Hello, my name is Rickie. To begin, I consider myself a Traveling Tramp, a label I don't consider as demeaning but as an old adage says; "A Hobo works and travels, a Tramp travels and hardly works and a bum drinks and wonders." ~Roughly quoted but point made. Though I want to agree to disagree on one point, in my case anyway, is I travel and work when needed (for personal needs and wants).
I've been traveling off and on since the year 2000. Because I was gullible and susceptible of wanting to be accepted when I was a teenager, I was peer-pressured into various criminal activities that got me caught up in the legal web of Justice and Penitence. Which has been a back and forth game. In the mean times though I would travel, exploring new places, eventhough it eventually cost me my freedom once they caught up with me in demand for their justice. Being unperceptive when I was young, now I find the drive for traveling less appealing and more for necessity, a means to get somewhere else, I've lost the awe and adventurous dream of it.
To start this off; beginning my journey just south of Joplin, Missouri where my Uncle lives one of the few remaining family members left alive, as of lately, where I've been beginning each journey.
My Uncle took me to the nearest Travel Center at the junction of interstate 44/49 heading north where my trip officially starts. Relatively in short time I was able to catch a ride with a truck driver that was taking interstate 49 north, not what I was hoping for but when Hitchhiking, from experience, you learn to take what ride's becomes available. I wasn't worried because it wouldn't throw me off course. My goal was to make it to St. Louis and then start hopping a freight train from there to make it to Indiana to meet up with a fan of my endeavors and a die-hard Railfan.
Getting dropped off at a Flying J Travel Center on the Northeast side of Kansas City I was literally within a stone's throw of the point-of-departure, a place Hobos of time's past called 'Jungles' and Tramp's alike call hop-outs.
Twin Bridges~ Traversing the three tenths of a mile it took to make it to the hop-out I was astounded to find the path overgrown with foliage and concerned on why?
Stopping under the bridge to reflect on the previous time's being here and reviewing the various tags stenciled on the posts to see if there was any suggestions for the lack of foot traffic. I decided to continue my trek to the spot to catch an Eastbound. I had to cross the N~S bound tracks at the eastern end of the KCS (Kansas City Southern) Yard to gain access to the area I'd need to be. Reaching the electrical panel that marks the beginning of Airline Jct. I came to a stand still being very much exposed. I hurriedly scanned the surroundings seeking a place to hide because there was Workers driving around and the Yard Dog was doing it's shuffling of manifests. I began to panic when I decided to just take my chances and get to the service road that gives access to the employees of the Union Pacific's Neff Yard. Making it to the road I wasted no time to gain space between me and view from the Yard. Reaching a spur easement road paralleling KCS's eastbound tracks I followed it to circle around Airline Jct. I became at ease and started to enjoy the area, an area I haven't explored to date. It didn't disappoint. Having to cross a few bridges over the Blue River I was awestruck by the area. There were so many potential spots to camp and not easily accessible by vehicle. Of course, there were dirt paths for ATV's and other off-road vehicles but still there was enough space and foliage around that finding places to hide a camp was innumerable! Fishing could be a possibility too though being in a metropolitan location I wouldn't trust the safety level of the fish in making a meal from one. Another sad reality set in: traveling as long as I have there is a fair share of places such as this in various spots throughout the Country but there is almost always a Con outweighing the Pro. Continuing down the easement it started to vere off to the southeast and I needed to start heading to the southwest ascending up the ballast to the tracks to my right I eyed the terrain for a possible deter; there was. I'd have to cross an old abandoned parking lot that once was utilized by an industrial business. Beginning my descent to the parking lot I was eerily worried someone was fixing to pop out of nowhere. No one did. The entrance to the parking lot, another fastly deteriorating side road swerved under one of the trestles that begins what's known as the 'Sheep Jump.' Part of the Kansas City Metropolitan run. The other trestle ran under the Sheep Jump from north to south out of the UP Neff Yard, I'll have to cross this bridge in order to get to the waiting area for an eastbound train.
Walking across the trestle I looked off to the south side of the bridge and seen a father and son down on the river's bank. They notice me and waved, I waved back wondering if this is the young boy's first time going fishing? It's a scenario I never got to enjoy with my dad. He'd rather run drugs from Texas to eastern Oklahoma, not just for his own habits but also to deal. He was of the kind that would ensnare women with all the right words and then entangle them with his web of deceit. Disabling they're ability to choose, manipulating them into being his slave. Enabling his criminalistic activities and safeguarding his obligation of child support that having a job would ensure.
