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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Leaving Las Vegas: Tales of Freighthopping

Despite what the Amtrak site says, there is no passenger-rail service to Vegas. Anyone who has booked a train trip here is greatly disappointed at the "Amtrak thruway motor coach" that is the last leg of the journey from Needles or Bakersfield. The truth is that for anyone wanting to take the train in or out of the city, freighthopping is the only option.

North Bank Fred claims his site to be, "The Web's most extensive resource for photographs, stories, and articles about freighthopping, hoboes, and boxcar art." The site has tales of many cities, including two about this town, Las Vegas to San Bernardino and Las Vegas to Chicago-Jan. 2004.

Hobo culture has a long and chronicled history, and for some time The Hobo Times covered the culture and traditions of freighthopping. But the newspaper never made the money needed to sustain it, and it went under in 1998. The last article printed, Hobo Times goes under, detailed the changes that led to the demise of the paper and the cultural change that the publishers witnessed.

"In travelling the country's rail system, I see more and more of a younger crowd of 'trainhoppers' whose experiences on the high iron are quite different from what I remember. They seldom work or wash and they have little interest in our history or traditions. They seem to be into drugs, 'voluntary poverty' and some even espouse activist anarchism. They don't seem to identify with the society in general. Their bizarre appearance and vulgar behavior on and around trains has sent a very negative signal to the typical railroad employee who once tolerated the Knight of the Road but now reacts with fear and animosity toward all rail travelers. Certain senior railroad police, who were usually pretty lenient with the traveler, have hardened their hearts considerably and no longer see the hobo as a kindred spirit."

The potential for danger and death led to creation of one site simply dedicated to "fatalities that resulted from freight train hopping." Deadtrainbums.com, which hosts the Hobo Times article, also posts the graphic and gory photos and stories that show the tragic end to failed freighthopping.

posted by Mr. Kimberly at