Buying a ticket, presenting it to the ticket inspector and boarding the wagon with the rest of the passengers going your direction seems like a typical train ride. But not for train hoppers. These people travel a bit differently – there are no tickets or passengers on their trains, just some cargo being transported to a far-away destination.
As you have probably understood, train hopping is a means of travel that includes hopping or in some other ways boarding a railroad car. The term train hopping is very general and all-encompassing and emerged because some people in the past have chosen to hop passenger trains. However, freighthopping is the more popular version of describing this practice as travelling by trains transporting cargo is by far the most popular one – there are pretty much no people to spot you.
It emerged back in the days of the American Civil War when migrant workers tried to find means to commute. Due to this and some other lifestyle-related aspects they became known as hobos. But it went way beyond them; in times of economic hardship, such as The Great Depression, many people chose to travel this way because they simply couldn’t afford anything else, and the more modern times see more people who practice freighthopping due to the romanticized image of an independent traveller behind it.
Needless to say, this sort of travelling was dangerous. Although in ideal circumstances a person would board and exit the train once it is completely still, most often the people had to hop in and out of the train while it was moving, and even in the early days of railroads it presented possibilities for serious injuries. Some went as far as become rod riders – people who would ride trains by holding on to the rods on the bottom of the train meant to support heavy loads and give the train stability. People on the train were another major factor that would potentially cause danger. It’s enough to consider that once you hop on, there is no easy way out, especially when the train picks up the pace, so if you get stuck there with a bunch of criminals, there is no one to help you.
As time passed, the trains became more powerful, faster and the railroad system became more modernized around the world, so train hopping has become actively more dangerous. In light of this, many countries have made it illegal and railroad companies, such as Union Pacific Railroad in the United States, encourage anyone who spots train hoppers to immediately inform the police or other authorities.
Despite all the difficulties, just like back in the day, modern day train hoppers form a strong community. The early day train hoppers used to inform about good hiding and hopping spots by marking trees, buildings, and the railroad itself. It is important to note that those who truly believed in the idea of free commute and practiced train hopping tried to promote the idea of respecting the surroundings and the vehicles themselves. In the 21st century, all of that community and discussion have moved to the wide web.