Ridin’ the Rails


Two lines of stationary freight cars stretched out into the distance. In-between them a brakeman could be seen inspecting the individual cars. Just my luck, I’d been hoping to board one of the cars out of sight of any watching eyes. Fortunately, I was behind him, unseen. I slipped back, hiding behind the nearest car and hoped he didn’t look back and see my feet. Just to be sure I clambered up onto the rear of the car. I couldn’t get into it from here but at least it hid me. I waited for him to finish his inspection. If I was going to board this train, I needed to find an unsecured boxcar. I’d seen one a few cars back but had dismissed it on instinct. Cautiously I looked around the edge of the car to see where the brakeman had got to. I was in time to see him disappearing out of sight somewhere round the front of the train. I jumped down and made my way back to the open boxcar. There was a powerful smell coming from it probably the reason why I’d dismissed it in the first place. Oh well, needs must, as they say. I struggled with the door and managed to get it open far enough for me to slip in. My timing was perfect, no sooner was I on board than the train gave a shudder and started to move.

Hopping a train was no longer a common way of life and with today’s trains it was only possible to do when stationary in the marshalling yard. This made it a far riskier business than in the days of steam but it also made for a far more satisfactory challenge for the modern hobo. Modern hobos? Was that a thing? It sounded like it should be said in the same breathe as freegan and be up there with practices such as dumpster diving and urban foraging. Me? I’m an old fashioned hobo. The train gets me from A to B, even though I’ve generally got no real reason to travel to these exotic places, other than having worn out my welcome wherever it is that I am. Life is one big holiday for me. I’ll work if I need to but only when I want to. Otherwise nature provides. The odd chicken here and there, a common commodity thanks to today’s urban chicken farmers. Apples on the tree, blackberries from the hedge, maize in the field and, if things get desperate, there’s always the Salvation Army… or a job.

What had I gotten myself into? The smell was strong but not overpoweringly unpleasant. Then I heard the grunts. It was a pig wagon. I was lucky; they were all crated up not running free. I found myself a place to settle down and made a kind of nest out of some clean straw I found spilled onto the floor. At least it looked clean in the half-light of the wagon, more importantly it smelt fresh and helped dispel the porcine odour permeating the boxcar. One good thing about the smell though, it would put the railroad workers searching the train for hobos of the scent, literally. No one in their right mind would travel in these conditions. But then again, it was surprising what one could get used to and how quickly one adapted. After an hour or so the smell stopped bothering me and the straw still smelt fresh. Pigs… when you came to think of it the smell of a bunch of pigs was no worse than that of a bunch of hobos between baths.

I awoke to a lurching movement. I guessed that the train had reached its destination. Time to get ready to disappear in a new rail yard. As I cautiously peeked out of the boxcar, I listened for the sounds of railroad workers… nothing. Things were looking good, the railings surrounding the yard were in need of repair. Plenty of gaps there to squeeze through. If I was to make a clean getaway, I needed to avoid detection or, at the very least, make it to the railings before someone caught me. I waited until the train had come to a halt, double-checked for railmen, then made my move. I jumped down from the boxcar and, instead of making a run for it, strolled gently in the direction of the railings. If you look as though you belong, people usually ignore you. If you do something out of the ordinary, like running, you draw people’s attention. I arrived at the railings and then I was through them safe and sound. A new town, a new adventure, my holiday had resumed.


Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink July 5th writing prompt competition



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