Saturday, November 22, 2014

Siderodromophobic Billy - The Worst Hobo Ever

I never met Siderodromophobic Billy, and to be honest, I had never heard of siderodromophobia, and for three weeks, I assumed that the friend who told me about it was just having a laugh.  So, ever the skeptic, I did some research.

Well, whaddaya know - he was real, and so is the condition for which he was given his hobo moniker.

Now, I know that you, gentle reader or readers, have access to something called (or a lot like) "Google," so I won't bore you and waste your valuable Insta-Crush time with a lengthy and tedious description of siderodromophobia.  

So, let's focus on Billy.

My first question was, quite naturally, how can you possibly have been a hobo at all, and follow-up question - how does one even begin to think about considering developing such a disorder?

The first answer:  It's hard enough to be a hobo, but being a hobo who is deathly afraid of trains is nearly impossible.  "You still walk the rails from town to town," he supposedly once said, "but you can't abide the sound of a whistle, nor the sight of steam."  This resulted in a lot of running perpendicular lines from train tracks, hiding in the woods, and sweating through panicked heart palpitations.  The average hobo spent more time walking than riding, so in reality, having siderodromophobia didn't make that big a difference, so never mind what I said earlier about it making it nearly impossible to be a hobo.

The second answer was harder to find.  I mean, what could make someone so afraid of trains?  Of course, they are massive, fast-moving, and thunderously-loud - especially close-up, but lots of things are that way.  Horse races are that way, strictly speaking.  A large city can be that way.  The ocean.  A hurricane.  War.  I was a bit lost, but perseverance pays, and the internet is sometimes a wonderful tool.

It might not sound like much.  A train killed little Billy's parents.  It might not add much, the fact that a train killed them before his six-year old eyes.  And it still could fail to impress, the fact that a train killed his parents - pulverized them, really - in the warm, safe comfort of their kitchen, as the complementary aromas of kielbasa and sauerkraut filled the air.  These facts, these indelible sights and sounds of horror and instantaneous, permanent loss, excruciating as they are, do not fully explain a true case of siderodromophobia.  There had to be a missing element.

I had to resort to microfiche - material that has, to date, not made it to the digital domain.  I found it in a Pittsburgh library, slated for demolition in 2006.  The extra piece - the bit that made it all make sense - was not the fact that an eastbound train of 98 hoppers filled with a hundred tons of anthracite coal, powered by a total of four heavy locomotives (two up front, one mid-train, one on the rear) jumped the tracks and plowed into little Billy's house.  Fear of ordinary objects stems from a perception of reach.  Obviously, if you live 25 feet from railroad tracks, an accident can land a train in your living room.  

But Billy lived over five blocks from the tracks.  The lead locomotives, coal tenders, and a half-dozen loaded hoppers rolled a half-mile down Sycamore Street, from the Pennsylvania main line, past two stoplights, past the school and the fire house, over a small hill and around a 10-degree curve in the road, before slamming into the house and annihilating Billy's parents, two minutes before supper.

So, yeah.  I guess I kind of get it.

Siderodromophobia.  Look it up.  


  1. I once lived across the street from a busy train track. I became so accustomed to the sound, that when I left home for college, it was difficult to sleep in the deafening quiet. Poor Billy... and his parents. That sort of thing would put you off trains.

    1. I've almost always lived within earshot of the railroad, although usually that means only with open windows. With my love of both trains and white noise, I'd probably really like living across the street from the tracks - although maybe not near a crossing. Those horns are LOUD.