobo Lucky, "I'd
rather regret something I've done than something I've not done." But
yet with everything I've done in my life, I felt as if I still wasn't quite
prepared to jump onto a train. But GrainCar George had already called me a
Sissy LaLa, and God forbid I have THAT label over my head-heck, I already had
enough societal labels that I didn't need yet another. On the other end of
the spectrum, a small voice was also telling me that my dad was just as whacked
out as I was, but dad was long gone at that point-so there I was.
7 A.M., the remaining Hoboes started gathering around for a church
service. I was in a Zen-like state curled up by the fire, but I was still
catching bits and pieces of Grandpa Dudley's sermon. My curiosity peaked,
however, when Oel started giving his life account of finding the Man, Jesus I
think he called him. Oel talked about his five years in prison and how he
led a "horrible life". How he witnessed abuse concerning his
mother and his little brother. What I noticed most about his account was
that he was talking as though he was reading the cooking instructions on the back
of a spaghetti bag. His heart wrenching story was told so matter-of-factly
that it made you believe that this was "just the way it goes"
sometimes. I felt like a weak Sissy LaLa for feeling the Blues over the
failure of my last relationship-that I had no job, and no close friends, and no
hope for a brighter, happier future.
Heck-Oel took my Blues away that morning. For the first time in a few
months, I felt on top of the world and that "my life ain't so bad after
all." It was around that point that the Texas Madman made a nasty
NOISE right in the middle of a Hallelujah, and Road Hog hollers out,
"You're not supposed to fart in church." Madman just went back
to talking to the fire as though it never happened.
I spent most of the morning just hanging out doing the usual nothing.
Road Hog and Hobo King Spike came over and gave me some advice about riding
trains. I liked the one bit about, "No road is a bad road" and
"You quickly realize the difference between want and need." Old
Man Moses fed me hobo stew and bagels for lunch.
Then I attempted to take
a nap alongside Ohio Tom under a shade tree, but Train Doc got into a
conversation with Shari about religion-need I say more?
Around 4:30 P.M. we headed over to the yard to look for a ride. We had
the intention of going to Birmingham. The hours passed
and we were still
there. Stretch, Lucky, and Oak Tree Joe kept us company as we talked about
nothing while sitting under a tractor trailer bed. Around 10 P.M. Lucky
jumped into an unoccupied rear engine. Train Doc and I decided it wouldn't
be an appropriate "first ride" for me-so we waited for another.
Around 11 P.M. we decided to call it a night and try again in the morning.
While I have roughed camped many times, this was my first Hobo night out in
the open with nothing but the natural elements surrounding me on all
sides. You know, a girl always dreams of a romantic night spent under a
mosquito net, on a feather bed with candles lit all around her, a bottle of
champagne, and a hunk of a guy that looks like Andy Garcia next to her.
Well, my first night out wasn't quiet like that, but in a way, it was darn close
(no-Train Doc does not resemble Andy Garcia). I had my cardboard pieces
laid up underneath the trailer tires and my sleeping bag spread out. The
air was brisk and it felt great all tucked in as I HATE being cold-the weather
was absolutely perfect that night. As I lay on my back I could see the
full moon and stars all around me. I slept like a baby zzzzzzz.....
A little before 6 A.M. Monday, the workers came in for their trailers. We
crawled out in time and I think the workers were as surprised to see us as we
were to see them. We gathered our gear and Train Doc found a spigot on the
side of a warehouse. That served as our morning bath. By 7 A.M. we
were back at the Amory Cafe having breakfast. The train to Birmingham
wasn't expected to leave until 6 P.M. that night. The best thing about
being a hobo is that you don't have anywhere to be and time just doesn't
matter. And I later find out that the place doesn't matter as well.
The States are an open book, and depending on
what train is in the Yard, the
destination just doesn't matter either-No road is a bad road. I spent the
afternoon over at Loco Larry's place and I helped Ms Charlotte clean out the
Hobo shed and had a peaceful time chatting with John-John.
