ï»¿ Back to the Famous FTRA killers page
Track AKA: Robert Silvera’s home page Has confessed to four killings
last time I checked,maybe more by now! Conspicously absent from
these tags and from Silveras jacket are any of the swastikas and SS
lightning bolts for which according to media fiction FTRA grafittie is
supposed to be so famous for! According to this new FTRA dude
> : “Side Track is
a dip shit. He was old FTRA and probably did kill, however, I think he
was a Psyco not typical because hitler was a killer doesnt mean all
black headed men are killers. I’m new FTRA I’m not the old wore out FTRA
bums.” According to Dective Quakenbush, Silvera is the Leader of the
some good info on how they caught Silvera in roseville who is suspected
of 20 murders <http://www.iwn.com/pcso/murder.htm
> Silvera who is
already doing two live sentinces gets a third life sentence in Kansas.
Since he was only killing train bums nobody really gives a shit about
spending the money to put him to death. Click the link to read the
original or read my copy below
March 21 1998`Boxcar Killer’ convicted in Kansas
Man already sentenced in Oregon slayings
The so-called “Boxcar Killer,” linked to a series of hobo killings in
seven states, including Washington, pleaded guilty Wednesday to
first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison for the
bludgeoning death of a man at a state park.
Before he was sentenced by Ellsworth County District Judge Barry
Bennington, Robert Silveria, 39, apologized to relatives of Charles
Randall Boyd, who was beaten to death in a collapsed tent at Kanopolis
Lake’s South Shore State Park.
Court records show Boyd, who was in his 40s, met Silveria in El Paso,
Texas, while Boyd was building a bunk house for a youth ranch managed
by Christ is the Answer Mission. Silveria returned with him to the
ranch and later traveled with him to Kansas.
When Boyd’s body was discovered in July 1995, Silveria was nowhere to be
found. Also missing were Boyd’s identification, personal belongings and
Silveria was arrested by a railroad police officer eight months later in
Auburn, Calif. He had Boyd’s credit cards with him, prosecutors said.
The judge ordered Silveria to serve his sentence consecutive to two life
sentences, both without parole, that he already faces in Oregon for his
convictions of two killings there.
A serial killer provision in the Kansas death penalty statute allows
capital murder charges for the premeditated killing of more than one
person in two or more acts.
But Ellsworth County prosecutor Joe Shepack said he did not pursue the
death penalty because of limited resources.
“Part of it is cost. Part of it is not necessarily dollars and cents,
it’s applying fairly stretched law enforcement resources and
prosecutorial resources elsewhere,” Shepack said Wednesday night in a
telephone interview. “Do I feel comfortable with three or four life
After his arrest in California, Silveria was ultimately linked to more
than a dozen homicides in seven states during a 15-year period.
Most victims were killed in their sleep for their identification and
other belongings. Police say Silveria used birth certificates, Social
Security cards and the names of his victims to obtain food stamps and
other public assistance.
Oregon prosecutors were the first to file charges against Silveria,
accusing him of robbing and killing William Avis Pettit, 39, of Salem
on Dec. 1, 1995. Pettit’s battered body was found in a boxcar.
In Florida, Silveria is accused of killing Willie Clark, 52.
It was uncertain Wednesday whether Florida officials would seek
Silveria’s immediate extradition or if Silveria would return to Oregon.
Boxcar serial killer’ pleads guilty
By Wayne Wilson
Bee Staff Writer
(Published Feb. 8, 1998)
Robert Joseph Silveria A boxcar-riding transient who confessed to
killing more than a dozen men in railroad yards across the country has
formally pleaded guilty to two slayings in Oregon and will soon be on
his way to prosecution in Kansas or Florida.
Robert Joseph Silveria, 38, was arrested in Roseville by an alert
railroad cop in March 1996 and, during a 10-day stay in the Placer
County jail, provided investigators from seven states with enough
detailed information about a series of homicides to become known as the
“boxcar serial killer.”
