Monday, January 28, 2013

Ride The Rails

Do you like train whistles?
Train whistles can lull you to sleep or sound so annoying that you never get to sleep. 

They are like a lullaby to me. There is something mournful about a distant whistle, like a dove's coo.

Years ago when I was landscaping the Helena house, my girly muscles rebelled against the heavy grunt work so I set off to the "shelter" to find a willing worker. A wiry older man said he would be willing to make a few bucks.  His name was Lew and he called himself a Hobo. Lew didn't appear to be a druggie or a drunk, like most of the shelter people, and he had a keen mind.  I tried to quiz him a little about his personal life but he would only say he "rode the rails" and he would leave after he made some money.

I worked outside with him all summer and every time he heard a train whistle, he stopped his work and listened with a dreamy, faraway look in his eyes.  He would announce what train line it was and go back to his work.  He said he knew all the train whistles.

I kept asking why he had to be a Hobo since we are a long way from the thirties.  He just said he HAD to be and every time he heard a whistle, he wanted to leave.  Then, one day in late August, Lew came to work and surprised me with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. He thanked me for giving him a job but this would be his last day.

We had accomplished some beautiful gardens and stonework and he was leaving to sit in a boxcar with a meager bag of belongings. It was really difficult for me to understand...... me, who needs rock gardens and clothes lines as signs of permanency.

It wasn't until this summer, when I was eliminating  the total sum of my possessions, that I remembered Lew and his urgency to ride the rails.  I didn't want to hop a boxcar but I felt a strong sense of freedom with each truckload I dropped off at the thrift store.

Yup, I didn't quite understand him but Lew was a nice man.
Are you a hobo or earthbound?


  1. I do have a good bit of the hobo in me having been raised like an army brat. It seems when I get too comfortable with my surroundings and friends, I get the urge for greener, newer pastures. I was thinking the other day it would be nice to head on down the road, maybe west or even Canada. Creaky old bones will probably keep me right here however.
    How fortunate you got to know a truly free soul.

  2. Always think how interesting it would be to go some place new, although then you get into how the grass is always greener and such. But yeah more of a hobo as nothing much ties me down, besides the kitties.

  3. Hi Manzanita! Yes, Lew does sound like a nice man, and very thoughtful giving you the flowers. I can imagine how some people would like to always be moving on, but I do know that it's not for me! I'm quite content. It is a good feeling when you can have a good clear out of possessions that you don't use, or don't need, isn't it?! I took bagfuls to the charity shop just after Christmas. Thank you so much for stopping by my place today - always good to see you there. Yes, you're right, the winter BLAHS don't help either! That snowy header on my blog is my garden when we had quite a fall of snow two years ago. Take care.

  4. Riding the Rails has always intrigued me and Ive read up about it. There is a good documentary available on DVD called Riding the Rails.

  5. I am a hobo at heart I believe. I can't believe I've never ridden a train! I must add this to my bucket list :)

  6. I love training. There's something about the passing countryside that appeals. But, being a hobo? Can't imagine that. Gotta have that shower before snuggling into a nice bed.

  7. My husband (now deceased) had an uncle who was a hobo. He would come for Thanksgiving and Christmas, then back to the rails he's go. A home, here, had been offered by almost everyone in the family, but he wanted no part of it. My husband received all his possessions when he passed...a billfold with ID.

  8. One of our amateur radio friends is actually a member of a national hobo association. He's what you'd call a free spirit, I guess. Me, I'm more earthbound. I love the sound of a train whistle, too... from a distance. Having a train track right behind our first apartment was a little TOO much noise and furniture-shaking. (Our furniture had rims around the edges to keep stuff from "walking" off of it when a train went by.)

  9. Patti : Very interesting. I would have taken you for more earthbound with your animals and your plants, etc. But why couldn't a person be a little of both..... kinda like a snow-bird in now-time. You are right about "old bones" wanting to stay "put." I don't want to go anywhere, anymore. But you could always come out for visits.

    Pat : Cats seem to acclimate easily. Put em in a bag, let them out and they're home. I had to look up Novia Scotia the other day. I don't know much about it but I've always liked the movies of the high waves dashing against the rugged shoreline. You're right.... the grass always seems greener. Ha

    Thisisme : I'm with you. I like my rocks and gardens but what a glorious feeling to shed the extra's in life. Such a lovely garden you have..... why would anyone want to leave that.

  10. Hi Manzanita .. I had no idea 'a hobo' was a railroad rider - well that was interesting.

    Lew sounds a fascinating character - and obviously polite to the core - like you I'd love to know more about him ...

    Moving around too much is not for me - but change is ... and I've just about downsized all the cluter - a bit to do ...

    Lovely story you've told here ... cheers Hilary

  11. Dave : Many people say they would like to ride the rails. Perhaps they are Sagittarious by sign as I know they are the travelers of the world. I will look up the tip you gave me. Might give me some good answers. Thanks for visiting.

    Optimistic : I just saw that old movie in which Bing Crosby sings, "My heart is a hobo." (Not what prompted this post, though). I remember riding trains a lot when I was young. Air travel was in it's infancy. Trains were fun. You could walk around, sleep, eat but I don't think I'd like riding in a boxcar.

