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Self-proclaimed hobo rode the rails

September 20, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- He's a hobo.

That's how 57-year-old Allen Longnecker identified himself on a Friday night in April at the REACH cold-weather shelter.

Married four times and divorced four times, he spent 21 years riding the rails after his third marriage broke up.

"I'm known by the railroad," he said.

Longnecker grew up in Hagerstown but left, he said, because he's got a "restless spirit."

"I've been everywhere free," he said.

His rail riding took him from Maine to Florida to Washington state. He spent five years in Greensboro, N.C.

In February, Longnecker was released from Roxbury Correctional Institution, a state prison south of Hagerstown. He has a long record related to assault and domestic violence.

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His fourth divorce was finalized in January. He said his ex-wife sometimes sends him money.

"I just want to be left alone. I just want a job," he said.

A criminal record makes finding a job more difficult. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade, but said he is a skilled carpenter.

Last winter, he had a routine. Longnecker would get up, have his morning coffee and "shoot the breeze with a couple older guys." The routine involved reading the newspaper, especially the classified ads, he said.

He would spend time near Hager House, where he picked up trash, meditated and prayed, he said.

Out in the woods, he feeds the animals.

"I love it," he said of camping. "God's there, looking out on you."

After this night, the cold-weather shelter would be open for one more night before closing for the season.

"It's going to be tough out there when this place closes," said Longnecker, who sat on a plastic chair at one of the shelter's eating tables.

"I'm tired of my life," he said. "I go to prison, get out and here I am, homeless. Nobody cares."

Longnecker was hospitalized with pneumonia this summer and recently was told he has cancer. He doesn't know what he will do or how he will get treated.

He grew up "with a little money" in the 400 block of North Prospect Street.

Now his mother is in a nursing home and the money is gone, Longnecker said.

"I need a job and I'll be fine," said Longnecker, who admitted he made some mistakes, but has paid for them.

"This whole thing is embarrassing," he said.

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