The venerable boxcar or ‘empty’ is the standard hobo ride. It’s out-of-sight yet there’s a ‘window’ or open door, the equivalent of a wide-screen TV. Bulls don’t much care if tramps hold down boxcars, gondolas, and covered hoppers, but regularly kick them off piggybacks, container cars, double-stacks, and definitely the units. You can string a hammock across a boxcar, or once I played handball since it’s the right length until the ball flew out the door. The floor is five feet above the ballast making getting on or off on ‘the fly’ dangerous.
Coal cars are open-top gondolas with V-bottoms that unlatch to release coal. It’s a dirty ride and everyone talks about the bottoms releasing but It would be rare and I sit on top on a tarp and tie myself to the side. Coal cars are usually strung in a mile-long ‘unit’ train going from or to the mines.
Container cars are similar to piggybacks except without wheels on top. They haul overseas or intra-country merchandise. There’s usually a well in which to sit at the end of the container on the flat car, and it’s advisable to take the rear one to avoid a shifting load in an emergency stop.
Double-stacks are containers mounted two-high on a flatcar.
Flat cars are emergency choices off which I’ve lost gear and also been nabbed by railroad security. Always tie everything down including yourself. [Any_Mexican_Freight]
Gondolas are rolling shoeboxes without lids that haul pipe, scrap and hobos. Of all the cars, this is the most touch-and-go for ‘shifting load’—the third most frequent killer of tramps (after boarding on the fly and ‘silent rollers’). Tramps ride is at the rear of any car with a sliding load that could crush them during an emergency stop. The gondola sides vary from waist to above-head high and have the advantages of an out-of-sight and windless ride, but they can turn the box into an oven on a sunny day.
Lumber cars are flat with a vertical lengthwise center piece to which lumber is secured. At either end is a phone booth size area that can be ridden for short hops.
Oil tankers and some others have only a ladder and two-foot bumper to ride, so they’re inadvisable.
The portable parking lot or automobile carrier, nowadays, has two tiers with impenetrable mesh all around. The older unenclosed carriers were favorites for ‘bos to sit in the pickup beds or car seats and listen to the radio or stereo with the heater on during winter. The automobile ignition keys are often taped where tramps know where to look. Sometimes autos are vandalized so if the bull nabs you on one it’s usually straight to jail. There’s a window sticker with the vehicle destination, a big help if you know where you’re going.
The piggyback (pig) is a flatcar that carries semi-truck trailers. One leans against the big tires and views 360-degrees of rolling scenery under the trailer belly. The piggyback doors are sealed and bulls frown on pig riders, so hobos secret between the rear wheels. I’ve also ridden side-saddle shielded outside the tires through hot yards. Things blow around and away on pigs, so rope everything down.
The caboose hasn’t been ridden since the 1990s when it was replaced by FRED, the Flashing (Fu****g) Rear End Device, that transmits electrical signals the length of the train to update the engineer on everything but how many hobos are aboard.
Dirty Face or a locomotive is the best ride going if you talk to the train crew first. There’s a captain’s chair, heater, fridge with water, toilet, whistle, and an instrument panel that can electrocute you. The engines are called units and the crew drives in the first unit leaving the trailing units vacant.