Jumping the Freight Trains

Today’s story is dedicated to my good friend Austin. I moved from Boston to Austin my freshman year of high school and of course had no friends here. On the very first day I made friends with the people who remain my best friends to this day, and I consider that to be perhaps the most fortunate event of my life.

One of those friends is Austin. Now in the military flying whirly-copters, he used to be the one guy (well, actually I could pretty much always count on Terry too) who would always be in for a crazy plan.

This scheme fell right into our laps.

I was sitting in our dorm one night when Todd, Dan, and a few others came into the room.

“Dude, were down by the train tracks all night!”

It was a strange declaration. He continued to tell us that they intended to jump onto a moving freight train, but had gotten bored waiting for a train, had a little bonfire by the tracks, and then gave up and came home. It sounded uneventful, but fun in it’s own right.

The next night they came by again and said that they were about to go back to the tracks to try to catch a train. Normally quite a risk taker, jumping on to a moving freight train seemed a bit excessive. They hadn’t run into one the night before, though, so I assumed we would end up just hanging out by the tracks. It seemed interesting enough.

We drove to the tracks and sat down on the gravel. We were situated at a corner in the track which was immediately followed by a bridge. We determined that if we actually made it onto a train we would need to climb high on it to avoid being squished by the bridge.

Five minutes later I thought I heard a train. Nothing in sight. Then it came around the bend. Crap – I hadn’t really thought this one through.

It was still in the distance, its headlights staring us down. As it came closer it became louder and bigger by the second. I thought that I knew just how massive a train was, but I was wrong. It was awe inspiring. When it was fifty feet away we were deafened by the sound of brakes screeching. The gravel shook below our feet. As the engine passed us, I could see the sparks coming off the breaks. I laughed. There was no way anyone was going near that train.

As if reading my mind and defying my thoughts, Austin charged towards the train. Was he serious?

He was. He caught up to it, grabbed on to a ladder on the side of the train and pulled himself up. I couldn’t believe it. He scrambled up the ladder and disappeared into the night.

Crap. There was absolutely no way I was going to let him have this story unless I had it too. At this point you might ask “if Austin jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?”

Yes. Yes, I would.

So sure was I that we wouldn’t actually be jumping train, I wore flip flops to the event. They’d have to do. I started racing over the loose gravel towards the train. As I got about ten feet away I stopped and laugh uncontrollably. The train was so awesome that it didn’t seem real. The laughter was probably some sort of defense mechanism.

I had to do it, though. The other five members of our crew were watching to see if I was going to do it or not.

Again I ran towards the train, this time I made it right up to it. I ran alongside it, but it was going faster than I could run. I was running out of track – soon I’d be up to the bridge.

In a literal leap of faith, I jumped at the train and grabbed the rungs of the ladder. It lifted me off the ground and I somehow pulled myself up. I was on!

The gap between the train and the bridge was big enough that I didn’t get smooshed, after all. I locked my arm around the ladder and enjoyed the ride.

My bliss lasted for a good ten seconds, and then reality set in. We had no exit strategy. None of us really thought that we would make it onto the train, so we never made any plans. How far was Austin going to go? How far was I going to go?

As I pondered the train accelerated. The turn was over and it was gaining speed for the long straightaway ahead. But I didn’t notice that.

My phone rang.

“Hey dude, did you get on?”

“Yeah… I’m on right now.”

“Oh. Really? I jumped off after the bridge”

Uh oh. I was now on the front of this death train and had no idea what I was going to do. It was then that I noticed our increased speed.

I had to get off. I surveyed my options. Next to the track was a nice loose bed of gravel. I probably wouldn’t get injured landing on that. Of course, there were also heaping piles of scrap metal every fifty feet or so. Hitting one of those would certainly result in serious injury – or worse. Past the gravel was a steep hill that led to a ditch. There were enough trees and rocks there that it wasn’t an option.

I formulated my plan. I would push myself off of the train slowly and start running in the air. I’d slowly ease myself onto the gravel, keeping my feet moving, and run to safety.

Before I had a chance to realize that my plan wasn’t very good, I saw a long stretch of gravel. Who knew if there would be as good a patch ahead. It was time to jump now.

Just as I envisioned it, I pushed myself off of the train and started moving my feet. I slowly lowered myself to the gravel and let go of the train. Two huge steps were executed perfectly, and then the third missed and I fell flat on my face. I looked up and saw a scrap metal pile maybe twenty feet away. My timing was pretty good.

Just then I looked up at the roaring train and swore that I saw some cell phone lights whizz by. I called Terry – they had all jumped on after me and were now still on. The train was moving even faster now, as it had completely cleared the corner.

I told them that I had jumped off, and suggested that they do the same.

Twenty minutes later, I saw them walking towards me, bloody.

Terry had gouged his hand on a rock, leaving a scar that still remains today. Todd’s knee was bleeding through his pants, and his hand was bleeding as well. He had a big smile on his face.

We all started walking back towards the start, but we were losing Terry. He was feeling lightheaded and going into shock.

Adminstering the only remedy we knew, we all sang Snoop Dogg songs to keep him awake. It worked, and after ten or fifteen minutes he was fine.

We met up with Austin, and went back to the dorm. Our friend Sumaya, who worked at Starbucks at the time, brought over a huge pan of brownies left over from the store. We called them victory brownies.

In my day I’ve done a number of very dangerous things. Some are on this site, and many more will be posted in the future. However, this remains the most dangerous to date. I would repeat almost everything else, but would never try to jump a train again.

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7 comments

  1. It’s a shame you didn’t all realize you were on the train together. You could have ridden it out. Maybe met some railroad hobos, singin’ songs and drinkin’ cheap wine. Or maybe the hobos would have murdered you for the loose change in your pocket. Hard to say.

  2. Great story. After highschool, I had a dream of doing that with a buddy. Just taking a credit card, a phone card, and a change of clothes, jumping on a random train with a buddy and riding it out, getting on the next one… Unfortunately, my friends all had developed common sence by that time and I didn’t want to do it alone… I wish I had to this day.

  3. Damn, my friend and I did the same thing about 10 years ago from Milwaukee to Chicago but couldn’t jump off, we started going waaaaaaay fast and it got freezing cold, we didn’t get off until we got to skokie Illinois about 70 miles from where we started and had friends pick us up at a white castle. Scary as shit, loud as hell, and felt like 4 hours.

  4. You should have stuck it out.I have rode many trains to many differant places its a fun way to travel.The easyest way to get on is to jump a slow or stoped train in a railyard.Not too long ago I rode a pusher unit on the back of a train from Reno nevada to Roseville california via donner pass it was awesome.If you reconcider just plan ahead and go when its warm.
    Have fun BADBOB

  5. I love Sett. I just wrote this post about trainhopping on my new blog.

    As I’m reading the new comment, Sett suggests that I read this post next. I can only fantasise about what an amazing matrix will be build up with years of excellent bloggers posting their thoughts and adventures here.

    Off course you already did some trainhopping and off course it got gory. You seem to be more boring and way less stupid today, I’m trying to figure out if that is a good thing or not.Stay awesome.

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