Go East, Young Man!

looking for my roots in all the wrong places


Every so often I would hear a tramp mention the National Hobo Convention, an annual gathering of "real hoboes" held for almost 100 years in Britt, Iowa. I knew Iowa was in the Midwest, but I couldn't point it out on a map unless it was clearly labelled "IOWA". And Britt had to be a small town in a state full of small towns. The more I thought about it, the less I wanted to go there.

At that time the farthest east I'd ever ridden was Salt Lake. That was far enough. Pretty soon there would be no more mountains, just flat prairies, whatever they were. And humidity... and mosquitoes... and crop circles, "children of the corn", hokey county fairs, tornados... enough! Who wants to go to Iowa anyway, and in August?

So years went by, and I'd still run into someone who'd been there, or was going there, or who knew someone who'd been elected King of the Hoboes there, so I decided to "go there" myself to see what all the fuss was about.

As is often the case, planning a long trip can be almost as fun as the trip itself, and this time I indulged myself to the hilt. Looking at a Railroad Atlas of the United States, I plotted which rail lines I would follow to get to Iowa. One choice was to go from Roseville east on Southern Pacific to Salt Lake, then Rio Grande to Denver, then Burlington Northern to somewhere or another to turn and get up to Britt, which was in the northern part of Iowa. Another way was to follow Union Pacific from Oakland to the previously mentioned "somewhere" to turn up toward Britt. Both of these routes involved crossing Nevada in August, not anywhere near the top of my list of favorite train rides.

Finally I settled on possibly a longer route, but one that crossed the country in the far north, so it might not be as hot as the other routes, and certainly more scenic, or so I thought. I would go from Roseville north to Portland courtesy of Southern Pacific, then take Burlington Northern from there to Spokane, and eventually the Twin Cities, where I could get a Chicago & Northwestern train from St. Paul down to Mason City, Iowa, which was only about 30 miles away from Britt. Here was where the real fun began, as I put together a schedule of eastbound trains from Portland to Minneapolis by pretending to be a "railfan" on vacation.

part 2 of 7