Longform

Loco Motives

Page 5 of 6

A 70-minute video of the trip, Done Did Donner, is sold from the Combat Railfans' Web site.

"We put it out on the Internet, and we've actually had four real sales. We're thinking it was the FBI, ATF, Phoenix PD and UPPD [Union Pacific security] under assumed names," Bacardi laughs.

The Combat Railfans learned to how to hop freights from their greatest success story, "A#1."

"He had train on the brain so bad he actually became a hogger," Bacardi notes proudly.

A#1 admits, "I used to hobo and I'd take them with me. I used to average about 10,000 miles a year."

A#1 and his wife and toddler have driven to the Jungle from Nebraska, where he runs coal trains for the Burlington Northern and Sante Fe railroads.

"I started riding when I was 13," he recalls, smiling. "We'd walk on down by the railroad lines, and if we didn't want to walk home, we'd ride and hop off by the house and that was how it all started. I grew up by the tracks, and I've always loved trains."

He took his then-future wife train hopping early in the relationship. She loved it, but found it more than a little messy riding in dirty gondolas. He concedes that they are more likely to ride Amtrak these days.

"Well, I've got responsibility now," he says. "It's a whole different world when you're hoboing. You don't have any responsibilities. It's really great."

"I love my job," he hastens to add. "It's a challenge. We run 16,000 to 17,000 tons of coal. You have to think miles ahead. You use too much dynamic [the balance between speed and braking] and you can derail a train."

"Now that he gets paid to drive trains," Bacardi bemoans, "he'll call us from the unit on the mobile, and say, 'Hi, I'm in a 70 Mack diesel. What are you doing?' Screw you, I'm watching Laverne & Shirley."

Connecticut Shorty took to the rails just a few years ago. Shorty, whose father was a hobo and is buried at Britt, retired after 28 years as a senior administrator with a life insurance company for a life on the road.

"I'm going out for four or five weeks this May," Shorty says. "I'm going to meet Luther the Jet in Chicago, and we're going to ride the High Line. I won't ride freights by myself. I'm not foolish."

She and her sister, New York Maggie, who retired after 20 years as a paralegal, mostly rubber hobo in their motor home, working part-time as they travel. Each has been Queen of the Hoboes, Shorty in 1992 and Maggie in 1994 with Sidedoor.

"It's a good life. We love it," Shorty says. "Actually, everybody on the rails, if you have the nerve to be having this lifestyle, we have a mutual respect for each other. Not that there are no bad apples, but most of them are really good people. People who don't ride the rails and don't know us, they have a lot of opinions about us. But they haven't talked to us."

Understandably, the Union Pacific, while finding the Combat Railfans an entertaining anomaly, takes an absolute stand against train hopping in any form.

"It's unsafe and potentially life-threatening, and no one should ever do it." Furney reiterates. "At a minimum, they're guilty of trespass, and we can have them prosecuted for it. It's more for their safety than anything relative to the railroad. It's nuts to do it. There's no good excuse. Any rational person should understand that trying to jump on something that weighs tons, and has no handy means of allowing you to do that, and which risks your falling under the wheels and being killed or having legs or arms amputated belongs in a loony bin. It's part of railroading--we understand that--but it's certainly a part that we would be delighted to eliminate."

Meanwhile, the Combat Railfans and their guests drink beer, cook, trade stories and detonate things.

"We don't know half the people here," Bacardi admits. "People just show up."
He says that if not for the Combat Railfans, people like him would likely be wards of the state by now.

"We've had no births or deaths, couple of minor injuries," he points out. "The worst we do is mentally disturb people. Never physically, but, well, we've emotionally harmed a few."

In the distance, there's a loud thud as Colonel Horne demonstrates how to explode torpedoes.

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Dave Irwin