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I was surfing the web and found this article from 2009 when Stray Cat Julie was elected Hobo Queen and Inkman was elected King. Very few photographs of Julie are on the internet, so I thought I'd put up this link. Stray Cat probably has over a million miles on the rails. She has been riding for a very long time.

 

http://globegazette.com/news/local/meet-hobo-royalty/article_42c91d84-4179-58ef-a392-5fae929c814a.html

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Just checking in.  Looks like this thread is pretty dead--not much traffic.   I am thinking about heading to Salt Lake City.  Anybody live out there?

Some crazy rando on the side of the tracks playing with his nipple piercings in 35 degree weather. 

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Got around to scanning my Professional Rail Atlas. Available as a pdf if anyone loses theirs.

 

My first one got stolen. Lesson learned: Don't set your pack down for any reason.

Stepped around the corner to piss and that's how long it took to lose all my shit.

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word. 1 gallon per person per day is my rule of thumb. and take the advice of KaBar and get a means of turning on the valve outside of a warehouse or other industrial building.

1 gallon = 8 pounds

so much solid wisdom/knowledge/experience. If you don't follow it, you deserve what you get.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Yes ---I gotta admit-- it does annoy me. I read the article twice trying to figure out exactly why it pissed me off. After all, the rails are filled with big talking, self-aggrandizers, guys who say they were a college professor, or a business owner, or a world-class Las Vegas poker player and so on. How is this guy "Catman" really any different?

 

I think what pisses me off is the fact that he's rich and he rides the rails with a bunch of rich-guy executives in tow, who are basically riding with a safety net. It's like one of those "canned hunts" that they have for rich assholes out here in west Texas. They have some 50,000 acre ranch surrounded by a fifteen-foot-high game fence stocked with exotic African and Asian animals and the executives fly in, land on the ranch's corporate jet strip, dine in the ranch's world-class dining room, then are squired out in the boondocks in a 4x4 "hunting car," where ranch employees drive aoudads or wildebeests or some other exotic species past the gun chair and Mr. Big Shot pulls the trigger. They take the "money shot" photo, load up the kill, and while Mr. Big Shot has dinner, ranch employees field-dress the carcass, butcher and wrap the meat and dispatch the hide to the taxidermist shop. A week later Mr. Big Shot gets his trophy delivered by UPS.

 

I hate this guy because the whole thing is PHONEY. Riding a freight train with a Visa Platinum Card in your pocket doesn't make you any kind of hobo, any more than rolling out of a Harley dealership on a brand new YuppieGlide makes you a biker.

 

You gotta EARN IT, motherfucker. And these poseur assholes have not earned it.

 

I kind of hope they run into a Sidetrack Silveria or a Resendez. They want to see how the other half lives, eh? Maybe they'll get a thrill just before the next railroad killer pulls the trigger. Richie Rich poseurs.

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  • 1 month later...

Well, boys and girls, I sat down with a calendar and figured it out-- I've got 635 days until I can retire. That's about 21 months. And then I'll be breathing the sweet aroma of FREEDOM. The day after I strike these shackles off me, I will be rolling west on the first thing smokin'.

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Sweet. Get out there and school these kids. From the HR Cabin or Rose Lake Yard in STL there's a beer and couch at your disposal any time.

 

The powers that be are planning on tearing out the TRRA terminal just North of downtown STLso grown men can throw a ball for millions. I don't know how it is going affect traffic through the NS Luther Yard. Probably not too tough but ~10 trains a day might factor somehow. Thoughts?

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so kabar, i found your posts about a week ago and i have gotten through the past 11 or so pages so far (at work of course). i want you to know that i'm grateful to have stumbled upon your stories, insight, and altogether the window into your life. i think all of us who work hard each day at a job we don't love can agree that the monotony can be deafening, and the concept of letting the wind (or in this case rails) take you (and really far too) is wonderful fantasy. im excited to see that you're still posting now many years later. i'm happy to hear as well that you will soon again take to the rails. thanks for taking the time to post all of these posts.

 

i feel if i weren't rooted where i am, i could see myself doing this (more of adventure than necessity though). without going on too much, i'd like to ask if you ever made around nyc in your travels. i think the follow-up question would be whether you or anyone you know ever made it here after 9-11. i feel that if i ever wanted hope at any point in my life, it sounds most promising in the northwest or the south to accomplish this lifestyle.

