The Iron Horse - A Rez Boys Adventure
Category: News & PoliticsBy: kavika • 2 weeks ago • 69 comments
Many years ago, before many of you were born, it was a great sport and also our main form of transportation for us to ''jump'' the ore trains. Jumping the ore trains was complicated and dangerous. It required us to run alongside an ore train that was still gaining speed and be careful not to trip on the railroad ties while looking for a post or ladder rung to grab onto and swing ourselves up onto the huge beast. All of this required great coordination and a certain amount of bravado mixed with an equal amount of stupidity. The easiest time to jump a train that was just coming out of the roundhouse but as easy as it was there were the yard dicks that would beat your ass with a billy club so it was the more dangerous area after it had left the main switching area and was gaining speed.
The great ''Iron Range'' of northern Minnesota. The Mesabi, Vermillion, Cuyuma, and Gunflint made up the Iron Range. Red iron ore was the treasure here and there were numerous mines both underground and open pit with dozens of ore trains running in and out of the area 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The beasts could be one hundred cars long as they snaked their way down to Duluth and the ore docks where where the iron ore was dumped into ore boats that would head across Lake Superior to ore mills in the surrounding states.
My two brothers and I would spend the best part of summer ''jumping'' ore trains to points unknown to us. Generally not far, since our world was about 5 miles in any direction.
It was July in the early 1950s when the three of us set off on our great adventure. Having had years of experience jumping ore trains, the day started out as any other. It would be a fun day riding around the countryside, and being home by supper. It was not to be.
We started out walking from our house to the local ''Roundhouse'' at Kelly Lake, an area where trains switched and we could jump one after it had left the roundhouse and switching yard and before it reached full speed. After a walk of three miles, we had it in sight, we waited by the railroad tracks for the first train to come by.
Looking down the track here she came, huffing and puffing as she gained power, black smoke billowing from her stacks. It was a ''Great Northern Railroad engine, the one with the mountain goat for an emblem. As she came closer and closer to us, the huge ''cow catcher'' pushing out the front of her, she was bellowing, smoke pouring from her stacks and we could hear the clackity clack of her huge steel wheels running over the rails. She was big, powerful, and scary.
We were excited and scared at the same time, this monster of a train was heading right at us. As she passed the noise was tremendous and deafening, the trees shook driving the birds to seek refuge far away.. Huge steel wheels went by our heads and we looked up and could see the engineer leaning out the side, looking ahead and the ''fireman'' was shoveling coal into her. She was beautiful and frightening at the same time, she was the most powerful thing on earth.
As she roared by us the ore cars tagged along behind this beauty. One hundred cars long, the red ore piled high in each, as she gained power, she ate up the tracks.
Now was the time, we started running alongside her, reaching out to grab a ladder to swing ourselves up, a slip meant death. Our hearts were pounding, our lungs felt like they were going to burst. Finally, I reached up and grabbed a post and my fingers felt like they were digging into the steel of the post. Two more steps and time to swing myself up my other hand grabbing the post and my feet floating free for a minute until I could get them caught up to the rest of my body. Now both hands had a firm grip and my feet were on the ladder. Reaching back I reached for my brother's wrist, grabbing his wrist not his hand. As my hand locked around his wrist he had grasped my wrist we were locked in, now to swing him up so he would help our third brother. Soon we were all safely aboard rolling thunder.
Now we were King of the Rails. She was our Iron Horse, massive, powerful, without equal, one that would make us free. She was hurling down the tracks, gaining speed with every turn of her mighty steel wheels. The trees on each side of the tracks were becoming a blur and she roared down the tracks.
Still gaining speed, her whistle blew out a warning to all. ''Do not challenge me''.
We were holding on for dear life as she roared through a railroad crossing, the cars looking like tiny toys next to her. The people in the cars were waving to us and we waved back.
Freedom was ours on the back of this powerful being, we knew that she was alive, we had become part of her, our fear leaving us as we screamed in joy, we are the King of the World.
Soon we were on the outskirts of a town about ten miles from our start. She was not slowing down, she was gaining speed. Her giant wheels taking bites out of the track, smoke from her stacks, thick and black, her whistle screaming at the heavens. We were riding the most powerful being in the universe.
