Hitchhiking America: Hopping A Freight Train (Part 2)

Hopping a Freight Train
Hitchhiking America: Hopping a Freight Train
Oregon, USA

Initially I was planning to head East, but wound up hopping a freight train out of Portland that took me North instead. This is how it all went down…

Day 5 of my cross-country hitchhiking journey across America begins with me tracking down hobos in Portland to learn how to hop freight trains. There’s just something magical about the thought of riding a train through the countryside.

Traveling the rails as many did during the Great Depression. Escaping 20th-century traffic congestion and advertising on the highways to watch the scenery roll past on a set of train tracks. Smelling wildflowers in the fresh mountain air.

Yet a small community of modern rail riders still exists even today.

So I read books, asked questions in obscure online forums, and spoke to a few freight riders in person. Attempting to prepare myself as best I could to prevent getting injured or arrested. Because riding freight trains is pretty dangerous and definitely illegal.

Train Hopping Portland
The Refrigerated Boxcar I Jumped Into

Riding Trains Isn’t Easy

The first obstacle is locating where you can even catch a train. They slow down or stop at specific places: inside rail-yards for loading & unloading, at “sidings” (where one train will stop to let another pass), and crew-change points.

Then you have to determine what direction the train is even going. It could look like it’s pointed East, when in reality it may turn South a few miles later.

Next, you need to search for a rideable car. There are a few different types, but some can be downright deadly to ride in if you don’t know what you’re doing. In fact just maneuvering around a stopped or slow-moving freight train can be extremely dangerous.

Of course, avoiding getting caught is also a priority. The rail police (aka “Bulls”) are constantly on the hunt for illegal train riders. This will result in a ticket or even a few nights in jail depending on the location.

Other rail-riders can be a threat too. Drug addicts or criminals may be riding the same trains as you. There is a lot to think about!

Riding a Freight Train
Ride #6: BNSF Railroad! (they just don’t know it)

Ride #6: BNSF Railroad

My initial goal was to hop a freight heading East out of Portland. But it took me 3 nights and over 18 hours of waiting on the side of the tracks to catch one — and when I did, it was headed in the wrong direction!

On the 3rd night of attempting to “catch out”, I found some thick bushes and made myself comfortable as the sun began to set. Stuffing my face full of tasty ripe blackberries that grow wild along the tracks. A few trains came by, but they were moving too fast.

It was around midnight (4 hours later) when an opportunity presented itself. A “junk” train began pulling out of the rail yard next-door and onto the mainline where I was waiting.

Junk Trains pull cars with less valuable cargo. Grain. Oil. Coal. Lumber. Steel. Fruit. Etc. They cruise the tracks at 40 mph or slower.

Hot Shots are loaded with shipping containers full of valuable merchandise. Cars. Electronics. Designer clothing. Each container can easily be packed with over $500,000 of stuff. These fly by at 70 mph.

As my junk train rounded a corner onto the main track, it was only traveling at about 5 mph. Perfect.

I spotted a few rideable cars too. So after rushing up the embankment I began running alongside a refrigerated boxcar (aka “reefer”) covered in graffiti. It was closed, but there’s a small cubby-hole area in the back that houses the refrigeration unit. I grabbed the ladder, jumped up, and squeezed inside with my pack. Success!

Freight Train Riding
Officially a Train Riding Hobo

Whoops! I’m Going North…

After a few miles the train picked up speed and I made myself as comfortable as possible. The landscape passed by under the glow of a full moon. But my car was very loud. Not only from the grinding steel sound on the tracks, but the refrigeration unit kicked on and off every 30 minutes — so it wasn’t very peaceful until I threw in some headphones and turned on Bob Dylan.

When I eventually checked the GPS location on my phone, I discovered we were headed North instead of East. Whoops! No big deal. I knew there was a chance of that happening.

Because we were headed North, I assumed the train was traveling to Seattle. But after a 3-hour ride, we pulled into a brightly-lit rail yard and stopped.

I was forced to throw a brown tarp over myself & my pack to hide from the yard-workers walking by. After an hour of no movement, I realized that we were not just waiting for a faster train to pass, but this was the last stop.

My fear was confirmed when I peaked out to discover the two engines up front were no longer attached…

Running From The Bull

Packing my gear I soon left the safety of the boxcar to search for another train in the yard that would be heading North as the sun began to rise.

But after looking for a while, I made the mistake of climbing out into the open in front of a rail cop’s white pickup-truck about 100 yards away. Shit!

He hit the accelerator and drove right at me. To avoid getting caught, I scrambled back over the train and ran towards him with a mile-long string of cars between us.

Unless he left his truck and chased on foot, there’s no way he’d find me in this maze of trains.

With my adrenalin pumping despite a lack of sleep the night before, I escaped from the yard as quickly as possible and made my way to the roadside.

