Trainhopping – The Boyz in the Gondola

Ma Boyz 2
Ma Boyz 2

My day was quite busy. At 5:12 in the morning we got woken up by the police sirene. Our meditation centre got evacuated. It was one of the biggest forest fires in the US this year, that made us leave. I got a lift with Rusty in his Toyota, which was already covered in ash. I met Rusty during the meditation. He looked like the young Mark Twain and was travelling with his car through the US since several months. Road trip. He took me 400km northwards into Oregon, while he was going to Idaho. He had a trial there for possession of cannabis.

It was already 22:00 Sunday evening, when he dropped me at the yards. I didn´t expect to catch anything, because Sunday´s are usually not pleased with a lot of trains. I prepared myself for a long, cold night. The yard was known for its Bull and I prefered therefore to hop in the darkness. I nestled myself in one of the grounded cars and smoked a cigarette.

To my suprise after 30 minutes there was a train incoming. Into my direction! Action time. Adrenalin entered my venes. This should be the first time, that I get on a car by myself, without company. The train was long and mostly composed of Pig-Trailers. Junk. Not to good to hop on, but anyway I was aiming the End-Unit. Before I would stop trainhopping, I wanted to catch a ride in an End-Unit! So I walked 5 minutes to the end of the train and was suprised again, because there was no End-Unit. Fuck. Gotta find another car fast then!

While searching a second train came in. Also in my direction. What an exciting night. First I thought a car with railroad workers came along the tracks, but then I saw it was actually a whole train. I had to hide myself, while he was passing into the yards. He stopped far away from me, seems like the priority train. I might be able to reach it. So I walked back. Again around 5 minutes. I saw some open box cars. Always wanted to ride in a box car, but they were bound to the wrong train. So I continued walking. Need to catch the priority train!

Finally I reached the train. I could walk between the wagons in good cover. Nobody would ever see me here. Most of the cars were junk again and not possible to ride with. While checking the cars, suddenly I heard steps. Railroad workers! Maybe they are inspecting the train…..I stand rooted to the ground. Scared! If they find me, I might have a big problem. I had to merge with the darkness and become a Ninja! Quietly I waited on my position. Again some steps. Voices. Someone is talking somewhere. But it was not coming from the tracks….

In front of me was a Gondola. Such a beautiful car. The voices seemed to came out of there. Can only be a bunch of trainhoppers! I climbed across the edge of the car and looked inside. Some Boyz sitting in there! Three Hobos, who looked like coming from a Steampunk-Convention and in between a 50 pound heavy dog: „Still a puppey!“. They were shocked in the first moment, when I looked into the car. „Hey guys, do you have some space for me?“. Feeling of relief came up. „Yes, yes of course!“. One of them immediatley jumped towards me, to help with my luggage. As soon as I was in the car the first command came: „Down!“ Stay safe and hide.

Heavy load in the Gondola
Heavy load in der Gondola.

We started chatting. The three boyz stucked in that town for one whole week already. No clue how the fuck they could not manage to catch out anything in one week, as the UP runs daily through that yard. Somehow they really fucked it up. I gave them some cigarettes which we were not supposed to smoke until the train would roll („Somebody could see the smoke!“). They shared their beer with me, we had some stuff to smoke. The ride promised to be entertaining (and cold). I mean, Gondolas are in general the best cars to have a nice party in!

I can not remember any of the boyz names, but I know that at least one of them was already in jail because of Trainhopping and he would get into serious trouble, if they catch him again. Lucky us they had a cellphone to call in the cars. Unfortunately only crap came out of this investigation. Okay. Only northbound from here. Can not be so bad. We took place on top of the load of the Gondola. It was a bunch of concrete sheets. You should never ever sit in between the wagon and the load.

The train was starting. It was the most brutal drive I ever experienced. You could hear the cracking clutches from the front of the train long before we actually moved. klack, Klack, KLack, KLAck, KLACk, KLACK. This bloodcurdling sound which came closer and closer till it finally broke away our Gondola, with a huge bang like during an explosion. Jerkily we started moving. Rad experience. Trains are brutal.

