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KaBar

Hobos, Tramps and Homeless Bums

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FTRA and Libby

 

It's been a long, long time since I set foot in Libby, MT. All I can say is that Libby was the birthplace of the FTRA. I doubt seriously that there is much of an FTRA presence there on an on-going basis.

 

The Late 80's and the 90's were the heyday of the FTRA, although they do still exist, it has been quite a while since I ran into an FTRA rider. The police pressure up on the Hi-Line and the investigations into the so-called "Sidetrack Murders" for which Robert "Sidetrack" Silveria (a self-described leader in the FTRA) was charged, tried and convicted; and the investigation and arrest of Dog Man Tony really drove the FTRA underground to a great extent.

 

There was a time when members of the FTRA were required by their code to wear their colors (a bandana rolled cowboy style around the neck, and closed with a silver concho) but these days I don't see anybody wearing these colors. Back in the day, the O.G.'s from the "original" FTRA, up on the BN Hi-Line, wore black bandanas. The cops even called them "The Black Bandanas," or "black bandana hobos" before the existance of FTRA came to light.

With the heat on upon the Hi-Line, they began moving west and south. The blue-bandana-FTRA began riding east from San Francisco on the old Frisco Route, the "central corridor."

The red-bandana-FTRA rode the west coast and the Sunset Route, east towards Texas and the deep South.

 

After Sidetrack was captured, the cops went nuts arresting anybody and everybody who looked the slightest bit capable of being a so-called "railroad killer." A lot of them went to prison for stuff like trafficking in narcotics or being a felon in possession of a firearm.

 

That's when the Old FTRA took off their colors. Many of them retired and became homeguards. The police hassle is their OWNED DAMNED FAULT. Tramps rode the Hi-Line unmolested by the cops for years ands years. Montana was almost a haven for tramps back in the 70's and 80's. It wasn't until FTRA became a problem that the cops went crazy arresting tramps.

 

Some of the well-known tramps today are "Ex-FTRA". (This is a contradiction in terms. There's no such thing as "ex" FTRA. The rule is "Once in, never out." No matter where they go, or how high they may rise in society, their old buddies in FTRA consider them "still obligated." This is a standard mafia deal, almost all gangs and gang-like organizations have this provisio.)

 

There is allegedly a "new" FTRA. I don't know much about them, other than that the members are supposed to be much younger. The O.G's are in their fifties now. I doubt that you have anything to fear from them. It's the younger guys, in their twenties and thirties that I would be cautious of.

 

This thing about the FTRA being racist is only partially true. I know a few WELL-KNOWN tramps who have good friends who are black tramps, and the white guys are (or were) FTRA. It's not so much race as culture. Inside prison, there's a race war going on, and the color of your skin is your uniform. A lot of ex-convicts have a very racist view of the world. A lot of FTRA guys are ex-convicts. It's more of a coincidence rather than an organizational principle. I have met several FTRA guys in the last couple of years. They didn't seem to be any more or less racist than any other uneducated white guy. About the same, I'd say. Which is to say, prejudiced, but not actively murderous towards minorities. I don't think they would seek out minority people to be friends with, but if they met someone who was black that they got along with, their attitude would be "No, I don't like niggers. But Tyrone is different. He's okay, he's not like the rest of them." (It's a paradox, but one with which many Southern black people are familiar.) Mind you, I'm certainly not excusing racist behavior, but you asked me if I thought you'd have trouble with them. I doubt that you would.

 

Probably won't even see any. A bigger fear, from my viewpoint, considering the police attitude in Montana, would be getting arrested for being in a train yard. If you get caught on a train, it's an automatic 90 days in County. Or so I've been told. Check it out, and give us a report why don't you?

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Hmmm, having never given much thought to trainhoppers, I always figured that was a dying way of life, but the way kabar tells it, it's so sophisticated and deep. I mean, the ccg itself is interesting, and then he throws out like twenty names in a way that would make someone go, "Hey, I heard of those guys."