Covered in train grease and looking like a proper bum, no one would pick me up. So I was forced to walk 4 miles into the town of Kelso, WA.

Once there I splurged on a Motel 6 bed, hot shower, laundromat, and a fat tub of Ben & Jerry’s. My very brief train riding career was now over. ★

WARNING: Riding freight trains is very dangerous & illegal. So unfortunately I will not be sharing a detailed “how-to” guide about it. I’m not a professional train hopper, and don’t want to encourage others to try without researching the risks for themselves. The risks are high. I claim no responsibility for your arrest, dismemberment, or death.

Route: Portland, OR to Kelso, WA | Distance: 48 Miles

Have you ever been hitchhiking before? Have any questions about it? Let me know in the comments below!


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
Join 20,000 others who receive exclusive email updates!

7 Reasons To Subscribe →
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I'm also a member of other affiliate programs. For more info please read my policy page.

Leave a Comment

Comments (81)

  1. I enjoyed reading your story, have tell you though riding the rails is not like it was in the 40′ and 50’s. Most people you encounter riding trains are wanted, violent felons. These are not people who didn’t pay thier parking tickets. Many would think nothing of throwing you off the train at any speed and relieve you of your possessions. Just food for thought

  2. BNSF does NOT have “RR police (or agents as their called) in white vehicles”. They ride in all “black” Chevy Suburbans. A white vehicle is a train master (doubtful), utility (probable), car man (possible). None are going to chase you. They’ll simply report you to someone who will contact an agent. Nothing more. By the time an agent arrives, you’ll be in another state.

  3. As train hopper for 25 years, no old so retired from
    rails. My advice is don ‘t catch out unleds you have
    When I say mentor, I mean a old hobo train tram ,not
    these dirty kids or greenhorns. They may get you killed
    o r rob and murder you.
    You don ‘t know shit and it takes knowledge to safely
    catch out & ride. Don’t be a dumbass.. Don’t make the
    cops go to your family and tell them you’re dead!

  4. Hello my name is Mac and I am almost 18 years old and I plan to hitchhike from Northern California up into Washington and Oregon down to southern Cali. I need a lot of advice. I already bought most of the gear you suggested but is there any advice I need? Safety precautions? Trails or roads you suggest?

    • Bring a pocket knife for protection!
      Don’t keep all your money in one place on
      you in case your robbed.
      Never go off highway with a stranger.
      Don ‘t take lodging from strangers!
      Make eye contact with peope going by!
      no sun glasses while hitching ,eye contact
      Always ask where going. Dont go some
      podunk town or rural road that you have
      stand behind sign on on ramp that has no
      traffic on it!
      Go mid size ciry to mid size city. For above
      bring half gallon milk jug of water to drink
      and hobo bath.
      Their is to much to write……..
      One last important one – if driver looks
      sketchy, say no thanks. trust your gut
      always. And stay off freight trains, no
      place for novice green horns. It will get
      you killed..

      • Yes trust your gut instinct. But 9 times out of 10 the people you meet will share whatever they have rather than rob you. The media wants people to just assume that most people are out to rob and rape and kill. The opposite is true. Ya things can go wrong and yes you can die. But in all likelyhood you will have a great adventure and meet awsome friends. Taking a risk in life is better than doing what most sheep do and just except monotony and choose comfort and saftey but are the most miserable, depressed people ever. Taking antidepressants and wondering whats missing in their life. You need danger, excitement and have to get out of your comfort zone or else you are doomed.

  5. Wow! Love this! I went hitchhiking with my best friend Dango in the 60’s so I can relate to many of your “adventures”. We actually were caught by the “Bulls” in Clovis, Mew Mexico!!! Here is an except of my memoir, which I published on Amazon: ” “In the dim light and when the beam of the large flashlight was not directly in my eyes, I could make out two men coming toward us. The one who seemed to be in charge was holding the flashlight and wore some kind of khaki uniform with a wide-brimmed, highway patrol hat. The other man was smaller and held tightly to the leash of large, vicious-looking Rottweiler. I knew immediately that we were looking at a Santa Fe Bull. I also knew immediately, how they got the name “Bull.” The guy in the uniform was the stereotype of the stereotypical Southern sheriff. He was 5’10 inches tall and built like a fireplug. I never saw under the hat, but you just knew he had a crew cut or shaved his head. He was a dead-ringer for Sheriff Bull Conner of Birmingham, Alabama, who would become infamous during the civil rights marches in 1963. He looked just like Rod Steiger in the Oscar winning movie, In the Heat of the Night. He was built like a bull, acted like a bull and, if bulls could talk, talked like a bull.
    “What are you doing here?” he shouted in our faces.
    I was scared to silence. All I could do was stare at the badge on his khaki shirt – “Santa Fe RR Police.”
    Somehow Dango responded, “Looking for a place to stay, sir.”
    “What?” he barked. “You’re trespassing on private property. This is a Santa Fe Railroad yard. How’d you get here?”
    “I don’t know, sir,” Dango went on, winging it. “We’ve been hitchhiking and were asleep and this fellow just dropped us off.”
    God, you had to admire Dango for that. What fast thinking under duress. Don’t admit to having been on a train, let them prove it.
    “He’s right, sir,” I said, picking up the ball. “We’re hitching all the way to Ohio. This is Amarillo, isn’t it?”
    I N T H E R E A R V I E W M I R R O R | 6 5
    The guy holding tight to the dog laughed. The “bull” gave him a look that could kill and then turned his disgust back to us.
    “You are two of the dumbest deadbeats, I’ve ever seen. You just got off that freight that just pulled in, didn’t you?”
    “No sir,” we both said at the same time.
    “We’re looking for a place to stay,” Dango continued, gesturing to our bags.
    “How old are you?”
    “Eighteen, sir.”
    “Get the fuck out of here now,” he growled. “Before I let this dog eat you.”
    “Yes sir,” we said, picking up our bags as fast as we could and heading toward the opening in the fence.
    “And,” he shouted after us. “Welcome to Clovis, New Mexico, you dumb shits.” “

