When Bumpa and Alton traveled, their favorite mode of transportation was in a car or truck. If they neared or left big cities however, and couldn’t thumb a ride, they hopped on freight trains.
They had to be very careful. Some railroad officials turned a blind eye to hobos hopping the trains. Others carried clubs and would beat any man they caught trying to board a train car. Because they never knew what kind of men were working in the yard, the twins would not enter a train while it was still on railroad property. As the train began to move out of the railroad yard and before it picked up too much speed, they would run and hoist themselves into the train. It was quite a feat of stregnth to get into a train. How often they did this, I am not sure, but the day they saw a man not make the jump and actually dragged under a train and killed was the last time they ever rode by rail. Both my grandfather and his brother were very cautious men. Death was too high a penalty for a lark on a train.
Once they were in the boxcars, the boys often found up to 20 men were also in the car. Most of the men they met were just ordinary people. These were men who couldn’t find work at home, couldn’t take care of their families. Some of the men had left their families with the promise to send for them when they found a secure job. Some of the men had deserted their families, not able to face loved ones with their failures. Some of the men had been huge, rich executives who had lost everything. Some were escaped convicts. Bumpa was a naturally curious man, but he learned quickly that when you rode the rails, you didn’t ask questions. The men were often friendly, but if a man kept to himself, he was not to be bothered.
Getting off the trains was just as dangerous as getting on one. As they felt the train start to slow down, they’d jump and roll off. They didn’t wait for the train to enter the yards because the railroad workers often lay in wait to attack the men debarking the cars. As much as my grandfather and his brother wanted their trip across the country to be an adventure, it was often perilous and it was always educational.