When they got to Kansas City, though, they weren’t allowed off the train. There weren’t enough jobs for the people there, much less these guys jumping trains. Instead, the two men rode the rails across the country, getting off when they thought they could find work. Often times, they worked for meals to keep themselves from starving.
The only clothes they had were on their backs, and Ray said his coat was his blanket. When he slept on top of the box cars, he laid on his stomach with his head on his hands because it was so bumpy.
Sometimes he found other places to sleep. Once it was in the doorway of a building to keep warm. That time police showed up and told him and his friend to move on. But then the cop told them they could sleep in the jail overnight and have a warm breakfast in the morning. They couldn’t pass that up.
Other times they slept in train yards. He remembered a time in Lincoln, Nebraska, when a policeman came with a flashlight, a .38 revolver and a garden hose he used as a whip. They later learned the train cars there had been broken into and police thought they were responsible.
Ray recalled another time he tore his only pair of pants while jumping a train. When he reached town, he stopped at a home and asked for a needle and a thread. The lady of the house was kind enough to give him that plus a jelly bread sandwich.
“I told Ray I thought his hoboing life was a hard life,” my grandmother wrote. “He said ‘it was like going to college, only harder.’”
The story had a happy ending, though. Ray finally found a job at Sunbeam working for 25 cents an hour. He rode a bicycle eight miles to and from work. But it sure beat hopping trains.
The moral of this column is that even ordinary people often have extraordinary stories to tell. So next time you have the opportunity to speak with someone new, give them a chance to really tell you about themselves.
You may find the kind of golden nugget that my grandma was so good at digging up.
[friday] editor / still learning from Grandma