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"Keeping a Clean Camp"

 

I was looking over some of these posts again, and I got to thinking about the meaning of the phrase "Keep A Clean Camp". Obviously, it means to not throw trash and garbage on the ground. This sort of rule is far from generally recognized and accepted. There are plenty of people tramping and riding trains that have a very nearly completely unconcious attitude about how they live their lives. They just stumble through it, drinking, taking various kinds of drugs and spreading chaos and discontent wherever they wind up. These are the kinds of people who take a dump in boxcars. They not only don't care that some minimum-wage warehouseman is going to have to clean up their nasty mess, they actually get a sort of sick satisfaction at knowing that this is true. They have a "I don't give a fuck" attitude about everything, and everybody. They are not connected to the rest of the world. Like very small children, they have the idea that the only thing that matters is whatever their spoiled little heart desires at that particular moment.

These are the people that go dumpster-diving and THROW ALL THE GARBAGE ON THE GROUND AND LEAVE IT THERE. What do you suppose happens when the store owner or restaurant owner comes out there and sees garbage all over the place? He starts hating tramps, and he LOCKS THE DUMPSTER. These are the guys who go into a restaurant, ask to use the bathroom, and then make a huge fucking mess in there, taking a bath in the sink, splashing water all over everywhere, stinking the place up, and THEN LEAVE THE BATHROOM ALL FUCKED UP. Obviously, as soon as the manager sees this disaster, he says "No more bathroom use for transients. Let them do it outdoors."

"Keeping a clean camp" means more than just "don't throw trash on the ground." It means living your life in a way calculated to have dignity and respect. It means to grant these things to others, and to firmly, but politely, insist upon them for yourself. A crude, simplistic way of looking at this is the phrase "Don't shit where you eat." What that means is don't do things to gratify an immediate need that will screw you up in the future. But the DSWYE (pronounced "diss-wye") philosophy is strictly a self-serving, pragmatic measure. Keeping a clean camp encompasses an understanding that one has a moral obligation to live life in a certain way. All behavior is not equal. Just doing whatever is not okay. Life has rules, even for tramps and hobos.

I have, on occasion, found myself out of money and hungry. It was rare, but it happened a few times. I went to a restaurant, asked to speak to the owner or manager, and waited politely in the entranceway. When the man came out, I asked him for a meal, and offered to sweep the parking lot or wash dishes in return. I got turned down several times, but I also got hired, right on the spot, as a dishwasher. It was no great shakes as a job (washing dishes in a truck stop in Wyoming is not exactly a career path I'd willingly choose) but it had more dignity than begging. The restaurant owner realized that I was trying to do the right thing, and he didn't disrespect me by just offering me a hamburger to "go away." I washed dishes, and got more food in return than I could possibly eat, plus a few bucks travelling money. But more than that, I still had my self respect. When you don't have your self-respect, you don't have anything, even if you are a millionaire.

Keeping a clean camp includes keeping yourself squared away, as well. The filthy, stinking homeless wretches that one sees living under bridges or sleeping in dirt-encrusted rags on downtown streets are usually untreated schizophrenics. I'm talking about tramping with a little class. I always owned enough garments so that I could wash one set while wearing another. You can still do this, even if you don't have money for the laundomat. I carried a wooden-handled scrub brush (like one might scrub floors with) and would buy a small packet of laundry detergent at a Laundomat. Fill a plastic 5-gallon bucket with water, then add some detergent and immerse the over-alls or blue jeans in there, then scrub them on a clean piece of sidewalk or a flatbed deck, then rinse them under a faucet. I would wear clean, wet, over-alls and unlaced boots while I scrubbed the rest of my clothes, rinsed them under a faucet. One time I washed clothes at a car wash, just using the high-pressure hose to blast them. Only cost 50 cents.

I got haircuts at barber colleges. Once or twice, I met another tramp (or a tramp's old lady) who knew how to cut hair. I took a spit bath out of a bucket or in a gas station bathroom sink every day. Just because you aren't rich doesn't mean that you should go around with ragged clothes. I know how to sew well enough to do my own repairs. I kept my clothes in good order, no rips, no tears, no holes worn through.

And, in camp, I observed the normal, common-sense rules about fires. I cut my tripod sticks about four feet long (I eyeball the first stick, then use it to measure the other two) and I CLEAR A SPARK RADIUS AROUND THE FIRE RING THE LENGTH OF THE STICK. I clear the ground down to the dirt the length of the stick in every direction. I usually do it by laying the stick down and scuffing the leaves and trash away from the fire with my boots in a circle, but I pull up little weeds and branches if I can't scuff them, and use my saw if I can't pull them up. If I can find rocks, I build a fire ring. If I can't find rocks, I try to scoop out a hole or depression. (I am very careful about fire---if you accidentally set the woods on fire, you will be in DEEP SHIT, not to mention that the animals that live in the forest will be displaced or killed.)

