Freight Hopping


Chico to Eugene

So there we were four of us, lounging in an orchard beside the railway tracks in Chico, California. It was getting close to sunset and we were waiting for a freight train to pass by so that we could all try and hop on and carry us the 200 miles south down to San Francisco. We had never done any freight hopping, but Hans had talked to a lot of crusties and they had talked about it in the lightest possible manner. All we had to do was wait for one to rumble by slow enough for us to jump on and we were off. Only problem was, the sun was beginning to disappear below the horizon and the line was very quiet. We tried the old trick of putting an ear to the track, but no luck (it was a bit too cheesy a technique to actually work, wasn't it?)

It was beginning to look like we were going to have to crash there for the night, when a low rumbling made us all freeze and look at each other. Closer and closer it came, finally bursting into view. But there were two problems: it was moving quite fast and it was heading north! The first problem started to sort itself out as the breaks shrieked and the train started to slow down. The second seemed a bit more intractable.

We had ended up in Chico, having caught a ride from Austin, Texas to the Kinetic Sculpture Race in Arcata, California and then to the nearest town with a railway passing through. Hans, a German, was keen to get to Canada to work picking fruit. I had a sister in Calgary who I was hoping to get to visit at some stage. Mark wanted to get south to San Francisco to stay with friends. Jeremy would go whichever the way the wind was blowing. Mark exhorted us to wait for the next one, but when the train rumbled to a halt, there, right in front of us, was an open boxcar. That sealed it. We threw our bags in and scrambled on board. Mark hung back, but we were staying put and urged him to join us. Suddenly the train jerked into motion and Mark, giving in, threw his bag on and we were all slowly rolling north on our first ride!

The first hour was bliss, the crashing of metal on metal, level crossings flying by, lines of cars halted for our passage, out into the darkening night. We had done it, and now we were heading north, none of us knew where exactly. We guessed that the line passed through Eugene Oregon eventually, and Jeremy had some friends there. After about an hour, we juddered to a halt and Mark hopped off. He really wanted to get to San Francisco, and had decided to hitch back. We waved good-bye as the train started up again. And then there were three.

As the night progressed we settled down, got out our sleeping bags and lay down. It was fairly noisy, but pretty much pitch dark, so we eventually drifted off to sleep. In the middle of the night we were woken up by a distant crash. The boxcar was pretty stationary and everything outside was completely dark. Suddenly the car was slammed backwards, and slowly came to a stop. Then forwards again, hissing and groaning. Back and forwards we were shunted for about an hour. We had no idea what was going on - we started to recall the scare stories of the door sliding closed, trapping all insided. we sat in the dark, waiting to see what would happen next. Finally, the train started off north again and we settled back into our bags. We had just passed Mt. Shasta and had picked up some new carriages, as we found out later. The crashes were the engine shunting the carriages on at the front, the hisses were the airbrakes being broken and reattached.

Dawn broke and we slowly woke up to the beautiful scenery passing us by. Lakes, mountains, forests, all spread out before us through the boxcar door, totally unhindered by flyovers, off-ramps, 7-11's, electric cables - fresh air surrounded us, as we sat and smoked, chatting and taking in the views. Now this was what it was all about. Escape from the semi-death of road travel. All day we thundered on, almost without stopping. As evening came again, we were getting hungry. The train came to a halt on the edge of what seemed to be a fairly large town. We jumped off, climbed the bank and asked a passerby where we were. He told us "Eugene, Oregon." We had made it! The first leg of our journey: a perfect take-off and a perfect arrival. If only all freight-trips could be as easy!