  6. I’ve been reading articles about train hopping. My son did it for the last 4 or 5 years. He traveled to the same places. California, Oregon and back home to Colorado. I’m sure many other places that we don’t know about. This was how he chose to live his life. He made friends
    and found connections with people that he was unable to find with us or friends he grew up with. He fit in with them. The day after Easter we answered the door to a Sheriffs Deputy who came to tell us our 24 year old son had been killed in another state. He was crushed on a coal train.
    It was a tragic accident. I hope people that are looking for adventure hopping trains are aware of all the potential dangers. My son was a seasoned train hopper and yet he is dead. Our only solace is that he died instantly and died doing what he loved. After reading many articles from train hoppers, I understand my son a little better. There was a camaraderie among the people he met up with in his travels. It made him happy.

    • Hi Colleen, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. Yes, riding trains this way is very dangerous. There is a lot of risk involved. Thanks for sharing your story with us, I hope it will make some people re-think attempting it.

  7. I’ve only ridden a few trains in recent travels, so I am a greenhorn, and there are many other people out there with much more experience. However, you should really think about adding a list of safety bullet points to this thread in regards to train hopping. The reason I suggest this is because your blog attracts a lot of attention as seen from the comments. Regardless of the disclaimer people might try this without knowing basic safety precautions.

    This information was taken from another site – StP, but I think it is important that others know the dangers, and risks included with the disclaimer. I did not write this, which is why it’s in quotations, but it is basic safety information taken from another travel forum on the net.

    “Some Safety Basics
    1) Always look both ways before crossing tracks. Train cars can come silently rolling down the tracks and the newer Amtrak units are super quiet. You never know when something could sneak up on you. You get hit by a rolling freight car, you are not going to look pretty afterwords. Even some of the locomotives in the yards are operated by remote, so a lot of times there isn’t anyone even in the cab.
    2) If you are walking down tracks, be sure to keep an eye on your rear at all times. (See Above) Also, the rail cars are wider than the rails are apart, and wider than the ties even. Keep this in mind when walking between two tracks.
    3) If you have to cross over a train, or a string of cars in the departure yard, DO NOT CROSS OVER THE KNUCKLE (coupler). Standing between the train cars is the last place you need to be standing when that string of cars suddenly shifts 5 feet without warning. That’s blunt force trauma from a few tons of hard steel. There are ladders, handholds and catwalks that are built onto the cars for this exact reason. Use them and remember to maintain 3 points of contact when crossing. If there isn’t a catwalk (Autoracks) then find a different car to cross. Tankers are great for easing over a string.
    4) Maintain 3 Points-of-contact when crossing strings, or moving about on trains. It is much like a canoe or rowboat, where you need to have at least both feet and one hand or one foot and both hands in contact with the boat so you are less likely to fall in. Same principle applies to trains. There are reasonable exceptions; like when riding in gondolas or boxcars.
    5) Pay attention to your surroundings. The idling of one locomotive can cover up the sound of a locomotive on another track. Stay Alert, Stay Alive. Listen to the creaks, moans, and ticks that the train is making. A lot of times you can hear the slack action coming down the line as each car is pulled into motion.
    6) Be aware of all of your loose straps on your pack, clothing, etc. You don’t want to get anything hung up while you are climbing over cars. You could be caught by a pack strap and sudden;y the string pulls forward while your tangled up on a piece of machinery or something. Not a good spot to be in.
    7) When crossing tracks, watch out for the automatic switches. Having one of those close on your foot would not be good. I’ve heard it can take your foot off or crush your foot, but I’m not sure of the truth to that. It will at least pinch you to the track and you will have one hell of a time getting loose before a train comes plowing down the tracks.
    8) If you are in between two strings in a departure yard and there is barely enough room to walk and both strings start moving, stay aware of your pack, and lay down.

