Please tell me where have all the hobos gone to
November 22, 2017 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Stobe the Hobo, the internet’s most famous train-hopper, dead after apparent accident
James Stobie was the most famous train-hopping hobo on the internet. He rode the rails in a way that was reminiscent of a desperate man searching for work at every city he could find during the Great Depression. Except that Stobie, aka Stobe the Hobo, made YouTube videos about his experiences, hopping trains to move around the country for the pure fun of it.

The beauty and boredom of Stobe the Hobo’s train-hopping videos.

A little info and pictures of Stobe, as well as speculation about his death can be found on The Secret Society of Internet Hobos.
posted by peeedro (29 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite video is his 2016 trip from Chicago to Denver where he endures freezing temperatures and a stolen wallet to share some pretty scenery, then gets shy on camera with the big reveal that the purpose of the trip is to visit his mom for Christmas.
posted by peeedro at 8:25 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

This video is beautiful in its simplicity and honesty. Thanks for posting this.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:37 AM on November 22, 2017

posted by entropicamericana at 8:44 AM on November 22, 2017

. and a virtual 24oz Icehouse in your memory.

Earlier this year I got drawn in and watched a big chunk of Stobe's videos. Train-hopping is not something I would ever consider doing but there is something undeniably exciting about the thought of travelling in this way. Not the danger per se but the old-fashioned adventure of it all.

He came across as a smart and thoughtful person, and the videos would always attempt to show a little of the towns he passed through, although a lot of the time he never seemed very impressed by small-town America, especially as he would often be there in the middle of the night, or stuck there for 2 days.
posted by jontyjago at 8:45 AM on November 22, 2017

Truth in Reddit:
“Trainhopping is a decidedly DANGEROUS undertaking. It’s a federal crime and you can do serious time if you are busted. This lifestyle WILL catch up to you. Trainhopping is NOT glamorous or romantic. The novelty wears off RAPIDLY. It is a life choice of HARDSHIP and DANGER and will KILL you – even if you are super intelligent and careful.”
Also from /r/vagabond : The Dangers of Trainhopping. Absolutely not the sort of thing that should be romanticized or done if there are any other options.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:47 AM on November 22, 2017 [20 favorites]

I met a trainhopper in New Orleans who had literally lost a hand and a foot doing it.

I would have stopped with the hand, but some people have more stick-to-it-iveness than I do.
posted by maxsparber at 8:52 AM on November 22, 2017 [8 favorites]

Yeah, trainhopping definitely has a certain attraction, and can seem like a good idea for a little while, but rapidly becomes terrifying. One of my top three “holy shit I nearly died” experiences was while hopping a freight, and I definitely do not recommend it.

Goes from “hey this is easy” to “oh god no” in the blink of an eye, even if you’ve done it before and are paying attention.

Do Not Do It.
posted by aramaic at 9:11 AM on November 22, 2017 [7 favorites]

My brother, for a time in his youth, was a train hopper. I'm not sure how often he did it or how far he'd gone but he had a few adventures (mostly in Western Canada). One time he talked me into doing here in Southern Ontario. While it had its exhilarating moments it was super dangerous and mostly unpleasant. I never did it again nor did I want to and I'd encourage people not to do it.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:25 AM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I had a friend who worked as a camera person on a documentary about some trainhoppers and that lifestyle, and they spent as much time dodging law enforcement as they did hopping trains. They were told by employees that no one was happy about what they were doing, and that they would be arrested on sight. They didn't hop moving freights, at least, as it was impossible to do with the cameras. It sounded wonderful and terrifying at the same time. I have always had a yearning to do it but the terror of death and dismemberment is stronger.
posted by OolooKitty at 9:31 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

For people who haven't seen his videos, Stobe was pretty clear about the dangers of hopping trains. He wasn't promoting a romanticized #vanlife on a train and he was not a thrill-seeking yahoo. He constantly complains about dangers of the rails and from law enforcement, his loneliness, boredom, and physical discomforts. The only things that seemed to make him happy were cheap booze and fried chicken. That was part of the appeal of his videos for me, he was that rare person on youtube that shared a bit of his life without the humblebrag, the self-hyping bullshit, or trying to sell you something.
posted by peeedro at 9:38 AM on November 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