We tracked down Jeremy's friends there in the Center for Alternative Transit and hung out riding funky bikes for a few days. Jeremy's friends knew a guy who caught freight trains a lot, and we hooked up with him. He told us a lot about his experiences and gave us lots of advice. Most was common sense, all were important:

  1. Wear overalls and gloves (the trains are dirty)
  2. Avoid the yard-bulls (rail police)
  3. Never climb under a train (always over)
  4. Beware of getting into carriages with stuff in them (they can move and hurt you)
  5. Be careful when jumping off a moving freight
  6. Don't be too afraid of the train workers (they usually are cool)
  7. Don't mess with any cargo
  8. Don't drink alcohol and hop
  9. Be careful who you hop with
  10. Never be in a hurry

Most accidents happen when one is hopping off (it is difficult to gauge the speed) or when a load shifts. Hopping on is not so dangerous, but when catching a moving train, get on the back of a carriage with a ladder, don't try and jump into an open boxcar. You can always wait until the train is stopped to move into one of them.

Even with total care accidents can happen. On his first ride, him and his brother got on the back of a grain car. A few minutes after it got going, the carriage in front of them derailed. Their car got dragged off the rails and flipped twice before it came to a halt. His brother got a gash on his head but he was uninjured. He showed us photos he took seconds after the accident: the grain car on its side, dust everywhere, his brother holding his head looking dazed. The cops came along and gave them a ride to the nearest Greyhound station.

He also gave us some good info. There are two types of freight trains: industrial and commercial. The first carry all kinds of goods: wood, trash, steel, cement etc. the second carry consumer goods in sea freight boxes and truck trailers. These last ones were the "hot shots" - they were given priority and so went through much faster than the industrial freight. They stopped (or slowed down) every four hours for a crew change, so you only had to find out where these changes took place to catch a ride on a fast one. If it is cold, you can ride in one of the train engines (or "units" as they are called) - most of the train crew are cool as long as you don't make a nuisance of yourself. The bigger trains have units in the middle, so it is easy to sneak into one of them.

All in all, we got a lot of good advice on freight hopping. We even went around to the second hand bookshops and found some maps of freight lines. Funnily, none of these are in print anymore (except for a Rand-McNally wall map), so they had to be second hand. It was sad to compare older maps - the older they were, the more lines they had on them, such is the decline in the railways. We also heard of the days before Reagan broke the railworkers union (shortly after the air traffic controllers dispute), when every train had a caboose (a passenger wagon at the end for workers) and hobos could ride in comfort, if not style.

Of course, we also heard a few unsavory stories about yard-bulls. Some train yards are "hot," meaning they have a lot of rail police who are out to get hobos. While the most usual charge you could be faced with is trespass (a $90 fine), there were stories of trumped up malicious damages charges being dropped on the unfortunate hobo, who could get a beating for his trouble as well. The worst our friend in Eugene had direct knowledge of were two friends who were sitting under a truck trailer on a hotshot playing a game of chess, when a belligerent bull dragged them off for a night in jail and a $90 fine. He couldn't discount the more gruesome stories you hear, but was suitably skeptical. As far as he was concerned, everything has risks, and as it goes, freight-hopping is probably safer than hitching.


Eugene to Seattle

While freight trains work to no timetable, there are often regular trains leaving on certain runs. We found out that there was a hotshot that passed through Eugene on its way to Portland at about 6am, and that the crew change took place right by the railway bridge on the northside of town. The night before, we bid good-bye to our friends in Eugene and headed for the tracks to "catch out." We found an old boxcar and crashed their for the night. At around 6 am we were woken up by the thunder of an incoming train. Quickly packing our bags and jumping out we were soon running along beside the now-stationary hotshot looking for a suitable perch. Finally we settled between the wheels of a truck trailer, wrapped in sleeping bags, looking to catch up on our sleep.

It wasn't too far to Portland. We sat under the truck trailer and watched the world fly by. At one stage we stopped for a crew change and a rail worker passed down the length of the train on a three-wheeled motorbike, checking out the brake line. As he passed us he looked up huddled in between the trailer wheels. Jeremy, ever cool, said hello. With a wave of his hand he continued on down the line. So it was true - most of the rail staff were cool. If we had been acting more furtively, he might have been a bit suspicious. As it was, a few minutes later he passed back up the train on the other side, and the train took off again.

