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016 - Container Wagon No. 1 – logistical


Contract: China Shipping

Have you never been tempted by the thought? You’re waiting for your connection as a goods train approaches, slowing almost to a halt as it rumbles into the station. The container wagons roll past you. Some of the flat-beds are unoccupied, their platforms tantalisingly close. Aat dii eenhaafaal joppr.[1]

In the USA it’s known as ‘rail-hopping’. An entire itinerant lifestyle grew up around it in the depression era, riding for free across the great open spaces that lay between one obscure industrial town and another, watching the world pass before you through the open doors of a freight car. Rolling through the empty countryside at a constant 35 mph, not slowing even to allow the exchange of drivers, past endless fields of cotton or wheat, taking a day or more to reach the next settlement of any size. Amriikka. Manned cabooses, once to be found bringing up the rear of every freight train, have been phased out as an economy measure. Hence, there’s no guard to deter rail-hoppers from climbing aboard. Railroad police are few in number, and besides, they’re not really interested, turning a blind eye to the presence of a few ‘drunken bums’. They have more pressing business to attend to – missing persons, grand larceny, illegal aliens… Or so I imagine.

Could this be you, then? Could you leave behind the tedium of your day-to-day existence, the troubles that keep you from sleeping at night? Tuugjoppr. It would be so easy just to jump… Can you feel the pull of the rails? It’s a dangerous game, though. Fractures and lost limbs are common, fatalities not unknown. In any case, rail-hopping is under threat. Freight cars are being displaced by container wagons. These days, more often than not, you find yourself shut outside in all weathers. In this regard, then, you’re no different from any other vagrant. And leaping on to container wagons is yet more dangerous still. The camaraderie of the rails is being eroded. Most of those remaining are weather-beaten hobos with red faces and long white beards. The fraternity has begun to fade away.

[1] Translator’s note – ‘it would be so easy just to jump’

#locomotives #nationallibrary


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