Tales of Open Road

The Dark Night of Passage

... and I was considerably troubled for my welfare.

Tales of the Open Road, by Bill Jodrey

The night was as dark as a black cat and the wind was cold and strong. I was riding on top of a "reefer" car and with the shrieking wind and singing rails and the constant pitching of the rail car, I was considerably troubled for my welfare.

A reefer freight is designed to transport perishable fruits and berries, so the cars are constructed with four chambers, one on each corner, and when carrying perishable cargo these compartments are full of ice.

I was very close to panic when I decided to go into one of these ice chambers. Those who are familiar with claustrophobia will understand how panicked I must have been to choose that option. I eased my way to the end of the car, which in itself is a good trick on a train going down the eastern slope at seventy-five mph on a night so dark only the brave are brave, and I'm NOT brave.

I eased myself down into the ice chamber, which had no ice but as at least out of the cold wind. These ice chambers had very little else to recommend them because one has to stand upright and can hardly bend one's knees - they are that narrow.

Not much time passed before I began to get uneasy, and as I tried to change my position with nowhere to go, my old nemesis - panic - began to rear its ugly head. Within a very few minutes, and regardless of consequences, I HAD to get out of that box.

Very carefully I opened the cover, eased myself back into that shrieking wind and freezing night. No other hobos were on this particular car though a few, maybe a dozen, were scattered along this short train of only seven cars. I was getting close to my limit of endurance and, having prayed with all the vehemence I could muster, the train gradually began to slow and the wind began to lessen and the engine stopped at a water tower.

We hobos did not get on again when the Berry Express went on its way to eastern markets. We waited by a small fire for eight hours before another freight train with empty boxes came along and we were rescued one more time.

Sometimes I relive these events and can still feel the fear and loneliness that we covered up with false bravado. We sometimes went without food for such a long time, that I still have to limit my meals to relatively small portions.  But that's the way it was...moving east.

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