We had heard that the yard in Portland was split in two - a southside and a northside depot. We had been advised that, while some trains did go from one to the other, you were better off getting off and crossing town by bus. The train we were on pulled into the southside station around mid-afternoon. It came to a halt just outside the yard and stopped. After about 10 minutes we reckoned that we'd try and cross town by bus and jumped off. As we walked along the tracks, a train beside us started to pull slowly northward. Jeremy, was sure that this must be heading to the other yard and started running along beside it. Hans and I were less sure, and shouted to Jeremy to leave it, but he had by now caught up with an open boxcar and clambered on board. Hans started off at a sprint to catch up, with me not far behind. He got to the boxcar first and with Jeremy's help swung up aboard. I was a good few feet behind and the train was picking up speed. I also had a heavier backpack (I was carrying my Ph.D. dissertation I was supposed to be doing!) and had to really exert myself to keep level with the train. Finally I struggled level with the boxcar and threw my bag in. Jeremy and Hans grabbed me and hauled me up. I lay in the in the bottom of the boxcar, panting, chest aching, cursing their impatience. Jeremy smiled and said "we made it" just as we heard the airbrakes being applied and the train ground to a gradual halt. When it hadn't moved for a few minutes, we got Jeremy to walk up to the driver to see what was going on. He was fine about us being there, and told us that this train was staying where it was, and he didn't know of any others that were making their way out to the other yard. We had been in a hurry, and had broken one of the rules of freight hopping. Luckily, we had managed to get onto the open boxcar without anyone getting hurt, but impatience doesn't pay off, one way or the other.

So off we went to find the bus north to the yard which was in Vancouver (the small town next to Portland, not the Canadian city). Out at this yard, we bumped into our first real hobo. He was chatty, told us where the local mission was if we needed to sleep and wash up. He didn't have much info on the trains going out, except to point to a train which headed out every day carrying tons of trash - it was fast, but you smelt like shit by the time you got off! We wandered up the yard, keeping our eyes open. Finally we saw a train a bit outside the yard, which seemed to be ready to go out - it had a telltale red light at the back which all rolling trains have. We chased up the track and climbed onto an open carriage that was made to carry panes of glass. After sitting there for a while with no movement it started to rain, so we scouted out an open boxcar further along and climbed in. Finally it started up and we were Seattle bound.

Night was falling as the train trundled to a halt in a very small yard near Kelso, Washington. When, an hour later, we still hadn't moved I went up to the front and talked to one of the train workers. He told me that this was the end of the line for our ride and there wouldn't be another one coming through which would stop until 3 or 4 am. This was a little used yard, and we had been unlucky to catch a train that happened to end there. Every so often a train would come charging through, traveling way too fast to hop. With a long wait ahead of us, Jeremy and Hans decided to crash out in the boxcar, while I decided to walk the 3 miles into Kelso and check it out.

I got into Kelso, but there wasn't much happening, so I just had a beer in a bar and walked around. When I got back to the yard at around 1am everything had changed - the train was totally gone and there were lots of empty carriages on the different lines. I walked down the yard looking in each empty boxcar, searching for Hans and Jeremy. Just as I was giving up, sure that they had caught out and I was abandoned without my gear in the ass end of nowhere, I saw a big curly head appear out of a boxcar door - it was Jeremy. They had spent the last two hours been shunted up and down the line as the workers broke up the train and rearranged the carriages. We hunkered down, waiting for our ride.

Sure enough, at about 4 am, a train pulled in and stopped. We clambered into an empty boxcar and after the usual wait, we were off again, back on the track to Seattle. Early the next morning we pulled in to the Seattle yard. We hopped off and made our way downtown. Again, Jeremy had friends there who we crashed with for a few days. They were amazed that we had made it by rail, and one guy, James, was particularly keen to try it. He was hanging loose there, so when we continued on our way, he came along for the ride. The next stop was going to be Vancouver.


Seattle to Vancouver

We had been warned not to cross the Canadian border on a train. The Mounties searched them for illegal aliens on the Canadian side and it wasn't worth the hassle. The closest place was a town called Bellingham. We planned to hop to there and hitch across the border - if we overshot and found ourselves north of the border, we should walk the tracks back to the US side and cross by road further along.

