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After the train ride

In to the Wind

July 3, 2013
By Mike Gilchrist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Because of an early deadline, and because the beginning of this story was recently retold in this space, I have decided to offer this particular rerun. It originally ran last fall.

It is gratifying to have correspondence with certain faithful readers. It means you are reading my column. Some even take me to task for things I've written, ask me to elaborate, or ask me to finish a story I've started.

One such story I spun in a recent column dealt with the one and only clandestine train ride I took in my youth. Several people either wrote, or stopped me when we met and asked me to finish the story, and not leave them hanging.

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As a refresher, here are some of the details, and how this adventure came to be.

When I was a kid, I had the wanderlust. I daydreamed of faraway places and exotic destinations. This wanderlust surely led to my participation in the great train adventure. I was fifteen. Yes, we were runaways.

A friend of mine had just suffered a very hard breakup with his girlfriend. He had decided to go back to Sioux Falls, where he lived during his early youth, before moving to Iowa with his parents. I guess it didn't take much to convince me to go along. Because of the aforementioned romantic sense of adventure, I was the one who chose our mode of transportation.

You'll remember that "hoboing" experience found my friend Mike and I dropped off in Eldora, where because of signs telling drivers not to pick up hitch hikers, we walked, and walked and walked before finally being picked up by a driver who took us far enough away from Eldora, the boy's reformatory was no longer an issue with us securing a ride with our thumbs.

Gentle reader, you have to understand when I was fifteen, it was a kinder, gentler time. It was a time when hitch-hiking wasn't nearly the risk one would take today while trying to secure a ride with outstretched arm and thumb. Besides, as young people tend to be, we were fearless and invincible.

I don't remember the specifics of any of the rides we managed to secure; they were uneventful. I do remember details of our arrival in Sioux Falls, and our short stay.

My friend Mike was "ripped away," in his opinion, from his neighborhood and friends in Sioux Falls when his parents decided to move to Iowa early in his teen years. We showed up at the home of his friend late in the evening. We managed to avoid parents, and the inevitable questions that first night. The next day, we were on or own, because his old friends were of course going where we should be to school.

That afternoon, we were told we could no longer stay at that particular house. In fact, word was spreading we were on the lam, and none of Mike's friends were willing to risk spiriting us into their homes to stay. It was decided we'd stay at a camp on the river.

It was a church camp, with old wooden three sided structures holding bench like racks meant to hold a camper and their sleeping bag. We had no sleeping bags. We had no blankets. We had only the clothes on our backs. It was cold that night. I remember being chilled to the bone and shivering most of the night instead of sleeping. This was not the romantic adventure we imagined when we first hopped that train.

The second night was worse. Mike's friends did manage to scrounge up some food and deliver it to us before they had to head back home for the night. Night fell, and without lights or a fire, we both climbed back into the sanctity of our respective bunks. Animals rustling through the woods and other unseen denizens kept us awake that night. The heavy humid air left us lying on damp, hard, uncomfortable perches. I don't think we slept at all that night. It's hard to sleep when you're shivering uncontrollably.

Sometime during the night, the coughing started. By sunrise, my cough was worse, and it felt like I might cough up a lung. I was miserable. As the day wore on, I felt progressively worse. The cough worsened, and I was feeling weak and feverish. By late afternoon, I convinced Mike we had to call my folks and get them to come get us.

We made the call from one of the friend's house. It was close to midnight before my older brother arrived to shepherd us back home. I sprawled across the back seat and moaned the whole way back to Iowa. We delivered Mike to his parent's house and made our way home.

I went to sleep very early that morning, in my own bed. I must have slept for a long time, and when I finally woke up, my grandma and mom decided they needed to call the doctor. I had been coughing uncontrollably, and moaning fitfully in my sleep.

From my earliest memory, I can recall Dr. Wells making house calls whenever my mom called him to attend to a sick child. This was during an era where milk was still delivered every morning to our milk box, service stations pumped gas for you, and doctors still made house calls.

The good doctor took my temperature, listened to my chest with his stethoscope, and calmly declared I had pneumonia. Reaching in to his familiar black bag, he pulled out a needle and a little vial of antibiotics. In his usual gentle manner, he prepared his potion, and jabbed the needle in you-know-where.

My recovery kept me out of school for a few more days. I remember being glad my grandma happened to be visiting from Colorado. I was happy she was there to care for me, and protect me from the wrath of my mom.

So now you know the rest of the story. I might add it was not nearly as gratifying to retell the second portion of this story. Besides the space limitations I have in this column, it should be apparent now why I only told the glamorous part of the story. A romantic train ride makes a better story than telling the tale of how a young vagabond developed pneumonia while on the lam.

Until next time-

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on the "Local Columns" button.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2013 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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