On the outskirts of The Dalles, we camped in a hobo jungle located in a dump of trees not far from the railroad tracks. We camped with a few older, teenage hobos from somewhere in the east. They’d been riding the rails for months, living off odd jobs and handouts. And they introduced us to the remains of a Mulligan Stew, simmered over the campfire all day long in a gallon-sized can they called the Gumboat. What went in a Mulligan? Whatever any kid had scrounged up and stuffed in his pocket or his pack. Onions, potatoes, an ear of corn, ediblegreens, cabbage, dandelions, bits and pieces of meat or strips of chicken, a handful of navy beans, lentils, whatever.
Huddled around the campfire that night, Cy and. I talked about hopping a freight ourselves, for the long road back, once we got to wherever the hell we were going. One of the young hoboes, the one they called “Rusty,” was more open to talk than the others. He gave us good advice on how to keep from killing ourselves if we went for an open boxcar already rolling,
“You run along the left side of the open door. You reach up and grab the big latch handle on the side and, then, with a heave, you swing your legs up to the right and into the car, Got it?”
It sounded like a tricky move—one that I wanted to practice first on a sidetracked boxcar
East of the rain country, east of Mount Hood and the Cascade Mountains, we began hitchhiking across Oregon’s hot dry lands, pushing our luck. One scorching day, we stood under the white-hot sun from dawn to dusk without a ride. That celestial night, with canteens almost empty, we slept in the sagebrush under immense rolling skies. Two naïf’s in the desert.
The following day, a few miles further east, we were dropped off alongside a small creek, zig-zagging its way toward the Columbia. For us, that rippling little creek lined with spindly willow trees was a lush, longed-for, paradise in the desert. We spent several hours, memorable hours, bathing, scrubbing, keeping cool and just horsing around.
The long, straight stretch leading into Pendleton was flat and dark in the night, A trucker dropped us off in the old Round-Up town around midnight. We had no idea where to roll out in the dark. We settled on a low, brush- filled island in the Umatilla River, which runs through the town.