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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

100 years ago in Spokane: The wild tale of two students’ trek to see a Gonzaga basketball game featured freight-hopping and electrocution, but no basketball

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)
By Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

Two University of Idaho students desperately wanted to attend the basketball game in Spokane between UI and Gonzaga University.

Yet they had little money, so they decided to hitch a ride on a freight train.

This did not end well.

First, a brakeman discovered them “and bounced them off the train” in the town of Palouse, Washington. Then the boys decided to make the rest of the trip by hitching a ride on the Inland Empire Electric Line. Those trains did not have baggage cars to hide in, but the boys found space – on the roof.

The students were just a few miles out of Palouse when they made a shocking discovery. The space on the roof was almost entirely occupied by electrified trolley equipment. One of the boys touched the machinery and was blown clear off the roof.

Panicked, the other boy tried to climb off the roof by lowering himself over the side. As he hung there, he realized that letting go while the train was moving would be a bad idea, so he began pounding on the side of the car.

The conductor heard the noise and discovered the student hanging from the edge of the roof. The train stopped, the conductor helped the student down, and the train reversed course to Palouse.

What became of the other student? Nobody was sure until they saw a figure limping down the track into Palouse. It was the other boy, suffering from burns on his leg from the electrical shock.

His burns were not serious, and both boys were sent back to Moscow.

They missed what the Chronicle called “the greatest basketball game ever played in Spokane.” The final score: Idaho 24, Gonzaga 21.

From the sports beat: The Chronicle posed this question on its editorial page: Why not make Spokane the sports center of the Northwest?

Spokane now had “facilities for conducting almost any form of sports contest on a large scale.” The editors were impressed by the fact that Spokane that week was hosting a big high school basketball tournament, as well as three Gonzaga games (including the one that the ill-fated Idaho students were hoping to catch).

You might say the the editors were envisioning that Spokane would become … Hoop Town USA.