|To most, the Collinwood Rail Yard in East Cleveland is a disused pit of rusted steel. But to the hobo known as Texas Madman (real name Jon Macleod) and many other rail riders, it’s a place of vibrant possibility, a starting point for travel across the continent.
Texas spent more than 30 years hoboing — living and working on the road — before entering semiretirement and settling in East Cleveland. He grew up in central Texas and started riding the rails at age 13. Since then, he’s traveled to nearly every state and much of Canada. He was even married for a time and has two sons in their mid-20s.
But he’s quick to point out that hoboing isn’t all boxcars and campouts. A life on the road is fraught with peril. Texas, 51, has survived several attempts on his life, two train derailments, a heart attack and an incident in Tennessee in which he beat a thief with a train’s brake hose for nearly 45 minutes, earning him his moniker.
Texas will also tell you that hoboing can be a beautiful way to live — moving across the country unencumbered, with everything you need in your pack and your mind.
“You’re experiencing the ultimate of freedom: freedom of movement, the ability to just get up and move whenever you feel like,” he says.
This month, Texas and other rail riders are helping the Summit County Metro Parks plan its annual hobo gathering in Peninsula, where those who enjoy hobo culture get together, camp out and trade stories. And with nearly four decades of wisdom, some of which Texas has compiled in his self-distributed “Autobiography of a Hobo Tramp,” we asked him to share what he’s learned from years of riding the rails.— Chuck Bowen The people who you meet out there are not always what they appear to be. Sometimes they are sincere, [but] some of them are a lot like your street hustlers … [they only want to] pawn you around and use you for their amusement and their financial ability. When you aren’t any use to them, they’ll throw you out like yesterday’s garbage.
Waste is the biggest crime America commits on a daily basis. … People buy clothes, in two months they go out of style, [so they] throw them away. ... Electronics go out of style every year. Food waste is the worst.
Much of what I’ve eaten later in life was an acquired taste, like dandelion greens, which are spring sprouts that can be picked and cooked like spinach, or cattail tubers. In the spring, the young cattail shoots will sprout through the water. They can be cut and fried and have a sweet flavor. In the late summer, cattails will pollinate — the pollen can be collected and used for flour; it has a high protein and vitamin content.
It’s a cold, mean world outside and that world is whatever you make it. Society is not going to do anything for you; you’ve got to do all that yourself. … You give people a helping hand. You also watch the people you’re dealing with. … A lot of people are out to use you. I mean seriously, at almost any stage of life — not just me hoboing — it’s hard to find a real neighbor anymore.
You can find Texas and many other rail riders at Deep Lock Quarry, 5779 Riverview Road, Peninsula,
July 21. Visit www.summitmetroparks.org for more information.