The four of us wandered down to the yard. As we walked up the tracks a ford bronco appeared out of nowhere and a big, beefy rail cop jumped out, flashing his badge. He told us that we were trespassing and asked to see our IDs. We gave them to him and he took down our names. I spun him a yarn about my grandfather, the Irish immigrant, working on the railway, and telling us all about freight hopping, and how we were following his route up the West coast.

He gave us guff, generally, warning us about the dangers of riding the rails. Apparently, a notorious gang, the Freight Train Riders Association (FTRA) was everywhere, waiting to prey on poor hobos, to rob and murder them for kicks. This gang is mentioned anytime the dangers of freight hopping is being trumpeted, and whatever the truth of its existence or reputed deeds, it is strange that it is invariably a cop or rail official who is talking about them. Suffice to say, four healthy men like us were very unlikely to be set upon in the manner the yard bull described.

Anyway, after about twenty minutes of brow beating, he told us to leave the yard, and our first run in with the man was over. We stood outside the gate, bummed out. As we talked about what to do next, a regular rail worker passed by. Jeremy stopped him and asked him where one goes to hop a train. He told us to follow the tracks along and switch over to where the trains cross the river. There, at the red lights, the trains stop before going over the bridge. Off we went to where he had described and climbed down the bank. Sure enough, a half an hour later a train pulled up and stopped and we ran along and climbed on board. We ended up in the bottom of a "twin pack" a big open carriage carrying four sea freight containers stacked in pairs. Although it was open to rain, we could sit down and be totally out of sight. However, when we got going a problem arose: the brakes were badly adjusted and were rubbing on the wheels next to us and so were giving off a terrible smell. Being made of asbestos, the burning brakes were also pretty toxic. To make matters worse, the metal sheeting around the wheel, which we were leaning against, started getting very hot. At the first stop, about half an hour later, we climbed out and ran up the train to find an open boxcar, which we did fairly easily. We settled in for the night in our bags as the train chugged on.

Early the next morning we awoke with the train moving slowly forward. In front of us, a small lake passed by, birds fluttering around. After our hectic night it was a welcome return to the tranquillity of riding the rails. The train came to a gentle stop and we were in Bellingham, the last stop on the line for us. Off we jumped and trudged into town to hitch a ride across the border. Two rides later, we were in Abbotsford, Canada. Unfortunately, it was off the Vancouver rail route, so we decided to take the Greyhound the last 30 miles. once there, we hooked up with old friends of Hans'.


Vancouver to Kamloops

While we stayed in Vancouver we found out a bit about the trains passing through from some guys selling imitation Rolexs on the street. The empty coal trains were heading to the coalfields up north, while the empty grain trains ("grainers") were heading back towards the plains. The coal trains were dirty rides - plus, after a day in an empty coal train, one could end up with black lung or something. Besides, since we were all headed East, the grainers were what we needed. Hans planned to split off to get to the Okonagan valley, where the fruit-picking season was starting - he was the only authentic hobo (migrant worker) amongst us. Jeremy, James and I were all heading towards my sisters house in Calgary.

The east and northbound yard was a few miles outside of Vancouver in a place called Port Coquitlam. We caught a city bus out and surveyed the yard. At the exit of the yard the tracks narrowed, so we went up there and hung out behind a small shed waiting for a train to come through. One came into the yard, passing us and as it passed we waved to the driver. Ten minutes later a yard bull drove up in his truck and found us sitting at the back of the shed. He went through the usual drill about trespassing and checked our IDs. We spun him the same story as we did to the bull in Seattle and he was pretty cool. He told us that we had been turned in by the driver who had passed us and that he had no choice but to throw us out of the yard. However, he told us that what we were doing wrong was that we should be catching out at night! "If I were you, although I am not saying you should do this, I'd go over to the strip bar over there, catch a few shows and wait until it gets dark!" Jeremy, ever pushing his luck, asked him what time his shift ended! Cool as you like, the bull says "7 o clock." As we walked off, he shouted after us that the scenery through the Rockies was really beautiful and we'd really enjoy it.