I never heed the call of nature where I am camping. If I wake up and need to piss, I don't do it there. I put on my boots and walk a ways off into the trees. I dig a little cat-hole a good distance from camp, to shit in, and cover my business. ("Don't shit where you eat.")

I like creating jungles, in fact, it is one of my very favorite things in life. I enjoy all the various aspects of it--finding a good location, clearing a little living area, building a fire ring, setting up a tripod, finding another suitable can for a gunboat and making it. Once I get it all set up, and I'm enjoying living in it, I feel that same sense of satisfaction one gets from moving in to a new apartment.

I stockpile wood for fires. I wash out 1-gallon wine jugs or 2-liter Coke bottles and fill them with water. I scrounge 5-gallon paint buckets for seats. I look for good "hammock trees." I gather cardboard and fold it so I can roll it up and put it in a 5-gallon bucket, then turn the bucket upside down so that the cardboard will stay dry if it rains. I scrounge newspapers, roll them into tight tubes and tie them with string, and put them under 5-gallon buckets, too. I dumpster-dive for useful stuff. I have found chairs and end-tables and footstools. Sometimes I find big sheets of plastic that I can make a "tent" with.

And when I leave the jungle, I mark it on my map and in my memory so I can find it again. I leave it clean and squared away. I burn all my trash, then I make sure my fire is out--"Dead Out." I leave the tripod in a bush close by the fire ring. I fill the jugs with water. I sometimes leave a note or a little change for the next guy. I keep a Clean Camp. I think everybody ought to. Doing so has dignity, and respect.

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The "clean camp" mentality and penalties for not keeping one are strikingly similar to the philosophy I have for keeping painting spots chill. The basic reasoning is, what can we do to avoid pissing people off and/or attracting attention to the spot?

There are easy, common sense rules, and then some more subtle stuff. I've outlined this before but I'm game to rehash it all because it can't be stressed enough.

The obvious stuff: don't leave empty paint cans behind (even if the workers don't trip on them, while engaged in an already dangerous enough job, they'll instantly know it's a painting spot). Don't hit the walls or signal or electrical boxes, or storage trailers or other STATIONARY RR property right where trains park, that's another giveaway and seems more disrespectful than just hitting the trains. Clean up paint that gushed or dripped onto the rocks - just take the handfuls of colored ballast and bury them out of sight. Don't paint over the reporting marks, load limits, hazmat info, or black box containing lubrication information. That doesn't necessarily give the spot away - but if something else does, the workers will be less likely to take action (like reporting the painting job to RR police) if it's plain that you avoided the numbers on purpose. Another respect issue. But it's also a cost issue for the railroads, because they need that info displayed on every car by federal law, and it will be restamped at the earliest convenience of the car handlers. (I'm also still amazed at the number of heads who won't even avoid the numbers for self-serving reasons: your piece will run longer, maybe by many years, so why not dodge them even if you don't give a shit about anyone else?) Don't bomb whole lines or paint the same shit on several cars in a row, all it takes is one observant worker who knows that lines get broken up and reshuffled too often for the same artist to be up on every car, unless it was all done right there.

There are also some subtle things you can do if you really want to keep a spot chill to a high degree. Those wooden boards covered with staples (that everyone hates to paint) sometimes bear paper signs, most commonly "unload this side" or "unload other side". They were probably attached when the car was last loaded, i.e. very recently, so if you get paint on them an alert worker will know that the car was painted between his location and wherever it was last loaded (which could be the same spot). The same is true for the car seal on boxcars, a little metal strip threaded through the door latch, which must be broken to open the door. It indicates whether the car contents were tampered with. If the seals are intact, the load got there without tampering. But the seals are put on when the car is loaded, so if your paint gets on the seal it also gives away how recent the painting is. Another temporary attachment to avoid is the DANGER: PHOSPHOTOXIN sign, usually taped to the door of boxcars that were fumigated with aluminum phosphide to kill bugs and germs. That will usually be a recent attachment (how recent? Check the date, which should be handwritten in the blanks). If I need to paint through one of those, I peel it off, paint my piece, and stick it back on over the piece. (It will be ripped down, or fall off in the weather, not long after, so no worries about obscuring a square foot of your handiwork.)

At layups (or for other reasons) you might want to know whether the car is loaded or empty. If it's at a layup to unload, and is still loaded, workers at the warehouse will be looking at the car for sure, and might notice a painted sign or seal. If it's already been emptied, the workers at the building are less likely to notice that stuff, and the rail workers become your only concern. (I wind up checking to see if cars are loaded for logistics purposes, like if it's empty today I might want to look for it in the yard the next day for better flicks, but if it's loaded I have a couple of days, etc.) To tell if a boxcar is loaded, look for the seals on both sides - or, more simply, look at the wheel trucks/suspension and notice whether the springs are heavily compressed or squashed (the car is loaded) or taller and not compressed (the car is empty).

