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Jumpin' Trains

Updated on February 4, 2017

Dreams of being an engineer...

I don’t know what it is about a boy and trains but they have always been an interest to me. I guess somehow we see ourselves as an engineer or something and controlling all that rumbling steel traveling down those parallel tracks headed for some intriguing distant destination miles away.

a lot of steel on the move
a lot of steel on the move

Jack was an adventurous sort of fella...

Every time I hear the familiar sound of a train whistle, my mind carries me back to my childhood…

There were three of us boys and I was the youngest.  Jim, then Jack and I’m Sam.  Jim was 5 years older so we didn’t do too much together while we were growing up because I was just his snotty nosed little brother; but Jack was closer in age so when Jim was hangin’ out with his friends, that just left me if Jack didn’t have anything in particular to do with his friends at the time.  He may have been  a little older but he was a lot wiser and could get me in trouble and would then just stand there laughing while many times I was gettin’ a whippin’ for something he had initiated in the first place.   Now Jack was an adventurous sort of fella for sure and would try almost anything, at least once.  Such was the case when he talked me into ‘jumpin’ a train’ with him when I was just eleven years old.  He showed me all I had to do and said everything would be fine, we would just ride it for a mile or so and then we would jump off.  It sounded like fun so I said I would try it.

Do you like to hear the wail of a train whistle in the distance?

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Tennessee has lots of trains
Tennessee has lots of trains

We left right after lunch...

Since our hometown was split in two by the state lines of Virginia and Tennessee there were a number of trains that intersected Bristol each day. The train depot was clear on the other end of town and Jack had said that if we left right after lunch we could run and jump a few trains and still be back before supper and mom wouldn’t have to know anything about it. Sounded like a winner to me, so we planned on going the next day. He had said that he and some of his friends from junior high had done it a number of times and I wouldn’t have anything to worry about if I just listened to him. I listened because I wanted so much to be like the older guys. To say I was a little naïve would have been an understatement.

We left just like Jack said after lunch the next day and met up with some more friends on the way. We didn’t walk right up State Street through the middle of town but stayed a few blocks east of the train station so we would be less likely to be seen by anyone. Jack had thought this out completely. He knew the train would be going rather slowly at this particular spot because the train would have just transferred from one track to another. We waited patiently and soon heard the trains whistle sounding and knew it would be there soon. I had agreed to watch Jack and his friends ‘jump’ it first before I tried. We hid in the trees watching and waiting until the engine passed then Jack shouted “Now!” and he and the others started running toward the train and along the tracks. Jack reached up and grabbed hold of the ladder and pulled himself up waving to me as he passed. Two others also caught hold on different freight cars. Soon we saw them all running back to our point of rendezvous.

the way a boy ought to enjoy a train...
the way a boy ought to enjoy a train...

We heard another whistle...

It seemed easy enough, and they just rode for a hundred yards or so. Jack told me to be prepared to run in the same direction the train was traveling as I jumped off or to be prepared to do a forward roll to lessen the fall, he said he didn’t need to take me home with a broken arm or leg. I knew what he meant, We had rehearsed this for weeks and now I was going to try.

I guess we waited a good half hour before we heard another whistle signaling the soon arrival of another train. Jack said he would run along beside me telling me when to grab hold. We patiently waited until the engine and coal car passed and Jack again called out, “Now!” and I started running with the bigger boys right up to and alongside that train as it rumbled down the tracks. It was just like I had observed and witnessed earlier. I grabbed with my left hand and quickly pulled myself around and up with the other hand; now I was on and having what I thought was the thrill of my life, that wasn’t so bad. I looked over my shoulder and saw Jack giving me a ‘thumbs up’ as I thought I felt the train gathering speed. I saw one boy on the car in front let go and he ran and dropped into a forward roll jumping up and dusting off his britches as I passed him. He was shouting something but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.

another strange traveler
another strange traveler

It seemed like the train was speeding up...

It seemed we were moving at a pretty good clip now and I had no idea where we were or where we were going. I just freaked out I guess and that is when I must have realized the one thing Jack had failed to tell me, and that was that it was much easier to jump on than it was to jump off. The wind was howling in my face now and even though it was summer, I remember the chill I suddenly felt as I moved up on the ladder one more step and held on real tight.