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Holyfreeholy--Thanks for your kind words. One of the down sides of a free life riding trains is that most tramps don't work enough jobs where they pay into Social Security, so when they get older (62 or so) they either cannot draw much SS or they don't qualify at all. My buddy Stretch Wilson is kind of inn this situation, however he has been homesteading in Casa Grande for quite a while, so he may actually be working a regular job. I haven't heard from him in a while.

I have been to NYC a couple of times, but I have never caught out from there, although somewhere 'way up the stack there is a post where I gave a would-be NYC trainhopper the scoop on catching out. Basically, you're better off going to New Jersey. NYC itself has 9-11 security out the ass, and it is kind of unlikely a new trainhopper could successfully catch out of NYC without getting busted. Not impossible, of course. The real hazard is that you would successfully hit a train out in the "open" (probably best at night) and then unknowingly get routed into a high security yard where there's infrared scanners, CCTV, electrified fences, etc. and not be able to successfully sneak out of the yard. New York City is kind of a special case. I've never ridden there or tried to, so if I gave you much advice, I'd be talking out of my ass. All I can say is "Go to Jersey. It's safer, but that's a relative safer. Jersey is hot as a skillet too." There are trains going to Selkirk Yard from Oak Point yard in the South Bronx, but this is a dangerous-as-fuck part of town. It's on Bruckner Blvd., but the directions to get there sound pretty complicated-- take #6 subway to E.143rd. Walk one block north to 144th, go east on 144th to Bruckner, go under Bruckner Expressway, then cross street, turn left (northeast), walk a couple of blocks to 149th, which crosses over tracks. There's supposedly a hole in the fence on the southwest side of the intersection. Climb down to the tracks. BE CAREFUL the first two tracks are a high-speed Amtrak line. Turn left, walk into yard.

Frankly, this all sounds dangerous as shit to this country boy. I wouldn't go into the South Bronx to save my soul unless I was armed like an infantry soldier.

There is also a catch out at Fresh Ponds Yard in Queens. And the 65th Street Yard in Brooklyn. I don't know shit about New York, it all sounds dangerous as fuck to me. Maybe you are more comfortable in these places than I would be.

IMHO, your best bet would be North Bergen Yard south of Little Ferry, NJ. Take the PATH train to Hoboken (where else?) and then the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line to Tonelle Station in North Bergen. You can see the tracks to the southwest from the light rail station, supposedly.

You really need some railroad maps and/or a Professional Railroad Atlas ($75) but people ride freight trains all over this country with no maps whatsoever. Take a good compass, too, and be sure you know how to use it.

Walking around New York City with a backpack, sleeping bag, gallon of water, etc. seems like it would attract the cops bigtime, I don't know.

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thanks for the response. let me start by saying i would never try and catch out from new york if i were to ever consider doing it. i had scoped selkirk a bit out of curiosity online recently but still, it's THE crossroad for the hudson river, meaning many many trains are routing through there. which would give many options for catching out, but way more options for getting caught due to security. ive also researched specific lines that are within my reach (i have a vehicle), and i've come up with some ideas, and my main ideas are that unless i find a wonderful sidetrack location (are there generally set places that this happens, or is it literally wherever the workers are at after their 12 hours?), then i'm going to have to find a not-too-hounded yard. and i'm sure that's easier said than done.

 

up here in the northeast we have the 3rd rail commuter lines like Amtrack, Metro North and so on that allow freight to run through their tracks (generally when commuters aren't in service). But there aren't any dedicated freight lines within a decent radius (which i feel would be the best of options for security vs not, or even finding a place to catch out). Maybe it's partially the fear i've built up being a NYer seeing the police state crackdown here, but based on what you're stating it sounds we both feel the same way about NY security. so it seems best to venture out a couple hours or so.

 

by the way, it's interesting to hear a longtime freight rider like yourself would be particularly concerned about the south bronx, when you probably have been in much seedier situations like having meth head tweakers coming up on you or people that you can't shake, but they're quite obviously mentally unstable. i bet you have been in way worse scenarios which would be harder to avoid on the side of tracks versus in a city. sure, some places in the bronx are gritty, but i could only imagine catching out under a bridge in chicago or something like that would make me feel way more nervous. i'm sure you've learned a thing or two about avoiding danger and being a quick judge of character, and i could imagine those things learned could help you in any city or situation.

