Riding the Rails and Tramping Around the Country

Commentary by Raymond Jacobs


     Back in the early 1960’s, after I returned home from the military, I rode the rails a while, traveling coast to coast and city to city having the fun of my life. I would hit a city and work for a couple of days to make a few bucks, so that I could get a good meal and clean-up a little bit, then get back out on the road. Sometimes I find a flop house in the cities for 50 cents per night and I would spend a couple of days there, then I’d get back on the rails. Back in those days hopping freight trains was the thing, because anywhere you wanted to go, the train would take you including Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California. I have traveled all over the states either by rail or tramping.  Just to clarify, tramping  is also known as hitching it or hitch hiking, I’ve been all over, here a day there a day, a couple of nights, then back on the road we go. Labor organizations would help you get spot labor by the day and pay you by the day I would spend the night in a hotel. We would avoid places like the Salvation Army and soup kitchens, because I would rather pay for a good meal.

        I recall one time while on the road that I met another hobo and we went to a place called Hobo Heaven, it was outside.  Everyone was sharing and telling there stories the box cars they road in or how they kept warm in the winter even when they traveled up North. This guy’s name was Joe and mulligan stew was his game. He would go into the grocery store and buy a little meat a few vegetables along with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. He’d put a bunch of bowls together then we would go out to Hobo Heaven and cook it up in a big old pot. Everyone would eat a bowl of the mulligan stew. After that we would sit around singing a few songs, telling stories then bed it down in sleeping bags. Some of the guys would get the midnight special; which was a train that slow down or stopped when it came out of the yard at or around midnight; which we could board with no problems.

The day of the real hobo is almost gone just is that of the real hitch hiker. I remember one time up in St. Louis, Missouri, right down the river from my hometown of

New Orleans. Actually East St. Louis is what it is called. I was out hitch hiking, and I stopped into the truck stop, which had signs posted that outlawed soliciting of any kind. I

had some money, not a whole lot. Upon entering the truck stop, I was asked by a trucker “Which way are you headed?” I told him that I was headed back southwest towards New Orleans. He then asked if I wanted a ride.  There was a waitress who was carrying a bus load of dishes, which she dropped on the floor running to her boss to tell him that I was trying to solicit a ride which wasn’t true. The trucker responded to the owner of the truck stop, informing him that it was he who asked me if I was going his way. He further stated that he offered me a ride if I wood help him load and unload his truck at a couple of places a long the way. Well, this is how I made money; while on the road hitch hiking loading and unloading trucks along the way, traveling coast to coast across our great country. Those were the good ole days you could get $20-25 dollars for unloading a truck. The money I earned unloading trucks would last a few days it would allow me to buy clothing from the Salvation Army and to even get a good meal.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle Cleveland, Ohio October 2012 NEOCH