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KaBar

Slack Action

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Everybody has heard about Slack Action, but not everybody understands exactly what it is. The railcars are built with couplers that automatically close when two cars are banged together in humping, when humped over a hump crest, or by "flat-switching" the cars in a small yard with no hump. When a switchman cuts out a car on the crest of the hump, he has to do it at just the right moment. The unit powers up in reverse (humping is done in reverse--the unit pulls the string over the hump, then starts backing up so the cars can be cut out, humped, retarded and switched into their new string) and gets the string rolling, then he slacks off the accelerator and the car to be cut (called a "cut") rolls up slowly to the hump crest. When the switchman sees the unit is off the power, he pulls the pin (it's a lever that goes out the side of the coupler) opening the coupler, releasing the "cut" and allowing gravity to roll it into the hump and the master retarder. As the car rolls down the hump, the switchmen in the crest tower hit the MR, and you can hear the squeal of the retarder shoes rubbing the outside of the train car wheels to slow it down. Couplers can handle an impact of about 5 mph, no more. There is another retarder farther down the hump line, called a "group retarder" but I think my local yard doesn't have one. The car rolls until it hits the string of cars in it's CONsist. When it hits, the impact closes the coupler, and it locks automatically.

There is about 1"-3/4" slack in the couplers themselves. The couplers are connected to the "draft gear." The draft gear isn't really gears, it's like "gear" in terms of somebody's stuff, rather than a transmission gear. The draft gear can move in and out about 12"-14" max. So when a unit starts to pull a train, the first car hits slack action after a foot. The second car, after two feet, and so on. On a long train, say 80 cars, the unit may move 85 feet before the FRED moves an inch. Slack action is much more violent in the back half of the train, like the tail on a bull whip. As the train "stretches out", you hear slack coming down the string b-b-b-b-B-B-B-Boom-Boom-Boom-Boom-BOOM-BOOM-BANG! and all the sudden your car is jerked into motion. Stretch out is also called "draft" like in "draft horses." It means "pull." Then, if the engineer gets on the brakes, the train starts contracting the same way, but it's called "buff." It sounds the same b-b-b-B-B-Boom-Boom-Boom-BOOM-BOOM-BANG! and suddenly your car is slowing down. It is now "buffed in." What this means to people in railyards is that they need to be aware that trains can move at any second, especially a long string. The units way down on the other end of the yard may suddenly get powered up and told to move, or get "called." Or the string your car is on can be hit by a midnight rambler at any time, as the hump crew suddenly starts making up a consist. BE ALERT AS TO WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND YOU. Really tight crews have at least one guy (maybe a rookie) serving as a spotter, watching for ramblers, bulls, cops, etc. If you're hopping, you definately need to understand slack action to the nuts. ALWAYS HANG ONTO SOMETHING. Don't ride freestyle or skylining. Only FNG wannabes do shit like that. HIDE. "No exposure without purpose." That's what I think, anyway. (Yo, Collinwood, your shit rocks. "CK, rock like him," and Ride Safe.)

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as proof of the force of slack action, do this the next time your benching. watch what happens after a train brakes fast and gets "buffed in". After it comes to a full stop it will look like its starting to back up as the couplers push out the buff.

And I remember a long time ago some people asking the meaning of the "no more than 4" stickers on autoracks. its a gentle reminder of the 5mph "speed limit" on coupling. although I'm sure KaBar knows that with empty cars in small yards behind schedule that limit can go out the window...

 

good post. nice to see another knowledgable train geek on here...

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Guest HESHIANDET

hey bud, nice post. copy and paste into the yard seafty thread while your at. cool beanos mang

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Guest cracked ass

I don't consider it "competition" when other people besides me are learning shit they ought to know for safety reasons. Although kabar's post looks almost verbatim with Duffy Littlejohn's book (HFT in A), with the exception of mentioning crews and lookouts and Houston. I don't have the book to compare to, but if text gets reproduced that closely there ought to be a shout out or credit. If that material isn't Littlejohn's, then you both learned from the same person or source. In any case, it's good to know this shit.

