(The following is the fifth part in an ongoing series recalling a 17-year-old boy’s cross-country trip to California taken with his high school buddies in the summer of 1958. The, story, by Stan Kornafel, was told to Managing Editor David Bjorkgren.)
Stranded in Kansas, hitchhiking seemed to be the only option home for the boys.
There was this freight yard and freight trains have a caboose, if they could only get on board.
“They said we can’t ride the rail. But we talked to an old railroad man. He tells us about a hobo camp.
“We let him know what we’re doing and what happened with the car. With his instructions we decided to hop the freight.”
They hide in the bushes as a small, working freight train, an old steamer, approaches.
“The engine stops almost in front of us. We could see the brakeman.”
There was a big blast of steam off to the side and black smoke. The wheels started to grind. The trainman they had talked to in the freight yard yells, “good luck, guys. “
But there’s nothing to jump on to. “Dave and Bill are on the railing of the cars.” Stanley tried to grab the caboose. “There’s no place for me to jump on.”
The train picked up speed.
“I couldn’t get on at the back of the stairs. I grabbed on to a fence.”
Stanely, who used to do some running, had torn some ligaments in the past. Now he’s concerned that his feet and legs won’t be up to the task of getting on board the train.
Dave and Bill have made it to the top. The train keeps picking up speed, doing maybe 15 to 20 mph.
“I stumbled one time and ran. Eventually the guys on top, they grab my belt and pants so I can sit, then, to get me to the top they pulled and pushed. If I had fallen that would have been it.”
Having successfully hopped the freight, they decided that was the best way to get home.
Things were going well until the tornado.
“We got caught in a freight yard. A tornado hits. We didn’t know a tornado was coming.
Someone had told them about an open box car and they were waiting to hop on when the tornado hits the train yard.
“Debris was flying all over the place. All hell was breaking loose. It lifted Dave off the ground. I was holding on to Bill. The next morning, one car was standing upright in a tree.”
(The conclusion appears next week. Know someone who might still have one of Stan’s raffle tickets? He is asking anyone who has a ticket or knows anything about them to contact Managing Editor Dave Bjorkgren at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 610-915-2251.)