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The great majority of my trainhopping was done in the west and northwest, where the opposite situation exists than in New York City--rather than being in a crowded urban situation with gangs, etc., it's situations where there is virtually NOBODY for miles. If you get hurt, if you find yourself in a violent inclement weather situation, if you run out of food and water (especially water) you are in a serious trouble. I'm sure, if you read this thread, that you are picking up on the rules here. Can I enforce these rules? Of course not. If some fifteen-year-old chooses to catch out northbound in late September with no coat, no hat and no gloves, no water, no food, no bindle, no maps, no way to make a fire, what can I possibly do about it? Nothing. Kids do this kind of thing all the time because they are immature, impulsive and feel like they are ten feet tall and bulletproof. If they are lucky, somehow they manage to survive, usually because somebody somewhere takes pity on them and GIVES them what they need, but whose responsibility is it for the kid to have the stuff necessary for survival?

Crew changes are dictated by Federal law and union rules. Yes, it's true that the train will "die on the law" no matter where it is, but the rules allow train crews to move the train to the nearest safe place where they can be crew-changed. If they are rolling on schedule, they will stop at whatever regular crew-change spot they are supposed to, but if the train has some kind of breakdown, or there's a wreck, or some emergency situation farther down the line, they may be stuck waiting for the line to clear, and have to be relieved right where they are.

That's the big advantage of having a CCG. You can go to wherever the train crews usually change crews, HIDE, and wait for the train to show up and stop. Some crew changes happen in ten minutes, some take longer, sometimes much longer. I HATE CATCHING A MOVING TRAIN. It is dangerous, stupid and unnecessary. Hit 'em when they are standing. Wait until you hear the train "air up" the brakes. When you hear the brake shoes squeak as the air pressure pulls the shoes off the wheel flange, you have just seconds before the bell. In day light, I wait as long as I can, usually. At night, I get on and don't worry about it as much. HIDE. You can look out the door if you are in the boondocks, but don't show yourself in a town or city. People will call in to the cops on their cell phones and rat you out, especially jealous railfans.

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A couple of items that would be very valuable, but are awfully expensive (and therefore highly pilferable out of your gear) is a BACKPACKER'S WATER FILTER and a backpacking stove like a MSR Whisperlite International. This stove can be adapted with different jets to burn gas, kerosene or diesel, if memory serves. Stretch Wilson showed me the first one I ever saw, and we cooked on it a lot. Of course, you can build a fire, but the light and smoke gives away your position, plus, in much of the west there is wildfire danger, and open fires are prohibited and may attract the police.

I like creating alternatives to expensive backpacking gear. I have cooked on a "hobo stove" many times. I cook in gunboats and half gunboats (two-pound coffee cans or 1-gallon vegetable cans, and big tuna fish cans. There are tons of things you can make yourself or adapt and repurpose junk you find to your own purposes. Carrying a whole lot of stuff is a bad idea. It's heavy, and it limits your mobility. Instead of carrying lots of equipment, carry lots of knowledge about how to make field-expedient adaptations right on the spot. Stretch carries a Montana bindle---everything you can imagine and the kitchen sink. I prefer to travel much lighter. Later---gotta go to work.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Pretty much everybody who reads this thread realizes that there are some railcars that are considered "acceptable rides" and some that are not. The standard acceptable rides (in no particular order of desirability) include the old revenue boxcars (now very rarely seen rolling,) plug-door boxcars with a locking wheel or locking lever for the doors; open top, unloaded gondola cars; various kinds of "hopper" cars like the ACL CenterFlo grainer, the "Cadillac" grainer; or the "Bubba-lip" grainer; bulkhead flatcars like lumber flatcars; TOFCs, container well cars with a steel deck (like the TTX 48 ), loaded coal cars (I don't recommend them though, they are a filthy dirty ride) and unoccupied units (engines.)

 

Each kind of car has things to recommend it and things that I consider drawbacks. Boxcars provide good protection from the weather and have excellent cover and concealment, but they are extremely dangerous to try to board rolling, they are extremely noisy, the view is limited, the doors can move (either closed or open, depending on slack action) if not properly locked open, and they seem to rock back-and-forth worse than other cars.

 

Grainers are easy to hit rolling because they have ladders, and the view is outstanding, but they offer very little protection from the elements, only one "porch" is actually rideable (the "A" end--the "B" end is occupied by a lot of brake gear and air tanks, etc.) and they offer poor cover and concealment.