We looked at each other, the same thought ran through our minds, we were headed to the ore docks on Lake Superior over a hundred miles away. She wasn't going to stop, this was not one of the local trains this was a one-way ride on the back of Iron Horse, nothing could stop her.
Hours later we could see the ore docks, we had to get off or risk being killed when they dumped the cars. As she slowed down we jumped and hit the ground with a thud and rolled and rolled finally coming to a stop in some brambles. Looking at each other not knowing if we were dead or alive we started checking to see if we still had all of our body parts.
Soon we realized that we were in a world that we had never seen before. 120 miles from home in the port city of Duluth. The only way home was to ''jump'' another train and hope that it was headed in the right direction.
That night we waited for a ''Great Northern'' engine to come our way. We waited and waited, soon the sun was coming up and a whole night had passed.
Here she came, huffing and puffing gaining speed for her trip back to the ore mines. We ran alongside her and jumped aboard. The ride back was mixed with excitement and knowing that we were in big trouble.
Hours later we were coming up on the ''Round House'' in Kelly Lake, as she slowed down we jumped again, landing with a resounding thud, we were still in one piece.
Now the long walk home and what awaited us there. We had been gone for over 24 hours and our parents must be out of their minds with worry.
We were right, our parent's anger mixed with fear for us and them not knowing what had become of us was devastating for them, right up until the time dad tanned our asses with great enthusiasm.
For 24 hours we were free, riding the rails, the power of the engine was our lifeblood. We had mastered the Iron Horse and we truly were Kings of the Rail.
It was worth it.
Kavika 2013. All rights reserved
the best childhoods are the ones that when you look back on them you wonder how you lived thru them.
We did stupid things as kids but never jumped trains
I never hopped a train either, but I did a lot of stupid shit around them.
We use to hitchhike everywhere.
Another exciting story, Kavika. It made me feel like I was right there with them.
But, I was glad I missed their punishment. (grin)
I wish I missed the punishment..LOL
Another one of your great stories, and I anticipate reading the many more you have recorded. Back when I was a kid at my grandmother's cottage, the railroad ran along the Burlington Beach strip. However, when the ore ships or others were sailing through the canal the train had to stop, and when that happened my friends and I would climb up on the cars, knocking coal off to take home for the cottage heating stoves - unpunished theft committed by us kids. Usually they were too fast for us to jump.
When I read your story, perhaps because his death has been in the news, the line from Gord Lightfoot's song In The Early Morning Rain ran through my mind: "You can't jump a jet plane like you can a freight train."
I often think of Lightfoot's line about planes and freight trains.
Train jumping is just crazy! I never tried jumping trains. I did play in a few pits though and taconite pellet fights were many. I'm amazed we made it to puberty let alone adulthood.
I sure remember playing in the pits and swimming in Kelly Lake, there was so much iron ore in it when you came out your skin was red. Oh, wait. LOL
We used to seine the old abandoned tailing ponds for minnows and then sell them to the gas stations that would sell live bait.
we used to dig up worms for the local store.
... trade them for BB's and candy. traded away all the imperfect arrowheads too...
I laughed and cringed all the way thru. Good story telling. I liked this part:
All of this required great coordination and a certain amount of bravado mixed with an equal amount of stupidity.
I was 100% bravado by brothers who were the stupid part of the trio, Trout.
Actually, brother number 3 was named Miracle because it was a miracle he could remember his name.
So you were the brave one but not the stupid one, is that right? lol
he was the noble NA in the family...
Another great one.
Growing up in Maryland, there were no trains around where we were. I don't even remember any tracks.
Coming back to Biloxi trains are more of a pain in the ass, running through the middle of the city and always blocking traffic. I remember people use to get killed walking across the train bridge that crossed the bay.
If you were mine, I would have hugged you hard and then you would have never seen the light of day.
I hope the adventure was worth it. Boys are a whole different kind of trouble than girls.
Boys are a whole different kind of trouble than girls.
True we are not nearly as troublesome as girls.
I had a neighbor complain because my son was peeing outside
My son got in trouble for doing that at his after-school program. He asked to use the bathroom, and wasn't allowed to go. When he couldn't hold it anymore, he took a country pee.