So our second run-in with the man proved to be even less trouble than the first! What disturbed us, however, was that the driver had blown the whistle. This was a totally different scenario to the US - it meant that we had to be a lot more careful about being seen by the regular rail workers. Somehow this shifted the balance for freight hopping from being a relaxed way to travel, to being a more furtive endeavor. We speculated why it was so different in Canada - perhaps because one of the two train companies was state-owned or something. We never really found out why it was, but it was generally accepted by those in the know that it is less hassle to hop south of the border.

We hung out by the bar waiting for dark (although we didn't follow the bulls advise and "catch a show"). Later we trekked back into the yard, but now we were very wary and afraid to go down to where the workers were. Instead we hung around at the exit, waiting for a ride. A few trains passed, but at such speed that there was no way we could catch them. Finally, at about three in the morning, we steeled ourselves and sneaked down the yard. About half way down, a car circled around, lights stabbing the darkness and we scattered panicking. Utterly paranoid, we finally regrouped back at the exit, but we had lost James. The three of us, frustrated and tense argued back and forth what to do. Jeremy threw in the towel and said he was going to have a sleep for a few hours and try again before dawn. Hans and I sneaked back into the yard and worked our way closer to the stationary trains. Again a car lights flashed over us and we dropped to the ground. They passed us by and suddenly arced straight up into the air. There they stopped and disappeared. Slowly we raised our heads to see that it was just a worker who had driven his car up a big bank of dirt to get a good angle in his car seat for a few hours sleep! We laughed but decided that we were too tense and panicky to catch out. We went back to the cover of some trees and crashed for a few hours.

About 7 am the next morning we got up to find that Jeremy and James were nowhere to be found. There was only Hans and I left. We decided to change tack and hitch out to a town 20 miles away called Mission, where we had heard there was a rail junction, which might make it easier to hop. Sure enough, when we got there we found the junction. We hung out there for a while, but the trains that passed through were going way too fast. All day we waited for one that would be going slow enough to hop on, but none materialized. Finally, late at night, we crashed in an abandoned boxcar, considering our options. We had heard that the first crew change was a town called Hope and we decided to try and hitch out to there. Bummed out, we finally slept.

We were awoken at first light by the sound of a train coming through from Vancouver. What's more the brakes were screeching and it was slowly coming to a halt. We jumped up and stuffed our bags. I had slept fully clothed wearing my boots, but Hans took a little extra time pulling on his boots. Quick as I could I was out on the tracks running down the side of the train, which was huge - probably 100 carriages. It was a grainer, just what we needed to get East. I heard the brakes being released, so I climbed on the platform at the back of the carriage. Hans was nowhere in sight, as the train jerked into life and started rolling forward. I called his name and he finally bolted from where we had slept his bag finally packed. By the time he reached the train it had picked up quite a speed and we were going too fast for him to hop on. He stood on the tracks looking up at me as I passed him by, and all I could do was shout over the thunder of the wheels "Hope, Hans, Hope!" meaning that I would get off at the next crew stop and wait till he caught up.

So now I was alone. First we lost James, then Jeremy disappeared and now Hans and I had been separated. It was nice, however, getting rolling again. We had spent two days trying to catch out of Vancouver and it had been very frustrating. From the start the line followed the Fraser River valley, so I was treated to beautiful scenery. However, the train flew passed Hope without crossing the river to the town and carried on north, so it looked like I would not be seeing Hans again. As a second plan I decided to jump off in Kamloops and wait to see if he caught up with me there - it was a town he had been in before and he had described to me a coffee shop on the street where he used to hang out.

Meantime, it was beautiful to feel the fresh air rushing by and take in the scenery. The river valley we were following turned into a rushing gorge with the rail line clinging to a narrow ledge which periodically dived through short tunnels. The river was swollen and roared passed and on the opposite bank there was another set of tracks. I was on the Canadian Pacific line, the other was the Canadian Northern line. At one point the tracks swapped sides by simultaneously jumping across the river on two bridges, one under the other. It was a spectacular ride.