There's a (subaru?) car commercial that opens with a pretty woman looking at the landscape, the camera pulls back to show her sitting in an open train car, pulling back further she's in the car imagining riding the rails. The next scene really should be her looking at her stub arm and cooing, "yes never again hun", to the driver.
posted by sammyo at 9:39 AM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've always been fascinated with train hoppers (I read Ted Conover's book Rolling Nowhere a while back, read a bunch of zines about it, etc.), and even though I'm generally super wise about assessing risks, I've always been compelled to do it. But I've heard far too many stories like this, where smart and capable and informed people end up killed.

A few years back I rode the local trains in Mumbai, where the doors are permanently open and folks hang out of the side, and I decided this satisfied my urge.
posted by knownassociate at 9:50 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

My dad did a little of this in the 70s. He told me once that all smart rail jumpers knew never to get into one of those open-topped gondola cars, the type used to transport stuff like lumber - because if the train changed speed suddenly. and you were at one end of the car between the wall and the load, you would be crushed like a bug.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:53 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Whilst waiting for the London Overground along the North London Line (say, Canonbury to Camden Road or Highbury and Islington to Hackney Central), I've occasionally found a long, slow freight train passing along the same platform, in the direction my train would go. At those moments, I'm sure I wasn't the only one to wonder whether, if I jumped onto one of the flat-bed freight wagons, I'd get to jump off at my destination ahead of schedule, and considering how easy it might be to jump aboard a slow-moving train like this one.

Of course, the thoughts never proceeded beyond this point, simply because the risk of a horrible death is greater than zero (and the risk of criminal prosecution undoubtedly greater still), and a few minutes is not a hill I wish to die on.
posted by acb at 9:57 AM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I guess I'll have to turn instead to my Youtube videos of aerial cable car rappellers, airplane landing gear riders, and submarine torpedo tube hitchers.

. for his family, who have to deal with the consequences of him dying from doing something stupidly dangerous.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:01 AM on November 22, 2017

acb, I've had that thought with the MTA maintenance trains. They seem to be moving so slowly. But I'd probably still get a limb broken before getting charged with some ridiculous offense.
posted by Hactar at 10:10 AM on November 22, 2017

Train "hopping" is a misnomer. I spent a few years riding freights and nobody with any smarts or experience ever "hops" on a moving train. You get on and off stopped trains. Hopping on and off moving trains is a romantic movie myth that unfortunately inexperienced people succumb to. It makes as much sense as hitchhiking by hopping on and off moving cars.
posted by JackFlash at 10:19 AM on November 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

posted by Gelatin at 10:20 AM on November 22, 2017

I know the police cause you trouble
They cause trouble everywhere
But when you die and go to heaven
There'll be no policemen there.

-- Goebel Reeves

posted by allthinky at 11:00 AM on November 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

The only things that seemed to make him happy were cheap booze and fried chicken.

Same here*.
*train not included
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:04 AM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've always been compelled to do it. But I've heard far too many stories like this, where smart and capable and informed people end up killed

This perfectly describes my relationship with motorcycles.
posted by mecran01 at 11:36 AM on November 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

I take no pleasure in prescience.
posted by pjern at 11:45 AM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can anybody identify his accent? He had a curious pronunciation and cadence to the way he spoke.
posted by entropone at 12:39 PM on November 22, 2017

A freshman in college disappeared and was thought to have hopped a train for a study break (because he had talked about doing this before). Volunteers searched around the tracks for a couple of days. They found him in a loading yard; he'd gotten on a non-empty boxcar, and the load shifted on him, killing him. That's a horrible way to learn that you have made a rookie mistake - I suppose you only ride empty cars. The bizarre thing was, the day they found him, we had a problem in our physics homework about exactly this: here's the coefficient of friction between cargo and a train car floor; at what acceleration does the cargo shift? No word on if 'Stairway To Heaven" was still playing when they found him, though......
posted by thelonius at 2:54 PM on November 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

One of my top three “holy shit I nearly died” experiences was while hopping a freight, and I definitely do not recommend it.

