The Dead Bum

It was cold outside but that was typical for February in Pittsburgh.  And nothing else was remarkable about this Saturday either, nor foreseen; in fact it was downright boring here.

And as usual, it was afternoon by the time this particular group of teenage boys got together.   Today, mostly out of boredom, they decided they would go down to the river and look around.  Before they got there though, they went exploring along the railroad tracks that ran alongside the Allegheny River.  Walking along the tracks, they soon happened upon a parked freight train.  So naturally they began investigating the behemoth–checking out the train and seeing if they could enter into one of the box cars.  This was their immediate fascination and spontaneous goal.   And yes, I was one of those boys.

I was 13 yrs old at the time.   And, we were looking to open all the box cars we could;  so, we ran about trying all the doors on all the cars, climbing on them and just being curious in general.

train 2

When we happened upon one we could open, we found it was pretty close to black coal dark inside.  Even though it was difficult to see, by opening the door some light was casting in and we thought we could make out a lump of something back in the far corner—the furthest from the door.  “There’s something back there for sure”, someone said.  Then another, “Let’s go check it out”.    We figured our eyes would adjust a little better once we got inside.  So we all hopped up in to get a closer look.

kid train2

It was dark in the car but deep inside the car it was even darker.  Squinting to better focus we were pretty sure there was something in there, back in the back.   “Wonder what it is?”  One of the boys remarked.  And so, after a few minutes of discussion,  we decided to walk back to the lump and find out what it was.  My best friend went first and I was directly behind him, right over his shoulder.   As we approached the lump it started to take on the possibility of a human form; but whatever it was it was mostly covered over.  So, we approached it cautiously.  Finally, we were right on top of it.   Next, at the urging of our companions, we reached down to pull the cover off of it; and, huh?  It was a filthy bearded man and he wasn’t moving.   I was momentarily frozen at what we discovered and then I thought, “he’s dead!”    And in an instant, with that thought in my head, I spun around and booked out of their so fast, I figured all my friends saw of me was a blur.  I flew out the box car door like a cannon-shot and hit the ground running.  Then my friends were not far behind.

I must have run a good fifty yards or so before I slowed to a fast walk; and now my friends were starting to catch up to me.  While they were in pursuit they where hollering questions at me and yelling for me to hold up.  “Hold up”, “Wait up”, “What was it?” they hollered.  They wanted to know why we were running.  So, when they finally caught me, they basically grabbed me to stop my forward movement; then asked, “What was it?”

I stammered, “It’s a dead guy”.   Friends, “What?”   Me:  “Ya, a dead guy.”


Everyone had an astonished look on their face.  But, then came — “Are you sure?”   “We where standing around in there talking, we walked over there and uncovered him, why else wouldn’t he have moved by now”, I said.   Then came curiosity,  “Let’s go back and check it out.”  “Ya, I want to see the dead guy.”   “I never saw a dead guy”  and stuff like that.  Then my buddy who was the first upon the guy said, “maybe he’s not dead, let’s go back and take a look.”   And with that, we agreed we’d go back and check out this dead fellow.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t want anything to do with it—I was scared of him and would rather just go tell someone about him then go back and look again.   But my friends where much more curious and braver than I was; so, they pushed and pulled and coerced and coaxed and I went along — begrudgingly.

When we climbed back into the boxcar, I lingered back, staying by the door for a quick exit.   I didn’t want anything to do with the dead guy.

hobo zombie

My friends, started off by hollering, “hey buddy”, and  “hey mister” and making assorted hooting and hollering sounds as they approached the lump; trying to wake the dead I supposed, but more likely assuaging their owns fears.  Then it moved.  “Hey, mister” one of my companions yelled at it.  And, it stirred and awoke and began to say something.  Heck, he wasn’t dead after all, but only sleeping.  But he was almost dead; I figured he was; but he was just almost dead.

Turns out he was a hobo, a starving, half-frozen, thirsty hobo.