About four hours along we passed another grainer going the opposite way and I caught a glimpse of a hobo on the other train. He was a typical looking rider, with long Jesus hair and beard. So people still do freight hop in Canada! At one part of the journey the tracks split in two and we pulled into and stopped on the side track. We were deep in the forest and the utter silence and tranquillity of the surroundings gripped me. As I sat there drinking in the peaceful solitude, a humming bird appeared from the trees and hovered right in front of my face. After a few minutes checking out the strange intruder she whipped off and disappeared into the trees. With the nightmare of Vancouver behind me, my faith in train hopping was being totally restored. I was also getting into the rhythm of the rails, so I knew that we were in a layover waiting for a train to pass the other direction (a common occurrence on a single line track). So I stepped off and wandered around in the trees savoring the idyll I had landed in. A rushing mountain stream tumbled by and I bent down and took a drink. After about ten minutes a train passed the other way and I climbed back on my ride. Soon we were churning on through the forests and mountains, making our way deeper into the Rockies.

At about 5 that evening we pulled slowly into Kamloops. I jumped off a bit outside town (I was definitely yard-shy after Vancouver) and walked the rest of the way. Installed in the only outdoor cafe I could find, I settled in to wait and see if Hans would show up. I decided to wait until midnight - it would then be dark enough to suss out the yard and move on. It also meant that I would be crossing the best part of the Rockies during the day. Six hours later and Hans had still not appeared. I guessed that he had probably turned south to get a job picking fruit in the Okanagan. Reluctantly I went down to the yard to continue east.

As I found out later, Hans had hitched to Hope and realized that the story about it being a crew change was untrue. He then, as I had thought, decided to try and catch me in Kamloops and started hitching that way. As I walked down to the yard at midnight Hans was getting out of a car on the other side of town -we missed each other by half an hour. Our dramatic movie scene parting ("Hope, Hans, Hope") was the last we saw of each other and it was to be almost two years later and a continent away that we were to meet again. I was heading towards Calgary and Hans swung back south on the trail of gainful employment.


Kamloops to Calgary

Down in the yard, all was dark. I crept from train to train, checking which ones were ready to go. I settled on one and climbed on the back of a grainer. Grainers have a platform at the back which is space enough to lie out on and they also have a small hole (about 2 foot diameter) into a cramped space where you can store your gear, or, at a pinch, climb into to hide. I practiced climbing in and out, although it was so dark that it was unnecessary right then. The only problem with the crawl space was that it was exposed to the wheels, so one had to be very careful in there if the train was moving.

At about 2am the train pulled out (in the direction I wanted!) and I was back on track for Calgary. I spread out my sleeping bag, climbed in and was soon fast asleep. Morning found me well on my way. The timing was perfect - around mid-day I was passing through the most beautiful parts of the Rockies: Lake Louise and the Selkirk mountains. The scenery was absolutely awesome. The next carriage to me was an empty "gondola" - just a flat open platform which I jumped onto and could sit in the open air drinking in the 360 degree vista that was jumping up all round me. This really was the most beautiful part of the ride so far. The yard-bull in Vancouver had been right!

At one part of the journey the train was laboring up a steep grade when it plunged into a tunnel. Just as the entrance flashed by I caught a glimpse of a warning notice about carbon monoxide. Once inside the tunnel the whole place filled up with choking smoke. I threw myself onto the floor of the grainer and tried to breath as little as possible. Of course, in retrospect, this was the wrong thing to do - carbon monoxide is heavier than air and so I should have stood up as high as I could! After what seemed like an eternity, we finally burst out of the tunnel and I gulped in the fresh air. I had just passed through one of the famous spiral tunnels on the line - tunnels that corkscrew through the side of a mountain to give the trains a chance to climb an excessive grade. The excessive smoke in the tunnels are caused by their shape, which hinders air from circulating and the fact that the trains are laboring up hefty grades and so have to stoke their engines. Within an hour we plunged into a second spiral tunnel, this one downwards. Now the hazard was the asbestos from the brakes which were constantly on to slow the locomotive down. When we finally burst out of the end, I looked up and could see a section of the train snaking through the last coil of the spiral behind me.

