A Ride On The Train

As a child living in Friesland, sooner or later you’d wander on down to the tracks. We did a great deal of playing on the tracks. Grabbing a ride on the train was often discussed, but nobody appeared serious about it… until. Until one day, someone’s brain advanced far beyond the rest of us and suggested, that with proper planning, it could be done.

If we had watched it once, we watched it 100 times. The train would come in from either the south or the west. It would slow as it hit either curve coming into Friesland. But the west curve was sharper and so the train always slowed down more at that point. However, many years later Union Pacific did some enhancements to the curves so they could travel faster through Friesland.

The secret life of the tracks

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

At the west curve, the railroad’s caboose rider would sometimes throw out a bag of garbage. We’d watch as the door would open, a man with a brown grocery bag would walk down a few stairs of the caboose steps, hang on to the rail, lean out and throw the bag. You’re probably wondering “Why did he always throw the bag of garbage at the west turn?” Because that’s where the railroad had high banks with lots of trees. Nobody would see him doing it… except for us! Sometimes we go through the garbage just to see what was in it. It was never anything exciting… just garbage.

The Union Pacific Railroad had a great schedule and we became familiar with it. Looking back, knowing the train schedule probably saved our lives a few times. Especially when we walked the rails from Friesland to Sterk Road. The banks of the railroad tracks were high and when you heard the whistle you got off the tracks fast.

Most moms accepted the fact that their child would eventually play on, roam and have many adventures on the tracks. I’m sure it made them nervous. I remember being very careful to never walk where the rock had eroded and exposed gaps in the railroad ties- great areas to get a foot stuck.

My mom told a story of a cousin who got too close to a train and got “sucked” in. Which brought nightmarish thoughts. Her story could often be heard inside my head as I would make a mad dash off the tracks when I heard the train whistle blow.

It was nothing to roam the tracks looking for loose spikes, dead animals, loose change, or whatever. We even built little “outpost” forts along the way to “The Bridge” which Sterk Road went over. We didn’t take kindly to interlopers building their forts on what we considered “our turf”.

As far as we could see

Image by Dirk Vetter from Pixabay

It’s hard to remember who “brained” the idea to hitch a ride on the train. There were the usual suspects: Jason my brother, Doug and Dan Katsma, Lance Braaksma, Darren Smedema, and maybe my cousin Matt Jenkins. But I distinctly remember sitting high on the railroad banks watching a train go by when the suggestion came to grab a ride on the train.

The train rushed by and blew the tall grass. Making an ocean-like wave ride up the bank. The boys watched on as the train picked up speed. The clicking of the wheels hitting the tracks made a hypnotic sound. Their heads followed the railcars and the train blew another warning for the farm crossing midway to Sterk Road.

A plan was formed. In the next few days, they would attempt to ride the train. They would have to jump a ride from a train coming from the south before the caboose hit the west curve. Any earlier and the caboose rider would see them and that could spell trouble. Hiding in the tall grass, they waited for the engine to pass. They planned to grab a grain hopper car (they had very nice ladders). Each boy would choose a car, run alongside, and jump up to catch the ladder. They would ride to the Sterk Road Bridge and jump off before the engine had picked up too much speed.

It’s now or never

I did not witness them catch the ride. But I did find them on their triumphant return. Lots of excited talk and back-slapping. My brother was adjusting his glasses and looked up. I could see his disappointment. He knew I knew.

His disapproval faded as the stories began to pour out. By the time the group walked up to Friesland Foods the story grew bigger than the town. Just like fishing stories. But it didn’t matter really. It was a big thing to do, catch a train car and ride it.

The thrill of hiding in the grass while the engine passed, followed by the heart-pounding run to catch the ladder of the grain hopper and climb up. One by one until they all were on a car. Then the all too short ride, followed by the daring jump off the grain hopper before the engine was up to full speed.

I’m sure they rolled hard into the railroad bank and maybe ate some dirt, but they loved every moment. That day young men were made. They caught a train, road it, jumped off, and lived to tell about it. Beat that X-box!

Till next time. Here is to good food, good friends, and some life growing dangerous fun!

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