At 4:30 P.M. I was attempting to get into a gondola car that was heading to
Memphis, when I hear a "Hey Train Dummy". I peek under the car
and see John-John. I was touched by his desire to see me off for my first
ride, and he memorialized the event with one of his hand-made patches that said
Train Doc had me all spazzed out about getting on as fast as I could.
Like the Train Dummy I am, I hurled myself over the side of the car, and dropped
about five feet into a pile of steel protruding in all directions.
Remarkably, I escaped that disaster with only a few bruises and scratches.
At that point I adamantly expressed to Doc that I would rather get busted than
lose a limb. We cleaned up the car, made our beds and waited...and waited...and waited.... Train Doc kept me amused with one story after
another. 8 P.M. Monday April 19, 2004 Choo Choo! The train began to
move-my first train ride was underway! I piled up some logs so that I
could peer over the side. The crossing of the Mississippi River was
stunning, and the sounds of the train were "tribal and
dinosaur-like"-just like DeadEye Kate said it would be. I hardly
6 A.M. on Tuesday April 20, 2004 we exited the train in Memphis, TN and we
jungled up in some ditch. I felt wonderfully dirty, and if I had a
scissors on me I would have probably cut off my hair. Train Doc found a
hose that was in a secluded spot. Boy did that cold water feel good.
We slept most of the morning and chatted about hobo life in general. Doc
believes that "those people" that look at us like we're nuts are
simply envious. A part of me agrees. I mean, c'mon, would I rather
be behind a computer listening to some ignorant, asshole attorney screaming
about nothing-or, would I rather be out in nature, riding trains, going wherever
I damn well please answering to no one??? Hummm.....
Train Doc had a good statement about "it's not a matter of being
irresponsible, it's a matter of CHOOSING to be non-responsible". Give
that some thought-it's an interesting meditation. I thought of an
ex-boyfriend and his materialistic, shallow, selfish ways, and how he constantly
lectured me about my wanderlust and gypsy-like nature-as though it was a bad
thing and I should be ashamed and seek help for my wanting to see the
world. According to him and many others, I was just plain crazy and
unwilling to conform to everyone else's way of being. For fuck's sake-just
read the saying on this years Amory Hobo T-Shirt, "Not Everyone Who Wanders
is Lost". At that point I decided it was time to start regaining my
self-respect. Who would've thought that a Hobo train ride would have led
me to that conclusion, eh?
In the afternoon we decided to take a bus into downtown. We walked forever and then sat forever-and
no bus came. Train Doc had the usual
conversations about nothing in particular, but I realized that he focuses on
politics, religion, and the current war as compared to prior wars. Regardless of my
answers to his questions, he disagrees and it felt way too much like being back
in the office, so I decided not to play anymore and took off on my own back
towards our camp, in search of FOOD. I hitched a ride and made my way to
Bubba's Barbeque. Life was good again....
We had just missed the train heading towards St. Louis, but at 6:30 P.M. we
jumped on a sitting train, which according to the Fat Albert on the Train Yard
mini-bike, was heading to Springfield, MO and then on to Tulsa, OK.
such an awesome feeling knowing you can go anywhere you want on a split second
notice. I jumped on the front of a Grainer, and Doc hit an Owl Hole a
couple of cars back. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and the peace and
quiet. We sat all the way until 5:30 A.M. the next morning before getting
underway. Riding trains is like forced therapy. You have nothing but
time and no outside distractions except nature. You have no means of
communication in or out, so most of the time you sit idle and just
proud to admit that I didn't have too much to think about. I listened to
the wind through the trees and the birds chatter away. I now know what
John-John meant when he talked about the natural high you get when you find a
great jungle and settle in for the night.
8 A.M. Wednesday April 21, 2004 and the sky opens up with that nasty weather
that was coming across country. I was soaked. I did my best to keep
my gear dry, but it was hopeless at this point. I just sat it out and
started singing to myself. There was a bit of exhilaration when it finally
stopped raining, and I stripped down to my birthday suit and just laid in the
car soaking up the sun. I felt free! There was absolutely no
civilization around and the views of the country side were stunning through
Arkansas and through Southern Missouri. I was thoroughly enjoying
myself. Well....until the sky started turning dark again. The train
wasn't stopping as frequently and I was starting to get nervous about getting
caught in another downpour. A drop here, a drop there-shit! it was raining
again. The train stopped within thirty minutes and I started throwing my
gear off the side. Train Doc was there to scoop it up for me. Lo and
behold the damn train starts to move, so I had to high tail it up onto the front
of an un-rideable car which was facing toward the back of Doc's Owl Hole.
