Box Car Harry
The railroad dick looked straight at him, his pinkerton eyes unwavering, beady, menacing, and Harry counted his change to see if there was enough for a bribe; searched his thoughts for an escape route, but he was not as young as he used to be and the dick was young, legs like a deer.
He tussled Barney’s hair and said:
“Go there in that thar car and wait for me, got to dump the dick. Wait for my whistle.”
Barney looked up him hesitantly and Harry stammered hoarsely
Barney scrambled on all fours the way Harry had taught him and quickly disappeared under cover of the dark Chicago night.
Always, the dick against the Bos, the rich against the poor was Harry’s thought, been that way since her was born, the wanders, the lose, the lose people on the road trying to find an odd job and a meal, against the railroad fat cats trying to exterminate the railroad people, who what was just trying to get by.
Harry held his breath and told himself to concentrate and finally turned back to the dick and showed himself, full on so as the dick could get a good look at him. The dick wide-eyed and incredulous stared hard at Harry surprised by the brazenness of the tramp and stood stock still for a moment, prey in the eyes of the predator.
Harry swayed a little left and then a little right like a running back taunting the linebacker, which way boy, am I going to bolt, which way is the question. Harry feinted a dash to the right and the dick crouched right ready for the chase, Harry smiled and then feinted to the left, testing the dick’s reflexes. The dick danced to the left enjoying the thrilling moment before the chase.
Harry guessed Barney had had time to secure himself in the car and then Harry dashed straight toward the dick, who was thoroughly surprised and steeled himself for what he thought would be a crash between the two men. But, Harry at the last minute, slanted right allowing the dick to remain close behind but not enough to lay hand on him.
He headed for track 13-for the Great Northern line car.
The dick was breathing behind him; Harry could hear his labored breaths, close enough but not close enough to grab, what was what Harry wanted.
He hit the Northern line yard and saw number 13 looming. The dick was laughing behind him yelping with the sheer joy of it all, feeling he had Harry cornered because the Northern lot was a closed in one, a big wall in the back, a closed station and, of course cars, most closed.
But Harry was aiming toward 13 and lept up into the car and waited for the dick to catch up and see him. Harry looked down at the man’s heaving chest smiling his best Harry smile.
"Come on up" Harry taunted "drinks and cigars in the drawing room after dinner."
Harry smiled again and backed away to the other side of the box car as the copper eyed him warily.
"You can make it." Harry, chided.
The dick made a decision and lept up into the car, unsheathing his Billy Club and putting on his brass knuckles, anticipating clearly the whipping he was going to put on Harry.
Suddenly, Harry turned and opened the other door of the box car, jumped down and locked it behind him, the metal bar clanking with a satisfying sound.
Harry then quick crawled under the car to the other side and then found its latch and locked the startled dick inside the car.
"Ha." Harry exclaimed hearing the dick curse inside.
He turned on his heel to look for Barney and then the two would light out for Oklahoma on the 1am freight to find Barney's parents.
Harry’s aim was to get Barney home. That was his responsibility, every Hobo felt that responsibility, make sure the children who showed up on the rails got back home. Life on the rails was not for children, there was no justice swifter and more deadly than any Bo that molested children.
That is what distinguished Bos from tramps and bums. Bums never worked, stole, and most times never freighted and had no morals.
Tramps, Harry once explained to Barney, will work but only if they are forced to. Bo’s always work, they don’t take money or food iffin’ they don’t work for it. It is a matter, he said of dignity and dignity and justice is part of the Bo life.
Bos don’t steal, don’t threaten, don’t invade peoples homes and if a Bo turns bad they is thrown under a moving freight. Simple as that.
Bos pride themselves on being clean, take care of one another, and always make sure that they don’t spoil it in any town for the next Bo that might be coming through.
Harry had started to tell Barney about how to read all of the Bo signs that only other Bos could read.
Barney was eager to learn but Bo was bound to take him home. Same was true for girls and women a Bo might encounter on the line. It was dangerous riding, freezing freight cars, starving, getting jumped by tramps and bums and even dicks, that took advantage of womens that rode.
A Bo couldn’t stand for that. That is why many carried crow bars, useful in a fight and useful if a dick tried to lock you in a boxcar, to freeze on your ride.
Bos were the best Harry assured Barney, they’s got organization, jungles near every big railroad stop where they can find comradery and help with food and places to sleep.
With that, he told Barney to try to get some sleep since the dicks outside Chicago would open freight doors random and try to collar you or black-jack you, or failing that, might try to lock you in forever.
"It's rough on the rails" Harry said. "rough."
" Why" Harry said, "it was that after the war the dirty ones, the broken ones took to rails, the wounded and them that was blind with grief showed up on the cars, letting people back home think Johnny Rebel was dead, rather than tell them the truth that they had no leg, or arm. What good is a man they would say iffin he could pull no plow or work the land.
The blacks and the Negroes also had their cars, still segregated, all looking for work, all hungry, "Why Barney" Harry said "there was angelinas like yourself, homeless most, all with their bindle stick carrying every thing they owned at the end of a pole, most C H and D"
"What's that "Barney asked. "C. H and D Cold, Hungry, Dry Thirsty," Harry said. "I seen many young and old catch the westbound, that means die," Harry clarified, "some in the refrigerator cars, ice on from the sadist dicks, some just petered out, some dispatched by Bos cause they were crooked with women and kids, like yourself.
But you know" Harry continued," I think that you just might benefit from some hand to mouth learning, we just might Jungle stop our way to California and go socialize at the Convention too.
But now, you just lay your head down and you never mind. Uncle Harry will see you get home all safe and sound; I'll see you safe and sound in your mother's bosom again.
With that Barney closed his eyes and Harry listened to the clank clank of wheels on rails, and bye gone days.
The Bos made this country, working men, moving from town to town, working at things people did, paid their own way, proud men, who in bad times like these, who what lost their families, their farms, their livelihood, humbled by war and circumstance took to the road, created their own living code, and looked for the sun in East and rode the rails to the west.
Harry considered himself to be one of them. In fact he Harry was the first Hobo King and Maggie was his Hobo Queen. Maggie, he thought, he would see her again in Hobo Town.