I had been waiting for a train a year before, in the same yard heading in the same direction, but nothing seemed particularly familiar. The Minneapolis Burlington Northern yards stretch northwest from under the university and they go on for miles; ten, fifteen, twenty tracks wide; spurs heading north, spurs heading east; and somewhere in the maze a main line that carries the hotshot out of Chicago through Minneapolis to the west. I stood in the shadows of huge grain elevators, out of sight of the control tower, and I waited for a train due at midnight.
Back in the early 1970’s, sociologist Douglas Harper jumped freight trains, to get to orchards in the Pacific Northwest so he could do harvest work picking apples. He documented his conversations with the tramps he met and photographed the life he saw. In 1982, then again in 2006, his outstanding piece of ethnographic narrative was published as Good Company: A Tramp Life.
Courtesy of Harper, American Ethnography is privileged to present our readers with an excerpt from the book. Here’s Waiting for a Train.