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You know, the thing I like about the Internet is that people on it are just about totally anonymous. Do you ever think about that? Like, you go on a board or a chat about music, and maybe some guy from Aerosmith is on there shooting the shit about guitars, and I think "How cool is that?" Aerosmith online, talking to some kid in the 10th grade from Lufkin. Or, maybe it's just some guy PRETENDING to be a member of Aerosmith. It's a plague and a curse, as well as a tremendous advantage. If you go on a chat room for "Divorced and Available" probably 50% of the guys are a couple of 14-year-old boys pretending to be an adult man who is hoping to get hooked up with a beautiful divorcee. All part of the charm of the Net. Sometimes people make assumptions, too. They may judge you by the way you write, or the language you use, or the interests that you have, and assume that you are a certain kind of person, or a certain race, or whatever.

I hestitate to reveal much about myself, but on the other hand, I don't want to mislead anybody, either. Suffice it to say, I am not a kid, I am an adult. My interest in graff is secondary, and subsequent to, my interest in riding trains. I first rode a fr8 quite a while ago, and I learned from an "old school" kind of tramp. When I first rode freights, graffitti was very rare, and I didn't see a large work for years. What we saw back then were tramp streaks, and the occasional water tower or something with "SENIORS '62" on it. I have read Littlejohn's book, and it is a good one, although I think he sugarcoats it a little too much. I've never met him, but the last time I heard, he was living and working as an attorney in San Luis Obispo, CA. If my information sounds a little too much like Littlejohn's stuff, all I can say is that the information is pretty basic. If you are describing a hammer, how many different ways are there to talk about it? One might say that the language in my posts "sounds too young" to be an adult. It so happens I work in a job where I talk to a lot of teenagers, and my speech patterns sometimes follow theirs. I'm even developing a taste for rap, just not much of an affection for it. My natural inclinations in music are a little more acoustically oriented. I started hopping fr8s when I was very young, and my very first hop was from Chicago to St. Paul, Minnesota. A couple of hours later, we caught one that went from St. Paul to Butte, Montana. Believe it or not, that was in 1970.

Try to be open-minded about graff and the people that admire it and have done a little. They aren't all slackers in their late teens. All old tramps aren't hopeless alcoholic losers, either. You young guys won't be kids forever. But I bet you'll always remember blasting lines on a clean fr8 at midnight, and running through the Yards outfoxing the bulls. And when you're not a kid anymore everybody else will expect you to settle down and become a civilian. Go ahead, go to college. Get your ticket punched. Make some money. But don't forget what it feels like to wake up at five-thirty in the morning in the middle of complete fucking nowhere without a clue in the world as to where you are. There ain't nothing like it in this life, I'm here to tell you. How do the kids put it? "Tramp4Life." There it is.

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Guest dukeofyork

man, i felt like a train geek before...model set and all......

but you guys take it to a completely different level.

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Guest cracked ass

I stand corrected. Good to have you on board.

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I hope that didn't sound TOO defensive. I didn't intend it to be a refutation, more just an explanation. I see art, real art, in the more ambitious and carefully crafted graff works. The awesome thing about serious graff writers is that to really appreciate the artist and his work, one must invest considerable time and effort to view even a small portion of the body of his (or her) work. There was a time when I said to myself "If we could only get these guys to paint on canvases! They'd be celebrated!" But I'm coming to understand that part of the art is the nature of it's creation. One element I'm unsure of it the segment of the graff community that insists that "vandalism" is a key element to the creation of it. On the other hand, it has an element of outlawry and defiance of authority that is not unlike other artistic rebellions against conformity, etc. It's damned difficult to sell a big chunk of a concrete overpass in a gallery, though, or to hang a side bulkhead of a grainer in a art patron's foyer. Graff denies and resists commercialization and co-optation by it's very nature. As it gains acceptance, it bleeds into the mainstream, and becomes slowly adopted by standard commercial channels. When that process becomes easier and graff-based art begans to show up in car commercials, CD and tape promotions, etc., it begans to lose it's impact and cutting edge nature. As hip-hop culture starts showing up at Wal-Mart and Pep Boys, it begins the process of being transformed into a commodity. And out there, somewhere, is some creative 12-year-old who is thinking up the next cultural evolution, the next ultra-radical artistic expression, the next rebellious teenaged thing guaranteed to completely piss off their teachers and parents and the local gendarmes. Think Expressionism. Art Nouveau. Jackson Pollock. The Lost Generation, drinking wine in post-WWI Paris. Swing dancers pushing the boundaries of dance in the smoldering ruins of Berlin. Hippies dancing in the ankle-deep slop at Woodstock to Jimi Hendrix. Beatniks, snapping their fingers in inexpressively "cool" applause to Allen Ginsberg's poetry in Greenwich Village cafes, painted black, wall-to-nihilistic wall. Low-riders spark-racing down hilly East L.A. streets. As each generation moves forward, it's rebels and visionaries either accept that the moment is slipping, or they become pathetically clingy, trying to insist that Disco really didn't suck, or that Flower Power can solve all the world's problems, or that Florence is the only place where one can genuinely create art worth appreciating. Or that this style of graff or that type of letter is the only worthwhile graffitti effort.