    Other Tips
    *Bring Cardboard. It will insulate you from hot or cold steel and stifle the vibration a bit.
    *Water! Bring water! Lots of Water. Running out of water while your sided out in the desert heat for 8 to 12 hours sucks. Dehydration sucks. Heat stroke sucks.
    *Be prepared for the weather whether hot or cold. Sometimes you will go through different extremes within one train in a few short hours.Being stuck on an open aired ride during a snowstorm is’nt fun either, or the blazing heat for that matter.
    *Don’t hang out in Boxcar doors.
    *Don’t ride Suicide.
    *Stay Sober.
    *Don’t Ride Loaded Cars It might seem like those heavy steel I-Beams in that Gondola are too heavy too shift, but they can and they will. When it does you will be crushed underneath. This has happened at least twice that I know of in the last few years. There are plenty of empties to ride.
    *Catching on the Fly. There are lots of risks involved when catching on the fly. It is generally not recommended but many of us have been in that situation where you just need to get the fuck out of there, so it definitely happens. If you have to catch on the fly, there are a few things to keep in mind when doing so. Lots of things can affect weather or not you can catch the train, the weight of your pack, your height, the steepness of the ballast, weather, having a dog or instrument along.

    9) If you cannot count the big lug nuts moving around in the center of the wheel DO NOT TOUCH THE TRAIN! Rumor is that your arms could be ripped off, you could be tossed around like a rag doll and sucked under the wheels. Not a pretty situation.
    10) It is always recommended that you catch on the leading edge of the car. This way if the train kicks or there is slack action your risk of being thrown between cars is greatly reduced.
    11) Use your knee. Place your knee on the bottom rung of the ladder instead of your foot. That way your foot doesn’t have a chance at slipping through the ladder or off of hit. Remember, that wheel is right behind the ladder.
    12) Know your rides. If you are catching a moving train make sure you are getting onto a rideable car. Last thing you want to do is to catch onto a grainer only to find out it has no porch. If your train picks up speed fast, you may now be stuck riding suicide for the next 8 hours.
    13) Pay aware of your surroundings. There are all sorts of things along the tracks that could trip you up so pay attention to what is ahead of you on the ground level. Make sure you have clear running room and that you won’t trip over a switch, or a switch box, or a low dwarf signal, random bits of scrap metal, etc.
    14) Catch the DPU Bulls and Yardmasters alike will tell you to “Stay off the fucking Power!”, but really a locomotive is the easiest and safest thing to catch on the fly. Is it still dangerous? Of course, but the risk of your feet slipping through or off the ladder rung is alleviated. It is simply a steep stair set with hand holds. I’ve seen yard workers get off and on these things one handed while holding a lantern going 10-15 MPH. (Should you do this? NO!) I have always compared catching onto a DPU to getting on a playground merry-go-round. So if you are in a pinch, catch the DPU and then move forward to a car on the train at the first side out, if possible.”

    I am not sure if you want to add this to your post in your own words. But I really think you should consider at least posting some of the safety items so people do not get themselves killed. Otherwise, safe travels! Riding trains is an awesome feeling, sounds like you had fun.

  8. It really is true that reliable info is hard to find. The best way (in my opinion) to make sure your train-riding career doesnt end before it begins, is to make friends with someone who knows how its done. It keeps greenhorns safe, and protects seasoned train riders from new constrictions. We all know instances where “flying under the radar” is no longer an option, because someone fucked up. It happens. No, I don’t believe certain people will “get it”, until they’ve experienced hunger, sickness, and other shitstorms (like breaking your guitar strings and having to fly a sign instead until you can fix it). That doesn’t mean people should feel sorry for us, or that we’re better somehow because we’re “in the know”. Some of us still have internet, at times. It’s called wifi. I stop at hotspots if I’m going to be in a town for a few days. I have a gadget that i have taken care of so my family and friends can check up on me. Some people don’t use gadgets at all. Whatever. It’s a tool. Just like everything else in my pack. Last thing, I believe we need to take care of each other out there, because there are many that don’t agree with this lifestyle. But I think it’s important to remember that even when help is needed, at the end of the day, we have our wits. No one owes us anything. Unless you’re genuinely at a disadvantage/already earned ssomething (vets, disabled, etc.) Then, absolutely.

  9. Good pics! I used to ride trains when I was a bit younger but now I mostly focus on international hitchhiking travel. I have noticed a lot of info/articles/videos being posted online about train hopping in recent years and I do wonder how that will affect things (i.e. more cameras, no-tolerance bulls, infrared sensors, unrideable cars), because, like it or not, railroad companies ARE seeing these things and taking note… But then, on a positive note I think it could get some really cool people into the traveler community. it’s also cool to see how other people travel, since no two experiences are the same.

