Rolling Nowhere: A quasi-legal, father-son mission to train-hop through the changing American West…


From Outside

It felt like finally teaching my son to hunt. But instead of wilderness, our game preserve was the industrial zones northwest of downtown Denver. And instead of the ducks my grandpa used to shoot in Minnesota, our quarry was freight trains.

I had hopped freight trains a lot, from this city, my hometown, thirty-some years before. Old-time tramps camped along the creek had schooled me: Don’t catch on the fly if you can help it. Just walk into the yard, figure out which train is which, and climb on before it leaves. It’s a lot easier. And safer, I came to learn, than trying to board a moving train.

But Asa, an 18-year-old New Yorker, appeared to have grown up on the same movies I had—the ones where the hero hops a rolling freight and steals a ride out of town, the law in hot pursuit. He’d been disappointed when we got to Denver and I explained that my goal, actually, was to avoid that scenario. Instead, as I sketched it out in the Starbucks that is part of the REI store that has since been built about 200 yards from where those hoboes camped back in the eighties, we would stalk a train at rest. We would sneak up on it, find a vulnerable spot, and hide ourselves there before it moved, thereby avoiding the loss of our legs.

“Seriously?” asked Asa…

Story with photos here

One Comment

Insanity are us. I rode freights from Chicago to LA in ’66. Everyone I know who tried to follow my example, IN SPITE OF WARNINGS, regretted their decision. That was in ’66! Now they are likely to encounter much, much worse. Don’t do it. Please.