Burn on, people. Make your mark, send your message, make it happen. But don't forget that the fundamental values that make life worthwhile and valuable drive every effort, even midnight paint bomb runs under brilliant mercury-vapor security lights on fat Canadian grain cars. Graff kids often think they are smashing the old, breaking new barriers. They rarely see that they are carrying the flag that other, older radicals have handed over. Old Dylan said "Don't Look Back." Okay. Don't. But we need to know that they were there. And in their day, they burned bright, too.

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How Long Should a Deadman Be?

 

This is probably not a subject that comes up all the time, so I thought I'd talk about it, and see what other people think. IN LITTLEJOHN'S BOOK (ahem) he mentions that you can often find wood used as dunnage and bracing inside the cars, or pallets just laying around in the weeds, whatever, and these can be used as a field-expedient dead man. Actually, I have not found this to be the case around the Houston area. "Good" wood for a deadman needs to be substantial and solid. Oak would be great, but ash (like most pallets are made from) would be okay. I would say pine (like 2x4's from housing construction) is less desireable, because it splinters pretty easy. The question is, "How long?" Obviously there is no best length in terms of securing the door(s). If you find a piece of wood five feet long and it will fit in the door track groove, I say "use it!" But most of the time, I use the same dead man over and over. It's a piece of wood that I cut to fit the length of my bindle, and is about 26 inches long. I roll it up in the middle of my blanket roll, where I can get to it easy. I met a guy once that carried a piece of 1" pipe in the center of his bindle, and said he used it as a dead man, but I think that he really carried it as a weapon. I've known people that carried a kitchen knife there too, and said they just used it for cooking (yeah, right.) Usually a 2x4 will fit the door track groove easily, but it it doesn't, hammer it in tightly. If it won't go in the groove, DON'T just leave it laying up there loose to bounce out of the door track groove, go find some wood that WILL fit. Better yet, measure a few boxcars' door track grooves and figure out how thick your dead man should be. Whittle you a good one, and hang onto it.

You can use a railroad spike, too, but it's not as sure as a dead man. (You could also do both.) But like I said before, it pisses off the railroad workers. IN LITTLEJOHN'S BOOK, he recommends that you don't admit spiking a rbox door, and I agree. In fact, disturb things as little as possible. When you get off a car, leave no trash, don't break anything or jack around with anything, don't make a mess, and take your dead man or spike WITH YOU, if you can get the spike out from under the door. (On the other hand, I wouldn't waste time fooling around with the spike if the car is moving. If you gotta bail, then bail. SAFETY FIRST. ALWAYS.)

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Guest cracked ass

It appears that Kabar is way ahead of us on train hopping knowledge. For those he lost on the last post, a "deadman" is a wedge used to make sure the door of the boxcar you are riding stays open. This can be a life-or-death issue, because if in transit the door closes and latches, you are stuck inside until somebody lets you out, which could be long after your food and water run out. One well-known story (with a happier ending than some) is of two teens who got into a boxcar of beer and were shut in. The car traveled a ways and it was 2 weeks before a worker heard them hammering to be let out. They survived on beer and nothing else.