That description was solidified when Silveria tearfully pleaded guilty
before Marion County, Ore., Circuit Court Judge James Rhoades to the
December 1995 aggravated murders of William A. Pettit, 39, and Michael
A. Clites, 24.
In a prepared statement read to the judge Jan. 31, Silveria wept as he
admitted causing the deaths of both men by beating them for the purpose
of robbing them.
Pettit’s body was found in a parked boxcar on Dec. 3, 1995, in
Millersburg, Ore., and Clites’ was discovered in a freight car near
Portland, Ore., on Dec. 6, 1995.
The judge promptly sentenced Silveria to two consecutive terms of life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and because of his
pleas, he may not appeal the judgment, according to prosecuting
attorney Diana Moffat.
A hearing will be conducted Feb. 16 to determine if Silveria is willing
to waive extradition to Ellsworth County, Kan., or to Tallahassee, Fla.,
which have filed warrants charging him with murder in their
In Kansas, Silveria is alleged to have killed Charles Boyd, 46, in
Kanopolis State Park on July 28, 1995. In Florida, he is charged with
the April 28, 1994, bludgeoning of Willie Clark, 52.
According to Moffat and the chief investigator on the case, Mike
Quakenbush of the Salem, Ore., Police Department, solid evidence also
links Silveria to the April 9, 1989, beating death of Anthony Garcia,
62, in West Sacramento; the Aug. 2, 1994, killing of Michael A.
Garfinkle, 20, in Emeryville; the April 21, 1995, homicide of Roger
Bowman, 38, in Salt Lake City; and the Oct. 15, 1995, slaying of Paul
W. Matthews, 43, in a hobo camp outside Whitefish, Mont.
While Silveria’s statements permitted detectives to clear those
homicides, formal charges have not yet been filed and may never be.
Another dozen or more killings were addressed by Silveria during his
stay in the Placer County jail, but there is insufficient evidence to
confirm his involvement
From the LA times
A key break came with the arrest last year in Roseville, Calif., of
Silveria, who subsequently confessed to a string of boxcar killings from
Florida to Montana between 1981 and 1995. A native of San Jose, the
38-year-old Silveria occasionally held down odd jobs but appeared
primarily to have made his living knocking off fellow train riders for
their welfare and disability checks, authorities said.
Silveria, who has the word “Freedom” tattooed on his neck, purportedly
explained his spree in a series of letters to a former Placer County
jail mate, later filed with the court. He pronounced himself “the
leader of my nation: the homeless,” and added: “I could have tortured
others of your world, but I chose to torture my world, because I preyed
on the weak.
“People always said I looked like the devil when I was beating the s—
out of [someone],” he wrote.
Silveria has subsequently denied FTRA affiliation,
<http://www.ftra.org/FamousKillers/SideTrack/FTRA.html> and authorities
say he now claims that purported confessions were coerced. His lawyers
have declined comment.
Silvera allegedly identified other FTRA members in numerous killings,
including Spokane resident Hugh “Dog Man Tony” Ross, who rode with
Silveria for years
Subject: Re: Train-Hopper Killer
In article <4htlo8$6mv@…>, Silas Warner <silas@…>
Reprinted and abridged from the San Francisco Examiner for March 9.
This article can be found on the San Francisco Examiner web page at:
AUBURN – Authorities now suspect that a transient accused of preying on
fellow boxcar riders may have committed at least 12 homicides and
possibly dozens more. Police are inquiring about 37-year-old Robert
Court documents say he confessed to an unspecified number of murders and
provided “exact and specific detail” on slayings in California, Arizona,
Kansas, Montana, Oregon and Utah.
Silveria, who rode the rails using the nickname “Sidetrack”, is a member
of a loosely organized “gang of thugs” known as the Freight Train
Riders Association, investigators said. Silveria told an uncle by
marriage that he had killed 47 people. “He said it was caused by a deep
anger in him. He said that after the first one it just got easier and
So far, Silveria has been charged only with the murder of William
Pettit, Jr., 39, whose body was found in a boxcar in Millersburg, OR.
Other slaying vicims may include Michael Garfinkle, 20, who was found
beaten to death Aug. 2 in Emeryville.