Early afternoon, and we pulled to a halt in Banff. We stayed there for a few hours while the train was broken up and reassembled. Throughout, I hid in the grainers hole. At one point I looked out to see a little girl with a bicycle staring at me. I waved and she stood immobile. A few minutes later, alerted by the girl, the engine driver came down and saw me. He was very suspicious and more than a bit perplexed that I was crammed into the hole with the exposed wheels beside me. I told him I was hopping to Calgary to see my sister and told him a bit about my trip so far. It was clear that he was mainly concerned that I might be a criminal on the run so as we talked for a his fears were slowly alleviated. He was also horrified that I had gone through the spiral tunnels on an open carriage. Eventually, he told me I could ride to Calgary in the second unit. He climbed up with me there and gave me earplugs and cold water to drink and we chatted. When we got going again, he told me to keep my head down and out of sight ("there are so many fuckin tourists around!" he said), as he could get into trouble for letting me ride.

On the ride to Calgary, he came back to the second unit and we talked some more. I showed him one of the rail maps I had bought and he was blown away. Twenty years on the rails and he had never seen a map of them - he just worked from local knowledge. He looked over the maps that were a bit old and marveled at the non-existent lines. He was so taken with the map that I told him he could keep it - my freight hopping trip in Canada was coming to a close. Besides, Jeremy (whenever I finally found him) had copies of them. The driver was delighted, saying that the guys in the yard would be well into them - he'd be a celebrity!

It was a short ride to Calgary and the driver slowed the train down on the outskirts of town - he said that the line was covered with surveillance cameras all throughout town, so it was best I hopped off there. I waved good-bye as the train picked up speed and disappeared into town. I had made it - 1000 miles by rail in about three weeks (with numerous breaks). But I was the only one to make it, or so I thought. When I called my sister, who answered the phone but Jeremy! And James was there too! They had both arrived in Calgary separately.

What had happened was this: after we got separated in Vancouver James rolled up under a bush by the tracks and went to sleep. Jeremy got up at around 5 am (as the rest of us slept) and went back to the yard. After a short wait a hotshot came out of the yard. It was going pretty fast, but Jeremy was determined to catch it so he bolted along beside it and grabbed a ladder (classic hobo style). It was a four pack he had ended up on, but when he climbed down beside the freight boxes, he discovered that there was no floor and the tracks were flying by below him. He managed to get his feet onto an inch wide metal ledge and grab onto a post in front of him. By this stage the train was hurtling along, shaking like crazy and it was Jeremy could do to hang on. There he remained, precariously perched for over an hour without the train slackening its pace. Finally, at a straight stretch, he managed to lunge back up onto the platform and safety. He had been lucky - it does not pay (and sometimes costs dear) to be in too much of a hurry while freight hopping. At the first crew change, he hopped off and awaited the next train to see if we were on it.

Meanwhile, back in the yard, James woke up to find a grainer parked right in front of the bush he was sleeping under. He clambered on board and soon was heading out. At the first crew change Jeremy climbed on this same train, not realizing that James was stowed away on it! They both rode this all the way through to Calgary without realizing they were on the same train, and both hopped off at different parts of Calgary, only bumping into each other on the street downtown!

This was the day before I arrived. In fact, the grainer that I finally caught out of Mission (which Hans missed) was the same scheduled grainer that left twenty four hours later! I was lucky to stop at Kamloops and await for Hans for 6 hours, since that meant that I crossed the Rockies during the day, while both Jeremy and James went through at night and missed most of the scenery. Nonetheless we had all (except Hans) made it to Calgary in one piece.


Onwards from Calgary

From Calgary I flew back to Austin. James hopped back towards Vancouver and I never saw or heard from him again. We had introduced him to freight-hopping and the bug had bitten. Jeremy continued eastward through Canada. He ended up getting taken in by the police in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. But that, as Hammy Hamster would say, is another story.

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