 

I mean, it just made me think. Thanks for the enlightenment Kabar:king:

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More girls who hop trains, these days

 

I met two railriding girls in their early 20's up at Britt this year. I seems like every year there are a few more. This year I met a female trainhopper named Jenny, who rode in ALONE across the Hi-Line, from Portland up to Seattle, then from Seattle across the Hi-Line to Minneapolis, and then down from Minneapolis to Mason City, Iowa, then hitched west to Britt on Highway 18. She hooked up with Tanner City Kid and De-rail, but took off for Trampfest with a heavy-drinking, old-time rider named Oops, who has a zillion miles under his belt, but is relatively young. She had a great time dancing around all the riders from Staples (the tough guys from Boxcar Boys Ranch and some guys who look a lot like hard-core FTRA to me), but finally wound up crashing with Tanner and De-rail.

 

The other chick was a carnie who bailed out on the carnival at Britt. They hadn't been paid (because the carnival boss hadn't been paid by the city yet) and almost all the carnies were broke and pissed off, sleeping in sleeping bags rolled out under equipment and shit like that, waiting to be paid on Monday. This chick Chrissie was about 20, not bad looking, but she got into a big argument with her boyfriend (also a carnie) and came over to the hobo jungle to get away from his stupid ass and look for somebody to hook up with to ride out.

 

She was in a world of shit--no money, no food, her pay was delayed waiting for the carnival to get paid, her asshole ex-boyfriend would not give her back her sleeping bag or any of her clothes, so she just said "Fuck it," and abandoned all her stuff in the bunkhouse trailer where he was staying.

Once she came clean to us about what was going on, all the guys pitched in a few bucks. We had her fixed up with a gallon milk bottle for water, lots of extra/leftover chow from the Jungle, a sweatshirt (it got cold at night) and a couple of mission give-away blankets for a bindle. I made her a gunboat, we scrounged through all the Jungle gear (the jungle at Britt has a storage shed that has tons of old crappy pots and pans, silverware, etc.) and within a couple of hours she had clean clothes, a bindle, hot food cooking, another set of clothes from the give-away table and she was set up with a default plan if she could not get through to her family. Eventually her sister accepted a collect phone call and they came and got her.

 

I felt kind of sorry for her. Her own family treated her like shit, her sister called her all kinds of names and shit. They had several young boys with them (Chrissie's nephews) who ran all over the place freaking out, like little kids do. The sister shouted at those kids from the second they got out of the van until they left, and they never paid her one bit of heed. Chrissie came over to us carrying all her shit (all the stuff we gave her) and thanked us, shaking everybody's hand. I thought she was really sad to leave the jungle, to tell you the truth.

A couple of hours later, her ex-boyfriend showed up (a guy who told us his name was "Dollar Bill.") He was fucked up and belligerant on peppermint schnapps, and started getting all weepy when we told him she rolled up and left with her family. Then he started bad-mouthing her and saying "Fuck that bitch, she was no good anyway. Don't you think so?" The guy had no standing with us--he was a bully and a blowhard. Finally one of the smallest tramps there told him he needed to drag up and go back wherever he came from. The tramp then nicknamed old "Dollar Bill" with a new name---"Penny Arcade." Bill was a jackass.

 

We all kind of hoped Chrissie would hang around. She was completely safe from Bill as long as the jungle was intact, because the bros would have gladly put a boot in his ass if he got froggy with Chrissie. One of the long-time riders, Grain Car George, was all set to take her back to Montana with him, but she went with her sister. George works as a roofer in Montana, and owns fifteen acres there. He's a rock and roll drummer.

 

Every year there are a few new girls. It's kind of cool.

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Guest im not witty

fascinating. i read HOBO by eddie joe cotton, and honestly he didnt ever have me half as entranced as you do every time i hear a new story from you. even when im plum drunk as i am now i can still read a long kabar post.