Right it supports my contention that the greatist danger on trains if
from other train hoppers. How many dead tramps per year do we have in
the US. Notice that for a really long time knobody worried to much
about these bums geting killed. If he had killed 47 lawyers I would
think that the cops would have been on him quicker.
From North Bank Freds Brooklen yard pages
Very chillingly, this photo illustrates the dark side of tramping, in
the form of a moniker left in 1996 by Robert “Sidetrack” Silveria, the
alleged FTRA boxcar killer. One could find this grafitto under the
Holgate St. bridge over Portland’s Brooklyn Yard,
in the jungle area. UP painted over all of the jungle’s graffiti in
July 1997, so this piece is gone. Interestingly, the grafitto used to
say “FTRA” under the “ACK” in the word “Sidetrack”, and I happened to
be in the jungle when another FTRA tramp crossed it out, sputtering
something about how Sidetrack wasn’t fit to be an FTRA member after all
of his alleged crimes.
Who do the police say Silvera killed
One of the answers came in August of 1994, when 20-year-old Michael
Garfinkle of Tarzana, on summer break from college, strapped on a
backpack and headed north through California on the rails. Police say
he met suspected FTRA member Robert Silveria near Emeryville. Silveria
later admitted killing the young man with an ax handle.
A longtime rail rider who reportedly has confessed to at least nine
slayings, Silveria walked up toward Garfinkle’s camp, where the young
man told him: “This is my area,” Emeryville police Detective Wade
Harper said. Silveria apparently disagreed.
Darren Royal Miller, age 19, killed July 8, 1992
And since his questioning began following his arrest March 2 in
Roseville, Silveria has been linked to the July 8, 1992, killing of
Darren Royal Miller, 19, in Thompson Springs, Utah.
Roger Bowman, 38, on April 21, 1995, in Salt Lake City,
Charles Boyd, 46, in July 1995, in Ellsworth County, Kan.; Paul Wayne
Mathews, 43, on Oct. 15, 1995, in Whitefish,Mont.
William Pettit Jr age 39,December 1995
Silveria is awaiting trial in Salem, Ore.,in the bludgeoning of
39-year-old William Pettit Jr. in 1995.
<http://php.indiana.edu/%7Emellman/murder.html> Oregon prosecutors plan
to introduce confessions to at least five other killings across the
Placer County investigators said that at the time of his arrest, they
found in Silveria’s possession pieces of Pettit’s personal property,
articles of clothing and a lock of his hair.
Oregon prosecutors have accused Silveria of aggravated murder and
first-degree robbery in the December 1995 death of William A. Pettit
Jr., 39, whose battered body was found in a boxcar in Millersburg,
Ore., near Salem.
Here is an article about him being take to oregon for trial
Michael A. Clites, 24, on Dec. 5, 1995, in Eugene, Ore. two victims
in Pima County, Ariz., who have yet to be found and identified.
California transient linked to murders of 14 drifters
Reuters News Service
SAN FRANCISCO — A transient being held in northern California has been
linked to the murders of 14 drifters who rode the nation’s railroads,
authorities said Saturday.
Railroad police arrested Robert Joseph Silveria, 36, a week ago at a
rail yard in Roseville, near the state capital Sacramento, on a warrant
for violating probation, the Placer County Sheriff’s Department said.
Since then detectives have been investigating whether Silveria may have
been involved in a series of murders of male transients who ride
railroad boxcars in the western United States between 1981 and 1995, it
The victims — drifters or job-seekers who catch rides on freight trains
— were usually stabbed or bludgeoned to death and robbed of their
A statement from the Placer County Sheriff’s Department said Silveria
“has been linked to 14 murders” in Oregon, Montana, Utah, Kansas,
California, Arizona and Washington state.
So far Silveria, who is jailed in Auburn, Calif., has been charged with
only one murder, that of William Pettit, 39, whose body was found last
December in a boxcar in Oregon.
Silveria appeared before a magistrate Friday on a Marion County, Ore.,
warrant charging murder and robbery and agreed to be extradited to
The Sheriff’s Department said detectives believe Silveria may be a
member of a criminal transient gang known as the F.T.R.A., or Freight
Train Riders Association.
