Summer 2009, Northwest

Laurel to Helena

It was late September, I had been picking apples for the last month twenty miles south of Laurel, Montana. The orchard was owned by this rich doctor who didn't have time to maintain the place so my best friend and I were living there for free and working at our own pace, which was very, very slow. But the owner would stop by from time to time and as we got to know him we learned how much of a terrible person he was, we couldn't work for the enemy any longer, so we blew out of there.

My friend and I had split intending to meet up again in Seattle. He gave me a ride into Laurel where I hoofed it over to the yard. The north wind was blowing, fortunately I was outfitted with my newly acquired WWII wool trench coat. There wasn't much cover around the yard but I found a tree shrouded in tall grass, besides it would be dark soon. There wasn't much activity for a few hours, but well after darkness had fallen a unit grain pulled in. Unfortunately, there were no units on the rear end. It sat for a few hours until some helpers were added, there was my ride!

I let them hook everything up then I dashed into the yard and made my way back to the units. Once inside, I fell asleep in the john and woke up a few hours later just as we were pulling out of the yard. The night was black as ink so I missed out on any view that big sky had to offer. When I woke up I figured we were outside of Helena. We were stopped well outside of town and ended up sitting there for 5 or 6 hours. I gave up and started hiking across town. I hitched to a junction just off of I-90 where I started walking along the tracks. I stumbled into a jungle that must have been thriving in its heyday; it had living quarters, tables, furniture, all situated just between the tracks and a river. It didn't seem like any tramps had been there in a while.

Missoula to Pasco

By the next day I was in Missoula, I found my way to the yard where I was able to hang in an empty storage unit out of the sun. There was a natural food store a block away and a gas station with beer half mile down the road, which was a good 'cause I was waiting 12+ hours for a ride out. After dark some junk finally rolled in, I caught the back porch of a navy blue MRL grainer and we were soon underway. The moon was out so I could catch brief glimpses of the view but overall I was disappointed that I'd crossed Montana with no chances to take photos. At first light the train rolled into a yard, I wasn't sure if it was Hauser yet so I got off and ditched my bag in the brush. I started walking along the highway to see where I was, almost immediately I was stopped by a cop.

"What are you doing out here?"
"Uh, hitch hiking." I responded
"Oh, well, can't do that here,"
"Would you mind telling me where here is anyway?"
"Well, you're in Idaho, just five miles east of Washington."
"Can I see your ID, don't you have a bag or anything?"
"Well, no, I don't have anything, no ID or bag, just lonely me"

The cop gave me a puzzled look; if this instance with the police was going to turn out like any previous encounters I could safely assume that I'd be riding with him shortly. He asked my name and ran it with the dispatcher. When he came back he told me to be safe, don't hitch hike and have a nice day. I was amazed that someone dressed in a trench coat walking around with no possessions at 4:30 in the morning could only arouse a small amount of curiosity with this cop.

My train was still sitting there so I jumped back on the same car and fell asleep. I woke up as we rolled through Spokane and out into the deserts of eastern Washington. Late in the afternoon we came into the Pasco Yard. I waited hoping that the train would continue on west but it didn't and they started breaking it up. I should have just caught out of the Pasco yard that night but instead I started hitching to Seattle, which took way too long. Once there, I met up with old friends and hung around the city for a week of sunshine; and a week without rain in Seattle is like champagne for breakfast.

Dunsmuir to Roseville

After weeks of bathing in the sun driving down the Oregon and California coast it was time to go home. It was early in October and I was just starting to feel the cold. After stealing showers from the university in Arcata we drove east in the midst of a very pungent growing season. The diesel was most sour and the blueberry was uh, very AK-47. Anyway, My friend and I split in Dunsmuir, he was going to drive home to Denver across the desert, but I had an itch to roll.

We walked down to the jungle together, which was a blast 'cause I'd never been there but heard so much about it. We said our goodbyes and I waited as the sun sank behind the hills that towered above me. A northbound IM rolled through, and an hour or so later I heard some southbound junk approaching. It stopped and I start pacing the train for rides. There was nothing I was able to ride and I'd covered and least twenty cars. The train began to air up, I started running faster hoping that something would appear. The train started to roll; "shit! shit! shit!" I wanted to get out of there so bad, but it wasn't looking good. Finally, five cars down I spotted the black outline of a grainer. The train is moving pretty fast, I sprinted and hopped on the front porch (which held all the air equipment) just in time. It was a warm night and I really don't like crossing the tops of cars, so I rode crammed in with the air. Even though the weather was nice, the ride still fucking sucked.

The train did its crew change outside of Davis yard, but I didn't know where I was so I held her down and started rolling into the yard. I realized that I was too tired to be playing cat and mouse, so I jumped off and went straight to the east end of the yard, big mistake; I spent the next hour walking to the catchout spot. Once there, I was greeted by four other tramps who had been waiting for a while with no luck. The only train to go by on the mains was full of autoracks and tankers. By the time it was daylight we were all greeted by the bull and kicked out. The whole process was routine to this guy; he also took our pictures. Which got me to thinking; If tramps get busted in Roseville everyday, and they take pictures of all those tramps, then the UP in Roseville probably has the greatest collection of tramp portraits anywhere. Although, they probably don't have their hands on the best, but that certainly wasn't me on that day - so I hitched to Sparks.

Sparks, NV to Salt Lake City

My ride out of Roseville took me to the Golden Nugget casino in Sparks, which sits directly adjacent to the yard. It was a hot and cloudless day, and I wasn't sure where to catch out so I wandered around the casino for a while. But casinos get old fast so I walked to the east throat of the yard where I sat in the shade between a few buildings. An hour or so later an eastbound rolled through; I caught a grainer on the fly as it entered the yard. At this point I realized that I had only been riding grainers, which made me anxious to find another pullman. We rolled out shortly after stopping, so I remained on my first pick. The sun was setting and we hauled ass into the starfilled sky floating on the ocean of sagebrush and sand.

I woke up in Elko at 2 a.m. with my arms and legs numb from the cold. I started pacing the train and came across an open boxcar. I feel back asleep on the floor and when I woke we were still sitting, it was daylight now and I could tell that it was going to be a hot day. After departing I spent the next 12 hours lounging in the shade, eating peanut butter, and watching the Nevada skyline roll by like a movie outside the boxcar door.

We descended into the salt flats and kept rolling at a steady 40 mph until the sky was pink and orange. I counted the broken telephone lines jutting out from the salt marshes, their shadows grew longer until all the shadows became one and only the slow creak of the boxcar was heard above the steel rails humming. And that's the hobo's lullaby...

I got off in Salt Lake, and slept in a trailer until the rain woke me at 5 am. I stuck my thumb out on I-80 and was home in Denver that evening. One hell of a trip, but never the last.

Photos from this trip can be seen at "Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain's" photostream on Flickr.