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damn kabar that was some of the most interesting information i have read in awhile. i always thought about what'd be like to just hop on a train and let it take you. holy crap there is alot more to it then that. but you definetly got me thinking for the future. i got a question though. if i ever went and did this i would most definetly bring a dog, for companionship and protection. by any chance do u know how hard it would be to keep it alive? what i mean is do u go long times without food or water, or is it hard for a dog to get on and off trains? or any info u know about havin a dog while out hoppin would be much appreciated. thank you for some great reading.

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Having a dog isn't a bad idea. I have a good partner in crime with my pup. She's kind of become the writers dog because I take her with me anytime I go anywhere outdoors. I've had encounters with people and workers who didn't say shit because of the dog. I want to take to the rails someday and you better believe she's coming with me. Keeping it alive (that sounds harsh, man.) wouldn't be too difficult but you got to remember that it's just like a child or person. It needs as much water if not more than you, which means extra luggage. The dog would get on and off the train with you if you trained it. I'd think it best to "upload" it yourself though. If you're gonna get in a box, put her up in the box and get in yourself. I wouldn't suggest hopping a moving train if you've got your companion with you. If you're a good dog owner then you would know your dogs needs and you'd be in tune with what was going on. Good dogs have good owners. They go hand in hand. I wouldnt get a dog and then hop on the rails. Bad idea. All that would do is cause frustration. I wouldn't get a dog just because you wanted to take it on the rails either. So...the answer to your question is simple: You're going to have to provide for the dog. Meaning, you're gonna lug the water (if you get a breed that can carry things, that's a plus...let her carry some weight. Working dogs are instinctively bred to work whether they get to or not). Food is another story. You can't just give it anything you find. Dog food is cheap but when it comes down to it, carrying it isn't practical. Canned food is cheap, so if you had some spare change, for one meal for the two of you would be around a buck. I realize for real hoboes that's a lot of money but if you're just testing the rails for the fun it then you should have that. Anyway, this is going on and on for no reason. If you own a dog then you know what it'd take to keep it healthy. Watch out for parasites and things. Don't ever let your dog eat anything that smells foul. Parasites and worms lurk in the most strangest places without you knowing it and sooner than you think you'd be smelling the effects. Healthy dog farts already stink...word.

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thanks for the info. i have a dog now, but i just didnt know much about takin care of it like when out in the woods like from tics and shit cuz i live nowhere near any of that stuff, i just gotta keep him from traffic here. and if u had a bigger workin dog wouldnt it have to eat alot more? i just want to know the most i can about the risk my buddy would face before id take him into it. thank you southern kid for all the info. much appreciated.

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Dogs came from wolves, which are wild animals, so despite popular belief, they hold up okay in such conditions. They actually thrive. Dogs weren't meant to be locked away in small apartments off of 83rd and Lincoln...we just domesicated them and that's how it is now. Tics and things will need to be searched for because they can make your dog very sick. You will know if your dog gets them (for the most part, but it's not a bad idea to check) if it's biting and gnawing at it's skin a lot. If it's going for the deep tissue while gnawing then you know something's up and you should scope it out. The best way to break your dog in would be to travel the woods a little bit. Get him used to being around trains. My dog hops in the boxes if there's an open door nearby. It's kind of funny when I call for her and she jumps out of a car a few links down. Of course if you had a bigger working dog it is going to eat more. (there are medium grade dogs that do just as well with such things as protection and working) However, let me ask you this, would you rather have a poodle or a german shepard to protect you and keep you company? Caring for your dog is a simple matter of always being on the lookout and knowing what's best. Your dog trusts you, or should, to the fullest extent of the word. I my dog and I didn't get along we wouldn't go the places we do. Risks involve things too such as getting stabbed, stolen or shot. The same things you have to worry about are problems for your dog too. Never drink stagnant water even if boiled. KaBar taught me some about this. Man I could sit here for days talking about stuff but Kabar has taken pride in educating a lot on these boards. There is lots of good information. Just remember that anything you read about personal safety goes for your dog. He can't read, he can't critically think. Dog's only generalize. Monkey see monkey do is true in this scenario. Let me know if you come with any other questions that I might be able to help on. Kabar also knows a lot about dogs. To my knowledge, if it's right, he had two or three German Shepards in his lifetime. He will probably drop some really good information in here when he spots this.