  10. For these morons to be so judgmental and rude is so wrong. Everyone who hops a train is breaking the law, therefore nobody owns train hopping. It doesn’t matter what you have or don’t have, you can be homeless or millionaire, it doesn’t matter. People train hop for different reasons, there is no reason to bash him. Never once did he say he was an expert. What is so wrong with having a positive attitude and using what you have to have a good time? I understand not everyone hopping a train is out to have an adventure, oh well, some people are. I have plenty of money to travel but if I want to hop a train to save money and see the countryside, then I will. And when I get to my destination yes I will still stay at a luxury hotel and have me some fun. Most people don’t have the balls to hop a train, so don’t worry I’m sure the trains won’t be too full for you to continue to ride and do your thing.

    They sound just like these billion dollar companies that don’t want their secrets revealed because they might lose customers. Don’t listen to the haters. I always thought hopping a train was about freedom. Look at Alexander Supertramp, he came from a privileged life and had money. He threw it away for freedom and adventure. In the end he paid for it with his life. He made a big mistake. He definitely knew nothing about what he was doing but he did it anyway. His trouble was he wanted to be alone in the wilderness. People cared very much about him but he still just wanted to be alone and told nobody where he was going. Maybe if he realized that people are just as valuable as the simple nature and freedom, he would of survived. How many of these haters are alone because they push people away that are different from them? Oh look at his fancy gear, lets kick the rich guy’s ass, he don’t belong here! Nobody has to hop a train as a way of life, that is a choice. I’m sure there are many poor homeless people that would never hop a train, especially those that couldn’t physically even if they wanted to. Give the guy a break people..

    I have trains that run just behind my house by the field. I’m severely disabled so I couldn’t hop a train ever but you know if I could I would. There is a triple track that it hits a little ways up, so often the trains stop right before the crossing by my house, this would be a perfect opportunity to get on a train safely, getting off, probably another story, depending. I wouldn’t desire to work a 9 to 5 and be a slave to society. Yes I have savings now and I could live quite comfortably without a job for many years, especially living a simple life traveling the world. I am stuck in this body and my dreams will never be realized. Never take for granted your freedom and let someone tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t. You only have one life, make everyday an adventure and a gift. Be positive even when you are shot down by negativity and hate. :-)

    • “Never take for granted your freedom and let someone tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t. You only have one life, make everyday an adventure and a gift.”

      Well said Jon. Thanks for sharing!

      • You’re very welcome.

        Where are you now? What is your next adventure going to be? :-) I always think about if I were able, I’d love to try to ride a bike coast to coast. It would take a long time and I’m unsure how it would work out. On the trip I would camp like you did on your hitchhiking trip. I would have a fishing pole with me and try to survive just by fishing. I might set snares to try to catch rabbit. Might be unrealistic but of course I’d have money just in case I needed to buy food or need something else. I’d probably start off bringing granola bars, beef jerky and dried fruit with me. Unsure I could carry everything on the bicycle I would want to, might be too heavy. I would pre-plan the route, places to stop and have maps. Mostly parks and places to fish. Though I know all too well how long it can take to catch fish, sometimes you can fish all day and catch nothing.

        I will continue to follow you, good luck with your endeavors and have fun. Take care. :-)

    • great insight. wish u well. im headed to Alaska to work the fishing boats.made it from dallas texas. to seattle wa.took me three weeks.now the hard part is to get to Alaska from seattle. wish me luck.god bless

  11. This is a great post Matt, reminded me of Jack Kerouac freight hopping stories!
    It requires serious balls that most travel bloggers simply dont have! Keep up the great job and hopefully see you soon in Brazil

  12. Hey Matt, Don’t worry about the blowhards. In order to keep the tradition alive, people need to be aware of it. I am a Hobo, and rode my first freight in 1986, before a lot of these “tomato can vags” that are posting their rhetoric were born. I do not condone some young kid getting excited and hitting the high iron without someone who has experience. BUT WE ALL STARTED FROM SOMEWHERES! Anyway, most of the negative posts below are from tramps. Not Hoboes. A Hobo works and wanders. A tramp, drinks heavily, drugs up, begs, and wanders. A bum goes nowhere. It ain’t pejorative, it is the damn truth! I’ll bet you a $100 that the ‘whiners’ or ‘winos’ complaining below about your article are of the tramp simple class. SO YA! I HAVE BONES TO PICK! Most of you tightasses may know how to flip freight, but you have absolutely no clue as to what a true Bo is! 1.) A proper stiff or Hobo keeps himself/herself as clean as possible, and will clean up ASAP to put on a good front and will have a pair of glad rags to go into town to look for work. Most kids/tramps I see have no self respect and look and smell like shit. Infact, I have come into yards where a shit pile is right next to where they laid up. They wear shit in their dreadlocks. Let me tell you that back in the day, (and should be today), if you looked like that in a jungle, you have your ass kicked around your ears!! 2.) A proper stiff will keep a clean camp. Go into any catch out spot and you’ll find shit, trash, rotten food, clothes lyin around and more shit! 3.) The youngsters today have no code. Well let me help you get straight!! This code was written in 1900:

    Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you. When in town, always respect the local
    law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times. Don’t take advantage of someone who is
    in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but insure employment should you return to that town again. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos. When jungling in town, respect handouts,do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever
    possible. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the
    operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member. Do not cause problems in a train yard;
    another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose to authorities all molesters, they are the worst garbage to infest any society. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home. Help your fellow hobos whenever and
    wherever needed, you may need their help someday. —-Does this register?! Probably not!

    So until you piss ants keep complaining about Matt’s article, why don’t you read this. Stick it to your forehead, read it again and then look in the mirror and ask yourself. Am I a Hobo?…. Nope, I am a dumbass tramp who has complex issues, and probably do not deserve to be on the road either. Mommy! :{

    So who am I? A Bo who was mentored by a Hobo king, and is good friends with other kings, so don’t give me any crap about not knowing what I am talking about. Like A1 says in Emperor of the North “Ya ain’t got class kid!” I hope not to see you on the road…chumps…

    • Wow! Thanks so much for posting Ironweed, that has to be one of the most enjoyable comments I’ve ever read on this site (or elsewhere). You’ve put into words exactly what I was thinking.

      Safe travels!

    • Hey Ironweed, interesting read (same beliefs as far as the bums were conserned), I consider myself a traveler not necessarily a Hobo even if I did live the life for a while.

      Hopped my first freight in July, 1984 with a Bo named Tim (met at “jesus on main street” over free coffee and muffins) who knew the routes and was willing to teach a novice how to survive (plasma center and daily labor as a means to buy food and gear before attempting a trip). Denver to Amarillo. Engineer slowed down just outside yard and hopped onto the last unit (third), talking with the crew made for a safer journey. Spent the next year along the highways and rails traveling throughout Country stopping in Kansas City, Minneapolis, Spokane to name a few because daily labow was easy to find. Rode the “high line” a few times, always stopped at the “sally” in Minot (nice ladies who would always give canned goods and clothing). Went back East in late 1985.

      Spent the next few years living as a normal citizen until December, 1988 (the crazy hair grew too long and I realized that I needed to find myself and not just what other people needed me to be). Traveled through every State east of the Mississippi for the next nine month until I decided to go back to Minneapolis (stayed for a few months working out of Dolphin day labor, donating plasma twice a week and sleeping at the Drake to build up winter gear before riding the high line to Spokane). February on a “piggyback” through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho into Wahington even with winter gear and a tarp is tough going. A snow storm through most of the trip didn’t help either. Arrived in a snowy Spokane in the middle of the night, had to wait until morning before I could get to the “Union Gospel Mission” (it was in downtown a few blocks from the sally before they moved a year later a couple miles east). Stayed a couple months until it warmed up and headed to Seattle for my trip down the west coast.

      I only mentioned a few of my travels, finished in September, 1993. Traveling in this manner is not for everyone and just because it may seem like something exciting to do by many I wouldn’t reccomend it. There are good people out there, I was lucky to have known a few but I also crossed paths with some who cared only for themselves (trust in your instincts and always stand against the monsters who wish to take what you have worked for or only wish harm upon others).

  13. I, personally, feel rather concerned that so many peope (hobos, vegabonds or not) decide to ride freight trains. As a railfan I’m a bit hurt to see people misusing trains in this way that could potentially damage themselves or the train. I’m sure the crew of the train would think the same. But those are just my thoughts.

    • Actually, from what I’ve heard, depending on where you are, many train crew considers riders good luck, and will turn a blind eye to it or even help out by telling you where the train is going if you ask nicely. It’s the rail companies that don’t like it.

  14. your tiny train ride and hotel stay are not going to impress any actual hobos but of course they are in a hobo jungle drinking wine out of a bag and not on the internet.but oogles on the internet will sure get bent!!good job.back in the day(as in the great depression) when hobos would get SHOT by bulls people would take a plank of wood and rig it UNDER the train and ride like that.theres a really cool picture of jack london doing just that.i’m just saying if people want to ride they will.its 2014 and i just rode from buffalo to boston.piece of cake.

    • James J. Murphy, do you seriously think actual hobos will be using the internet to check out what other hobos are doing. You sound like a hobo-hipster mutant; condescending and grossly taking what this man saw as an adventure of out context. Leave him alone and be a keyboard warrior elsewhere.