The rewards for observing the chillness rules are twofold: first, it's less likely anyone will notice that people paint trains at your spot. And if a worker does figure it out, he's a LOT less likely to care if you avoided the numbers, took your trash away with you, and otherwise respected the spot even if you don't quite have enough respect to abstain from painting trains in the first place. The people who bomb everything in sight, leave their cans, and obliterate the numbers are like the tramp who makes a big mess in the store bathroom closest to the jungle, and incurs the wrath of the manager who then bans transients from his facilities. Only with train painting, that ban comes in the form of raids and jail time, so all the more reason to be careful and neat.

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Mask the numbers with masking tape

 

Cracked---I've seen several good looking pieces lately where it was pretty obvious that the graff artist had masked off the numbers and boxes with newspaper and masking tape, cut the numbers in with an X-Acto knife, peeled the scrap, then painted the piece right over the masked numbers, then pulled the masking tape and newspaper off again, leaving the car numbers intact and undamaged, and cut in with a professional, artistic fashion. This way, you wouldn't be inhibited by worrying about trying not to hit the numbers or car information boxes, and you also wouldn't have to worry about some RIP track worker stenciling some ugly shit over the piece. As complicated as some of the stuff I see here in Houston is, the artist must be masking parts of them off already in order to achieve the complicated and fine-line work. Either that, or the guy must have been one helluva graffitti maestro.

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Kabar, a lot of times numbers are taped off. But some writers will do full peice around it and be able to avoid the numbers withought tapeing them off, it doesnt look as neat but it does the job.

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I just use can control to dodge the numbers. I tried masking one time and it was too time-consuming, even at a chill dayspot. I wonder how many writers bother to mask. It's a fine idea if you have the time and patience. But I have seen suspiciously kind stamping jobs before, and I wondered if there aren't some RIP track workers out there who like the art and choose to restencil the numbers on there without carving out that big square of background first. I know High does these Happy Holidays e2es, and I'm pretty sure he wipes out the numbers, yet I've seen one of those e2es with the numbers restenciled with no background, so it had to be a worker who liked the car.

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Guest imported_Tesseract

This may sound really stupid but if the numbers are fixed (type and size)

you could make stencils of your own for all numbers, go to the spot, paint the piece over the numbers and repaint them using your stencils.

It sound more economical than masking the numbers everytime.

But then again dodging sounds better.

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Hobos, Fires and the Railroads

 

I like to build a campfire in the jungle. I know that it's often not the smartest thing to do, and if the jungle is anywhere near the Yard, it will attract the bulls, but I don't care. I like to have a cup of hot coffee and lay in my hammock and watch trains roll through my local Yard.

We need to be careful about the way in which we build fires. I try to always use dry wood (wet wood smokes really badly) and I build a fire ring out of chunks of concrete or local rocks. I start off by trying to find some dry grass or little bunches of dry twigs for tinder. I gather up a good quantity of "squaw wood" (dry, dead branches that can be easily broken off of trees) and pick a few suitable, dry sticks to whittle up into good firestarter sticks. There's a variety of ways to build a campfire--you can drive a stake in the ground and build a "teepee" of sticks around that, leaning on the "pole." You can build a sort of log-cabin looking arrangement, and place your tinder in the middle. The most important thing is for the fire to be able to "breathe." So a pile of sticks all in a heap will usually not burn as well or as hot, or as low-smoke as a fire built to "burn hot."

If I have newspaper, I'm not opposed to using a chunk of wadded-up newspaper to get things rolling, especially if the weather is wet, and all the wood is soaked. I do not believe in using flammable liquids like gasoline. They are dangerous to be around and you cannot trust anybody else to be careful with them.

A good, hot fire made from dry wood means a good, clean fire with very little smoke. Green wood, leaves or wet wood means a smokey, fitfull fire than cannot be relied upon to burn well or without going out.

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Guest Risky Sizzle

thank you

 

First off i gotta say I've been visiting a couple of "hobo sites" recently and they haven't been nearly as informative on hopping as you've been, thank you. Now I got just a couple of questions. first question, Whats the longest time frame you've spent trainhopping? and its pretty obvious how you feel about stealing and theft, but is there any other way to get by as far as food and drink is goes or I guess the better question is How did you eat when Rufe wasn't bagging food stamps?

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Rucks

 

Modern tramps usually carry their shit in a ruck. Frame packs are not popular, because the packs get thrown on and off cars, shoved through grainer holes, used as field expedient furniture to sit on, etc., and a pack frame is just in the way. If the frame of a packframe ruck breaks, you are fucked. The frames are usually aluminum, and you aren't going to be able to repair it trackside in some rinky-dink town. Following the trainhopper's adage "If it can break, it will break," I do not carry a framed ruck. I use an old Korean War M1952 mountain Army rucksack as my standard tramping ruck. They originally came with a tubular steel frame, and the frame SUCKED. The most annoying thing was that when I was hunting, etc., the frame banged and rattled against the stock of a slung rifle. I ditched the frame, and modified the pack straps so that the ruck is frameless--a true ruck sack.