No newbie trainhopper should sleep on the importance of bracing the door. The doors are heavy, and once they get moving they are difficult to stop short of closing. Everything looks innocuous when the train is stopped, but once it starts rolling there will be plenty of shocks, slack action, etc. which can start the door sliding shut, and even crack a less than sturdy deadman.

Another important point is to make sure the door is open all the way, and drive the wedge into the door track right up against the door at the first available slot. If you simply drive the wedge in the middle, because the door was half open when you got on, the door can (once the train is rolling) slide open the rest of the way, away from the deadman, then get a running start while closing and snap off the wedge with its momentum. Bracing the door up close while all the way open robs it of possible momentum later on.

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i know this will sound dumb, but how do you get a door open if there are none already open. i have a lot of freight knowledge, although definitely not as much as the people on this thread. because of work i haven't been able to hop freights although i want to really bad. i am tryign to learn as much as i can before i go, so that i don't get hurt or killed because of a dumb mistake.

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Reighn_1---I think you are wise to learn as much as you can before you try to hop. Check out the online discussions about trainhopping. Read Duffy Littlejohn's book--it's a good one. A guy named Daniel Leen wrote one too, but it's a little dated. Still pretty good information though. The best possible way is to find a well-seasoned trainhopper and ride with him (or her) until you get the hang of things. Hang around train yards and observe how things are done. I watch railroad workers a lot from a distance with binoculars just to watch what they are doing. Buy a scanner and listen to your local railroad traffic. (BTW, there are only 97 railroad channels, so if you buy a 100+-channel scanner you can program ALL of them into the scan feature.) You can't learn everything from a book, but if I had read Littlejohn's book before I caught my first freight my first real hop would have been a whole lot safer. Get a few maps, mark the lines and the rail yards. Always wear gloves and good boots. It's mostly just common sense.

Boxcar doors are heavy as shit. You probably can't open one by yourself unless you are one huge guy. Three people could probably open one. First, though, you make sure it's unlocked on the outside. Throw the latch open. Then cross over the train, go around to the other side of the door, inside the boxcar, and you and two big, hefty friends of yours try to roll it open. Warehouse workers use a forklift. Once you get it open, deadman the door so that if slack action causes it to move, it cannot slide all the way shut. Sometimes, if the train is really banging around, a boxcar door will slide shut abruptly, but more commonly it creeps shut sort of slowly. I've never seen one crash shut, but I've heard about it. If you are in the doorway, of course, you could be crushed. If neither door is open, pass it by and find a more rideable car. Never skyline in a boxcar. HIDE. LOL, like old Rufe said, "This ain't no fucking hobby!" No exposure without purpose.

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All this information is quite interesting. I've hopped freights before with

other graffiti artists, but only for short distances, from suburb to suburb,

and other such places.. Where might I find this book by LITTLEJOHN

that you're talking about ? I checked my local library and theye didn't

have it....

 

This is directed to Kabar, if it wasn't too obvious... :)

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Trainhopper's Bibles

 

Okay, try "Freight Hopper's Guide for North America," by Daniel Leen 1992, ISBN 0-96-32912-70, 112 pages. Costs about $10. I heard you can still get it from a book distribution outfit called Loompanics.

 

"Hopping Freight Trains in America," by Duffy Littlejohn 1993, ISBN 0-944627-34-X, 354 pages, numerous pictures. Try Sand River Press, 1319- 14th Street, Los Osos, CA 93402. They are a publishing house, so don't go over there thinking it's a crash pad for tramps or something, LOL. Costs about $14.00 post paid.

 

There may be other books about trainhopping, but these are two that are relatively new and aimed at modern riders. Some book about riding trains in the Great Depression of 1929 would be interesting reading, but of limited practical utility. I learned a lot from reading Littlejohn, and I had previous extensive trainhopping experience.