  15. Love your post, and site… also love it when people try and knock you for telling others… I just saw someone do that when some posted about mushroom hunting… this jerk posted back and chastised the guy for giving away secrets and spoiling it for those who know the secrets…. these fools think that they are privileged and have the right to keep the mushrooms or trains to them selves!

  16. Hi Matthew,
    I enjoyed your story and what you did is actually part of our historical heritage. Train hopping (like hitchhiking) served a purpose and supported a lot of less or not-so fortunate people in our past. Like everything else, no matter where you are in the world, trains, airplanes, cars or not, there are some bad individuals that will commit crimes and ruin the picture or the road that could have saved others.
    I found it very interesting that you took the time to share your experience and pictures with the community. Thank you, be safe and I apologize for the few people that sent you “rude” comments – your experience is worth sharing. Ciao, L

    • Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I enjoyed sharing the experience, as it’s not something you hear of often.

  17. Typical hipster poseur. You know nothing about real life. This is the silly relatively-rich kid who goes slumming for a week or two and thinks they know something as a result. A true limousine liberal in junior training form.

    • Ha! I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve been called a hipster. :-)

      I didn’t realize living out of a backpack on an average of $30-$40 a day for the past 3 years makes me a “limousine liberal” either.

      You win for funniest comment of the week.

      • $40 a day is a pretty big budget for travel like this, you can do it pretty comfortably on $15-20 or less if you dumpster dive. All you really need to pay for is food, everything else is free if you’re hitchhiking/riding trains and free camping.I’m actually hitchhiking around Europe at the moment for an average af about $13 a day, although I’m a street musician and I WWOOF occasionally so that offsets some of my cost.

  18. Your post was interesting to say the least, and I do dream of riding the rails. But I do think you should at least do it a couple times and more than 2 days, of trying this activity and before bragging and telling the the world, (Just my opinion). I also think that just because you do it more than others does not make an expert. (Not saying you) and I am surprised how so many people can be attached to a simple chunk of metal like the railroad.

    • I’d love to try it again, and plan to. I think I made it pretty clear I’m not a train-riding expert. But I completely disagree that I shouldn’t write about it after my first time. My whole site is about trying new experiences, and then sharing them. This is a blog, not a documentary or novel.

  19. I just stumbled upon this post courtesy of Outbounding and immediately fell in love. Great post!

    Rail-riding has been a long-time dream of mine. I’ll be tracking down these underground forums next time I plan on heading South. ;).

    • Smile big, don’t wear sunglasses, don’t look like a bum, create funny signs, make sure to stand in places where there’s room for a car to pull over safely. Have fun!

  20. Wow suddenly I’m huge fan of your adventure. I was curious, what did you while you waiting the train though?
    If you do here in my country Indonesia…it will be huge adventure haha!!!!you should try one day :)
    Thanks for great Share!

  21. ok well im not being rude only informative where you failed to be. First off a vagabond is defined as this: “a person, often in poverty, who wanders from place to place without a home or regular employment or income. Other synonyms include “tramp,” “hobo,” and “drifter,” all of which have pejorative connotations.” so seeing as to your nice camera shots and fancy gear and website you are more of a “weekend warrior” err.. i mean long term or not, definitely not poor and drifting living hand to mouth like myself, no no you must have money and savings and a home-base in which you have your friends and family, whereas real riders home and family is the rails and that is a true vagabond anyways although just a silly technicality it bothers me and i had to get that off my chest for your innacurate reflection, OK so to the heart of the issue……..
    i find it foolish to post such things as they will surely attract attention of others and spark curiosity for them to attempt this, i appreciate the disclaimer and the lack of details but really? freight trains are all some of us have, and to see it blazenly exposed by some greenhorn on the internet is really very ugly, to me i feel completely violated and so would 99% of riders, we are associated in crews and a strong sense of brotherhood exists, we put alot of effort in keeping the next person from getting on a train because you can imagine what would happen if it became the “hip” thing to do, and it is more and more all the time, thanks to people like you. This is why although I am a long time rider am not violent but protective but I understand to many it wont be that way it is something to defend to the utmost. seriously think about what this does not only does it jeopardize greens lives but more importantly ruins it for those of us who consider this our entire life, this is a very old and respected tradition and the possibility of it is diminishing due to changing rides, infrared sensors, weight scales you name it, its funny actually the “reefer” your pictured riding is phased out, meaning they dont make em like that anymore there becoming unrideable to deter riders, you are expediting things like this happening, really though have some reverance for the history and heritage we keep, id rather you be another drug addict stumblebum thats riding who wont actually threaten the rails (because thats the expected demographic) than a clean cut guy that goes to a motel room and eats ben and jerrys after only 3 hours, seriously have some respect to the people that consider this theirs and keep this between yourself and close friends, not the whole world. if you wont delete your article atleast dont delete my comment, not trying to be rude but this is the stuff that riders DO NOT APPROVE OF so be warned anyone that considers this or approaches us, we know our own. most people will see you and think “hey check out the greens with the really nice gear…….” comprende?