 

No problem man...just trying to help.

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Another thing I just thought of....and you should be using these already. Go to Wal-Mart or any herbal store and pick up some Amino Fatty Acid pills. Might be Omega...I forget, I just know what the bottle looks like. They strengthen your dogs coat and give it those fatty acids it lacks because of our modern day food treatments. It will make your dog's coat kind of oily and sheen but after using it for a few months you'll notice a much healthier and overall cleaner coat. I would DEFINTELY take these on the road with me. I would also have some Parsley spice. This works wonders for your dogs breath and dogs love it. I can give mine just parsley and when she's done she looks at me because she want's more. Not all dogs are that way. Just slip two or three pills a day into it's food and you're set. It has other up-sides too but I forget what they are. The main one is the coat stays healthier and doesn't shed as much. Good deal. They're cheap too...$2.68 I believe for 250 tablets. Good shit.

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Lots of Dogs Riding the Rails

 

A whole lot of people who trainhop take dogs with them. Mostly they are just mutts that the tramps find and adopt. Some very famous tramps travel with dogs. New York Slim (a really huge black guy) travels with a very small dog, small enough to carry in one hand. (Edit 3/02/04: Stretch told me the other day that this dog's name is "Stewpot." LOL. Don't know if it's true or not, but it sounds legit, considering Slim's reputation. He's a really nice guy. Just real big.)

 

Stretch, who has posted on this thread a few times, and has 18 years on the rails, has travelled with a couple of dogs. His present canine companion, Burlington, looks to me to be a mix-breed elk hound/Akita or some cold-weather dog like that. Burl was born on a moving freight train, out of Stretch's previous bitch, Chessie, who is retired from the rails now and is a home guard. . .er, home-dog. Stretch has Burl fitted with both a body harness (NOT a collar) and dual pack bags. Burl hauls his own food and water, and sometimes some of Stretch's stuff when the food in the pack-bags gets low. (The pack bags must be weight-balanced so Burl can carry them--one on each side.)

 

Contrary to what the dog food industry tells you, dogs can eat pretty much whatever people eat, but obviously a steady diet of sugar, chocolate and shit like that is harmful to dogs. Burl does drink beer, but his limit is one every couple of days. Stretch, too. One CASE, in Stretch's diet, LOL. Water is definately a necessity for all animals, including dogs. Burl carries a one-liter Coke bottle full of water in each saddlebag.

Stretch can hoist Burl up into boxcars, up onto grainer porches and even up into empty gondola cars, using his body harness. Burl can jump into a slow-moving boxcar, but Stretch only hits STANDING cars when he's hopping with Burl. It's too dangerous to the dog to hit moving trains. Burl is down for it, but Stretch ain't. Burl is a brave-ass dog, he'll hit any train Stretch tells him to hit, but it's not safe. Stretch is too worried that Burl might slip and get run over, so he won't hop moving trains with Burl. Only "standing" trains, and usually at night, for security reasons. (If Stretch gets arrested, Burl will get sent to the Pound.) Cops have threatened to shoot Burl before, because he was so aggressive in trying to protect Stretch.

 

Boxcars are terribly noisy. People can wear earplugs, but most dogs don't tolerate them well. Burl doesn't like boxcars, because they are too noisy, but he loves grainers and grainer porches.

 

Dogs are the camp guard/ gear guard/ alarm system par exellance. Anybody comes into Stretch's jungle, Burl goes wild, barking, snarling and lunging on his leash. (Stretch keeps Burl leashed up all the time they are in camp--a railroad environment is too dangerous to let your dog run free. Stretch worked on a horse ranch last year and got a big, thick horse lead that he uses for Burl's leash. It has a brass snap hook on one end and a mountaineering carabiner on the other, allowing Stretch to put Burl on a safety line any time and just about any place.)