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Tramp Gear is Survival Gear

 

When you think about it, you'll see a remarkable similarity between tramp gear, camp gear and survival gear. People who are accustomed to living at a low technological level are generally more independent, logistics-wise, and more resilient in the short run than are people who choose to live at a high-consumption, high-technological level. I used to live up in eastern Washington State on the edge of the Blue Mountains. We had electricity, but we also had about ten kerosene lanterns. If we lost the power in a winter storm, "no problem." We used the lamps sometimes just for atmosphere. The kerosene lantern light is gentle and soft. We had a wood stove, and I kept 10-15 cords of wood on the ground at all times. We cut the wood every summer on a wood permit purchased from the Umatilla National Forest USFS ranger station. The wood was either from downed trees, or from slash piles from logging operations. I had enough wood cut, split and ricked when we left there to heat the house for TWO YEARS without even starting a chain saw. We grew a big garden (1/8 acre) and had one room of our house that was the springhouse and pantry, filled with canned vegetables from our garden, apples, onions, potatoes, etc. in straw for the winter. We grew our potatoes in stacks of old tires filled with dirt. To "dig" them, I just pulled a tire or two off the stack. We were low tech, and independent, to a great degree. Nobody can be completely independent and still be a part of normal society.

Tramp gear is designed to make tramps somewhat independent. For brief periods of time (maybe three or four days) they can exist without needing a trip to the grocery store. Their gear is a lot like camping gear, but less high-tech, and less valuable money-wise. Expensive gear with a monetary value attracts streamliners.

Tramps generally have a good pair of boots. (When I say "good", I'm talking about durable and well-fitting, not $$$. Military boots or work boots work fine. Tennis shoes are dangerous--no heel.) They wear loose, comfortable, durable clothing. They ALWAYS carry a pair of gloves (my favorite pair is a pair of UP-logo "Work Safely" gloves I found on the tracks.) They carry a jacket or a coat ALL THE TIME. They wear or carry a hat, ALL THE TIME. You cannot predict what will happen next. You might lose your ruck or bindle. The weather might change. Your train may die in some godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere. So always carry water, plenty of it, and at least some food that you can eat without cooking. Chili straight from the can doesn't sound too appetizing unless you haven't eaten in ten hours. Then it starts looking pretty good. I always carry a few maps of where I am, and where I'm going, a compass, and a pair of binoculars. I have had to hump it several times, and a compass and a knowledge of land navigation is just extremely valuable. Binoculars have saved my ass from the bulls nnumerous times. You want to see them before they can see you. If they get up close enough to you for you to see that they are bulls without binoculars, it is way too late to run. Take extra socks, a change of underwear, a few medical supplies like Tylenol and anti-acids and bandaids. I always carry Immodium, too. Once I almost shit myself to death after eating a bad hamburger in a cafe in Las Cruces. Diarrhea on a hotshot going cross-country could be fatal if it went untreated. I also carry plenty of newspaper (tinder for campfires, toilet paper, insulation in an emergency, "table cloth", emergency towel, etc.), an Army field jacket with liner, a military poncho, two blankets in a bindle with a carrying strap, my "deadman", a nylon camp hammock, matches, Bic lighters, a small "pocket" flashlight ("UKE brand, $8.95 at WalMart, takes two AAA batteries and is bright as hell), a Uniden scanner, a P-38 can opener, a Sodbuster knife, extra batteries for flashlight and scanner, a gunboat, gunboat dog-chain, two 2-liter Coke bottles full of water (HEAVY), various kinds of food, pair of pliers, a folding camp saw (extremely valuable), an old 16-oz. framing hammer, a cloth nail pouch with nails, a big shank of 550 paracord, and a "housewife" (a little sewing kit pouch). And probably a bunch of shit I've forgotten about that is laying in the bottom of my ruck. Things I DON'T bring: anything illegal, especially dope. If you get popped, the last thing you want is to turn a bullshit trespassing arrest into a felony drug bust. (I don't use dope, so it's not a problem.) Sometimes I do bring alcohol with me, but I never drink and hop. It's plenty hazardous enough without being intoxicated on top of everything else. Is all that shit heavy? Yeah. It is. Is it all necessary? No, it's not. I hate getting caught unprepared. I try to keep it below 25 pounds, but usually I can't. Regardless of how much stuff you bring, there will always be something that you need that you forgot to bring. Learn to IMPROVISE. (Note to self: practice what you preach....)