After he woke up and after we expressed our concerns for him, there was a quick introduction. Next, he started asking for water and cigarettes. Or maybe it was the other way around.

But, when we told him we would go for help, he asked us not to, he didn’t want us to tell anyone about him.   I think he said something like he didn’t want to get in trouble for trespassing on railroad property and anyway he was OK; he just needed a smoke and some water.  So, we assured him we’d help him out and that we wouldn’t tell anyone.  He told us his toes were frost bit but played it down, like it was no big deal and that otherwise he was OK.   So after a short visit, in which he never moved from his resting spot, we left to retrieve him the things he wanted.


A short while later we were home raiding our mother’s refrigerators, and picking up some smokes, I forget how.  Around supper time we came back to the train and gave the stranger, water, food and cigarettes.  We asked him a lot of questions and he told us Hobo Stories; and he became our friend; he was our secret bum friend.  So we had a secret new friend and the mystery, secrecy and sanctity of trust was exciting to us.  We assured him we’d visit again the next day–Sunday.

The next day we made a couple of visits to see our new friend.  On these trips, we would bring along other friends who were curious and wanted to share in our find.  And, each time we brought him supplies, smoked cigarettes with him and listened to his hobo stories; we even gave him a blanket, so he could get through the night a little better.

Now, it was Saturday afternoon when we first discovered our new friend and the daytime temperature was cold but not bad.  But the nighttime temperature was bitter cold.  And we began to worry for our new friend because of it.  And even though he claimed he wasn’t, to us kids, he seemed in pretty bad shape physically.  We discussed our concerns among ourselves and we were seriously worried that our new friend might die if we didn’t tell someone to rescue him.


So finally, on Sunday evening, we realized we better break our promise to the old coot and tell one of our parents–because this guy was in serious danger.  One of the other boys elected to tell his father and together they led the police to the hobo.

Later in the week we received a progress report.  The police, accompanied by our friend and his father, took the hobo to the local VA hospital and there, because they were frost-bitten, they removed a few of his toes; but otherwise, he survived and he was going to be OK.

If we wouldn’t have gone back and woke this guy up, he would’ve kept on sleeping and froze dead for sure.  Thank God my friends and I were curious.

But the point I truly wanted to make to you with this story is in regards to how my false belief (that it was a dead guy) drove my thoughts and actions and caused me to take off running.   Beliefs are like that, we act on them whether they are real or not.

So what does this mean for you?  Well, perhaps like most of us, you too have a false belief  that is holding you back.  What would it mean to you if you discovered it and eliminated it?

Do you have erroneous beliefs holding you back?
Motivational Speaker Zig Ziglar used F.E.A.R. as an acronym to describe this particular phenomenon of fear.  He called it False  Evidence  Appearing  Real.  One way to find out if this F.E.A.R. is operating in your life is to examine your fears rationally.  If you desire to do something and fear is holding you back, then isn’t that a signal for you to examine your fear?  Yes, if that’s the situation, then it’s a good time to take a hard look for indications of this F.E.A.R. phenomena working on you.  Moreover, you might consider doing this type of self-examination a few times a year–looking specifically for evidence of this fear phenomenon in your life.  By doing so, you might uncover false evidence that’s holding you back from living a richer, more enjoyable life.

Here’s the best part.  If you do this exercise and find erroneous beliefs, that’s a good thing.  With this information in hand, you can make sound, reality based, adjustments; which in turn will lead to good things happening in your life; and all because you examined your fear and removed a false barrier that’s been holding you back somehow.  Once you remove these false barriers, you begin to do some things you were previously afraid of doing; because now you know the truth.  So don’t be afraid — examine your fears and take-off!


2 thoughts on “The Dead Bum

  1. My first reaction to a story like this is one of inner reflection. The old bum, or hobo as you refer to is often us playing it safe. We get comfortable in our own surroundings and say it is okay. Stepping out into unchartered waters or the light of day takes courage. Good reminder for all of us to stay curious, and make sure what we see or don’t see is clear so we know what actions need to be taken. Great reminder.