Another story about how Side track used the victems ID’s
Silvera in excite
Search for Silvera in hotbot
Back to the Famous FTRA killers page
—–Inline Attachment Follows—–
home > articles > Trainspotting – part 1
by Katia Dunn for the Portland Mercury, 7/13/00
After my sixth hour in jail, the euphoria of freight train riding
wore off. It wasn’t really the claustrophobia of my cell, the public
toilet, or the man who sat dejectedly in neck shackles in a pool of his
own excrement (he had just tried to attack a female police officer) –
all these things were unpleasant, certainly. But it was the desperate
boredom that really killed me. How four tiny walls could contain such an
infinite amount of misery was something I never anticipated. No, there
is nothing glamorous about jail. But I can’t complain – I chose to hop
Rider XIt was June 15. One of the first, really hot days, when
everything is thick and tastes of salt. I’d received a tip about a
seasoned trainhopper in Portland – going by the moniker Rider X – who
was going to hop a train and attend a hobo “convention” in Dunsmuir,
California. This is a yearly occasion where the all-star hobos and
tramps collect and hobnob; if only for a few days.
One frantic half hour later, I was wandering around the freight yard,
changed from a light-cotton, white dress to an old, gray sweatshirt,
jeans, and grimy running shoes. (Later, when I was arrested, the police
officer would record that all my clothes were in “worn” condition.)
In a moment of perfect luck, I spotted Rider X, crouched in an elbow of
the freight yard, camouflaged within the shrubbery. He had no idea I was
coming. Relieved and thrilled that I had actually discovered my contact,
I climbed on the wheel of a car and called out to him. He looked up with
surprise, and then dismay. “Take your foot off that wheel right now!
Now!” he yelled (it was the loudest I would ever hear Rider X speak).
This was my first lesson in how to play the game of trainhopping. In
many ways, it’s just like any other sport – yet with higher stakes.
There are rules, and if you’re stupid about them, you’ll get hurt. Maybe
even killed. I later discovered that if you step on a wheel and the
train begins to move, your legs could get sucked under, and possibly
Rider XAfter a hasty intro, Rider X and I caught a “Piggy Back” train,
meaning we rode under a semi-truck driven onto the back of a flat car.
It was a dense twilight when we caught the train, and we watched the
sunset with flask of whiskey while wedged between the giant wheels of
the truck. The danger and excitement produced a kind of euphoria that I
remember experiencing only one other time: On a trip in Wales, when I
hitch-hiked alone 60 miles through yellow hills, to hike the highest
mountain in the country. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe, but on
both occasions, I was giddy with satisfaction.
As one seasoned rider later told me, “After your first ride on the
train, you realize that it is an unparalleled freedom, sitting there, in
the wind.” Sure, it sounds corny, but it’s true. It was as if someone
had taken all elements of the standard vacation and distilled them down
to its most sublime form.
Rider X proved to be an endlessly patient companion and guide,
especially since I was a surprise tag-a-along. He was prepared for a
solo, 24-hour journey, as well as a vacation from his family and job, so
when I told him a) I was a journalist, b) I’d never done this before,
and c) I was going to tag along with him, he was silent. After five
minutes of tension, I knew I had to either say something or jump off
right there. “Are you really mad at me?” I quietly asked him as the
train rolled along. Pause. “No,” he said softly. “No, not at all.”
I decided I might as well get it over with. “Well then, do you mind me
coming with you?”
Longer pause. “No… No, I guess not.” And from that point on, we
developed a quiet camaraderie, getting to know each other in the time
between great silences.
All through Southern Oregon and into California, we teetered on the edge
of 50 foot cliffs where sharp rivers cut clean trails through blond
canyons; places where no roads, and no people, exist. We rode like this
through the night, stopping once for 3 hours to switch trains, then
catching the back of a “grainer;” a grain car with a small porch on the
back. Sleeping on the grainer wasn’t exactly cozy, but in the morning –
waking up as the train sat dead still and silent in the middle of an
Aspen forest – compensated for any suffering.