My second favorite ruck is a medium ALICE pack, also rigged without the frame. (ALICE stands for All-purpose, Lightweight, Individual Carrying Equipment. Snappy, eh? The new military packs are called MOLLE--pronounced "Mollie.") The ALICE pack technology dated from the early '60s. Internal frames are much more practical for military purposes these days, but the ALICE pack technology was extremely tough and durable. The only drawback is that a medium ALICE has limited capacity, which is not a bad thing for a trainhopper anyway. Take ONLY THE NECESSITIES.

Third favorite is a large ALICE pack, rigged without the frame. On a large ALICE pack, the Army required the design to include the frame, due to the larger weight capacity. The top tube of an ALICE pack frame fits into a padded pocket at the top of the pack body, where the pad would fit against the soldier's upper back and shoulder blades. The packstraps attach to this frame tube. Standard ALICE pack packstraps can be rigged to work on an ALICE large, without the frame, by cutting a piece of wooden broomstick or other dowel-like material and inserting it crosswise up into the pocket. This provides a solid crossbar, similar to the top tube of the packframe, to which one can then rig packstraps. It's comfortable to carry with light to medium loads (up to thirty-five or forty pounds) but heavier loads are going to demand a frame unless you are built like Arnold Schwarznegger.

There are many civilian packs available, and many surplus military foreign packs that are excellent and cheaper (and often heavier) than ALICE packs. You can obtain excellent Swiss Army and East German Army packs these days in the $30 range. I do not care for Italian Army packs or equipment (even cheaper) or Spanish Army equipment, but the occasional bargain will show up. Hard to pass up a well-used French Army mountain rucksack for $12, regardless of how much I prefer American-made equipment. In many cases, especially if one considers the price, former Soviet or East German equipment may be preferable. But in my opinion, the ALICE pack is still the Caddillac.

There is a lot to be said for the military way of doing things. It is easy to add on equipment to your pack (the fasteners are military standard LBE clips, of course (Load-Bearing Equipment) so you can add canteens, First Aid kits, shovels, etc., etc. to your heart's content. Carrying all that excess shit is a real job, though.

Resist the temptation to buy bayonets, machetes, etc. Bayonets are a "prohibited weapon" in Texas, and in most states (they constitute a "dagger or poinard"--i.e. a knife longer than 5-1/2" that has a "false edge" i.e. sharp on both upper and lower edges of the blade. Carrying a prohibited weapon is a felony. If you are going to carry a dagger, you might as well just carry a pistol.) A good military shovel (an "entrenching tool") is heavy and not too useful to a trainhopper, but would be a HELL OF A GOOD WEAPON in a fight. I like the E-tools from WWII and Korea, with a wooden handle. The new aluminum shovels are worthless and cheap-ass. You can't dig well with them, and they are not tough enough to be very useful in a fight.

Don't forget--the fancier the equipment, the more it attracts streamliners and jackrollers. BE ALERT. The rip-off artists would much rather just steal your equipment instead of getting their own.

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Provisions

 

Risky---It's hard to condemn someone who is genuinely hungry from doing something illegal (like stealing) to eat, but in most of those cases, it was a matter of the hungry guy neglecting to prepare for the inevitable occurrance of the end of his bankroll. The worse thing about stealing is that it brings down the heat on everybody else. I do have a thing about harming others to provide for myself (i.e. stealing) but things that do not harm others, while not very dignified, still are not outside of what I consider to be acceptable.

My first choice is working for wages, because it requires very little preparation and usually no tools or equipment. I have worked (while tramping) as a laborer out of day labor pools (job sharking, we called it---the day labor business being the sharks) and just regular short-term minimum wage type jobs. I unloaded boxcars for cash, "swamped" on tractor-trailers (unloaded the cargo at a warehouse), worked as a nail driver on construction sites, as a welder, and so forth. Especially during the '60s and early '70s, jobs were easy to get, especially minimum-wage labor jobs. I worked as a laborer on foundation-repair crews (pick and shovel work), pouring concrete and as a concrete laborer, drove trucks in Texas, and once got hired to work as a roughneck on a jack-up oil rig in Wyoming. I eventually settled into arc welding as a trade, because I could make more money welding than doing anything else, but I don't recommend it. It is hard, dirty and not a very healthy profession. I breathed a ton of nickel-cadmium over the years, and it causes cancer.

I also worked in restaurants, usually as a bus boy or dishwasher. This is a good job for a young tramp in good health (you'll need a Health Card.) You always used to get at least one meal. Often, if the boss liked me, he'd give me a meal "to go" that I took to Rufe, or whomever I was travelling with. Also, restaurants always have uniforms for the scullery workers (the guys in the back who wash dishes, cut up vegetables, etc.) so you don't need "nice" work clothes. A lot of times I could wash up in the janitor sink, or something like that after work. If I was bussing tables, and I kept a particular waitress' tables squared away, sometimes she would give a share of her tips. Since we weren't paying rent (living at Sally Ann or somewhere like that) and got breakfast free, I could eat lunch at the restaurant and carry a meal out, my savings for "road money" built up pretty quickly. A couple of weeks of working and I'd be ready for several months of tramping.

