A one-mile ride on a freight train in western Kentucky turned into a week-long trip across the country for a teenage boy — and almost cost him his life. Mike Wright, 17, planned to ride the short distance from his home to nearby Crofton, Ky., for soda and candy when he hopped a train Aug. 14, 1995. When the train didn’t stop in Crofton and Wright ended up over the county line in Indiana, he switched trains and decided to take a short nap on the supposed return trip. That was the beginning of a six-day ride across the U.S. that ended at Hinkle train yard outside of Hermiston.
Sometime during the teen’s nap, someone closed and locked the door of the insulated boxcar Wright was riding in, and the train car was sent to Nebraska. On Aug. 21 the train arrived at Hinkle and Wright managed to catch the attention of yard switchman Les Stuplich and crew hauler Jackie Dunlap around 1 a.m. “I don’t think that car was scheduled to be cleaned for a couple more days,” Stuplich said in an article in the Aug. 22, 1995, East Oregonian. “I don’t think he would’ve lasted that long.”
Had Stuplich and Dunlap not parked their truck beside the insulated car Wright was trapped in, they would not have heard his pounding and cries for help. Wright was dirty, dehydrated and hungry, but after an overnight stop at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston he was taken home by his family none the worse for wear. Wright’s reaction to his accidental trip? “I’ve run away from home a couple times, but I didn’t mean to this time.”
Phil Houk, who works in risk management for Union Pacific, said in the article Wright was lucky he was discovered when he was. “We do find dead bodies once in a while,” Houk said.
The moral of the story, of course, is that train-hopping is illegal for a reason: It’s dangerous, and possibly deadly. Union Pacific Railroad is vigilant about patrolling its property, and prosecutes violators on criminal trespassing charges when they are caught. Mike Wright’s story had a happy ending, but he was still in the wrong to use a passing freight train as public transportation — and he almost paid the ultimate price for his ride.