Riding the Rails

When I was in Minneapolis to speak at ModernWell, I rode the Blue Line train and was mesmerized by the giant, bellows-looking contraption that I sat near.

A bit of research informed me that they are accordion diaphragms, and their purpose is to ensure passenger safety between railway cars. 

Much like a giant playing the accordion (think Jack in the Beanstalk), the membranes gracefully push together and pull apart as the train rocks, sways, and rounds corners.

Further research revealed that back in the day (the early 1900s), the spaces between the cars on a freight train were often occupied by migrant workers or vagrants—many people referred to them as hobos—who were “riding the rails.” Tucking into these in-between spaces kept them out of sight from the police and train crew, but thousands of people were maimed or killed by this dangerous practice. 

Where was your best-ever hiding place?

© lauriebuchanan.com

36 thoughts on “Riding the Rails

  1. Hi Laurie,

    My best ever hiding place for hide and seek as a kid, was in the cupboard over the top of the hot water closet in a house we rented in the hills behind Waitakaruru. It was a deep cupboard, and I could open the hot water cupboard, climb up the shelves, open the top cupboard, climb in, close the bottom cupboard door, get in the back of the top cupboard, and stack lots of towels in front of me, so that even if someone did climb up on a chair to look in, they would have to take out two rows of towels to see me.

    No one ever found me there.

    Many years later I had a “bolt hole” in an old abandoned gold mine shaft in the Coromandel range. Fortunately I never had to use that one.

    These days I am hiding in plain sight – here in Kaikoura.

  2. I also thought about the summers we used to spend, when I was a child, at my grandparents. It was a hamlet in the North of Spain (Galicia) and most people would have a siesta after lunch. I’ve never liked siestas, so, when everybody was asleep, I had the run of the house and the full hamlet. If I kept quiet I could go anywhere and nobody was any the wiser. I guess I was hiding in plain sight but there was nobody around to see me. But my favourite was the back parlour, a room with huge windows over the field. The prefect place to read! Thanks, Laurie!

  3. My favorite place to hide was in the maple grove behind my childhood home. I played ‘house’ there for hours at the base of a large tree. My mother always knew where I was, but I didn’t know that as a little girl. Thanks for taking me back to a treasured memory, Laurie. -Molly

  4. I used to like to hide in the hayloft which was a forbidden place as one could easily fall through to the barn. But I loved to hide there until one day I misstepped and fell through into a manger. Dad was not happy with me as I could have been hurt.

  5. What a enjoyable memory prompter! When I was three,, our family moved to a very undeveloped rural area in northern Illinois. A favorite place for us to play through our grade school years was, like Molly above, a little grove of trees which to our younger sibling selves seemed a shadowy forest. I think we were a bit too noisy for hiding. But it was a place which at the time seemed a great place for adventure and escaping parental view (or so we thought). We would also climb up high in two large willow trees which were named, daddy long legs and mommy long legs respectively. We felt safely ensconced and had great vistas of area prairie lots. Both were much safer than riding trains. When I lived in Chicago in my young adult life, I rarely moved from el train car to el train car, fearing the traverse between the cars.

    • Audrey — I can well imagine as kids that you felt you were in a BIG shadowy forest. I’m pretty sure that I would have equated it with Noddingham Forest and played Robin Hood 🙂

  6. When things got too much as work in the last couple of years, I hid in a little office where I did my one-to-one teaching, but we were lucky enough to have a wooded area on site, which was great too when the weather allowed. Woods and forests in general are a great hiding place.

  7. As an only child on a dairy farm in the 40s my favorite spot was next to the silo where my dad hung our horses’ harnesses. I can still remember the sweet-sour smell of the damp leather.

  8. I don’t remember a hiding place as a kid – perhaps because we moved so often. As an adult, my favorite hiding place is within myself – when something is bothering me, I’ll find a quiet spot to sit alone, and just pull into myself.

  9. A childhood dream was to ride the rails and see the world. As a child, I didn’t understand the inherent dangers.
    My favourite hiding place was under a canoe that was housed on the back of an old Ford truck. There was barely room for me to squeeze under. I hide there or with my puppy in her dog house.

  10. The woods Laurie! It could have been seat under a big tree or an outcrop where I could observe without being noticed. But riding the rails… with a ticket mind you, the best experiences have been the regional slow commuter trains in Europe. When I hear their unmistakable sound in a movie I am so there!

  11. A great hiding- place, for sure… But surely quite dangerous.
    I love your description of these rails, Laurie…. I could almost hear the sound of those “accordion diaphragms” 😉 Sending love & best wishes 😘

  12. I enjoy train travel and have certainly observed the bellows, yet really haven’t considered them! My grandfather and my husband were both employed by Southern Pacific Railroad and my grandfather certainly had the stories to tell from his years in the 40’s and 50’s. Not at all exciting, but I have always found my bedroom a hiding place! Somehow, from childhood to today, if I want to close the doors on the world and just hide a bit, my bedroom is a sanctuary. Easy to find, at least! 🙂

  13. Laurie, it gives me the shivers to think of people riding those rails, they were a tough lot, those hobos. Every house we lived in offered endless opportunities for hiding places, “Caves, Forts and Castles” abound under the dining room table with the use of a blanket or two. My favorite hiding places were in trees, people seldom look up. Our neighborhood trees always seemed to be accommodating in that they offered good, sturdy limbs on a climbable trunk and plenty of foliage for cover, a skinny, scantily-clad tree offers little in the way of camouflage and is a dead give away. However, never trust a pine tree! It will hurtle you to the ground and smash your bones! Stay away from pines!

  14. A most unique post! Ha, my still functioning “hiding place” remains Lucille’s principal’s office in hometown school we work at. I drive up here to spend some weeknight and weekend hours when I have writing and PC activities to complete. Aside from the parakeet Lennie in a nearby cage I am quite alone.

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