The thought ran through my mind that this train might not stop until we get to California, I didn’t know a lot about trains anyway. I had a lot of time to think now and sometimes felt like I wanted to cry, but what good would that do. I wasn’t in pain, but I was sure scared, more I guess than I had ever been before.

Every now and then I would hear the weary wailing of the train’s whistle and once I looked up and saw we were crossing a river then almost immediately a sign with Bluff City spaced out on it and it appeared the train was slowing down a little but not much. I remembered that Bluff City was a small town south of my hometown but nothing looked familiar from this vantage point. Then I remembered, this was the first time I had ever looked out while riding on the side of a speeding train.

Once more the train seem to speed up somewhat and I rode for the longest time with my eyes shut, not knowing just what else was going to happen or where I would eventually end up. Since I had my eyes shut I decide to pray and ask God to forgive me for my stupidity and if He would keep me safe I would be a better boy and…, well you know - all that stuff we confess and promise when we find ourselves not knowing where we are or the outcome of what is happening right then.

checkin' it out legally
checkin' it out legally

I would take my punishment like a man...

Again I felt the train slowing and I made up my mind that if it slowed down enough for me to jump off I promised, I would never do this again. We were definitely slowing and I saw a sign that said Johnson City. I couldn’t believe it. Johnson City was the next big town where the older kids went to college. As the train continued to slow down I said a little prayer again stepping back down and anxiously releasing my gripe, remembering to run forward while slowing down to a walk.

I didn’t know anyone in Johnson City and don’t think I had ever been here before, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was I needed to get back home for supper. Mom and dad were going to be mad. I wondered what Jack had told our folks? We had left together and it was Jack’s place to watch over his little brother. What time was it, and how was I going to get home? I didn’t dare tell a policeman what I had done, they might put me in jail. So I walked until I saw a sign that said Bristol Tennessee, 22 miles. Whoa, I could never make it there by walking, so I thought I’d try ‘hitch-hiking’, something else Jack had told me about, so I stuck out my thumb and sure enough, some guys that knew my older brother Jim picked me up and took me home. They just laughed when I told them how I had come to be so far from home that day. I knew I was sweaty and dirty but I was sure glad good things had started happening in my favor again and I made up my mind, I was not going to lie to mom when I got home, I would take my punishment like a man. And one more thing, I wasn’t goin’ to jump any more trains either…

© 2011 SamSonS


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  • Dave Mathews profile image

    Dave Mathews 6 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

    samsons1: Voted up and funny. I loved the story especially the part of how the older brother would watch the younger brother and stand there laughing at him. Sounds like typical siblings.

    As fare as trains go the one thing that has always amazed me is the amount of pull power those engines have as I watch tons of cars with freight being pulled effortlessly along the track.

    The one thing in life that really amazes me though is when I watch a Boeing 747 or an airbus 767 lifting off the tarmack runway at the airport or I observe one flying over head. Even though I somewhat understand the mechanics of flight, I am still in awe to see tons of metal with passengers and or cargo flying like that.

  • samsons1 profile image

    Sam 6 years ago from Tennessee

    thanks Bro Dave for your quick reply and also for your positive ratings. As for the trains and/or planes, the world just says that man has come a long way, as if he alone has matured in education and expertise to invent and manufacture such marvels; then you and I thank God for the wisdom and knowledge to progress as far as we have. To God be the glory...

  • sweetie1 profile image

    sweetie1 6 years ago from India

    Hi samson, you are very right about trains.. I still love to play with toy train if some kid in family is playing with it. The best train journey for me has been in the what we call toy train. It is real train, from Kalka to Shimla. 92 kms ( about 55 miles) journey, it takes about 5 hours but it takes you through over 100 tunnels and himalayan beauty is breath taking on the path. So it goes above the mountain so it is slow train.

  • samsons1 profile image

    Sam 6 years ago from Tennessee

    thanks sweetie1 for your nice comments. Other than America, the only other train I've experienced was the Bullet Train in Japan. Would love to visit your country and travel by train...

  • Truckstop Sally profile image

    Truckstop Sally 6 years ago

    Fun hub! I have older brothers, so I can relate to being goaded along into trouble. Wonder what Mom and dad said, and did Jack get into trouble too?

  • samsons1 profile image

    Sam 5 years ago from Tennessee

    Thanks so much Sally for dropping by and commenting. Yea, I was a glutton for punishment because my brother was always tricking me knowing I would try anything and yes, he got into trouble too over that deal. My mom was worried silly that time...

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