OK I thought-the train will probably stop again soon. Hell no! it rode
faster and it rained harder and harder. I had some type of braking device
slamming into my back every few minutes, a 2x2 foot space to squat in, no head
or side cover and it just rained and rained and got colder and colder. I
thought about ending it all with a back flip off the side, but it was about then
the train slowed down and I crossed over to the Owl Hole. I passed out
from exhaustion and didn't wake up until morning.
April 22, 2004 Thursday and we arrived in Tulsa, OK. As we were
entering the Yard, we got onto the front of a grainer and within an hour, Doc
throws his gear off the side and says, "Hope you can get off a moving
train." I thought to myself, "I hope so too." I did
OK, but I admit I felt my legs wobble and for a split second I thought I was
going face first into the tracks to get decapitated. I'm sure that's an
exaggeration simply due to my fears. Now, for some unknown reason, as
worried as Doc is about getting caught, he was the King of Lolly Gag that
morning. Some guy in a truck rode by and saw us walking away from the
train. I insisted we keep moving, and Doc insisted we rest so he could get
his bearings. I entertained that idea for about 2 minutes and then just
started walking. We got off the Yard and Doc Lolly Gagged again under a
tree. As the weather was nasty, and tornado sirens were going off (I later
find out that six funnels had touched down in the area thru the night, and
concluded that's what we rode thru!). All I wanted to do was keep walking
towards some sort of cover. As I was complaining about wanting to keep
going, and as Doc was lying under a tree, sure enough here comes the BN bull!
Doc says, "Hello Officer" only to get a response of, "I don't
give a damn, give me your ID's and take a seat." We both thought for
sure we were busted. He comes back and looks at me and asks, "You
OK?" "Uh, yes Officer", I reply. "Do you have
any water?" he asks. Doc says we're OK, but I say, "No, I
don't." He comes back with two bottles and I down them as if a
starving animal. A part of me was incredibly embarrassed. I could
only imagine what I must look like, and that I looked so bad that he felt sorry
for me, and how stupid and hopeless he must think I am. The officer then
starts lecturing Doc saying, "It's obvious you've been doing this for some
time, but this is her first time. You have no business taking a woman like
this out. Do you know how dangerous it is? Just last week we pulled
someone dead off the tracks. They will shoot you for your shoes in this
area. Your train had two huge tankers of toxic chemicals and you rode
through tornadoes." He goes on and on and it sure worked on me!
He spooked hell out of me, and I was convinced I was heading home to Florida at
that point. It was just that the weather was so bad, and I already rode
through the worst of it, my gear was soaked and the thought of another night out
was NOT appealing whatsoever.
He didn't take us in, but rather informed us that our names were in the
system as illegal train riders, oh-and where the nearest Homeless Shelter was
located. We made our way to the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless, where I
stood in line for my styrofoam cup of coffee, and then another line for my hand
towel, small plastic cups of shampoo, conditioner, baby oil, lotion, powder, as
well as a razor. It's amazing how much we take things for granted. I
mean you have no idea how good a hot shower feels until you've rode for two days
on a freight train, part of which was curled up in a filthy Owl Hole.
Thursday April 22, 2004 7:00 P.M. I was on a Greyhound Bus heading back to
Ft. Lauderdale, FL. 27 and 1/2 hours later I arrived back home in Florida
at 10:30 A.M. Saturday April 24, 2004.
there you have it, my first 603 train miles through Mississippi, Tennessee,
Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. My thanks to Train Doc for his guidance
and perseverance and to all the Hobo Family for your help and advice with my
first time out. I hope to see you all down the line.
Luv, Train Dummy-Rebecca - email me at
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