    Kittie : I too loved trains. It just took longer but you were much more comfortable during the ride. My Mother and I traveled all over in trains back then. I used to love to go to UK, get a rail pass and just keep traveling and sleep on the train and that would save getting a B and B.

    Turquoisemoon : That is so interesting about your Uncle-in-law.
    I guess some people can't help it. I used to see a lot of hobos during the 30's. A RR track was just below our house in the small town I grew up in. It was down in a gully and the hobos had built a hobo camp right beside the train tracks. I can remember as a kid, we used to sneak around there and watch them. They had a big iron pot over a fire where there was always a stew cooking. It always smelled so good because we were constantly hungry back then, too. A guy I went to school with remembered it too and he started manufacturing a canned stew called Hobo Stew. He still sells it but it never really took off.
    How old was the uncle when he died? Probably lived a long time without any worries. But maybe he didn't get very god nutrition, either.

  12. Susan : Ha ha ha..... I cam see the furniture moving and dishes rattling like in the movies. I guess I never lived THAT close to a train track. I didn't know hobos were so organized. That is a big surprise. I wonder if they still ride boxcars because aren't the boxcars different now? Did you see/read Water for Elephants? I think that is the vintage train and boxcar that I was familiar with.

    Hilary : It's not only work but an emotional heart-thing to throw out the old excess in one's life. I'm glad you are almost finished, too. It feels so good when it is gone BUT then you suddenly have a need for the very thing you tossed. Happens to me every time.

    Yes, Lew appeared to be educated and polite with manners. I really wanted to know what happened (although it was none of my business). But some tragic thing must have occurred that gave him the wanderlust.

  13. I love to travel--& then come back to my very comfortable home!!

  14. I would have to say I am earthbound and like it that way. My Hubs could be a Hobo but he also wants the comforts of home. Would that make him a Hobo Wannabe?

  15. I am earthbound right now. Responsibilities do that to ya, doesn't it? I'm not even a good wanderer anymore. One day....I've been enjoying your posts, Manzanita. Sparks of fresh air for me. Love ya.

  16. Hobos (migratory workers) have a life which I really cannot understand. I do understand people want to live free, so to speak, and to work a bit to keep themselves going. But the day-to-day ordinaries of such a life, I cannot comprehend.

    I'm glad you met him and worked with him.

  17. Terry : I'm laughing... yes of course, a Hobo Wannabe. We can't be Wannabes and eat the way we want. :)

    Su-siee : Why thank you for the great compliment. Sparks of air, huh?
    Often we are forced into a different mold and that may go against our grain. I think we change too. I was a hobo in my real early years and then I just got tired of roaming .... isn't there a song like that? Oh I know, its the first lyrics of Irene good night. or vice versa.

  18. I am attached to my patch of earth. But, my brother Bill was a wanderer, never stayed put. I wonder what Lew saw during his time?

  19. At heart I know I'd much prefer to settle down and dig my roots deep but my life so far has been flitting and fluttering about here and there...!!

    Take care

  20. I'm earthbound, but I've always loved the sound of a train whistle. As children, my friends and I used to love walking the rails and were fascinated by trains. 'Mournful' is the perfect description.

  21. I love the sound of a train whistle. I used to live in the Midwest where trains went through all the towns regularly. Don't know if they do that anymore though.

  22. This is such an interesting post, Manzanita. How wonderful that you could spend some time with this fellow. I'm sure he really appreciated having a job to see him through a bunch of train stops more comfortably.

  23. Susan Kane : Was Bill your brother who passed on? I bet Lew saw much of the world or just the US.... He was a hard worker but seemed very quiet about his own life. I bet there is a real good story with him.

    Rob bear : Yes it difficult to understand what makes other people tick. I knew Lew had once belonged in a responsible situation from the way he sorta added landscaping ideas and he must have brought ladies bouquets of flowers in his life because that was his way of appreciation for me giving him a job. Makes one wonder, doesn't it.

    Fishducky : I think you are lucky that you still enjoy travel. I'm finished, done, kaput with travel. Time has changed things too. I used to travel with one small bag slung over my shoulder. Now the bag holding my supplements is larger than the bag I used to get everything in.

  24. Old Kitty : One way to loo at it is you have the rest of your life to settle down in one spot and you won't (usually) feel like flitting and fluttering around so it's good to do it when you are young. I really flittered and fluttered around too. Once my sister in law was trying to find me and got worried but my brother told her not to worry, because I always show up eventually. Made me sound like a stray cat, huh?

    Al : Trains are good memories..... before air travel was so established. I can remember walking the RR tracks to school. It was always good for one's balance, trying to walk on that tract. Now that you are earthbound you are re-doing your bathroom. It all evens out.

  25. Karen : They still regularly come through Helena but just the freight trains and not passenger. The town grew on both sides of the tracks so it really comes through the middle of the city. I know of many people who live here and love the sound of the train whistles. Thanks for stopping.

