to jump these trains
In the "pennies on a railroad track" thread Mike said riding a freight train was on his bucket list. I have a little experience in this area, although it's been 18 years since I hopped a train. Mike, the train in your video in the "pennies on a railroad track" thread is called a Union Pacific "hot shot." It's so called because it has the right of way on the track between southern California and Chicago. These trains are hauling goods made in China, Korea, Japan, etc. and are on their way to the Chicago yard for redistribution to other parts back east. The same type of trains roll east out of San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. Another slang term for these type of trains is "stacker" or "stackers," so called because they stack the containers one on top of the other. The railroad cars these containers are in are called "48's" simply because they are 48 feet long.
The hot shots make the run from Los Angeles to Chicago in about 54 hours. They run up through Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Ogden, then turn east and run through southern Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and into Illinois.
I used to jump the hot shots in Vegas up to Salt Lake City and other points. These trains made regular crew changes where one set of engineer and brakeman would depart the train and another set would get on. The crew change only takes about five minutes. The crew change for the northbound trains in Las Vegas was where the tracks cross Charleston Blvd. The nose of the train stopped just across Charleston. The rest of the train stretched south and had traffic blocked so the crew change had to be quick.
So to jump these trains a freight tramp had to be quick. You have to find one of them "48's" with a steel bottomed floor and jump in. Not all of them have a solid bottom floor. And you have to jump into the rear of the car, behind the containers, so you have a wind block.
Whatever you do don't ever jump into an empty boxcar. It's not just a bad ride, it's horrible. Being empty they bounce and roll. I laugh when I see movies where they are in a boxcar and carrying on a conversation. It is so loud in an empty boxcar that there is no way you can carry on a conversation with anyone. As a matter of fact it is so loud you could scream at the top of your lungs and not hear yourself.
If you make a jump don't go alone. I always carry a sleeping bag and a day pack. And I always jumped at night or just before sunrise for camouflage. Your choices for jumping off the train are Milford, Utah and Salt Lake City. At SLC the trains slow to a crawl right at the old Union Station right off downtown and it's easy to jump off. Don't worry to much about the railroad police. Just stay out of sight as much as possible. If you get busted, as a first time offender you can expect a warning ticket and getting kicked off the train. You don't have to worry about getting busted out in the middle of nowhere. The railroad police are only around the yards.
I've talked to some people who have ridden the rails for awhile, and they described a life of both comraderie and frequent violence. While they were not very specific, I got the impression that they witnessed other tramps getting crippled or killed. Whoa, that is a steep price to pay for what they perceive to be personal freedom.
1) What percentage of these folks do you believe are mentally ill?
2) What is the point of riding the rails, i.e. is it to find seasonal work, to scratch an itch, or something else?
Cool info. Yeah, I've wanted to do it too. Never had the balls. Interesting about the crew change. I thought it would be one free for the duration, taking shifts and utilizing the caboose during off time. Seems more cost effective than to stop and restart an entire train...
The cabooses have gone by the wayside. Guess what, those locomotives don't have running water on them. The Engineer and the Brakeman have to crap in plastic bags and deposit them in a dumpster when they depart the train. I'm not kidding.