Monday, June 1, 2009

Chapter Two - Death Cheating Maniacs

As it turned out, I never went to kindergarten because they never replaced the bitch of a teacher, and I'm thinking my Mom didn't care for having the hassle, so I partied for another year as a totally irresponsible child.
This next phase gets a bit more interesting. As it turns out, TV Does have an influential effect on kids.
I was now 8 years old and me 'and the boys' would head down about a 1/4 of a mile from my house to the railroad tracks along side the Ohio River, about 7 miles North of Pittsburgh. Two sets of tracks coming in and two sets going out. Four sets total and they were just far enough apart that you could stand in the middle and have one train to your right, and one to your left going in opposite directions, and not be able to stick both arms out without losing them. You'd be stuck there a good while. You could lie down but the other dudes would see you looking under the train and call you a wuss. They looked a lot like this but all 4 tracks were as close together as the two you see on the left.

It was a right of passage to have done this. Most of the trains that came by were 6 to 10 miles long, packed with Automobiles and a myriad of goods going in to town, and stuff like Iron Ore Pellets going out. Here is an actual picture of them.

Man, these things were primo ammunition for our Whammo Slingshots. Mine looked exactly like this one with the surgical tubing for the launch propulsion and the forearm pad that would let you pull that sling back to maximum load.

This ammo was lying all over the train tracks because it would easily spill out of the cars on the way to the steel mills like J&L steel in Aliquippa where my brother worked after he graduated from college. This is an actual picture taken from downtown Aliquippa, PA

I remember he told me the place was 7 miles long and it took him 45 minutes to walk to his work station after he clocked in.

Anyway, we could easily hit a pigeon sitting on the supporting structure of the Ben Avon bridge well over 100 yards away with slingshot and iron pellet. The bridge looked very similar to this one, but it was higher and further away.

This is where we started working on our manhood.

So, anyway, we were 8 and we were chock full of watching cowboy shows and movies on TV where cowboys were hopping trains and running along the tops of the cars and such. We started out a little less ambitious. We would put our heads on the tracks and play chicken. The trains coming out of Pittsburgh were going about 10-15 mph by the time they got to us and when they got within about 1000 feet, two of us would put our heads on the left and right hand track, facing the train of course, and another dude would judge who was the last one to pull their head off. Man-O-man, the conductors in those trains would be lighting up the air horns and their eyes would be as big as dinner plates as they rolled toward us. No way to stop those suckers either from that distance. We all won the competition a few times and then we got bored with it.

We quickly graduated to hopping the trains and running along the top jumping from car to car. I should note it's a lot easier to jump in the opposite direction the train is moving because as you're in the air, the next car is actually coming towards you. Jump in the same direction and that sucker is moving away. We did it both ways, but same direction was hairy. Then you'd have to know when to get off the thing.

A couple miles down the track and the train was now moving more like 20-25 mph. So, you'd climb down the ladder on the side of the freight car and while holding on let your feet start contacting the ground taking these huge strides to try and get ready for letting loose. Then you let loose of the car and you make a few 6 or 8 yard(Feet actually) strides until you can slow down to the point where you stick the landing or roll off into the weeds. It was preferable to stick the landing since you didn't want to be doing a roll anywhere near the train wheels of a moving train. We once decided we'd like to dig a hole big enough to fit in horizontal between two tracks and then lie there as the train went over, but we decided against it as we'd have to cut completely through at least 3 of the railroad ties and figured Nada Gonna Do It. We had some sense of physics even in those days.

So, here we were, like wild Mustangs - or stupid kids, letting it all hang out in an environment that was extremely deadly and dang if I'm not still here. I swear I've used 51 of my 19 lives.

Some things you learn on the tracks are that if you are facing the wind, you cannot hear a freight train coming up behind you until it is way too late. Like 10 feet away going 45 mph. So you never walk on the tracks in the direction the train goes. Even if you're going the usual opposite direction, automated flat cars can come along checking for bad spots in the tracks in the wrong direction. So, stay off the tracks. But it's never safe.

Later in life a friend of mine and I were walking the tracks. We were 18-19 yrs old. It was starting to get dark and we were tired. He was walking in front of me and at one point all I heard was him yelling "Bob - Duck". I did and looked back to see a steel rod hanging out the side of a freight car about 6 feet into the space we were walking in. It would have cut us in half. Life number 27.

You can hear trains coming for many miles away if you put your ear down on the cold steel rail. You'll hear a high pitched whine if there is a moving train on that set of tracks.

Lettin it all hang out !

(To be continued)


  1. You should have been an Army Ranger. Those dude's ain't right, in the haid. My Dad would have sooo kicked my butt for hangin' out at the tracks...but I would have too.

  2. "My Dad would have sooo kicked my butt for hangin' out at the tracks."

    Chapter 3 !! hahha

    I thought all kids did stuff like this. Later I found out the majority lead a rather sheltered life. There was a long time I stopped telling a lot of these stories because I knew people didn't believe me. At this point, I don't care, so following chapters will have all the details.

    And the Army Ranger thing has occurred to me many times over the years. It would have been Vietnam.

  3. glad you didn't(nam).
    ps:i used to make my own sling shots,even my dad udes to use them to chase the cats in the alley for us to be able to sleep.sorry,i'm a cat lover was always right then,hehe!

  4. My train yard was in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. They still had the coal-fired locomotives back then, and I would go down and hitch rides with kid-friendly engineers. They would take me from one end of the yard to the other ... but I had to shovel coal and earn my keep. As cool as the locomotives were, I eventually became MOST interested in the diesels ... but none of those pricks liked kids.

  5. Mustang, Wow, That would have been fun. We never went into the Pittsburgh train yards. I wonder if they'd have given us a ride. Those things were always moving 10 mph at least when they came by us.