Frequently in this space, we will consult a different entry in the 1987 book The Modern Man’s Guide to Life to see how the advice therein has aged. On Friday, we discussed building a fire without matches; today, we address the quandary of illicit train travel.
At what point in your life is the time nigh to freight-hop? If you’ve ever mused to yourself that maybe the hobo lifestyle is right for you, you have very bad ideas, and the Modern Man’s Guide To Life is here to dissuade you.
First, let’s make perfectly clear that we’re talking about clandestinely riding freight trains. The practice peaked in popularity during the Great Depression, and although it has fallen out of vogue, there are apparently still people who do it today. Which is both charming and inadvisable, as surreptitiously riding the rails is completely illegal:
Start by choosing a destination and a day to travel. On the morning of the selected day, call the local rail office and ask for the traffic manager. Tell him your truck, loaded with five-ton ratio bars, has busted an axle and you want to get a boxcar load on the next train headed toward your destination. Ask all the polite questions about rates, loading, and the rest. But also ask about departure and arrival times and train and track numbers. (You can press your luck a little and ask if there are any trains going out direct express.)
If that all sounds like gibberish to you, then either do more research or abandon your newfound transient lifestyle immediately. But if you insist, the guide next suggests that you scope out the shipping yard, find the number of the train you’re going to board, and plan your attack. A word of advice about this portion of your vintage adventure:
The person you most want to avoid, obviously, is the bull, or yard dick. He’s usually an old railroad worker and pretty aware of most tales you might tell. Bulls are, however, notoriously susceptible to hard-luck stories—although it’s good to remember that they have the authority to detain you until the police arrive.
Yes, avoid the yard dick, obviously. From there, you get advice about physically boarding the train: Just like the The Boxcar Children, you should look for the boxcars, as they are the ideal carriage to ride upon. Be sure to pack a sleep roll. Never jump from a moving train. Keep your money in your shoe. And finally: Don’t do this, ever.