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A Runaway Boy's Temptation: The Train Tracks

Bud Norton was a restless young man in the 1940s, when he was growing up in Kansas. And he often made his life into an adventure. As he tells his nephew, Tim Locher, "I ran away about once a week."

Norton's escapes never lasted long. "They'd always find me on the schoolground playing basketball," he says, "or I'd come home after dark, and my mom always left the back door open."

In one episode, Norton had some company when he ran away -- he and some other boys had decided that they should visit the West Coast.

"There was four of us -- Dennis Green and Jimmy Brown, Jack Graves and I -- we ran away. We was going to go to California. We caught a freight."

After a while, he recalls, "The train stopped, and we thought we was somewhere like Colorado or somewhere, halfway there."

And they were hungry, he says.

"We sent Jimmy Brown, because he was the craftiest of the group, down to the store. We took up a collection, and we told him, 'Buy something, and you know, just stick a couple cans of something in your pocket.' "

When Brown came back, Norton says, "He had three or four cans of dog food, a loaf of bread and a jar of mayonnaise -- it must have been about a foot and a half tall. Jack threatened to kill him. And then when we found out we was only in Lawrence, we called Jack's brother to come and get us."

But for Norton, the most disastrous runaway came when he was trying to get out of being punished.

"I had a whipping coming when my dad got home, and I worried about it all day," he says, "so I decided to run away. And I'd seen pictures of hobos, you know, with the stick and the little handkerchief tied on it.

So he put all his belongings in a blanket and rolled it up.

"I had my Sunday suit, brand-new ball glove and my shoes. My dad had just bought me some spikes, because I was playing in the all-star game a week later. And I couldn't find a stick, so I sawed off my mom's broom handle."

After he put all that together, it was a heavy load; Norton recalls barely being able to lift it.

Luckily -- or perhaps, unluckily -- he only had to carry his load for half a block to get to the train tracks.

"I went down and I threw it on an open box car," he says. "Then it gained speed, and I couldn't catch it!

"I saw all my belongings going down the tracks, and I just stood there and cried and threw rocks at it," he says.

He went back home and told his mother what had happened. They talked to a neighbor who worked for the railroad, but it was too late -- the train and his treasures were long gone.

Faced with life without his best belongings, Norton says, "I went to Sunday school with tennis shoes with tape around the toes, and that's what I played the ball game in. Great experience!"

"I'll bet your dad was real happy with you," Locher says.

"He was thrilled," Norton says.

Produced forMorning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The Senior Producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo. Recorded in partnership with KCUR.

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