When we were actually on the road, I was not adverse to dumpster-diving at all. Many times pizza joint workers will toss out pizza "by-the-piece" after it has been on the line for so many minutes (a hour or so--it's a Health regulation.) I found perfectly edible vegetables in dumpsters behind large grocery stores. If you offer to sweep up out back, the produce manager or assistant manager (or more likely, the produce boy, who is supposed to do the sweeping up) will set out boxes of bruised fruit, scrawny potatoes, etc. for you. Technically they are "in the garbage" (fair game) but they are boxed up in a clean cardboard box. You need to be careful, though, because other tramps or homeless people will rip off "your" vegetables if you aren't careful.

I have gone door-to-door offering to mow lawns or weed gardens as well. You would be surprised how generous people are if you seem down on your luck, but trying to find real work.

Stealing is bad for your self-esteem. So is doing things like dealing drugs. People who are poor who resort to breaking the law to eat simply have very little imagination or judgement. I'd rather dumpster-dive than eat jail food. Or worse, have to know that I ripped off some decent person because I was too lazy to work for my own food.

I never did it, but many counties will give a homeless person a small amount of "emergency money" if you are genuinely hungry, and especially if you have children. But they expect a parent to check into a shelter and start trying to get a regular, suitable place for the kid to live. I don't recommend tramping at all if you have a kid to care for, but I have met a few tramps with a child in tow, and once, two old geezers who had taken in a runaway. He called them by their first names, like"Mr. Smitty," and"Mr. John." When he answered them, it was "Yes, sir," and "No, sir." He obeyed them just like he would have obeyed a parent. Better to be loved and cared for by two old tramps than to be beaten and mistreated by your own kin, I guess.

Of course, many tramps panhandle. I've done it. It made me feel like shit. I prefer working.

Quite a few tramps "work a set-up" or "work a scam"--an easy way to make money without actually working too hard. This would include things like washing car windows or business windows (a "squeegee tramp") or selling something (newspapers, flowers, little American flags, etc.) The best set-up I ever saw was a "free" windshield deal. The tramps cleaned EVERY WINDSHIELD THEY COULD REACH when the light was red, FOR FREE. Of course, the next morning, those same people would take that same route to work. Eventually, they would give the guys something. Sometimes money, or food, or coffee, or clothing. This deal only works if you hit the same corner every day, day after day. This particular deal was featured in a movie, as well, that had Matt Dillon and Danny Glover. A good example of art imitating real life.

True tramps are not "pitiful." I never considered myself disadvantaged, or homeless or any of that weak-sister shit. But I don't consider the rest of the world fair game, either. I took care of myself.

The longest period I rode trains or hitched was five months. But in general, I stayed out about 18 months at a time, sometimes crashing with a friend for a couple of weeks, or stopping to work for a while. Especially if I met a girl, I would wind up "going homeguard" for a while. Rufe never did this. He was older and had a sort of low opinion of women in general, and didn't normally seek out their companionship, while I kept falling in love at every opportunity. Rufe would just roll his eyes whenever I'd meet a new girl. "What are you, pussy whipped? This ain't no hobby!" I think the hoppers of today are a lot less oriented to the lifestyle, and a lot more oriented to hopping as a thrilling "sport." That's cool. Tramping ain't for everybody.

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Hobo Sites

 

There are a few sites dedicated to tramping and trainhopping. It seems sort of odd to me that we have internet sites dedicated to an activity where the actual participants usually don't even own two pairs of shoes, much less a house or a computer. I think tramping captures the imagination of young people. It certainly captured my imagination, when I was young. Some trainhoppers use computers at Public Libraries or internet cafes to keep in touch with their trainhopping buddies. There are chat rooms and message boards that are secret, for the most part, that only people who are "part of the crew" have access to. Many of the most well-known and active trainhoppers have "gone online," been subjected to a lot of heat, and then "gone offline again." Guys like North Bank Fred, Collinwood Kid, the Texas Mad Man and others were famous among their trainhopping friends, and became famous in the cyber-trainhopping world, then got a lot of heat focused on them (especially Collinwood, who published great stories about hopping, very detailed and precise about who, what, when and where.) A well-known trainhopping/hobo woman, Gypsy Moon, went hopping with Collinwood and wrote a book about hopping. ("Been and Done"--it's a colection of old hobos' recollections about tramping and riding freights.)

North Bank Fred publishes beautiful photographs of his experiences hopping. He also has a large collection of tramp streaks on his web site.