    Kay : Yeah, as I understood it, he would pick up odd jobs for a short time and earn enough money for him to live on. I guess he would stay in shelters for free or sleep in the boxcars. But on the other hand, when he left me, maybe he donned a tux and and went out dancing. Ha had

  26. I'm so earthbound that it's painful. I've lived within the sound of the same railway line all my life and love to hear that distant sound of a train passing through in the night.

  27. Rosalind :
    From my earthbound view, I think you're lucky. Now as I get older I wish I could have been one of those people who were born in and lived in the same house all their life.

  28. Hi Manzanita,

    What a recollection you shared. I was a bit of a wanderer in my time. On the road again, on the rail again. A little bit of the free hobo spirit lies within in.

    Think I might do a remake of "The Littlest Hobo" where Penny the Jack Russell dog takes me all over the place as she sorts of folk's lives.

    Fascinating posting. As for me, I think my caboose is on the loose :)

  29. My dad loved the rails too. I wrote a story about it once.
    One of my earliest memories was of me on our front porch one evening after supper.
    He was smoking a cigarette and sipping the last of his ice tea when off in the distance a train whistle sounded.
    I heard him say, "Blow, blow you sad old train, I'm gonna ride you someday."

  30. Klahanie : Even those who were free spirits in their youth can still remain free spirits in their mind and you take on that roll beautifully.
    It worked for Steinbeck.... you and Penny the Jack Russel star could help with problems all over the world.
    I hope you get your caboose back on track. Ha

    Rick : I'll wager the story about your father was one that tweaked the heartstrings. Everyone used to take trains before air travel was safe. One would think going off into the wild blue yonder would bring on a romantic feeling but a train with all it's engine noise and whistles does it for me. Perhaps it's because you can walk around and remain a normal human being, unlike squeezed between strangers and fighting for elbow space while your knees are killing you.
    Thanks for the nice comment.

  31. Definitely hobo. I have moved many times and travel as much as I can. I love new experiences and enjoy learning new things. I have trained it all through Europe and South America. I am not a flower-giving guy though.

  32. Manzanita, what a great story. That is the true essence of living a long life it to recount the great stories. And this reminds me I have some decluttering visits to the thrift store to make, myself. Take care.

  33. BTW, I found a city called Manzanita on an island off of Washington state. Someone told me it was a species of long-living tree...I think. Anyway, thought of you when I saw it on the map!

    Chuck at Apocalypse Now

  34. JJ : I would guess you to be the hobo by your posts. You are definitely a man who loves new experiences. Like my husband was. (A Sagittarian, perhaps?). When I was younger, I'd get a rail pass, mostly Brit Rail and sleep on the train to save money. It was exciting then, when I could live out of a tiny bag and eat any kind of food. All that changes when one gets older. :)

  35. Chuck : Yes, even though I don't consider myself a hobo, my life feels better when there is less. I got rid of so much stuff that it took me all summer to do it. But that was the contents from 3 houses and each thing had a memory. It's the dang memories that are hard to let go, not the item, itself.

    I know Manzanita is a tree or shrub that grows in the western part of the country. I think Native Americans used it for some healing purpose. I've never heard of the town in Washington but thanks for telling me.

  36. In my heart I guess I am a hobo needing or wanting very little in the way of possessions - but I need a sense of permanence too.

    So I guess I am a hobo in spirit but realities require me to be earthbound.

    Anna :o]

  37. Anna : As Terry put it... a hobo wannabe. I think that is a lot of us.

  38. Dear Manzanita, I've been away from reading and commenting on blogs for nearly two months and so I've missed many of your postings. They always make me stop and think and often leave me with a sense of gratitude for my life---and yours. Thank you for that.

    And thank you also for introducing me to Lew. I remember so well the hobos who came to our house in the 1940s when we lived out in the country. Mom always gave them a good meal and had some job for them to do because they didn't want a handout. They wanted to work for a meal.

    I do understand Lew and yet I think I'm pretty housebound. I like to have a few lovely things around me that bring beauty into my life. I like a garden and I love the three cats sleeping on the couch and bed and chair.

    But like you, I've given away many, many of the things that cluttered my home and my life. I like living spare. Peace.

  39. I love trains, no doubt about that.

    Stopping by to welcome you on board the A to Z Challenge April 2013
    Look forward to your challenge posts!

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  40. Dee, I hope you are OK. I did drop in on one post of yours recently. I was away from blogging all summer, as you must know. Fun to be back and in winter, I'm in the house most of the time so I can be at the computer more often. Oh yes, I do recall the hobos of the thirties and forties. After the war started, they became less and a lot of them enlisted and for the first time in their lives, they had a new pair of warm boots.

    There was a hobo jungle right beside the tracks in a gully near my house. We kids used to snoop around there when there was no one around. They were not mean or dangerous, just hungry and polite about it. The hobo's back then were doing it out of necessity. Lew surely didn't have to be a hobo because this was some time ago and the economy was better and jobs a-plenty. It must be the wonder-lust

  41. I admire hobos, but I am definitely Earth-bound. Always looking for home...a place to call my own.

  42. Darjeeling Dreams : Thank you for the nice visit and comment. You are welcome any time. I am also mostly earthbound. I guess it's nice to be able to get into a routine for some of us.