Rail Kids: Hobos

By Terry Economy | Mar 02, 2012
Photo by: Astri Sleeper Train leaving Rockland station, circa 1940s.

It was a summer day in 1948. The rail kids had just finished a game of baseball at the field adjacent to the Maine Central Railroad yard. One of the locomotives was shifting box cars when one of the gang said, "wouldn't it be fun to hitch and have a ride in one of the empty box cars?"

Another yelled, "it would be just like playing hobos." Another yelled, "where would we go?" And another answered, "just to Thomaston, a short ride, and then we can get off and come back on the bus."

Without hesitating the four jumped up and headed for the rail yard. They watched as the train slowly came down the the track. The last box car was empty and when the train came to a stop all four members jumped into the empty box car and then the train started up again. They were so overjoyed that they could play hobos, at least for the short ride to Thomaston. What a surprise when the train did not stop in Thomaston but kept on going.

They had to make a quick decision. The train started to slow down and they realized the Georges River Bridge was coming up and decided to jump off before the bridge crossing when the train was going at a slow speed. Off they jumped over the embankment. As they brushed themselves off they noticed smoke coming from under the bridge and decided to investigate.

As they crept close they came upon a tar-paper shack with a hole in the roof with smoke coming from it. Outside the shack there were a couple of rubber tires, two cases of B&M baked beans, two cases of canned vegetables, two cases of canned soda, and three watermelons. Suddenly a man appeared from inside the shack and was startled to see the four boys.

He said, "well what do we have here?"

One of the gang members answered, "we just jumped off the train and saw some smoke and decided to investigate."

The man laughed, and another man appeared from inside the shack, laughing just like us.

"If you boys are hungry come on in for a bite to eat," he said.

None of the boys hesitated and went in the shack. There was a small tin fireplace with a cast iron tin grill warming up two cans of beans and two cans of brown bread.

The gentlemen proceeded to fix up food for their uninvited guests by opening two cans of beans and brown bread and told the boys they had to use the old spoons they found.

As the boys ate, the hobo sliced off large pieces of watermelon and handed them off on paper plates.

One of the gang members said, "boy, you guys eat well."

Both men laughed and stated that most hobos do.

The men wanted to know where the rail kids were from. As they told their story how they got there, one of the gentlemen laughed and said the boys should get going before they were going to be missed. One laughed and said, "tell your parents you met two hobos from Georgia on their way visiting the east coast with plenty of time on their hands.

They said their goodbyes and headed for Rockland along the railroad tracks. In the background they heard a train whistle and guessed it was a slow-moving freight train coming up the tracks heading toward Rockland. They jumped off the tracks and headed to the embankment. As the train slowly passed by the boys they noticed the doors were open on the last box car. They scrambled on and one of the gang members started to sing, "we are all hobos from Rockland."

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