When I first told Rider X I was writing this story, he grimaced and
said, “This isn’t an amusement park.” He was right. As I said, riding is
a game with enormous risks. In fact, a little over one year ago, police
finally captured serial killer Robert Silveria, who traveled the
railroads for six years, brutally murdering more than one dozen fellow
hobos with whatever tools he found on hand.
The killer went by the moniker of “Sidetrack,” and belonged to a group
called the “F.T.R.A.,” a gang of men who ride year round and follow a
Nazi dogma. Rider X thinks he may have met Sidetrack once, wandering
below a bridge in Portland. “He was polite enough,” according to X’s
description. “He just said hello and went on his way.” In part, it took
the police so long to find Sidetrack because the railroads are an
ungoverned community within America – where etiquette and luck are all
one can really rely on.
After waking up in filthy contentment at 11 am, we pulled into a small
town outside the California border.
We stayed in hiding for awhile, until after the crew had changed, giving
the bull (railroad police) plenty of time to come by. It seemed safe.
When I came out of hiding, it was a beautiful day; sharp and sunny. I
stripped off the old gray sweatshirt and thought about how glad I was to
be here, and how my co-workers were sitting at their boring desks in our
When we saw the white jeep slowly crawling up, we didn’t see any cause
for concern. “It’s probably just the crew,” said Rider X. (Crews
generally don’t care about riders.) “There’s probably some technical
problem, or maybe they’re moving the cars around.” In retrospect, I
wonder why we didn’t run at that second. We were only a few miles from
town, from some fields, from the road. We’re both small people; we could
Slow motion: the jeep’s door shut and a seemingly 11-foot-man strutted
the 100 yards over to where we stood. Thinking that perhaps the bull
didn’t see me, I tried to hide. Naturally, this didn’t fool him. “Come
out, right now,” the bull said, in a stern, you’re-being-really-stupid
tone. I was embarrassed but still tried to persuade him we would never
do it again. Yeah, right. Within a few moments, we were handcuffed and
thrown in the back of the bull’s jeep.
I’ll never know if Rider X would have been caught if I hadn’t been
tagging along; in 15 years of riding, he’d never been arrested. This is
a grand achievement. For Rider X, being caught was a giant blemish on
his previously spotless record. However, I was rejoicing. “This is going
to be great for my story!” Rider X shot me a cold stare, suffering in
Of course, my annoyingly enthusiastic attitude only lasted for a couple
of minutes. As I sat in the back of the police jeep, wrists chafing
against the cuffs, the realization I was going to jail was like a slow,
As the officer searched me – digging her rubber-gloved hands through my
pockets, examining my Visa Card, my pocket knife, asking what kind of
bra I wore, counting the money I had on me ($9.55) – I could see a real
person there somewhere. I could imagine myself having dinner with her.
Maybe she could’ve been a PTA mom. But there was no addressing that
person, not here. Standing there, her hands brusquely searching my
person, I felt truly alone.
“Jesus,” my booking officer said to me. “I’ve seen you. You’re the kind
of girl whose body I identify on the tracks – the ones who are raped and
have their throats slit.” Though the image of someone identifying my
dead body was mildly disturbing, this was actually the most concern
anyone paid me – and for some reason, I appreciated it.
And then there were the questions: How old was I, where was I born, what
color are my eyes, my hair, have I been arrested before, my social
security number, what was my profession, who was my employer, where did
I live, etc. While I didn’t want to answer the questions, I obeyed,
remembering the “catch more flies with honey” theory.
Yet, when they asked what my sexual preference was, I was astounded.
“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked, indignant. He
answered me in an equally defensive tone, something along the lines of
“it’s so we can know where to house you. Do you want to be housed in the
A quick glance at the cells behind him told me they were all packed, and
I seriously doubted there was an “all-lesbian cell.” Answering
truthfully would be difficult, since I’ve never actually been able to
quantify this question with a one-word answer. I imagined telling him,
“Well, I’ve dated both men and women, officer, and I generally enjoyed
sex with all my partners.” But instead I stood there, hands behind my
back, and stared at him, not knowing how to answer. “Which sex do you
prefer?” he asked again, losing his patience. I finally grasped the
safest answer under the circumstances, and told him I preferred males.
