A freight train on a winter night is colder than an ex-wife. And every train yard you pull into might mean jail. Just to be there is a crime, and everything is filthy. The second time I jumped one I bought a set of coveralls from a Goodwill store to keep my clothes a little cleaner and me a little warmer. I had been hitch-hiking from Baltimore to San Francisco and the rides were scarce, and twice I had been hassled by local police. In Wichita, Kansas they made me buy a bus ticket to Hutchinson and get on. "At least to Hutchinson," the old cop with a bad haircut told me. In Hutchinson I found the Goodwill store, then the freight yard was a couple of miles east of downtown. I hid in a an empty box car until dark, and then the men in the yard started adding cars to a train that looked like it would go west, and it did. At first I was hiding on a grain car by the ladder, because that part of the train was already together. I stayed there as the train went through the town, and once we were in the dark of the countryside I climbed along the top of the train until I got to a flat car loaded with truck trailers. I got down low by the the tires in a spot where it would be hard to see me, even in a well lit train yard. We stopped a few times during the night, adding cars here, leaving them there. In the countryside, the cold night was beautiful, but I was freezing. I sang songs all night as loud as I could, and stamped my feet against the truck tires. I sang every Beatles song I know. Just before dawn I got off in Lamar, Colorado. I was so cold I couldn't stop my teeth from chattering or keep my knees still. I stashed the coveralls in some bushes and went into a waffle house for breakfast. As I walked in, a waitress smiled and motioned that I should wash up. In the restroom I saw that my face was dirty and my hair was wild. I felt wild. Thinking back now, decades later, I think those might have been the best pancakes I ever had.
James Lee Jobe