Can you blame him?
My son was only about 3 and learning how to potty. He was playing hard and all of a sudden he had to pee. Instead of peeing his pants he peed outside. I sure didn't yell at him
#2 son was famous for marking his territory outside until he was like 7.
Sounds like per-o-Rama.
I didn't blame him at all, and told the director as much. He had asked to go, had been denied, and found a private corner of the playground to avoid wetting himself. And the kid has a huge bladder, so I know that if he says he can't wait, he REALLY can't wait.
I forgot to tell ya that it was a great story, even if you could have ended up dead.
Ha, dead!!! are you kidding we were shape shifters we can't be killed.
Ah yeah - the days.
Dad was stationed in Pfungstadt, Germany when I was 8. We moved into a "new" house that was right across from a huge railroad hub. The "new" was because we were the first Americans and the only Americans in the neighborhood. Hung out with the German kids a lot - got to speak German almost like a native German. They loved to play this game called "Cowboy and Indians" and, guess who got to play the Indian?
Anyway, I'd come home from school, do my chores and homework and then had an hour or two to goof off before dinner, so I'd always go outside and sit on the porch, watching the trains do their stuff, listening to the whistles, bells, wheels grinding, clanging of the coupling/uncoupling of the cars and day dream.
So, one Saturday morning, got up early, Dad was leaving to go fly some folks around and Mom was resting up. Ate my cereal and went out to the porch to watch and listen.
Well, the urge hit me - I'm gonna go see them train cars and talk with the folks who worked there - sounded like a good idea.
Crossed the dozen or so tracks, saw a door open on a car and decided to look around the car to see what it had in it. Hadn't been in the car longer than 'bout 5 minutes when the car jerked, the door shut, and we started moving.
A little shook up, not scared, but getting excited. We arrived in Darmstadt 'bout, I guess, an hour later. The train pulled into its hub and trainmen started opening up the doors to the cars and there I was - in the open - no ticket - shorts and short sleeved shirt and grinning from ear-to-ear.
The trainmen who found me shouted out to his team and they all came running to see what was going on. Since I spoke fairly decent German, I told them what I had done, they rolled with laughter - and then got very, very serious. What the hell do you do with an 8 year old American kid who had just hobo'd for the first time in his life? Better yet, how do you get him back home and where was home?
The worker who found me took me by the hand and we went to his house. I got to eat a true German lunch with he, his wife and two kids and we all laughed and talked 'cause, well, you know, it wasn't a big deal, right? After lunch, the worker took me back to the train hub and found the next train headed back to Pfungstadt to get me back home without any damages.
Got to ride in the caboose, sitting in the upper panel where I could view our trail. Got to Pfungstadt, put off the train and it seemed like the whole crew came to wish me well. The worker walked me to our house and - yup, there they were - both of them - framed in the doorway. Dad's face was pure red, Mom's face was wet from all the tears 'cause she thought she'd lost her rambunctious child, but they both listened to the worker's tale (with mostly my translation), waved him goodbye and promptly put me on single room restriction for a month.
But, as time went on, Mom and Dad got a little more trusting and I was allowed to cross over to the rail yard, but not allowed to get on any of the trains (well, maybe once or twice).
Not as exciting as yours Kavika, but I also had a blast.
Would I do it again??? You betcha .
Great story. I was stationed in Darmstadt from Thanksgiving 84 until early Dec 87. Occasionally on days off I'd just go to the train station, ride somewhere eat lunch and ride back until I captured the eye of a local German girl. She had frequent nightmares and her parents told me to move in so she would stop trying to crawl into their bed at night. She spoke great English, her father did quite well with broken English and her mother refused to speak English. I got by okay with broken German. One of the best memories was when my gf was on a trip to Italy and her mom made sure I still came "home" after work for dinner. She and sat together watching an old American WWII movie and laughing.
I should have stayed for a second tour.
Ha, you should have done a second tour there, EG.
Great story, 1st. On my first tour I was stationed in Germany. Furth and Munich. Great times.