 

There is one type of grainer that is unrideable, and that is a "ribbed" grainer. If the sides have "ribs," it means there is no floor on the porch. No floor = not rideable.

 

Flatcars are a poor ride, but in an emergency I would ride one. There is nothing to protect you from the elements at all, there is no cover or concealment, slack action puts you are big risk for being thrown from the car--it's not a good ride. A loaded flatcar is a little better, depending on the load. Pipe = no bueno. Timber or lumber is a little better, as long as you are BEHIND THE LOAD. Never, never, never ride in the front of a load. If it shifts you could be crushed. This is true of gondolas, too. As a general rule, NEVER ride in a loaded gondola. If a gondola is empty it's acceptable, but usually filthy dirty.

 

Container well cars are the ride of the future. All railroad cargo is "going containerized," and in the future the older cars will all probably disappear. The old TTX 48s are being phased out and with the loss of the Forty-Eight, we are losing a great ride. They used to load a small, forty-foot container on a 48, and it would create eight feet of riding space on the back end with a nice steel deck in which it was easy to hide. If they loaded a longer container topside for a "stack," your ride even had overhead cover for inclement weather.

 

Today, however, the typical well car is a TTX 53. The Fifty-three has no floor, only steel X-shaped girders to support the containers. These cars are not safe to ride. Riding an empty 53 is called "riding suicide" for a very good reason. There is a short shelf on both ends of the well on a 53, but it is still not safe. If all you can find on a train is a 53, wait for another train unless you are literally in danger of dying of thirst or something like that. Do people ride them? Of course. But it is not safe.

 

The one kind of car that is ABSOLUTELY a ride that endangers your life is ANY KIND OF TANK CAR. Tank cars are called "stinkers" for a very good reason. They get contaminated with dangerous chemicals. They are almost always hauling something that is POISONOUS AS SHIT. They leak. If the train climbs the rails and folds up, the tank cars are frequently holed, and the contents explodes and/or catches on fire. The kinds of chemicals they carry cause cancer, they are horrible. DO NOT RIDE A STINKER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

 

Yesterday (Friday, March 6, 2015) a 103-car oil train derailed, caught on fire and exploded in Galena, Illinois. Twenty-one cars derailed. One caught on fire and the fire spread to a total of five cars. Luckily, none of the crew was killed or injured, but if anyone had been hopping that train and had been on one of the derailed cars or near the cars that caught fire it is very likely they would have been killed. DO NOT RIDE STINKERS.

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  • 2 weeks later...

tAfter re-reading the above post, I got motivated to learn a little more about tank cars. Since I avoid them like the plague, I rarely think about them. So I googled it. About 70% of the railroad tank cars in the U.S. (and 80% of Canadian tank cars) are what is called a DOT-111. (In Canada this same car is called a CTC-111A.) These cars are mostly manufactured by American Railcar. The hull is 7/16" thick of mild steel, but they can be made from steel, aluminum or nickel steel, using what they call "fusion welding." That sounds pretty Buck Rogers, but from looking at a few tank cars, it's just regular arc welding. The real information I was after is how many gallons they hold--about 35,000 gallons of whatever-the-fuck kind of dangerous, volatile, explosive liquid chemicals or petroleum products. That oil train in Galena, Illinois that blew up had somewhere around 175,000 GALLONS of oil burning at the wreck site. That is one big ass fire.

In my opinion, an oil fire (gasoline, diesel, crude oil, whatever) is actually less dangerous than one of these cars hauling chemicals. Imagine 35,000 gallons of butyric acid or anhydrous ammonia busting open in your neighborhood. Holy shit. What a horrible way to die.

 

My little google minute did not change my advice one bit. It still stands. DO NOT RIDE STINKERS, EVER, FOR ANY REASON.

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Some quick info that I will keep limited here. Some of the NY spots discussed above are fairly easy to ride in/out of if you know how the train operates in that area. And- you'd better know where the train you're hopping on next is going unless you're solely out for the thrill of the ride.

NYC- depending on where you're looking to go in it's easy to get sweated by the cops. As KaBar2 said, some of those spots have heightened security and one supposedly has a random canine unit. 65th St is kind of tight unless you know where to go in. I walked up to a hole in the fence once, thought better and left. Got around to the other side in time to see a police van roll up on it. Choice of cars can be limited, sometimes leaving you exposed. And you're not getting too far from there before you have to change trains, possibly at greater risk.