My cellmate, LaLoni, was thrilled to welcome me into her tiny room,
mostly because she hadn’t talked to anyone for 10 days. She was in for
60 days on a D.U.I. with a .58 blood alcohol level, which is legally
dead. Detox was, as she explained it, “pure hell. Worse than coming down
from any, any drug.” We barely had enough space to lay our quarter-inch
thick, single person mats on the concrete floor. In one corner, there
was a steel toilet, and when we used it we gave each other the courtesy
of closing our eyes.
Laloni had six kids at home, the oldest one my age (22), and she took it
upon herself to step into a maternal role with me (“You’re a tiny little
thing! Do you eat when you’re on the rails?”). Before Laloni was
arrested she drank, on average, a gallon of whiskey a day. Instead of
the six month rehab program that the judge offered her, she chose 60
days in jail. “Of course I’m going to sober up when I get out of jail,”
she told me. “I’m just not going to do it in a fucking rehab center.”
Even when Laloni’s family appeared in court and begged her to go to
rehab, Laloni knew it was really because they were “all against her.”
She gave me a lot of advice about surviving in jail, but the most
helpful tidbit was that “the first day is the worst.” Since I only
stayed one day, I can only hope that’s true; I couldn’t have been more
ecstatic when I was finally released. We were placed on six-month
probation, and warned that if caught trespassing again, we would receive
something just short of execution. We bought a ticket for Amtrak the
remaining way, and arrived in Dunsmuir, Calif., in two hours.
—–Inline Attachment Follows—–
home > articles > Trainspotting – part 2
Trainspotting – part 2
by Katia Dunn for the Portland Mercury, 7/13/00
Rider XThough we didn’t come in on a freight, we still rode in on the
rails. After a 20-minute walk, 15 men welcomed us to their “jungle.” The
jungle is the place in any town where hobos hang out. It’s always close
to the tracks, always has a fire, and always has hobos – drinking,
talking, eating. Hobos and tramps came and went, but were always
returning to this central spot.
One of the first people I met was a 52-year-old man who requested the
alias TRD. By trade, he’s a nurse’s assistant, but he really only works
as a means to ride. He was also definitely the cleanest hobo I met; the
few remaining hairs on his head were neatly combed, his long-sleeve
shirt tucked crisply into his pants. TRD loved the Italian Renaissance
and reminded me, in some ways, of a baseball fanatic I once knew – his
knowledge of freight trains is encyclopedic.
Walking into the town of Dunsmuir (population: 2,100) so TRD could look
for a copy of King Lear, he explained why he loves riding the rails.
“Some people travel to get somewhere,” he said, “I travel to travel, and
to get somewhere. I’ve been all over the country this way.” Trainhopping
is TRD’s only illegal activity; he doesn’t even drink. “One time, I was
talking to a friend about this, and he said, ‘You know, you’re only
doing this do run away from your problems,'” TRD over-articulates every
point, reminding me of my high-school French teacher pronouncing verbs.
“And I said, you know, you’re absolutely right. I am running away.”
While explaining his love of trains, TRD also spoke of his ex-wife, with
whom he had, only days before, ended a 15-year-marriage. “She just
decided we were different people, that it was time to move on,” he said,
in a moment when his honesty and pain made me look anywhere but his
face. “I’m not sure what it was exactly,” he continued. “I know what
it’s not. She didn’t cheat, I didn’t cheat. I never beat her. It wasn’t
money. But when I return, I won’t be allowed back in the house.”
“If I were in your situation, I think I would be lonely in a boxcar,
alone, in a strange city,” I told him.
“Maybe you would,” TRD countered “But maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe you
would enjoy it. Maybe you would think about things, and maybe you would
read, maybe you would love traveling.”
The last thing TRD and I talked about, before he wandered off into the
dark woods, was that he loved the movie The English Patient. “What movie
has ever captured a romance like that?” he asked me. “What movie speaks
to the human condition, to the human desire, like that film?”