I like trains
back in the 70's I had friends that lived in glenwood springs colorado. the mrs and I would drive up to visit and fish on weekends during the summer months. east of town the railroad ran on the south side of the colorado river and I-70 ran on the north thru glenwood canyon, so everybody fished on the north side. we had convinced ourselves that all the fish were all on the opposite side of the river because of that fact so we decided to walk down the tracks and fish. about a quarter mile down the tracks into the canyon was a train tunnel just as long that went around the bend making it pitch black on the middle. no light at the end of the tunnel in either direction. we would hike down the tracks and wait for the next train to pass, and then get thru the tunnel as fast as possible, because if you got caught in the tunnel with a train, there was only enough room to lay between the tracks and the tunnel wall without being swept up in the wind the train made by passing thru it. I never got caught in the tunnel with a train, but we did have some very close calls since it was a busy line. we stopped fishing that side of the bank after 2 of our fishing party did get caught in the tunnel and afterwards refused to enter the tunnel again due to their experience. in hindsight we probably should have put our ears to the rail NA style to listen for the iron horse before entering the tunnel.
no, I thought that was telegraph lines. wouldn't the vibration from a train pass thru the rails? goddam hollywood...
LOL hard of hearing means they wouldn't hear the train until it hit them.
that never happened.
the narrow gauge railroad ran thru my grandpa's ranch. nothing but the ties and some coal was left tho.
the narrow gauge railroad ran thru my grandpa's ranch. nothing but the ties and some coal was left tho.
That's pretty cool.
the old house that the ranch hands slept in was a stage stop in the 1800's. my cousins and I used to dig 45 slugs out of the exterior with our pocket knives. I also had a massive arrowhead collection at one time.
That is so cool, devan.
last I heard the hunt family owned that ranch. my dad used to do work for the slaughter family and they'd let us fish on their posted section of the river. we'd have all those huge trout to ourselves.
we'd have all those huge trout to ourselves.
of course, any trout over 3 lbs. is huge to a 7 year old...
as kids on the ranch we had 3 rules.
- stay away from rollo the bull
- the ringing bell meant come running
- stay out of the plague ghost town
my grandpa's NA ranch foreman taught me and my cousins how to catch brookies. I taught my 2 sons the same way.
My grandfather had bulls and he warned us never never never approach the bulls, but did I listen, oh hell no, and that is another story.
there's a few incidents I won't admit to, until a few more people in the family have died...
my only other train story is from the early 70's. my friends and I were in a high school film class and we made short films with 8mm and super8 film cameras. in one film we needed a shot of a train coming down the tracks towards us, so we put our cameraman on the tracks in front of a coal train headed our direction. we got the shot without putting him in danger by shooting the front of the train while slowly zooming in. this was out in the sticks and the engineer was laying on the horn the whole time, which we thought was hilarious. the caboose comes along and the guy riding in it throws what looked like a rolled up news paper at us which lands in the middle of our group. we remove the the rubberband and it's a bunch of kids coloring books about train safety and not playing around trains. our next shot was a scene of us all sitting there reading the coloring books, then with a closeup of the covers exposed to the camera.
Great story, devan.
it reminded me of another one. again, back in the early 70's. we thought it was funny to park on the RR crossings out in the sticks while we sat in the car and drank beer. usually this particular track (same track as previous story) was only rarely used during the day for coal trains. not everybody knew that. one night we're sitting in the car ('36 pontiac coupe) drinking beer, and we hear the train horn. we look to our right and see the headlights of the train coming toward us. the notoriously undependable car fails to start. all 6 of us pile out of the car to push it off the tracks. 3 on the front and 3 on the back pushing against each other like keystone cops. finally we got our shit together and got the car off the tracks. it started right up after that episode. we stopped parking on the RR tracks after that, and moved on to shooting bottle rockets into fireworks stands as we drove by...
we stopped parking on the RR tracks after that,
Proving that ya'll really did have a brain, although at that time underused....
our brains were marinating in alcohol at the time...
you remember those reckless days of our youth when we were immortal...
you remember those reckless days of our youth when we were immortal...
You mean we're not immortal??? Damn, I have to make some changes knowing that.
it's all the spirits of NA's taking over the souls of the white devils in order to eliminate them...
so you've got nothing to worry about.
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We really did this. Young and dumb.