Railroad Stories: Freight Trains Part of Life

From the age of 9, freight trains were part of child's life.

| Good Old Days

I began hopping freights when I was 10 years old. Of course, I had ridden freight trains for fun as a 9-year-old, but only for short trips. By the time I was 15 years old, I had hopped more freight trains with unknown destinations that I marvel at how agile I was then. I am amazed today that I wasn't killed or maimed.

In those perilous days, I wasn't afraid of anything or anybody. I remember my first lesson in freight hopping. A freight train was pulling out of the Missouri Pacific yards at about 25 miles per hour, a little fast. I grabbed for the ladder to climb to the top of a boxcar, but slipped and fell, my right arm landing on the track. The wheels clickety-clacked, swiftly now. I jerked my arm off the track and rolled off the gravel tie bed.

I get the shivers now when I think how close I came to getting my arm cut off by a boxcar wheel. Why would an American boy in his early teens run that kind of risk? The answer was easy. We were the urchins of the great Depression.

When I kissed my mother goodbye one summer morning in 1935, I caught an outbound freight. The eight-wheel steam engine blew a cloud of smoke and cinders in heavy strain to pull 50 or 60 boxcars.

I ran full tilt, and finally someone grabbed my wrists to pull me into the boxcar. It was a young hobo around my age.

"Jeez, Bo," he said, "I thought you were a goner."

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: October 13-14, 2018
Topeka, KS

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!