William….Nevada 1979

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When it comes to thievin’, most of it’s done by guys who ain’t on these rails perm’nent. Ya c’n always tell a guy who ain’t a real tramp; streamliners, they don’t carry any gear. Watch out for streamliners. A man who don’t have himself any gear is prob’ly desperate enough to steal yours.  Any tramp worth his salt’s got his gear with him. Ya need it to survive, ain’t no two ways ‘bout it. I won’t ride with a guy if he doesn’t have himself a bedroll an’ water jug. I’ll tell him to move on to the next car. Ya can’t take any chances with guys like that. It’s hard enough gettin’ along on these rails ‘thout havin’ to worry ‘bout whether the guy yer ridin’ with is goin’ to knock ya on the head in yer sleep.

A tramp’s got any sense ain’t gonna steal from ‘nother tramp. He might go ‘n steal elsewheres, but not from ‘nother tramp. A tramp spends the better part of his time on these rails, day an’ night, an’ he ain’t gonna do nothin’ where he has to worry ‘bout ‘nother tramp huntin’ him down. A tramp who steals from ‘nother tramp knows he’s livin’ on borrowed time ‘cause sooner er later in some jungle er some boxcar somewhere, he’s gonna run into the guy he stole from, an’ it’ll be all over for him. If a tramp steals from a tramp, he gets knowed all up an’ down the line as a thief. The word gets out fast an’ he’d better do some lookin’ over his shoulder. Guys’ll be keepin’ an eye on him, watchin’ where he’s jungled. Nobody’ll jungle with him ‘cause they’re scared to. They figger he’s gonna get it one night, an’ they ain’t gonna take the chance a sleepin’ in the same jungle with him er they might get it too.

Had my gear stolen once, in San Antonio. I was walkin’ b’tween a row a cars at night, lookin’ for an empty, an’ the train was gettin’ ready to move outta the yards. He was buildin’ his air an’ I was walkin’ the length, quick as I could, lookin’ for a car. I come up on an empty, an’ jus’ as I got to the door, wham! A two by four smacks me square in the forehead. Didn’t even have time to duck. All I saw was two hands grippin’ onto a two by four like it was baseball bat. It come at me from outta the darkness, an’ I never did get a look at who done it. Knocked me clean out.  When I come to, it was still dark. I was lyin’ face down on the track-bed, an’ the two by four was laid ‘cross the back a my legs. My gear was gone, an’ I had a knot the size of a fist on my forehead. Made me so fuckin’ light headed I could hardly stand straight.  Put me in bad shape for some time.

I’ll let a lotta things go by, but a guy that steals a man’s bedroll is the worst thing walkin’ on two feet. Ask most any tramp an’ he’ll tell ya the same. They use’ to have a law in Montana, sayin’ if a guy was caught stealin’ yer bedroll, he’d get hanged. And that’s the way it should be.