Off to Get Drafted - part 6

eugene to seattle

In the previous story, I rode a Southern Pacific freight train from Roseville, California (northeast of Sacramento) to Eugene, Oregon, in a boxcar with a guy whom I didn't know. We split up and separately found empty cars on a train bound for Seattle. Time of arrival in Eugene: Friday evening.


The friendliness of switchmen made up for the crappy weather that Friday evening. With little difficulty I found an empty boxcar on a Seattle-bound train and climbed aboard. The train wouldn't leave for quite a while, so I crawled into my sleeping bag and went to sleep.

My slumber ended when my car was noisily jerked forward as the train pulled out of the yard. It was light out; the time must have been about 0900. There followed an uneventful ride to Portland. During a stop along the way, my accidental companion (described in the previous story) re-joined me, apparently dissatisfied with the quality of the ride of the car he had boarded in Eugene.

In Portland the guy dismounted and walked off to fulfill his own wretched destiny. I felt sorry for him. The train sat around for a long time for who knows what, giving me a chance to collect some ballast stones. Between Portland and Tacoma I found pleasure in throwing them into rivers and ponds.

During a switching stop in Centralia a freight-hopper approached my car, thinking my train was headed south to Portland. I set him straight and he wandered away in search of a ride south. As I passed Tenino Junction I thought of my friend Celia again: this area had a special meaning for her. In Tacoma there was a short layover. I fell asleep and woke up less than an hour later to find myself in the freight yard in Auburn. I dismounted just in time to avoid being switched off. Another car provided transportation northward. At South Seattle the train switched a few cars.


After a lazy passage through Seattle's south end industrial area the train stopped in the Northern Pacific yard behind the big Sears store on First Avenue South (in 2004 that building was headquarters of Starbucks).

It appeared that all cars were going to be dropped off here. How was I to reach Balmer Yard, miles north in the Interbay district? It was close to midnight, so I figured that riding city buses to Interbay would take hours. Since I was too cheap to pay for a taxi, I had just one option: ride the units. Somehow I managed to climb aboard a unit without being seen and rode it to Interbay.

When I dismounted on the fly in Balmer Yard, one of the crew members yelled at me. Was he angry because I had been on a unit, or because he had not been vigilant enough to see me get on? No matter: I had reached my destination. The units rolled toward the far end of the yard.

I had friends in Seattle but it was too late to call anyone to pick me up. So I resolved to sleep in the yard and make contact with someone in the morning. Near the locomotive servicing area I found a dirty tool car parked among damaged freight cars. This seemed an acceptable place to spend the night. It occurred to me that some drunk hobo could stumble onto me during my slumber, but I hopped in and spent the night undisturbed.


Sunday morning I cleaned myself up a bit and walked out of the freight yard. I phoned home to tell my parents I was all right. Then I called a family friend who lived nearby and she picked me up. I spent a few days with her and her husband, then visited friends (including Celia) in Bellingham, the city where I had gone to college and where, three years earlier, I had hopped my first freight.

On the 19th of October I reported for my induction physical in Seattle. The doctors rejected me because of a dental retainer I was still wearing. Now what to do with my life? To make a long story short, I returned to Milwaukee, the Selective Service System determined that the doctor had erred in rejecting me, and the following February I was inducted in Milwaukee. At least I had experienced a "last fling" before being drafted.