Stories: Alias Smith and Jones

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 June 2011

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Join date : 2013-09-26

June  2011 Empty
PostJune 2011

Hopping Train

Jed finds out that hopping trains is not for the faint of heart - takes place after the Starter Paragraph challenge.

(A continuation of my challenge, Starter Paragraph, on June 2009, when Heyes and Jed separate)

The day after Heyes left to join Jim Plummer’s gang, Jed headed southeast since he knew Heyes and his new friend, Jimmy, headed north. He stopped at every ranch and town along the way asking for a job, but didn’t get anywhere. No one wanted to hire a kid to do a man’s job.

Jed was lonely, frustrated, angry, hungry, and out of money. He sat under a tree, beside the trail, and gnawed on a piece of grass to ease the pain in his stomach. His horse roamed the area cropping the sparse dry grass.

“Sorry, girl, that’s all I can offer you. Maybe it’s time I thought about sellin’ you – not fair that I can’t feed you. Can’t even feed myself.”

Jed stood up and brushed the dirt off his pants. He took the reins and led his mare back on the trail where he mounted her and continued to the next town.

Elk Grove was a fairly large town with a railroad station. Jed tied his horse to the hitching post and went into the saloon. Looking through his pockets, he found a few nickels. “Are those eggs free with a beer?” he asked when he spotted the bowl.

“Sure are. Get one egg with every beer.”

“Then I’ll have one of each, please.” Jed threw down one of his precious nickels. “Heard of any jobs in the area?”

“Nope. People are layin’ off with the winter comin’. Heard Texas has jobs. Big ranches and no winters like here.”

“Texas – that’s purty far south of here.”

“Yeah. If you have the money, you should take the train. There’s one that heads south towards there every few days.”

Jed thought while he ate his egg and drank the warm beer. He could sell his mare and, instead of buying a ticket, hop on a train and ride down there. Then he would have money to buy another horse and gear when he arrived.

After selling his horse, Jed inquired about the trains, both passenger and freight, that headed further south. He found out a freight train went through the area at nightfall. Looking around at the surrounding area, Jed started walking south, following the rail. The countryside was hilly with steeper rises south of town. The train would have to go slower as it made its way up.

As the sun was setting, Jed reached a steep incline and waited behind a boulder for the train. An hour later, he heard the engine chugging and saw the black smoke and white steam billowing into the evening sky. As if on cue, the train slowed to a crawl near Jed. He glanced up and looked for an open boxcar door. The fourth car’s door was cracked, just enough for him to hoist himself up. Once in the car, he noticed he wasn’t alone. Several other men were also riding the rails. Jed politely tipped his hat, nodded, and found a dark corner amongst the freight.

For two days Jed watched men come and go on the train when it slowed or stopped for water or in a town. While in town, he ventured out and bought a few items to eat and filled his canteen with water before sneaking back in the boxcar. It began to feel like a home and Jed let down his defenses. He was exhausted and finally gave in to sleep.

Very early in the morning, before the sunrise, Jed was brutally woken to a kick in his lower back. He quickly turned to see the assailant, a burly man with a thick black beard holding a gun on him.

“Keep your hands where I can see ‘em. Now slowly remove your gun and put in on the floor. Good. Now kick it over to me,” the man ordered. Jed complied with the man’s instructions. “You listen real well, boy.”

“What do you want? I ain’t got anything.” Jed sat up, his attention on the man.

“Appears you’re breakin’ the law – nobody can ride these rails for free. Now gather your gear and get outta this boxcar.”

Jed slowly rose off the floor, walked to the door, and before he could jump down, the man pushed him out. Jed turned to glare at the man smiling and holding a gun on him as he rubbed his ankle.

“Found one!” he yelled to a few men searching other cars.

“I got one, too!” shouted another guard.

The railroad bull jumped out of the boxcar and shoved Jed. “Let’s get goin’.” He led him to a small railroad station. Inside was a portly man, with mutton chops beard, sitting behind a desk.

“We found two men amongst the cars, Mr. Butler.”

The man glanced up as the guards brought in the captives.

“Good work, men. You know the routine.” Butler continued to work on his paperwork.

Guns pointed at them, Johnson, the head guard, ordered, “Put down your bags and take your clothes off. All of ‘em!”

Jed looked puzzled. “Take our clothes off? Why?”

A guard nearby slapped him hard across the face. “You don’t git the right to question Mr. Butler. Just do as you’re told and maybe we won’t get the sheriff. Riding free on the rails can earn you jail or time on a work farm.”

Jed gulped and did as he was told. He was in big trouble.

The prisoners were lined up against the wall, using their hands to cover themselves the best they could, while the guards went through their clothes and belongings. Butler rose and approached them. "So, thought you could have a free ride, did you?" He gazed the first man up and down. "You should know better! You're old enough! And you!" he bellowed, turning to Jed, "You're just a kid! Have you rode the rails before, boy, or is this your first time?"

Jed blushed and looked down at the floor as he pondered the man’s question and what his answer should be as he remembered…

Han and Jed ran away from the Valpraiso Home for Wayward Boys just before Han was going to be sent away as an apprentice. They walked most of the way and begged for rides when they could.

One day as they were walking, Jed asked, “Where exactly are we goin’?”

Han replied, “Away – as far away from that Home as we can.”

“Are we goin’ home, Han?”

