I felt like a cornered rat. I had no place to hide so I just froze in place in my mummy bag and sneaked a peek. A flashlight beam moved over the interior yet never moved in my direction. I heard the steps head towards the door, and then the door opened. Just as the door was about to close, I heard a deep, gravelly voice quietly state, “I never seen ya.” And my guardian angel disappeared into the night.
Next day I did get rousted by a Bull but with kind words. He felt I should not occupy the caboose since hobos had been known to destroy company property, but I was welcome to find a freight car further up the train. I was surprised at his consideration. Somewhere I had heard that since the hobos helped build this line, so the company let them ride. Whether apocryphal or not, I appreciated his approach to this novice hobo.
I had plenty of time to choose my car since I did not have to worry that security would be targeting me. I found a brand-new car. Wood floors were smooth without stains. Paint job sparkled. No stench from previous occupants. And both doors slid with the slightest of tugs. As we moved across the Montana plains and Charles Russell landscape, the Rockies started to emerge along the western horizon. I had vistas both north and south with bright sun dazzling my eyes. Certain motions of the train would send one door closing and opening the other. Other motions sent both open. My giant camera obscura shutters were opening and closing on magnificent images. A chill set in as we climbed into the mountains. The peaks were staggering, after so many miles of flat or rolling ground. My two doors remained open for the climb, and I sat in the center of the car like some wandering Sadhu, seeking enlightenment. When we hit a rough section of railbed, the bounce set me levitating.
Lucky enough to make a pit spot in Spokane with friends, I returned to the rail yard to find a train headed for Seattle or Portland. One box car offered good views. As I was about to hop on, a tall swarthy guy with swag inquired where I was headed. He had seen me scrutinizing my map and made the assumption that I knew what I was doing and where I was going. Huh. He asked if he could join me. I was not sure if the question was rhetorical or not, but I accepted his company.
Once on the car I had a chance to stare into his face which had a most prominent feature- a nose that clearly had been fractured a couple of times. With a prominent brow ridge, and square jaw with a couple days growth of stubble, he looked forbidding. I wondered if he possessed any Neanderthal genes. Our conversation was limited given the wind and sound along the route. When we reached a junction to a line headed south, we hopped off to find a direct route to Portland.
There along the side of the track lay about 50 hobos complete with gear. I was more that glad to have this huge companion as an escort as we walked past the crowd. This was an Of Mice and Men moment. They were all waiting to climb aboard the next train headed south. Like geese, these guys were seeking warm weather for the winter. No one questioned my crashing the party.
We left the guys behind when we found our train to Portland and a flatcar with great views of the Columbia River. The ride was risky. Moving around was not advised. One good bump and I would be in the dirt. Yet it was a rush.
In the sunny afternoon, my companion started to search through his bag and out came a single shot pistol that he proceeded to load. Oh…DAMN!