There are actually two or three levels of trainhoppers. You've got your full-time rail tramps who live on the road 24/7. This is the kind of tramp that Rufe was, and the sort of people that started the FTRA. You've got your part-timers, or former tramps who sometimes quit riding trains and become "rubber tramps"--they buy a car or a van and travel around the country living out of their car. A lot of these guys have some kind of little business that they run out of their car, like going to flea markets and selling pocket knives or something like that. You have your "hobo musicians," which would include guys like Fran DeLorenzo, the Hobo Minstrel; or U. Utah Phillips, people who have used their background as a trainhopper to make the jump into the entertainment world. Utah Phillips has been a professional entertainer for over twenty years, and plays "the college circuit" on the West Coast. He has a bunch of CD's out. He has also been a member of the IWW for a long time. There used to be a country & western singer named "Boxcar Willie" but he was never a true tramp. He just adopted that image as part of his act. Utah Phillips, however, is the real McCoy, and so is Fran DeLorenzo. They are both getting too old to hop freights any more, but they were full-time tramps back in the day.

There is a guy named Eric Jackson, also known as "Jaks", who is a trainhopper who got so angry at the media lies and distortions about the FTRA that he started an unofficial FTRA website. He also put up the DeadTrainBums.com website, because he was concerned about all the young kids back in the late '80s and during the '90s going out to ride trains without understanding anything about the risks. He was (and is) trying to discourage kids from riding trains. He's got a point, too. Every time some teenager gets killed or crippled riding a freight train, it brings down the heat on the hundreds of riders (maybe thousands) who know how to ride safely and DO NOT get hurt. Graff artists that bomb railcars need to understand the same safety information that trainhoppers do, so they won't get hurt. If a graff artist heats up a yard, it's hot for everybody--tramps, trainhoppers, homeless bums AND graffitti artists. The same rules apply to graff artists as apply to trainhoppers. DON'T SKYLINE IN A RAIL YARD. Follow the safety rules. Don't vandalize shit. Don't steal. Treat rail workers with respect (remember the attitude test.) It's simple, and if you do it right, you won't get popped, you won't get hurt, and you will get a chance to put up your stuff. If you make bad choices, you will get bad consequences. Know the rules, use good judgement, and always put SAFETY FIRST.

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Hate to see these posts roll off the site--I guess I need top make a hard copy.

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Yeah, bump this is some valuable information, thanks a lot man. And what exactly is a Ka-bar knife? Also, how did you keep enough money around to buy food when you went hopiing, cause obviously you dont want to carry large amounts around. Thanks.

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Ka-Bar Knives

 

Suburbian Bum--"Ka-Bar" is the registered treademark of a knife company. They make great pocket knives, and have for years. I have a real old one that belonged to my grandfather. The "Kabar" name is an acronym--it refers to an old tale about Daniel Boone (who?) who allegedly killed a bar (a bear) with nothing but a large fighting knife. Ka-Bar= "Kill-A-Bar."

The "Ka-Bar" I'm talking about, and the name which I took as my handle, is the USMC KaBar knives that are issued to Marines. It is pronounced "KAY-bar." Back during WWII, there was a Marine Corps unit called "Marine Raiders." They were disbanded after the war was over, the idea being every Marine is a Marine Raider, the Marine Corps didn't need any special unit of extra-crispy Marines. This special unit of Marine Raiders were issued special knives, produced by the Ka-Bar Company. It looks mostly like a Bowie knife. Today, the KaBar knife is issued to any Marine whose "duty" weapon is an M-9 pistol. This would include officers, machinegunners, some mortarmen and air crew. Regular Marine grunts, whose "duty weapon" is an M-16A2 rifle, or an M-4 rifle, are issued bayonets. However, most young Marines buy a Marine KaBar knife from the Post Exchange or out of a catalog, and if they ever get sent to a combat zone, nobody is going to tell them "You can't carry it", as long as they carry their bayonet also.

In civilian life, Marine Ka-Bar knives are "prohibited weapons," at least they are in Texas. The blade is 7" long, and any knife with a blade longer than 5-1/2" is a prohibited weapon in Texas. KaBars also have a "false" edge, i.e., the TOP of the blade is sharpened back about 2-1/2" from the point. This makes it a "poinard", or dagger, which is also a prohibited weapon. You can own it, but you cannot carry it off of your own property.

Today, Marine Corps "KaBars" are produced on a U.S. Government mil-spec contract by the Camillus Cutlery Company. They are stamped "U.S.-Camillus." Real genuine WWII KaBars are worth a small fortune as collector's knives. Most were lost or destroyed in combat. A few made in back home and most of the Marines that were issued one stole it and took it home with them after the war.

I carry a knife that I cut down from a butcher knife. It has a 5-3/8" blade, so it is legal to carry in Texas.

I carried upwards of $200 on me all the time back in the day. Way back when there were laws called "vagrancy laws." It was illegal to be broke, more or less. In California the minimum legal limit for vagrancy was $5. If you didn't have $5 on you all the time, you could be arrested and charged with vagrancy and "no visable means of support. There was an old hippie song that went to the tune of "Carolina in the Morning":

 

Nothing could be finer

than five bucks in your vagina,

in the m-o-o-rning;

Nothing could be sweeter,

than five bucks wrapped 'round your peter,

in the m-o-o-rning!

