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Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024



Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024
Trains, Trains, and Automatrains.


Train hopping is a dangerous business to be sure. What was even MORE dangerous was riding the “rods” as they were called. These are the rods that were underneath the train. Sort of like suspension rods. Hobos would lay right down on these rods, and one slip and bam you were sucked under the train and severely injured or killed.

Here’s a photo of one Jack London himself riding the rods like a crazyman in 1907:

Jack London Riding the Rods, 1907

“Jack London Riding the Rods, 1907” Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

It should be noted that hopping trains and riding in boxcars was of course totally illegal, even though it was the key way for hobos to travel. The trainyard wardens would be out with billy clubs and flashlights/lanterns searching for interlopers and if they found you, well, it wasn’t a good time for sure.

Trapping the Hobo in the Boxcar, 1918

“Trapping the Hobo in the Boxcar, 1918” Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)


Incidentally, my aunt got sucked under a train when she was a kid, and apparently she recovered just fine except her voice box was permanently damaged. Which, from my perspective, just made her voice more interesting. Anyways I would say she was quite lucky. And no, she was not trying to hop a train. They were just playing near the tracks.

I will confess in my youth I too hopped aboard a moving train. I didn’t make a habit of it, but it was pretty exhilarating. Don’t tell my mom.

However on a slightly more innocent and fonder note, when I was in elementary school, I had to walk over train tracks every day to go to school and sometimes I would leave a penny on the tracks on the way to school and then on my way home hope to find a flattened penny. You have to imagine that in the 80s for an introverted curious youngster this was highly exciting. A time of no mobile devices! Anyways I still have my collection of flattened pennies somewhere. I was told at some point that it’s not a good idea to do this because it could “derail” the train, but … I think that may have been hogwash.

Those particular tracks at that spot I crossed over were actually right across the street from my Grama’s place. Another fond memory I have is when I was staying there and we heard the train coming, we would run out and count the cars. I would have been around age 6-8, I figure. Sometimes there were a LOT. Like 70-100! I would ask Grama sometimes how she got used to the sound of trains going by and she said that after awhile you just don’t hear it, much like living by the ocean.