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Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Hobo Holiday

Tom Dyson trys to live the hobo lifestyle on a Canadian vacation and gets busted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police:

We'd arrived in Canada earlier that day, Regina's international airport being the port of entry. The pretty immigration officer was immediately suspicious of our story and asked us to wait in the detention area while she attended to the rest of the passengers from our plane.

We told her we were in Canada as tourists and that we planned to rent a car and drive through the Rockies. But Regina is just a dusty series of strip clubs, saloons and casinos on a pancake, and it's still 12 hours from the mountains, so the story didn't wash and she knew it. No matter, we stuck to our guns and after a thorough interrogation and two hours of paperwork, she sent us on our way.

We made our way to the Greyhound station, or as we've been calling it, "the town's armpit," and boarded a bus to the "catch-out point." The catch-out point was a small town on Canadian National's (CN) mainline, 50 miles north of Regina, where the trains stop to change crew. There's no security and no fences, so it's the perfect location to jump the train.

Getting off the bus, we stopped in the gas station for a final meal and to load up with water, and then we sauntered off into the blustery, rainy night, heading towards the tracks...

A train was already there, waiting for us. It looked majestic, the large, double-stacked container boxes silhouetted against the Prairie sky at night. We had to hurry; this train was a hotshot.

There's a safe place for the hobo on nearly every train. On the porch of a grain hopper, inside an open boxcar, or even between the trailer tires of a piggyback (a truck trailer on a flatcar)...these are all quality rides with protection from the elements and plenty of room for stretching out and sleeping. But the fastest ride for a hobo is the container train, or as it's called in the industry, the intermodal train. With their cargoes of expensive consumer merchandise, container trains have priority over all other freight trains, and they don't hang around in the yard for long.

We jumped on the first suitable ride we could find. The best spot is behind the container in the little dugout of leftover space. It's really just a metal box, usually about eight feet wide, four foot long and four foot deep. If it weren't for the inch of water sitting in the bottom, this would have been a perfect ride. We took it anyway.

Not more than five minutes later, with a long blast on the horn, the train pulled out. We curled up and fell asleep hoping the damp sleeping bag would somehow warm us up...It never did.

The next day, we woke up early and set the sleeping bags out to dry in the breeze. The floor was almost dry now and the sun was rising fast. For the first time in 14 hours, we were warm again. Now it was time to relax and enjoy the view.

Disaster struck sometime around midday, as we peered out at the wheat fields. An eastbound train had pulled into a siding to let us pass, and the engineer had climbed down from his locomotive to watch, probably looking for any trouble with the equipment.

We didn't have time to duck and he spotted us. He scowled and immediately reached for his radio. We were busted. An hour later, at a grade crossing, the train stopped and a policeman stuck his head over the wall. "Okay guys, this ride's over. Get your stuff and jump off."

The welcoming committee was there in force. Two Mountie police cars and an SUV for the railroad cop. It wasn't a big deal. We were courteous and cooperative, so after checking for outstanding warrants, they wrote us up a ticket for petty trespassing and drove us to the bus station.

"Your names are in the computer now. If we catch you again on CN property, you'll be going to jail. Have a good day."

Our mission had failed. No mountains, no tunnels, no pine trees...just a bad case of foot rot and a ticket for $278.

We'd come back and try again next week...

KING OF THE ROAD...ALMOST [dailyreckoning.com, June 8, 2005]

related
Stories from "hobo" rail riders about their first trip, their worst trip, and everything in between [northbankfred.com]

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