 

Dogs naturally defend their owners. This is great, unless the bad guys are railroad bulls or city cops. Stretch wanted to hop down to Corpus Christi when he came down to visit me, but he heard that the cops in San Antonio would shoot any hobo dogs that got aggressive, so he said "Fuck it--I ain't going anywhere where the bulls would shoot a dog. What kind of person would shoot an innocent dog? Man. That's crazy."

 

Be aware. Hopping freights is not without dangers, and it's hazardous to dogs too. But if you are REALLY CAREFUL, you could do it without you or the dog getting hurt. IF YOU GET BUSTED AND GET JAIL TIME, your dog may go to the Pound and get put to sleep. Stretch told me "If I get busted, no problem, just leave me in jail to do my time. But, please, come get Burl out and take care of him, and I will pay you back every last cent, I swear."

 

And if you run out of money and food, just go dumpster-diving. The dog can eat pretty much anything, even if it's a little bit "ripe," but people can't, so be careful about eating stuff from nasty dumpsters or you'll get the runs. We all ate stuff up at Britt that Collinwood Kid dumpster-dived in Cleveland and brought with him to Britt (vegetables, meat, bread--including about fifty pounds of COOKIES, still in the package) and nobody got sick. Just cook it real well--hot fire, cook it long. Stretch and Texas Mad Man had more dumpster-dived chow than we could eat, down here in Houston before Amory. They were eating good. Burl never missed a meal.

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wow! thanks alot both kabar and southern kid. i never expected such a good response. and im gonna check out those pills for the coats. that was a nice point you made southern about dogs not meant to be all locked up in apartments.

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Thanks. Dogs weren't meant to be locked up in apartments but they can be. They can adapt to almost anything and rather more quickly than we can in some cases. I was also going to point out that those "coat pills" keep away rashes and dry skin, would be a nasty and real problem on the rails. That was my whole point of posting that and I totally left it out.

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Southern

 

It kind of depends on what city you're in. Bigger, more urban cities, like Chicago or Detroit have lots of places good for a jungle, but most of the areas close to rail lines inside of Chicago where trains slow down or stop are pretty industrialized, which usually means bulls or city cops will eventually be around.

 

Houston, even though it is a big, industrial city (petrochemicals) has a lot of woods and undeveloped areas where someone bought a chunk of commercial property and isn't maintaining it. It's next to a rail line, or near a junction or a small yard, and it's all overgrown with trees and bushes. My jungle is actually close to railroad property, and there is a prime location nearby that is actually in the railroad wye, but it's hidden in a grove of trash trees. The area will eventually develop, and be ruined as a jungle location, but I guess that's just life. There is a nearby taco stand (about 250 yards away) that has a water faucet in the back, right near the tracks. We get water there, at night. We are very careful to not make any disturbance, leave any trace or do any damage at or near the water faucet. We do not dive the dumpster there at all. The idea is to PROTECT THE WATER SOURCE. The next nearest easily available water source is across a four-lane highway.

 

I think that for a jungle to be really valuable it has to be located in an area where nobody cares that you are there. Either a crappy, demolished area, like a torn-down factory or abandoned building; or a remote area, pretty far from any residences, schools, businesses, etc. If there are buildings too close by, it will annoy people if you build fires, camp out, etc. If it's too easy to see your camp, it will attract curious kids (which will piss off their parents), and maybe attract homeguards and druggies. The idea is to site it somewhere where nobody cares about you being there. Then you will be free to relax at your liesure, drink a beer, bench trains and just gewnerally chill out. If you intend to use it as a base of operations to hop, it should be within walking distance of a good catch out. My jungle is not really sited at a good catch out. Trains do stop there, but a genuinely good catch out is one where they stop on a regular, predictable basis--near a yard, or near a signal that halts trains waiting to go up on the high iron.

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