Hi Bo, I have a friend doing some development around the downtown train tracks who would like to know the origin of the phrase "riding the rods." Can you enlighten him? Where are you these days? Coming to Memphis any time?



Bo Keely answers: 

Riding the rods comes from the name given the Brake Rods which the hobos used to ride underneath the freight cars. a board called a 'ticket' was propped spanning two brake rods that each is like 1'' rebar running the length of the undercarriage. Train tramps rode their little Ticket to avoid detection by the RR bull. That was when steam trains were in vogue prior to late 50s & went more slowly. nonetheless it was a chancy ride because you had to stay awake or roll off between the wheels. I've ridden a ladder on the side of a freight for hours, caught there & tied myself on in case I lost my grip or napped, however I've never heard of modern hobos riding the rods because there are other safer places. Also, I've observed that the old brake rods hung lower beneath the belly of the pre-50s cars to allow more room to lie or sit on the board. A particularly nasty bull would stand on top a moving freight car he thought a hobo was riding the rods beneath the carriage of and drag a chain on the ground between the rails flipping up ballast rocks in the tramp's face. U might see examples of riding the rods in the classic Emperor of the North, Woody Guthrie's Bound for Glory speaks of riding the rods.

I'm in Miami after a trip out west. 





Speak your mind


Resources & Links