The night promised wonderful starry sky. I didn´t took any effort to look out of the car. My enthusiasm for scenery was not very big anymore. I rather wanted to survive this ride. sleeping pad and sleeping bag packed out, I used some 5000-mile paper to construct some warm box for my feet. Then just wrap yourself as good as possible against the cold and steady airstream. The Gondola produced heavy vibrations. Left-ride, forth and back as sensitive as an Ogre who lulls a baby into sleep. It was a very uncomftable ride.

In the middle of the night some of the guys tipped on my shoulder. If I had a cigarette? Sure. He said, he has something to trade. I gave him a cigarette and he gave me something small and flat. „What is this?“ „Acoin.“ I couldn´t understand. „Is it acid? Drugs?“ Don´t know why I thought that. Maybe wishful thinking. „No, a coin.“ „What is this?“ „It is an old Gipsy currency. Not used so much anymore.“ Indeed it was a coin. Now I understood. I found that a pretty cool thing and was really happy about this gift. I really like that Hobo-Subculture.

A coin
A coin

Around sunrise it tipped on my shoulders again. Somehow I manage to sleep within the ice-cold breeze and the constant shaking of the car. „Dude, we are at our destination. We packed our stuff already. Next stop will be yours. Just stay on the train.“ The three where ready to go. I gave another round of cigarettes and asked if I can take a photo. The train stopped roughly. The boyz went down quickly. Suddenly the Air-Break pumped again. There was still pressure on the hoses.

The poor dog, who was so nervous all the time, started to cry. „Quiet!“, he got a little clap from his owner. The dog was lifted on the edge of the car and jumped down from 4m height. Looked unhealthy. The same moment the train started to roll with a heavy jerk. The last of my new friends was still sitting on the edge and had to hold on the car, not to fall down. Boyz boyz, what are you doing here? Dangerous life. Then they disappeared. I crambled my stuff together and hide. We were rolling into the yard and stopped. Crew Change. I observed the periphery cautious.

I was waiting for two hours. Then I realized slowly, that we might not be on the main tracks but in the middle of the yards. My train would not continue. Shit. It was daytime and I had to get off that train. To the nearest road was about 150m away and in between were around 4 trains to overcome. One of them recently came in. The yards were busy. Everywhere railroad workers drove around with machines and cars. And a bull for sure.

This would be another catwalk. Not what I wanted to do, but no choice. I climbed out of my car. Running to the first train. Climbing through the car. Observing the yard. Jumping on the next train. A Pick-Up was coming. Fucking shit. Had to hide! Hope they did not see me. Got some cover on the side of the car. It passed by. I went on. Just the train left that just came into the yards. Usually you shouldn´t climb through trains at all, but walk around. And especially never climb through trains which are not grounded and could continue every second! Anyway, I was in the middle of the fucking yards. I waited 2-3 minutes and observed that train. It didn´t move. I had to give it a try to get out of this shit.

Running towards the train. Couldn´t hear any Air-Break. Climbing on the train and try to get ot the other side as fast as possible. Hopefully it won´t start right now. Jumping off. Done! I went to the street and took rest in the first bush I found. What a morning… I did not expect this yard run. Usually you get off the train, before it is grounded in the middle of the shit. Lucky me nothing happened. Every little conflict with the law could have fucked up my whole visa process. I decided not to hop any trains after that. Enough learned. Enough seen.

Ma Boyz
Ma Boyz

The whole trainhopping experience was hell of a blast. I never felt more in America than during the time on the freight trains. In general it is not comparable with hitchhiking. Different technique. Different life-style. Different feeling. One of the „last red-blooded adventures in America“, wrote Duffy Littlejohn. I will be back for a more intense trainhopping time. Better prepared. With some technical equipment. More intrigued. Riding the most beautiful routes in North America. Because I just wanna enjoy the show on the road, while riding some freights. It is pure passion. Highball!


  • Dear Stefan

    They told me at DK that you were risking your life, and swearing 🙂

    This is the first and only blog I have read. Thanks, made me laugh. Are you with the northern lights in Alaska now?

    Keep warming the roads friend.


    • Hey Rose,

      so happy to read from you! It honores me, that you like my blog. 🙂 I actually saw northen lights the first time in my life. Two days ago. It was amazing! Now stucked 30km before the Alaskan border. Pretty fresh here. The hardest part of my whole trip. Thanks for your message, makes me getting warm as well!



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