Here’s the next section of how I came to work with Bill Bonner and Dan Denning in Baltimore 15 years ago (catch up here)…

It’s January 2004. I am in Las Vegas. I’ve traveled from Mexico City without any money. Now, I’m trying to catch a ride on an eastbound freight train.

I’ve climbed onto a moving diesel near Fremont Street. I am in the cab, locked in the lavatory…

It’s a Union Pacific container train. It’s a mile long. It has come from Los Angeles. It is bound for Chicago on the 150-year-old trunkline across America, called the “First Transcontinental Railroad.”

Containers are a top-priority cargo. This is an express train.

My diesel is a “helper” locomotive. It is one of four diesels pulling the train. There is no one in it.

The train leaves Las Vegas and gathers speed, heading toward Utah. I come out of the lavatory and sit in the captain’s chair, at the controls of the locomotive.

A locomotive is a valuable piece of equipment, worth millions of dollars. It is hauling imported goods worth tens of millions more.

To say Union Pacific doesn’t want a stowaway sitting at the controls of one of its locomotives while it hauls 300 shipping containers from Los Angeles to Chicago would be a gross understatement.

I’m committing a federal crime by being here. If I get caught, I am going to jail.

Nothing I can do about it now. So I adjust the chair, slide the window open, and get comfortable…

There is a small refrigerator in the cab. It’s loaded with water. I don’t have any food… but I do have a bag of pot and some rolling papers!

There is a bathroom, which I have already mentioned.

There is a two-way radio.

And there is a heater, which I put on “max.” We’re crossing the Rockies in the dead of winter, there’s snow on the ground, a layer of ice on the windshield, and I have the window wide open.

I pass the time by reading, smoking pot, listening to the chatter on the radio, and gazing out the window.

At night, I curl up on the floor in my sleeping bag. I sleep to the rocking of the train and the blasting of the horn…

We cross Utah and Wyoming in two days. Then, somewhere in Nebraska, in the middle of the night, a man comes into the cab of my diesel carrying a flashlight.

He inspects the diesel’s controls for a few seconds. Then he swings the light around and notices me on the floor. I startled him.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hello,” I say back.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“Okay,” he says and leaves.

Any moment, the train’s going to slow down. I’ll see blue and red lights outside. A couple of cops will storm the cab with their guns drawn…

But the train keeps going.

The brakeman comes back at dawn. “You want something to eat?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” I say.

“We’ll be arriving in North Platte soon. They’ll be inspecting the train there. Hide in the toilet.”

More to come…

– Tom Dyson