May

25

Rails-to-Trails

May 25, 2021 |

In the 1980s Steam Train Maury Graham, king of the hobos, told me at the wheel of his Cadillac after the Brit hobo convention on the way to an Ohio nursing home to tell tales of the rails, 'If I had to do it again, I'd walk rather than ride the rails of America for a greater appreciation of our country.'  

I beat him to the punch, and walked a few miles on many rails throughout the USA to sample what is there. Once I lost my shoes from a jiggling flatcar and walked into a hobo jungle where they raised the bottle to ‘The Shoeless Tramp’. It would have been shameful to refuse a swig and potential tuberculous. Walking the rails brought true meaning to the hobo posey over and over, ‘Hark, hark, the dogs do bark, the tramps have come to town!’  

I am convinced the first rail makers in the span between narrow and standard gauge rails laid the ties just shy of a step and long of a stride to upset the pedestrian. Soon, you retreat to an access road. Every RR line has an access road along the original 19th or 20th century rights-of-way that we walk in lieu of the track. I’ve hiked hundreds of rails, a few steps at a time, and it’s fascinating. Bed is where the head is each night. Sometimes the access road gets overgrown in the South, or is absent in the East where public roads gain the track for repair. I like the idea that, compared to walking public roads, railroads keep you away from the traffic, fumes, noise, people, and police.   

There is a small town, sometimes ghostly, every 100 miles-or-so throughout the USA rail system. These stand from the steam train days when the tracks were laid to host water tanks to feed the hungry engines, and a newspaper of hobo symbols. 

a Slabber showed me yesterday a lightweight, detachable extension he built with a caster to rest on the rail adjacent to the one his bike tires are on. He'll ride his rail bike on the Union Pacific line from Slab City eight miles to Calpat, CA for supplies, as the trains pass only every other hour. His is simpler and lighter than the online kits.     

The rails-to-trails movement started in the mid-1060s as a quiet Midwest phenomenon that quickly spread to the major metropolitan areas. The idea was to convert the unused rail corridors, which were closing rapidly across America, into public trails. As tracks were pulled, people instinctively began walking along the old corridors, socializing, enjoying nature, and marveling at the bridges and tunnels. Walkers were joined by joggers, and rails to trails has become worldwide. There should be a transcontinental path that connects to other countries with similar, so one may journey around the world and open a new class of tourist trade.    

However, I’ll wear my boots instead of a bike. Sometimes you hop a boxcar and find the companionship of a hobo dog. 


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