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kabar, thanks for the info. i'd most definitely go prepared- i've been in the desert without water, not fun. i think, most importantly, that i'd go with someone that has experience doing it. i like to think i'm smarter than someone like a 16 year old runaway who thinks he knows everything, hops a train on the fly for the first time by himself and loses a leg in the process. this wouldn't really help anyone.

 

one man banned, i appreciate you chiming in. i wouldn't want you to give out anymore info on here anyway, acknowledging it may screw up you or anyone you know that would hypothetically do it. i think my last paragraph touches on this point as well- going with someone would help me learn the way of the rails.

 

in the meantime i'll be soaking up as much as i can. but yea, to me nyc seems out of the picture, but not necessarily other places.

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Most of trainhopping is just common sense, but there is a certain amount of actual railroad knowledge that would come in very handy. I STRONGLY recommend that you start reading TRAINS magazine. There is a shitload of information in this magazine. Much of it is so arcane that only a train nerd could work up interest in it, but there is also a GREAT DEAL of information about famous train routes, spectacular vistas worth seeing, famous train yards, history of how the routes were planned, engineered and built and so on and so forth There's also a shitload of excellent information on actual train cars, railroad companies, the Federal regulations governing railroads, upcoming legislation regarding railroads, etc., etc. Sometimes you can find TRAINS magazine at a big city news stand that has magazines on every subject, but it's more likely to be found on the news racks of a model railroader shop or just Google it online and subscribe that way. I was a subscriber for several years, until I had old copies of TRAINS coming out of my fucking ears, and let my subscription lapse.

There is a lot of information to be had right here on the internet, from the railfan sites. Don't tell them you're a trainhopper, though. They love trains, but as a group, they are a bunch of anal-retentive, law-obeying freaks. Railfans tend to be people who are obsessed with order, predictability and rules. They love train schedules. They hate trainhoppers. (They are called "foamers," because they foam at the mouth when they see a particular engine they like.) Railfans are video camera freaks too. If they see you on a train, they will try to get video, then call the police and tell them what car you are on (including the car number) and that they have video and are willing to testify.. That's why I tell people to HIDE. Do not show yourself to passers-by. CONCEAL the fact that you are on a train. I have used railroad plastic, cardboard, a brown tarp and all manner of things to camouflage my presence on a grainer porch or under the wheels of a trailer (a TOFC.) You can't beat an infrared heat scanner, but anything you can do to break up your silhouette or make yourself look like cardboard dunnage trash, the better. If your silhouette looks like a person, you have a much greater chance of being spotted.

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Here's some truly arcane hobo knowledge for you guys. As you may know there are a number of famous people who were once tramps and trainhoppers, people who then went on to great things and accomplishments. A lot of these people who are actors and actresses, especially, were technically homeless, but not truly hobos. However some very famous people really were tramps and rode freight trains, lived in hobo jungles etc. A lot of the actresses lived in their cars or vans for months at a time.

 

Most famous hobos:

William O. Douglas, U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Hoboed during the Great Depression for several years as a teenager.

Charlie Chaplin, silent film actor. Was homeless on the streets of London and took care of his elementary-school age younger brother. Begged for coins.

Jack London, writer, Socialist. London drew upon his hobo experiences for several of his books.

Jack Kerouac, writer. Had several short stints riding trains, but never truly homeless. Had lots of tramp friends however.

Carl Sandburg, poet. Was homeless and tramped during the Great Depression.

George Orwell, author of "Nineteen Eighty-four" and "Animal Farm." Homeless in the Great Depression.

Jack Dempsey, champion boxer.

Ella Fitzgerald, famous vocalist. Homeless as a young woman, and sang in bars and clubs for her meals.

Woody Guthrie, folksinger, prolific songwriter, labor organizer, Communist. Tramped during the Great Depression.

LT COL Duane "Digger" Carey, fighter pilot, astronaut. Was a rebellious teenaged runaway and rode freight trains for over a year as a teenager

Robert Mitchum, actor. He was a genuine tramp who travelled to work during the Great Depression and also while he studied acting.

Steve McQueen, actor. He was a rebellious teenager, a gang member and runaway who rode trains during his teen years, before he joined the Marines. McQueen always had a soft spot for kids in trouble, and repeatedly visited boys in the reform school where he had been held, donating large quantities of blue jeans, underwear, toiletries, winter coats, etc. over a period of years after he became wealthy and famous. He never forgot what it was like to be homeless and alone in the world. He was exposed to asbestos in the Marines on board ship, and died years later of mesothelioma lung cancer.