Rider X”There is a certain, fraternal order to our gathering here,”
explains a retired hobo from Seattle. His moniker – Points West –
hearkens back to his glory days, in the ’70s, when he rode half the
year. On this trip in particular, he’s left his family for one last
glory ride. He’s right about the similarities to a frat. Of the 20
people gathered there, I am the only girl. And, in many ways, the
gathering is not unlike many other all-male functions I’ve attended. The
boys get together, drink, talk shop, and bond in a way I can never quite
grasp, since it relies not on words, but being in one place for a common
“The most important part of this whole thing is our gathering together
this evening,” explains North Bank Fred, who is one of the main
organizers of this bonding session, and I notice that the men who have
come to hang out with North Bank are different than TRD. They talk about
trains for hours, discussing the best routes, which freight yards are
hot (meaning which are likely to be closely guarded), which are the most
scenic, the fastest. It’s not exactly bragging, as in traditional sports
talk – it’s not a matter of speed, or endurance, or testosterone. The
competition is not with fellow hobos, but with the police. Yet, like any
other game, the players have a mutual respect for the competitors. As
TRD explains, “I always tell the police the truth. They deserve that,
and I find they treat me better when I do.”
“Why are you doing something illegal?” I asked all the hobos. “Is it
just because you love trains?”
Yes, all the men loved trains. But as Points West explained, “It’s like
any other sport, but better, because, unless you think trespassing is
immoral, there’s nothing wrong with it. Yet, the stakes are higher than
He has a point. While football increases testosterone, losing doesn’t
have any real consequences. “Sooner or later, you’re going to come to a
freight yard,” explains Points West, “and if you don’t know what you’re
doing, you’re going to seriously lose.” And for this reason, hobos both
love and hate the cops. “There’s a certain respect you have for
everyone, even the cops. If it wasn’t illegal, the stakes wouldn’t be
nearly so high.”
It is here, too, that the philosophy of train-hopping comes in. “No one
wants to get caught, but no one wants the police to actually disappear,
either,” explains Points West. “Trainhopping isn’t for everyone, and
wouldn’t be the same if it resembled a commercial sport.”
“It was Christmas Eve,” explains 45-year-old Larry, who is drinking his
15th Natural Ice beer. “And we had ridden to Helena, Montana. We were
sleeping there, in the snow, and we built a fire.” Larry pauses. “And
then, the cops show up. They kicked me; Who knows why they chose me?
They put out my fire and demanded my ID.” Larry is furious, talking to
me as if I’m the cop. “You just put out my fire, and now you’re asking
me for my ID? Well, Fuck You!”
Larry is a tramp; he rides the rails all the time, all weather. “I’ve
been all up and down the West coast, in and out of jails,” explains
Larry. For him, riding is no game. “When I get arrested, I think hell,
great. There’s a warm bed, a meal. It’s a college dorm.”
In reality, men like TRD and North Bank Fred are minority riders. While
TRD rides “just to ride,” many don’t take such a romantic view; they
ride to get somewhere, or as a non-specific act of rebellion. Ben, a
20-year-old anarchist who organized protests at the WTO, searches for a
reason for trainhopping, and failing that, opts for rhetoric. “I just
don’t want to be part of the capitalist machine,” said Ben. “We’re all
slaves here, in America. Slaves to corporations, that is.”
According to Rider X, people like Ben and Larry make up the majority of
trainriders today. “Most of the people I see on the rails are either
punk kids or Mexicans, who travel in the growing season to get work
elsewhere.” For Rider X, who has a family and a job, train riding is an
eclectic, little-known sport. For tramps, it is a way of life.
At the conclusion of the “convention,” Rider X and I bought tickets for
Amtrak, making a journey in seven hours that originally took 30. We
talked all the way back, about his family, art, music, and Portland. “I
was impressed,” Rider X later told me, referring to my first train-hop.
“You never freaked out, you never gave up. For your first time, you did
Yet, as I sat in a plush seat, watching the scenery through tinted
glass, I couldn’t help feeling like a bit of a failure for taking
Amtrak. Maybe I would get too comfortable, forget how good it felt. Then
I remembered what North Bank told me, after learning of my arrest.
“Don’t feel like you have to stop now,” he said. “It’s just like any
other sport, you have to get up and try again. You just lost round one,
that’s all. You’ll win round two.”