The Compleat Rail Road Tramp's Guide to Champagne Travel on A Beer Budget

Two hobos walking along railroad tracks

This wiki book is dedicated to Carl Sandburg, the great American poet who putatively rode the rails and drew upon the true grit of experience to create his masterful collection of poems in which the salt of the earth sprung to life on his pages. This book can be added to, edited, reworded or pictorialized by anyone with access to a computer and the web. It is intended to honor those who choose the cool breeze of freedom as they see the country (US) with the pursuit of life, liberty and personal happiness as the superior option to the routinized mechanisms of ordinary bourgious society. It is intended as a humorous but sincere tribute to the freebooters who challenge the system imposed upon workers rather than an actual "how-to".

Important disclaimer: This wikibook uses the freedom of speech provisions of the US Constitution however despite what any edits may contend neither wikimedia, its subsidiaries nor any editors actually encourage any unlawful activity. Train hopping is not only illegal it is a highly dangerous activity. However, free flow of information, to the extent it may in any way be implemented, may and should reduce the incidence of injury sustained by any persons who actually may engage in such activity in real life. Also, law enforcement and railroad personnel may utilize these pages to better prevent accidental injuries, which is presumptively the first mandate of the "railroad bulls" who have a legendary affection for the very rascals whom they occasionally arrest. But do not try this stuff at home, it is intended for armchair vagabonds and not for implementation. It is primarily a literary tribute...

Chapter One: Introduction

Freighthopping or train hopping is the act of surreptitiously hitching a ride on a railroad freight car. In the United States, this became a common means of transportation following the American Civil War as the railroads began pushing westward, especially among migrant workers who became known as "hobos." It continued to be widely used by those unable to afford other transportation, especially during times of widespread economic dislocation such as the Great Depression. Today, the practice is forbidden by statute in all states in the U.S., though it is still practiced. In modern day usage, hopping a freight train is also known as "catching out" or "hopping out."

Many railroads take a strict view of people hopping freight trains, and employ railroad police, also known as "bulls," in an attempt to prevent the practice. Among other duties, railroad police are charged with preventing trespassing on railroad property, which includes freighthopping. Railroad police officers typically patrol in utility trucks, SUVs ("bullmobiles"), or even standard police cars.

Decline of freighthoppingEdit

In recent decades, the traditional role of hobos as itinerant workers has fallen off. Most itinerant workers in modern times have automobiles and drive between jobs, alternatively they may use public transportation, and live in many types of temporary housing. As seasonal agricultural work became the province of immigrant workers, and other seasonal work became increasingly lucrative, freighthopping became mainly used by the homeless population and thrill-seekers.

On many freight trains the traditional boxcar has given way to more secure plug door cars

or intermodals. Containerization makes freight trains far less accessible than in the past. Even flatcars are becoming increasingly open; these bottomless cars are known as "suicide rides" or "suicide cars" by freighthoppers. Bottomless "grainers," "48s," "piggy backs," and other such cars can still be ridden, but as the name implies they are not to be underestimated and can easily lead to the riders' death or dismemberment if they are not careful. This shift in freight train production has been successful in making life harder for freighthoppers, but it has not destroyed the hobo lifestyle entirely.

Safety concernsEdit

Freight train operations on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad between Chicago and Clinton, Iowa, January 1943. The conductor standing on the caboose platform is ready to hop off as the train passes the yard office at the end of the trip.

Hopping a freight train today can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Freight trains are much faster and more secure than in the heyday of hoboing. Freighthoppers may face adverse weather conditions and develop dangerous symptoms such as frostbite and hypothermia. Additional hazards include being jostled off the train, arrested, or attacked by another hobo. According to author and journalist Ted Conover, a large percentage of modern-day hobos are ex-cons, and violence is not uncommon among the transient population.


Inteview with a proEdit

Geof: So how do you like the wikibook so far, is the title cool? Everything properly respectful?

Javier: Yeah, it sounds good all of the stuff is correct.

Geof: Maybe you can give us the lay of the land, so to speak.

Javier: The train police is the bull. Boxcars [are called] sucidecars. You also can get in the pusher.

Geof: Whoa. Wait a minute. That's jargon. Like when two doctors or lawyers talk. Can we break this down into English. What is a pusher?

Javier: A normal train has 4 engines, 3 in the front one in the back. the back one is called the pusher andyou can get in side of it to keep warm but you can not touch any bottons execpt for the heater

Geof: So a guy can actually fire up the heater even though no railroad personnel are using it?

Javier: Yes.

Geof: Wow. So what kind of heater? How do you light it? Do you need a lighter or what?

(Inteview in progress...)

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

  • Hobo Letters Letters from boxcar kids who rode the rails during the Great Depression
Last modified on 13 April 2014, at 16:00