 

Anybody wanted my money had better be ready to fight for it. I wasn't inclined to give it up easy.

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wow!

I just spent two hours at work reading all your posts, Kabar, and I am enchanted! You make it seem so easy, while also impressing upon people that you have to take it seriously too. It draws so many parallels to graff, it's unreal! I really appreciate the integrity and honesty you bring to this thread, and I commend you for sticking to your beliefs on stealing. There really is no way to justify stealing - from anyone - however, I rack my paint and stickers - even though I still feel that I will pay someday in Karma.

Panhandling does take away a lot of dignity, and that's why I feel like it's my job to bring compassion and kindness to people who are out there doing it, because I'm sure a very lot of them feel like shit the way you did the one time you tried - and I'd rather give most people the benefit of the doubt, even though I'm no do-gooder myself.

Gosh, I always have lots to say, but it's 7:00 am and I am off work now - YAY! sleep...

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Military Knives and Equipment

 

Suburbian Bum---You can purchase all manner of military gear, including military knives and various things like backpackable saws, surplus military entrenching tool (shovels) and so forth, from a variety of sources. There are fighting knives available at a variety of grades of quality and price. The G.I. issue Marine Corps Ka-Bar is not a very expensive knife, selling for around $35 with leather sheath. There are many different versions of it, by various manufacturers, and various degrees of quality.

 

Brigade Quartermasters email at customerservice@brigadeqm.com

1-800-228-7344

 

Greene Military & Police 1-800-521-7977, 24-hr FAX 1-865-588-1426

 

Cabela's Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Gear 1-800-237-4444 or online at www.cabelas.com

 

Just about any decent military surplus store ought to carry Ka-Bar knives, they're a "military staple." Again, I want to caution you---KNOW YOUR STATE AND LOCAL LAWS--THESE KNIVES ARE OFTEN A FELONY TO CARRY AROUND WITH YOU. You could go to prison just for having it on you, under the right circumstances. FIND OUT WHAT THE LAW SAYS ABOUT PROHIBITED WEAPONS IN YOUR STATE, and

don't trust some rumor from some know-it-all kid at school or somewhere. You want to read it for yourself in black and white, straight from the State Criminal Code. Enjoy!

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kabar,

i was wondering about the railroad workers. because ive seen on some websites about hopping that most of them are pretty cool about telling you where to catch out and which trains are going which direction. i was wondering if you have encountered this same kindness.

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The Kindness of Strangers

 

Big Bruno---The "simple" answer is "Yes, I have." But there's more than one level to it. Railroad workers aren't uniformly approving of tramps and trainhoppers. Some of them just don't like us, often without any good reason. But, there is good reason to be pissed off at the minority of trainhoppers who break all the rules, have a shitbird attitude, diss the rail workers, steal shit, vandalize shit and just generally act like shit-for-brains losers.

 

If you act like somebody with a brain in his head, you'll probably be treated with respect. But here's the paradox---EVEN IF YOU AREN'T TREATED WITH DECENCY AND RESPECT, you react with a straight-up tramp attitude, and strive to pass the attitude test.

If some dickhead railroad worker turns you in to the bulls, be a stand-up guy. NEVER, EVER rat off a railroad guy, even if it means you go to jail. If the guy said straight to your face, "Oh, yeah, go ahead and ride, no problem," and then his buddy turned you in, NEVER RAT OFF THE FIRST GUY. If the bull asks "Did you have permission? Did one of these guys tell you it was okay?" you always say "Nobody saw me. I never talked to anybody. Nobody said "yes" or "no," I just decided to hop on my own." PROTECT THE RAIL WORKERS. Be a stand-up, straight-up tramp. Never snitch, unless it involves somebody who is harming or ripping off tramps. We know that hopping is against the law. If you break the law, you can expect to get nailed eventually, and to have to "pay the price." That's all part of the deal. If you can't handle getting busted, then don't hop trains.

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Thank you

 

I have really enjoyed reading your posts up to this point. I really appreciate the fact that you can take enough time to shed some light on some of these subjects for me. I have been a train enthusiast for a few years now, and lately have been getting way more into the history of it all. Been reading up on ALOT of books. Any good ones that you recommend? Ive read most all of the hoboing books Ive been able to track down, but what Im really interested in is books on the old timers. The old engineers and their stories etc. Just a thought..

 

Thanks alot for all the knowledge.

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Local Crew

 

Kinkosnerd---Try to find a "train shop" in Louisville. Almost every city has a couple of railroad hobby shops, where they sell model railroading stuff, track, engines and cars, houses, trees, etc. for model railroaders. There is a convergance of interest between railfans, model railroaders, trainhoppers, tramps and railcar graff writers. To be sure, there is a certain amount of animosity towards trainhoppers and graffitti commandos, but I've also seen model railroad set-ups that had hand-painted e2e pieces carefully painted on model railroad boxcars. I know a couple of railfans that tramped and hopped trains in their youth.