I rode a freight train exactly once, and that matches my experience. I've done a bunch of dumb and dangerous things (and still do, though less than when I was young), but that is the only experience that I have a recurring nightmare about.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:26 PM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had not seen this guy's videos. His death is unfortunate, but I can't say I'm sad. He had a clear idea what he was getting into.

I rode freight trains for several years in total. I was well aware of the risks, as I'm sure this guy was. Few people ride many trains before getting a very clear sense that they may get mangled to death.

I have zero regrets about having ridden trains. Yes, it is often dangerous, but honestly I do not care. For me and for a lot of the other train riders I knew, conventional, sedentary life felt worse than riding trains. It is hard to characterize what we were getting out of it, but it was real and important. So we rode trains.

I have known people with mangled legs, people for whom the lifestyle drove them into heroin addiction or isolated madness, people who looked like they were about to die. I've been cold enough and bruised enough to have a pretty clear idea what dying in a similar manner would be like. Part of me is traumatized from those experiences, but another part of me is grateful for having a house and a bed in a way I don't think I could have been were it not for this part of my life.

Not everything or everyone has to be safe. Some danger is worth it in a way that is hard to describe, no matter how stupid or pointless it looks to most people.
posted by andrewpcone at 5:13 PM on November 22, 2017 [12 favorites]

. Never heard of him until today but those videos are fascinating. Nothing much happens, he's not the most enthralling guy, and besides trains and beer he doesn't have much insight about anything. It's not really well shot not really well edited either, but nevertheless it's compeling, I don't understand why, but i could watch this stuff for hours, and i'm not reallly into trains.
posted by SageLeVoid at 6:22 PM on November 22, 2017

A friend and I went on a freight hopping trip many years back. We started in Dunsmuir where we met North Bank Fred. From there we rode north, crossing the infamous Cantara Loop, site of the 1991 pesticide spill that sterilized the Upper Sacramento River. We rode past Mt. Shasta and up through Klamath Falls, where we saw Roger the Bull (but he did not see us). In Portland, we met up with The Grinch who gave us a copy Train Doc's book.

From Portland, we rode east along the Columbia River and then to Pocatello. We woke up a friend there who drove us to Salt Lake City where we spent several days. Then we hit the Ogden yard and caught a hotshot west across the Great Salt Lake at sunrise. We flew across the Nevada desert on a fast container train, and up into the Sierras at night. We crossed the famous Keddie Wye by moonlight, and I remember seeing the Feather River glinting far below. Our journey ended at the sprawling Roseville yard about two weeks after it had started.

It was an amazing adventure full of beautiful scenery, excitement, and yes, some danger. Also long stretches of boredom, hours spent baking in the desert sun, and sleepless freezing nights.

We evaded railways workers and police. We also got caught, and escaped. We were chased out of neighborhoods because people thought we were homeless. We were also given money and meals because people thought we were homeless.

It was a road trip, a camping trip, and a jail break all at once. It was one of the most memorable things I've ever done. I'm so very glad I did it, but at the same time, I don't have a great urge to do it again.

Note: If you're thinking of riding trains, I recommend doing a lot of research first. I spent over a hundred hours researching before my trip, including meeting people who have done it and talking about the risks. It can be morbid. For example, you hear about people losing limbs hopping trains. You need to learn enough about those accidents to know exactly how those limbs get lost, so you can avoid doing the same. I knew what I was getting into, down to the names of the railway cops I'd need to avoid. That's part of the reason my trip was a success. Also, luck.
posted by ryanrs at 2:43 AM on November 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I find this fascinating, too. It's beautiful arcing through these railroad grades outside rather than cooped up, and the railroads slice through a different part of the country, and show a back-yard secret view of everything.

I had a chance to do this through the Columbia gorge in Oregon/Washington in my youth oh so many years ago, ending in Portland, and it was magic. The adventure and danger of being out there on the edge were simply worth it on their own terms (as andrew cone says).
posted by lathrop at 1:30 PM on November 23, 2017

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