Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hopping A Freight Train Riding The Rails Meridian Mississippi To Birmingham Alabama Twice

In 1962 and again in 1964 I rode freight trains from Meridian,Mississippi to Birmingham,Alabama.

 I think I must have been reading far too much Thomas Wolfe and Woody Guthrie.
  The first time was around Spring Break in 1962 with Jeff Barr. We hopped the train in Meridian at night and rode all night long through pitch blackness in the crew car on the rear end of a Southern Railroad freight train. I had a toothache on that trip as I recall and we could hear the crew talking on a speaker or what I would call a squawk box. It came out sounding like a tape from the inside of a WW2 bomber.

   But no one bothered us and as I recall the crew car had something to stretch out on and even a wood burning stove.
  I think the train yard workers both times liked the idea that someone was interested in hopping freight trains. There were no railroad police or bulls to throw us off either time.

   The second time was in June of 1964 with Jack Newell. We also left at night but rode in an empty box car. When we got near Birmingham the train stopped. I stuck my head out to see where we were. It was just about daylight. I stepped back. The train lurched forward and the heavy door slammed shut narrowly missing me.

    Robert Stone in his memoir PRIME GREEN writes of riding this same train in 1959 or 1960. He was warned by a trainman to put a 2 by 4 in the door to keep it from shutting and locking him in the boxcar.

   Somehow we were not locked in the box car. But it was a long uncomfortable ride in the empty boxcar on a wooden floor.
We got off in Birmingham both times. It was taking too long and hitch hiking was faster.
   We walked through the train yard in Birmingham over what they call "the hump" where they separate the cars and they roll down a hill to various tracks to be made up in to other freight trains.
In 1962 Jeff and I were on the way to New York for a visit during spring break.
In 1964 Jack Newell and I were on the way to New York for the World's Fair and for Jack to visit his sister Jerry Newell. I was going on to Europe that summer after visiting my brother and going to The 1964 World's Fair.

Hopping freight trains was fun at the time but I never did it again. It was just too slow.