My local train shop (called TrainSource Texas, at 3264 South Loop West, Houston, Texas 77025 near the corner of South Main and I-610 for any of you Greater Houston Area guys who might want to check it out) carries all manner of cool railroad stuff like Union Pacific and BNSF coffee cups and stuff like that. The people who work in shops like Trainsource Texas really know their shit about trains and the local railroading scene, local history, etc.

Every city and large town has a few crews of trainhoppers and graff writers who hang out and have a "favorite" yard, or a favorite catch out. If you have a friend who is also interested in trains-hopping-graff-etc. you have the nucleus of a crew.

I got back into trains and hopping because of my interest in railfanning. I found a couple of jungles, then ran into a crew of railfans down at Englewood Yards. Then I cleaned up an old jungle and made it my "home jungle." After a while, I started getting obvious signs that other tramps had stayed there, like graffitti carved into one of the jungle's trees ("IWW," "NHA" and "ftra".) IWW="Industrial Workers of the World." That's an old revolutionary labor union. They have a website. http://www.iww.org/ NHA= National Hobo Association. I don't think it actually exists any more. There were some guys who said they were NHA at Britt a few years ago. And "FTRA" is Freight Train Riders of America. I have heard rumors that the Wrecking Crew operate on old SP routes (now UP) across the southwest and up the west coast. If you see tramps wearing a bandana rolled "cowboy style" and fastened with a silver concho, be very cautious. Black bandanas are the OG's from the old Burlington Northern Hi-Line. Blue bandanas are the Goonie Squad from the old Frisco line that goes across the central U.S. Red bandanas are the Wrecking Crew from the west coast and the South and Southwest. I met a couple of FTRA guys that seemed okay, but I've heard some pretty bizarre stories as well. The WC (red bandanas) are dangerous. Be careful around them. So far as I know, none of them are hooked up with any regular gangs like the Crips or the Bloods.

The IWW guys (they are called "Wobblies", I don't know why) and the NHA guys are pretty much harmless. The Wobblies are usually anarchists or socialists, if that's a problem. They will bore you shitless talking about their plans to revolutionize society and save the working class, but other than that, they're cool. NHA people come in all shapes and sizes. Lots of musicians--banjo and fiddle players, guitarists, etc.

The FTRA started in a bar in Libby, Montana in 1982. The OG's were just tramps, not thugs and not criminals. It started as a sort of self-protection, brotherhood thing for tramps and hobos. One guy told me that the whole thing about "FTRA" was wrong, that it really stood for "Fuck the Reagan Administration." I don't know. Anything is possible, I guess. One of the founding members is now a born-again Christian minister in Montana, but some of the old-timers are still riding trains and still Tramp4Life, but most have retired. The new, younger members have an entirely different attitude than the OG's. They talk about the "new FTRA."

Find yourself a jungle at a good junction or rail yard. If you look long enough, you might discover a jungle that's already there. Be careful. Remember---safety in numbers.

To see a couple of photographs of the FTRA, check out the FTRA website or North Bank Fred. The FTRA website has a pic of members posing with beers, standing in a boxcar door, looking wasted. One of them is a girl. They appear to be members and prospects of the OG's from the Burlington Northern Hi-Line (black bandanas with silver concho,) probably up in the Northwest somewhere. I bet North Bank Fred could tell us exactly where he shot the pic. Try this site

http://www.ftra.org/TrampCam/BoxcarBertha.html

The pic is pretty cool--several years old by now, but the story below is crap.

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thanks

 

I appreciate the responce, and yes, I have found the local model shops etc. There is a really nice one that is just called the L&N store that has alot of nice stuff, pins, shirts, coffe mugs, model everything, etc. but the question was more of me just wondering if you had any personal favorites. Just got a really nice book on the History of the Chessie System, and a video on the Streetcars Of Early Louisville. But, more or less, I was just wondering if you had any personal favorites.

 

The old timer that works down at the aforementioned L&N store talks on and on for a while, hes a wealth of information on everything you could want to know about trains. For anyone that hasnt tried, talking to these guys is the best. (this guy has an eye patch too, makes him all the more interesting).

I found out everything I could ever have wanted to know about trains coming in, or going out of my city. What yards are good to watch at, and what yards you will get your ass in trouble for getting near.

If anyone is interested I just got a nice book from www.deskmap.com called the Professional Railroad Atlas of North America thats pretty nice. It has all the lines across the US, Canada and Mexico broken down by what companies run them etc. Lots of good info on writing to some of the older companies too.

 

Thanks kabar.

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optimo, money is not the point. i'm sure if someone handed these people a million dollars they would take it, some might not. but this is what these people choose to do.

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