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kabar, you carry a scanner hopping? how does that work, i mean you are saying don't carry anything of value and a scanner, last i checked, costs around a hundred dollars to replace. plus, wouldn't you waste batteries just trying to find out what frequency they are using once you got fifty miles from home, or if you lose your railroad. i can understand if you're on route somewhere and you got your channels straight for the whole way, but otherwise wouldn't it just be too cumbersome. i think you would have to have lots and lots of channels to even be useful, and that would mean a bit over two hundred dollars.

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Scanners

 

There are a bunch of scanners available, some pretty cheap, some very expensive. The scanner I'm using right now I got on sale at Wal-Mart for $40 brand new. It only has 20 channels, though, and that is a problem. I would have been better off saving up my money a little longer, and buying a 100-channel scanner. I know one tramp that is also a HAM radio operator who carries a HAM radio. He can scan to all 97 channels, plus in an EMERGENCY, he could actually talk to the train crew or dispatch, or to some other HAM along the route. Needless to say, it's really cool, but HAM radios are way too expensive for me. The sound quality of a HAM radio's speakers are very, very much superior to any scanner, however.

Because my Uniden only has 20 channels, I carry a little note book with scanner freqs listed, and if I am on a BNSF train (for instance) I make sure I've got the BNSF road channels on the scan. A MUCH COOLER SOLUTION would be to go ahead and buy a 100-channel scanner, and program in the entire 97 channels that are assigned to railroads. Program them all once, and then just forget about it. I could have purchased a 100-channel scanner for about $110. I check out pawn shops constantly, and I have found some good deals there, but you need to KNOW THE VALUE OF WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING AT. Scanners do burn up some energy when they are on, but I don't listen to it constantly. I'm getting about 16 hours out of a set of batteries. If something wierd happens, like the train stops or slows down suddenly, I turn on the scanner and listen to what the train crew is talking about. If I get to a Yard, same thing. If you do buy a scanner, BUY AN EARPIECE SPEAKER, so you can hide the scanner in your pocket and listen to the traffic without it being too obvious. One of the reason I like overalls is because I can drop my scanner into the front overalls pocket, and it's safe, kept clean, and handy.

There are people out riding rails who might try to rip you off for your gear, especially something very valuable to them, like a scanner. Be prepared to deal with it. I ain't going to lie---you might have to defend yourself. The more ready you are to kick ass and take names, the less likely it is that you will have to do so. Travel with a partner. Learn how to fight as a pair. Never can tell, you might need to. When it comes to defending yourself, forget using reason. It's force and violence that count. Take it from an old Marine: if they make you fight, put them in a fucking hurt locker big time. I wouldn't hestitate to hurt someone trying to attack me. Another good rule: Avoid all conflict IF POSSIBLE. I will walk away if I can. But, if somebody just won't let you go on about your business, you may have to hurt them bad. If you can't deal with defending yourself, you might ought to stay out of that environment. http://www.catalgo.com/hop/list/0210.html

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thanks for the advice kabar. i think there are more than 97 channels used by the railroad however, you might want to look into that. on the other hand you may have meant road channels or what not, then you're prolly right and i'm wrong, whatever. by the way, good advice on defending yourself.

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Scanner Freqs

 

23578---Did you get a chance to check the link in that post? That information came off the trainhopping listserve and it's from the Collinwood Kid. Collinwood Kid absolutely knows what he is talking about, as he has been hopping trains in his free time for about twenty years.

 

Try this site for North American Railroad Frequencies

http://zippy.cso.uiuc.edu:8080/~roma/rr-freqs

 

Collinwood is an unusual guy, but he has learned all about trainhopping and railroads through experience. He also has a large array of hopper friends, and they trade information and set up "meets" in different places. Like Collinwood starts out from his home yard and another tramp starts out ffrom his home yard, and they meet in St. Paul, or something like that. Collinwood would be a good guy to have around if there's an injury, too, since he is a registered nurse.

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