September 03, 2008

Dances with trains

  A railroad "dick," as they once were called, arrests a man for "hoboing" in a freight yard. The railroad cop handcuffs the guy to a grab-iron on a box car while he goes to call for a sheriff’s deputy to transport his prisoner to jail. Grab-irons are the iron steps on the side of freight cars that flagmen "grab" hold of to get on and off moving trains.

  The train’s engineer is unaware that the suspect is securely cuffed to his train as he begins switching cars — back and forth — parking freight cars on sidings. During the switching process, trains move slowly — only a few miles per hour. But it’s aggravating, to say nothing about dangerous, to run alongside a moving train only a few feet from wheels grinding against steel track.

  When the railroad cop returns, his prisoner is gone. For that matter, the whole train is gone. Frantic, the cop looks around the freight yard until he spots slow-moving box cars a couple of hundred yards away.

  There, dancing alongside the moving train, is his prisoner, wrists firmly attached to a grab-iron. The hobo is yelling for help as loud as he can, but who can hear his cries amid the thunder of a rolling train?

  The railroad cop finally catches up with his prisoner and helps him climb up on the grab-iron ladder. There the cop unlocks the cuffs and both men jump safely clear of the moving freight train. The hobo, relieved to be no longer tethered to a moving train, is grateful to be escorted across the tracks and into the care of a waiting deputy sheriff.

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