 

Other famous people who were homeless:

Jim Carrey, actor. Was homeless and lived in his car for months trying to get his career started.

Dave Van Ronk, musician.

Dale Wasserman, writer and director of TV shows and movies.

Phil McGraw, Ph.D., psychologist (Dr. Phil on TV.)

Suze Orman, millionaire financial advisor. Homeless and lived in her van in 1973.

Chris Gardner, the millionaire who inspired the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness." A homeless single father who refused to give up.

Jewell, singer, songwriter. Lived in her van early in her career, busked on the street and sang for tips in bars and clubs.

Michael Oher, professional NFL football player.

Jennifer Lopez, actress and singer. Homeless early in her career, as are many actors and entertainers.

Drew Carey, comedic actor. Lived in his car, among other things like that while trying to get his first big break.

Carmen Electra, model and actress. One of her boyfriends broke up with her a stole all their money and left her homeless when she could not pay the rent.

Sylvester Stallone, actor. Slept on benches in Grand Central Station while homeless early in his career. He eventually got a bit part in a movie and got the attention of some filmmakers.

Daniel Craig, actor. Homeless in UK early in his career and slept on park benches.

Hale Berry, model and actress. She was so broke she posed for soft porn photos and eventually for Playboy magazine, but was never homeless after that.

Kelly Clarkson, actress. Lived in her car for several months early in her career.

Kurt Cobain. Raised in a low-income trailer park in Aberdeen, WA, Cobain was chronically homeless and often lived in hobo jungles until he became wealthy. He bought a very expensive mansion, but camped out in one room. He never felt comfortable with his wealth and committed suicide.

David Letterman. Essentially was a rubber tramp early in his career.

Hilary Swank: lived in her car trying to get her career started.

Kelsey Grammer: camped behind a filling station behind his motorcycle as a young man, trying to break into show business.

William Shatner, of Star Trek fame: lived in his car for months.

Jack Black, writer: homeless when he was young and a teenager.

Nels Anderson, sociologist: homeless as a young man.

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A hobo that I know personally who kind of went both ways on being a tramp, is Hobo SLC (Salt Lake City). "SLC" was a very troubled youth and was involved in a life of crime from a young age. He learned to steal cars at age twelve, and by age thirteen he was stealing several cars a month and selling them to a corrupt auto salvage yard. His mother discovered a false bottom in his sock drawer that was hiding stacks of $100 bills totaling over $10,000. SLC had some older cousins who were juvenile delinquents who had successfully robbed a number of liquor stores and gas stations and wanted to move up to a bank robbery. They hired SLC as the getaway driver for an equal share when he was thirteen, almost fourteen. Of course, they got caught. SLC managed to get clear of the bank, but the cousins gave him up as part of a plea bargain and SLC was arrested at home. The cousins all went to the Indiana State penitentiary, and SLC went to the Indiana State Reform School for boys. He was a chronic truant before he got arrested, but with little else to do but study, he completed high school in the reform school with straight "A's" before he turned sixteen years old. His mother begged her state representative to help SLC, and he was permitted to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs (which is essentially a university) as an Air Force cadet starting at age sixteen, but could not leave the grounds of the Academy. He made short work of the curriculum at Colorado Springs and was allowed to enlist in the Air Force at age eighteen, whereupon he went to flight school. He was certified on several different planes and wound up as a fighter pilot during Vietnam, and flew against the North Vietnamese. I asked him once why in the world the U.S. Air Force would allow such a wild youth to become a fighter pilot, and he replied, "Because they knew I'd fly that sonofabitch right downtown and let 'em have it. And that's EXACTLY what I did." SLC claims he had to bail out twice, once from mechanical failure and once from battle damage, but says he was picked up quickly by rescue helicopters both times. He retired at an early age, and with a comfortable retirement income as a retired officer, he embarked upon several different business ventures interspersed with stints riding the rails "just for the pure hell of it." His personality is pretty much the same as when he was boosting cars for a living, "but these days I am damned careful to avoid breaking the law." I met SLC and his wife and son up at Britt years ago. It is easy to imagine his son being very nearly a copy of the father, but Marshmallow Kid told me, "My Dad must have been crazy. I would never do all the shit he did, it's way too dangerous." M.K. (as he is known now) rides trains too, but not with the reckless abandon his father exhibited.

