In the early 1970’s I spent about a year hitchhiking and riding freight trains as my partner and I travelled around the Country from one place to another. I found train hopping to be a wonderful experience, although it did have its ups and downs. My partner and I were basically living the life of rolling stones with no specific destinations in mind. We found the train hopping experience to be perfect for this lifestyle.
As we travelled by freight trains we simply allowed fate to be our guide. We used our wits and knowledge of street life to afford us the opportunities to enjoy our chosen lifestyle. We were a couple of freaks traveling through our nation’s cities as vagabonds or rolling stones looking for our next free ride to nowhere in particular. All the while we mooched off of whatever resources or people who happened to come our way.
Riding freight trains as train hoppers gave us the freedom to flow with whatever was happening in a particular destination we found ourselves in. On one occasion we had caught a train in Tucson, Arizona and were on our way to New Orleans, but happened to get off in San Antonio, Texas because we were very hungry. Upon arriving in San Antonio, we discovered there was a Rock Festival that was going to be happening near Austin, Texas. Since we were not on any kind of a time schedule, our lifestyle allowed us to simply take off hitchhiking to Austin and the Rock Festival.
Order the Paperback Edition directly from Straight Arrow Enterprises
for only $10.95 plus shipping and tax
(Beats the Amazon Price)
This was the aspect of living on the road as a train hopper or train surfer that I came to love. We could simply drift with the flow and not have to worry about where we were supposed to be since there was no place in particular we were supposed to be—rolling stones with no direction home.
As I said, there were some aspects of train hopping or hitichin that have the potential of being not so great. There was another occasion when we were on a train from L.A. and, once again, on our way to New Orleans. Only this time we were headed for Mardi Gras. We were supposed to get off in Houston, but had fallen asleep and missed getting off. We woke up the following morning and had no idea where we were until we asked one of the workers in the yard. To our surprise, we were in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Talk about being in the middle of nowhere! This was one of the hazards of being a train hopper. We had learned to simply adjust to our circumstances and see where the next adventure would take us. We were still on our way to New Orleans and Mardi Gras, but now detoured. Our attitude was, “Well, we might as well enjoy the detour and see where it takes us.” We ended up hitchhiking to Little Rock and then catching another train into Memphis, Tennessee, where we then caught another train to New Orleans. When we arrived at the yard in Memphis the following morning, the engineer or the driver who would be driving the train approached us. We thought we were going to be in trouble and told to leave, but it was just the opposite. He invited us to ride in the third engine. So we had a great ride on our trip to New Orleans.
Train hitchhiking can also be very dangerous. Many times you have to either jump on or off while the train is moving. There was another occasion when we were in Tucson, Arizona and we were trying to catch a train into the yard so we wouldn’t have to walk the mile or so. We had learned from experience the train slowed down quite a bit at a certain location when it was still a ways from the yard. As we were running alongside the train trying to get on, I was so focused on getting on that I didn’t see a sign in front of me. I ended up crashing very hard into the sign and falling very near the passing train. It could have been a lot more disastrous than what it was. As it was I just ended up with a very sore knee.
Another danger is that sometimes you can end up with unwanted company. Earlier on the trip mentioned above we had caught a train in El Paso, Texas and were headed towards our L.A. destination when we experienced some unwanted company. Most trains have to stop several times along the way to allow trains coming from the other direction to pass. During one of our stops we had a couple of Mexicans, who must have just slipped across the border illegally. We had no idea, at first, who they were or if they were dangerous or not. It’s a chance you take every time you hop a train. Fortunately, they were not a threat to us, but it did cause some uncomfortable moments at first.
When riding the rails, you come to depend on the workers in the yard to let you know what train is going where. Sometimes workers will deliberately point you in the wrong direction. It’s not always that simple to figure out which direction a train is going as they could leave the yard going north or south and then head either east or west or vise-versa. After our trip to the Rock Festival near Austin mentioned earlier, we then went back to Houston to continue our trip to New Orleans. When leaving the yard in Houston, the workers deliberately pointed us in the wrong direction. It wasn’t long until we discovered we were going west instead of east. We had to wait until the train stopped to allow another one pass before we could get off. Then we had to wait for several hours before another one came by and actually was the one designated to stop. We eventually made it to New Orleans and had a great time.