I continue walking. On the other side I hopped off the ties and onto the mixture of ballast and dirt to the south side of the tracks. Only about fifty yard's left remaining to round the overgrowth. To be able to pass back under the 'Sheep Jump' trestle to J-walk over the tracks to reach what was known as "Hobo Hamlet." Just as I was coming to a point where I could traverse through the overgrowth I seen the Yard Dog pulling out a string of manifests to place them on another track, progressing quite quickly.
I hustled the remaining ground and ran headlong into the thicket, quickly unhoisting my pack and squatting to ensure that I wasn't spotted. If I seen any vehicle speeding it's way towards me I'm going to hightail it in the opposite direction, probably joining the father/son duo I seen earlier.
Once the Yard Dog cleared the line of sight and ensuring myself that nobody is fixing to swoop down on me I rehoisted my pack and quickly covered the remaining ground to the 'Hobo Hamlet'.
Clearing five or so tracks, I started walking on a little foot path worn in the ballast. Spotting the guardrail that separated the side road from the tracks I stepped up my pace. The silos; an abandoned Grain Elevator popped into view, my heart sank and I momentarily faultered as I continued closer. "Fuck No!" I stammered almost losing my footing as I stepped over the thigh high guardrail. Hobo Hamlet has been completely covered over with dirt and debris! No sign was able to prove it ever existed. Saddened with an intense anxiety I quickly ducked into a depression between the silos and an adjoining building wondering what to do now? There's not a whole lot of places to hide and worse it was quickly beginning to look as though it was going to rain. I was hoping for a place for cover and solitude while I awaited to catch a night ride east.
Anticipation grew along with paranoia that this place is no longer a safe place to wait. I opted to make my way to another spot that promised for an eastbound train. Taking the side road that paralleled the Neff to the north and a little KCS storage yard just to my left I headed towards the auto bridge that would take me back to the north side of the Neff Yard. As I cleared the ascent of the Sheep Jump a new paranoia set in because I was now exposed to the Yard office and couldn't walk through the parallel tree's because the overgrowth was to thick. So I rogued it, skirting along it's edge ducking in and out until I reached the expected clearing that would give me access to the road. Without incident I made it, only to have another obstacle present itself, it too, caused because of overgrowth. Clamoring back and forth onto the road and what used to be a pedestrian sidewalk, I finally make it to the safety of the bridge where foliage reluctantly couldn't grow. Now I had a grand view of the whole of the Neff Yard monstrously layed out from the east to the west, steel rails converging themselves into each other until finally at each end they redefined themselves as only a few. The temperature and wind was starting to feel more and more like fall. Walking along there was tags from other tramp's that has previously made this same trek I was now making. I often wonder about the circumstances and stories behind these tramps I only knew through monikers and often short remarks at essentially every 'Jungle' I go to. Few have I recognized or known personally but everyone has their story to tell. Most I know lives from day to day and relish in their dirtiness. There is those rare few who takes their talents and becomes recognized getting themselves out from this precarious lifestyle.
Needing to re-up on a few things and charge my devices I decided to go to the nearest store available in this area; the Sinclair's. I was really surprised to see that the foliage has overtaken the path as it was a known major hub even for the tramps that utilize these yard's for going in every direction. It was dangerous and made my progression hard-pressed for I had to stop several times waiting on traffic to make it several more yard's to the next impression in the thicket. Again I made it onto the bridge where the obnoxious weeds couldn't grow and had a view of a quiet almost dead Knoche KCS Yard. Looking off to the East and all the ground I've covered I thought in a little hypocritical way that I didn't want to do that again. Before going to the store I wanted to verify that the KCS Yard was still accessible so on the north end of the bridge I swung my legs over the guardrails and cautiously descended the embankment to the flat under the bridge. Someone has made this spot as their home but wasn't in at the moment. Quickly crossing over to where I knew I had a tag from a few years back I snapped a photo.