“Jed, there ain’t no home to go back to. You know that. Besides, do you really wanna go back there after what happened?”

“Guess not.” Jed hung his head. “Are we walkin’ the whole way? My feet are hurtin’.”

“No. Do you have to ask so many questions?” Han was getting frustrated at his younger cousin.

“You don’t know where we’re goin’, do ya Han, or what we’re gonna do.”

“Not trusting me anymore?” Han asked bluntly.

“No, Han,I trust ya, even if ya don’t know. You’ll figure it out. Always have.”

They watched a train go by and saw a man peering out of a boxcar. Han had an idea…

First time they rode the rails it was a fun adventure.

The second time, they were jeered at by some rough-looking men who hopped into the boxcar. When the train stopped for water, they jumped off while the men laughed.

The third time, the train was slowly leaving as Han boosted Jed up and barely made it up himself. The train jerked and the door slammed shut, with Han’s ribs getting badly bruised.

And the fourth time, he left Denver and Han behind at Silky’s place, tired of being a scapegoat…

“Did you hear me? I asked if this was your first time riding the rails.” The railroad man was growing impatient.

“Yes, sir. It was my first time.”

Butler turned to the guards. “Well, did you find anything?”

“Yep. About $10 in the old man’s pants and $75 in the kid’s boot.” The money was thrown on the desk.

“Hey, that’s my money!” Jed moved toward the desk, but stopped short when a gun jabbed his chest.

“It’s not your money anymore. Let’s just say it’s your train fare… And a little more for us for not turning you into the sheriff.” Butler sneered at them. “Put your clothes back on. Johnson, take them on another ride. You know what to do.”

Jed put his clothes on, grabbed his gear, and lunged for the money on the desk one more time. A gun click stopped his attempt.

Butler walked up to Jed so their faces were inches apart and jabbed a finger in the boy’s chest. “That attitude is gonna get you killed someday, kid.” He went back to his desk. “Now get them outta here!”

Johnson and the other bulls pushed the two captives out the door and toward a train about to leave.

“Where are you takin’ us?” Jed asked.

“For a ride. Now get in there!” Johnson pointed his gun at a boxcar. The men and the bulls jumped into the car. “Sit down!” Jed and the other man sat in a corner.

The train took off with a lurch and began chugging down the rail. After a few hours, in the middle of nowhere, the bulls looked out of the car.

“This looks as good of a place as any,” one of the bulls told Johnson.

Johnson walked over to the two men. “Appears this is your stop, boys. Get your gear.”

“What about my gun?” Jed gathered his belongings, minus his $75.

“Where’s his gun?” Johnson asked his men. “Empty the bullets out and give it back to him.”

One of the bulls emptied the chamber and threw the gun towards Jed, who caught it and tucked it away.

The boxcar door was opened.

“Time to go,” Johnson said, as he pointed the gun towards the men.

Jed and the other man got up and walked to the door.

“But there’s nothing here and the train’s still movin’,” Jed exclaimed.

“That’s right. Now jump or we’ll push you out.”

Jed looked at the bulls in unbelief. “You are really gonna leave us in the middle of nowhere?”

“That’s right. So what’ll it be? Are you gonna jump or get pushed out.”

Jed and the man jumped.

Once Jed stopped rolling, he looked around and saw the other victim. “You okay?” he asked as he hobbled toward him.

“Yeah, think I hurt my wrist is all. How about you?”

“Hurt my ankle.” Jed surveyed the landscape. “Now what?”

“We walk. Come on, I’ll help you.”

“You’ve had this done to you before?”

“Yep. Lucky they didn’t get the sheriff. A buddy of mine was sent to a work farm for a month. Name’s Frank.”


“Come on, Jed. Ain’t gonna get anywhere sittin’ here.” Frank stood up.

Jed put weight on his foot and winced. “Damn railroad.”

Historical notes:

Below are two excerpts from different websites regarding railroad guards, or bulls, and the brutality they were known for.

"Under cover of darkness, a bunch of determined riders finally got aboard a train. We rode her out for several hours, before we pulled up to a stop in a small town in Nebraska. Once again, the three railroad bulls appeared. One walking down the top, pistol in one hand, a flashlight in the other. Two others covered the right and left of the train.

"They rounded us up at gun point and herded us into a small railway station. Once inside, we were lined up and told to take off all our clothes. As one bull stood guard, the other two meticulously went through our pockets, the brims of our caps, even detailing our shoes and fingering our belts.

They made the rules: 'You can't ride the Union Pacific without paying. All of you with money will be allowed to keep one half, the rest will go to pay for your fare.'

"Four bucks was my entire bankroll. I was given a $2.00 ticket on the first passenger train that stopped. A hard-working bindle stiff, who'd been following the harvest had $80 on him, which he planned on taking home to his family. His boxcar fare was $40, which they sacked. It was a heartless thing to do, with no concern for his labors whatsoever. My feelings for railroad bulls were never lower."

Outsmarting the bulls and crew was another matter altogether. While some crewmen accepted money or goods as exchange for a ride, there was a strong tradition of violence against the trespassers. They might be beaten senseless by the shacks or forced to jump from the moving train. The especially brutal bull might then shoot at the hobo as he was running away, that is, if he landed running. One might also be left out in the middle of a literal nowhere, in the dark, in the cold, with nothing. At best, the tramp may just face arrest - and the work farm.

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