You meet all kinds of crazy people riding freight trains, most of whom seem like total bullshit artists, but SLC is very likely the real McCoy, although I've never tried to research his stories, they have the ring of truth.

 

Another genuine article that did time for bank robbery was Road Hog U.S.A., who robbed a bank in Florida as an adult, in retaliation for the police in the beach town where he was crashing allowing all his possessions to be stolen after arresting him for vagrancy. Road Hog's bank robbery was what is known as a "note job," where the robber just gives the teller a note saying, "This is a bank robbery. Give me all the money." Road Hog managed to get out of the bank and onto a city bus that rolled up just as he exited the front door of the bank. He transferred to a taxi, went to a working class bar and told the bartender, "I've just come in to a bit of a windfall, and I'd like to buy the house a round." By the time the police found him, he had spent or given away most of the money to bar patrons and he went peacefully to jail. He got five years in the Federalpen nd served two and a helf years. I asked him what prison was like and he replied, "It wasn't too bad. Three hots and a cot, and I took a shower every single day!"

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Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) has announced it will be taking a lot more precautions for crude oil shipments on their railroad, because of four recent derailments in the U.S. and Canada. They will be reducing speeds to a maximum of 35mph for oil trains in cities with more than 100,000 population, and they will be increasing track inspections, upgrades and repairs on track near waterways. They will also begin doing more comprehensive inspections of train wheel sets looking to identify and repair defective train wheels before they can cause derailments.

BNSF is owned by Warren Buffet's "Berkshire Hathaway," and its headquarters is in Fort Worth, Texas.

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One of the hallmarks of a 24-7 tramp who lives on the rails is that he (or she) makes his own gear out of available items scrounged on the railroad or from dumpsters. It is hard to duplicate the thermal efficiency of a down sleeping bag, but there are ways of improving the thermal efficiency of a lighter-weight sleeping bag or even a blanket bindle. One of the best ways is to surround the lightweight bag or bindle with a insulating layer of static air (air that isn't blown by the wind.) Wind carries away whatever thermal warmth your body creates inside of your sleeping bag, so by putting insulating material under your bag and getting you up off the colder ground (like layers of cardboard boxes, or even branches and leaves off of trees or bushes) you eliminate or reduce a heat loss into the ground. By wrapping or folding your sleeping bag inside of a dark-colored waterproof tarp (Wal-Mart, $8) you reduce the heat loss through the fabric of the light-weight bag and increase the thermal efficiency by sleeping in "layers." I always carry my sleeping bag rolled up in a tarp, with the ends "folded in" to protect my bindle from rain or dust.

24-7 tramps often scavenge what are called "dunnage air bags" from rail lines or dumpsters near warehouses that are served by rail spurs. Dunnage air bags come in different grades, determined by the number of layers of tough paper of which the "envelope" is made (usually ranging from two layers up to eight.) The higher rated bags are quite stiff, almost like cardboard, and are designed for rail shipments in containers or boxcars, or for international sea cargo containers going overseas. These bags are placed between pallets of cargo, or stacks of boxes and inflated with a portable compressor equipped with a bag inflator device. (This device looks a lot like a tire inflator for tractor-trailer truck tires, with a air pressure indicator, but it is designed to deliver a higher flow rate, and the mouth of the inflator fits into a port on the air bag that looks like a plastic "doughnut.") These bags are disposable. When the cargo arrives at its destination, the warehouse workers just cut them with a knife, "whoosh" all the air comes out, and they are removed and tossed into a dumpster.

The paper envelope is of less interest to us, but if you were freezing, you could just cut a slit in the end of the air bag just big enough to let you slip inside, and then climb inside. Even with no sleeping bag or blanket, the air space will insulate you fairly well--it could well be the difference between freezing to death and just spending a cold-ass night.

Many tramps carefully cut the paper bag away from the plastic bladder contained inside and either cut down three sides of the bladder, making a large piece of plastic about 8'x 7' (the bags come in many sizes, but a good size for tramps in the 4x7 bag (48" x 84") when laid out flat. The plastic from which these bags are made is very tough. An air bag used as a ground cloth or insulating sleeping bag cover could last ten years if used carefully.

Stretch Wilson used railroad air bags and railroad plastic to roof our first hooch at Eureka, and it worked pretty well. He has used a dunnage air bag bladder for a ground cloth as long as I've known him.

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