Taking care of business at the Sinclair's and not feeling comfortable with the increased number of homeless and those obviously struggling with mental health I grabbed my stuff and headed for the alternative hop-out. At the intersection that separated the two bridges I veered off to the left to follow an old abandoned Connection Track that at one point connected the UP & KCS Yard's. Long ago there was an incident along this stretch of tracks where the remains of an old wooden box car's skeletal remnants are the only things left. Setting my pack down and pulling out my tarp I spread it out then grabbed my camp stove and a few Ramen Noodles and while eating I pondered if I'd be able to catch a ride before it rained? I didn't want to get soaked and the only ride's available will be under a cheese grater or at best a minny well. After an hour and a half I felt sprinkles and the distance obstructed hint of thunder and this alone made up my final decision. Reluctantly, I made my way back to the Flying J, arriving already to late to try for a ride. I tried my luck and went in to the Trucker's Lounge and first thing plugging in my devices; an ever pressing task even though I have a battery pack. I know using it to much it would take a complete twelve hours or better to charge back up. So I only used it when necessary and put it as priority when at a place with outlets. Knowing from previous visits that there would be a graveyard shift security guard I needed to rack my brain for a place to camp. Not finding any where or any unlocked trailer's off one of the adjoining streets, I opted for the twin bridges. Waking up super early I figured it wouldn't be long and the security guard would be getting off work and hanging out at the truck stop wouldn't be an issue. I sure hoped so because I didn't expect the temperature to get down this low. Packing my things I made my way back to the truck stop wishing it was closer, yearning for the warmth and a toilet for those times that has a way of coming out of nowhere fast. Dropping my pack on a minibench at one of the tables I again went through the rote of plugging in. Connecting to the free inside Wi-Fi I scrolled through Facebook and Instagram then checking the weather to only be dejected by its promise of continued precipitation for the unknown future. Setting my phone down I grabbed the fountain cup I kept and went to get a free refill. Being rogue and nonchalant of course. Sitting back down in the chair I watched the daily humdrum of customers in and out with their various purchases all the while trying to be discreet. An hour or so went by, then an older lady came in and was talking to another traveler about assistance with gas money so she could continue on her way. I spoke up perkily; "I can give you gas money for a ride..." After a few exchange's of where and how much she agreed to take me. Giving me a ride to our agreed destination, when at the junction to interstate 70 to head east she continues South! "Um, where are we going?" I asked her when she showed no concern for her mistake. "Taking you to the truck stop, of course!" She retorted. "Hate to disagree but the truck stop we've agreed on is east on I-70." I said irritably. "Oh, I'm sorry, where can I turn around?" "The next exit..." I said wanting to slap her now. To smooth things over and to ensure the mistake wasn't made again I stated my intentions of giving her more gas money once we made the truck stop. It worked. She didn't make anymore mistakes, then when we was around twenty miles or so out she began to cry about; "Where is it?' Where is it?" After telling her and showing her on my offline Map she started talking creepy stuff about an ex that she had beat to a pulp for lying to her as though this was a warning by parable. I haven't been more happy to get to a truck stop than I was then! "Take this next exit, it's right there."
I said; a feeling of relief flooding over me. Going inside the Petro I quickly scanned the scene and hurriedly went out the back to a wooden picnic table that was there. Initially I felt bummed when I seen the current circumstances of the Trucker's Fuel Pit only having a few trucks fueling. I tried with the few trucker's that ambled their way up to spend money on mainly junk food. "How are you today? You wouldn't per chance be heading eastbound are ya?" I said out of years chanting the same line that it became second nature. Things weren't looking good, I decided to see where the Trucker's Lounge was. Finding a flight of stairs to the right around a series of display racks I ascended with some reluctance expecting at any moment that someone would be demanding a CDL of me but no such obligation was in the offing. Getting to the top floor, directly in front of me was the laundry service room, and off to the right a hallway with a bench announcing it's inception. After spying the bench I immediately noticed an outlet on it's left side, I glided over and plugged in. The hall was lined with a series of doors and now, off to my left, was what appeared to be a TV room but it turned out to be empty. Getting up to browse around I gave a wide berth of two guys carrying on a deep conversation eying me with curiosity. I found something better than just a TV room, I found a small theater! A movie was in progress so I decided to grab my stuff after noticing there was an outlet in there too. An hour or so later the movie ended. I headed back out back anxious now to make something happen, I continued my memorized rote and the day continued without recourse when, finally, later that evening a trucker pulled in to fuel. As he was going inside I just greeted him without the usual attachment clause figuring it was getting that time that trucker's are just pulling in for the night to take their mandatory ten hours. He came back out and paused looking back over at me and asked if I was okay. "Yeah. Just trying to get a ride." I related without specifics. "Well, I'm heading east, if that's the way you're going you can ride along." Without hesitation, I hopped down off the table hoisted my pack and started following him out to his Semi. His name was Jim. A proud resident of Kentucky where he has a plot of land.
During our migration he told me about his job and the common question on why don't I become a driver and get paid to travel? He was interested in my lifestyle and of course, couldn't believe there was people still hopping
on freight trains. Asking where I wanted to get dropped off at I told him at the Flying J off 70 in East St. Louis (really I-270 and a suburb called Pontoon Beach). Getting there early that night we bid farewells and I went inside to plan my next move for the following day.
[Part 2 soon]