    • Obviously I can’t make everyone happy. The fact is I’m going to write about whatever I want, whether you like it or not. I’m sorry to see your way of life disappear — but it’s not my fault. The modern transformation of the rails will happen eventually regardless. Find another scapegoat. Comprende?

      • That person is right. I just wish youd say it to there face cause youd get your ass kicked in a heart beat dude. I ride trains to and its not just a scapegoat for some kids. Some of us have no family, suffer from diseases, and have tattoos that will prevent us from ever being able to get a job. My boyfriend was a junkie before he rode the rails and thanks to train riding he is clean. You dont seem to understand the seriousness of it. Its not just a scapegoat its our lives.

        • ‘Some of us have no family, suffer from diseases, and have tattoos that will prevent us from ever being able to get a job’ – i’d just like to point out how rediculous that last comment is

        • Wow. First, grab a dictionary and look up the word “scapegoat”. Then take a little responsibility for yourself. Go to the library and learn how to make a living. It’s free. No family or higher education required.

          Secondly, if you decide to tattoo your face with Nazi symbols, that’s your own damn fault. Most people with tattoos can get a job. I don’t know what planet you’re living on.

          Also, if your friends choose to beat people up when they don’t agree with someone else’s opinion, they have much bigger problems to worry about. Like anger management. Maybe that’s the real reason they can’t get a job.

        • I personally like this article… I think it is great and promotes the sense of adventure (which this is meant to be). Keep up the good work Matthew.

    • Everyone is licking this dudes ass. They should be talking to the real riders. Fuck yea fuck yea for posting this ^ Yuppies blowing shit up.

    • “real vagabond” You state that “First off a vagabond is defined as this: “a person, often in poverty, who wanders from place to place without a home or regular employment or income” If you are a “real vagabond” then how do you have the internet. Hmmm. I find it foolish that you think anyone gives a shit what you think. Sit down little boy, let the men get it done.

  22. During the early 70’s I spent a lot of time riding freight trains all over the country. I have just written about my experiences in a book titled, “The Adventures of Space and Hobo.” You can view excerpts from it from the following website: http://spaceandhobo.com

  23. I’m glad to see you have a disclaimer on the bottom of this post. I know someone who got caught by a rail cop. Instead of arresting them they got beat up to the point of having to go to the hospital. Those rail cops don’t mess around.

  24. Hey, this was really nice mate! I’m not too sure if I would try something like this or not, but knowing your experience was awesome. Great job, indeed! :D

  25. Great job mate, here in Fernie, BC, we have regular freight trains head through town. Coal, oil, grain, lumber etc. Doesn’t look too easy to jump on. Plus we most defo have bulls patrolling the tracks. Slapped a few of my mates with $100 fines for simply crossing the tracks in the wrong place.

  26. I know that I would never in a million years try this, but I’m so glad you did! And that you are upfront about the danger.

  27. Whoa. Mind. Blown. Nicely done, sir! I definitely don’t have the ovaries for something like this but glad I can live somewhat vicariously through you!

  28. I have recently seen a documentary about freight train hopping. They also kept stressing about the dangers, but also about the ultimate feeling of freedom. It definitely didn’t look relaxing or very comfortable, but it is one of those things to tell your grandchildren one day. :-)

    • Yeah, a bus is much more comfortable, and easier Tammy. But for adventure’s sake, it’s hard to beat a freight train.

  29. I wish you were coming through California. I’d want to do this with you for a leg of the journey! My mom would probably finally put her foot down and freak out a bit, though.

    • On the Milwaukee Road Coast Division out of Tacoma we paid attention to any ho bos inspecting the train. If he was holding his nose that was the universal signal for a hot journal box. And that required an immediate stop then roll by of the train to find it. Railroad police, so called bulls, have full sworn police officer authority, they are not merely security. This is federal law from the 19th century. Usually they are preoccupied with checking seal numbers. Never break a seal or ride in an automobile. And if you have never been through the 7.9 mile Cascade Tunnel eastward (Stevens Pass), DO NOT ride a freight from Seattle to Wenatchee. You will die in that tunnel. Many do. See my website MRCD.org John Crosby former trainman, Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific R.R. and former trainman and conductor, Burlington Northern Lines. Seattle

      • Why do people die in the tunnel? I watched a video of stobe the hobo going through the 7 mile tunnle no problem

  30. Matt Matt Matt… Dude you are just unreal… Every time i stop by your site I still see something expressive… Keep it up mate and happy hitch hiking ;)