Archive for the ‘Hobo’ Tag

The Life of a Hobo   24 comments


This is from the blog ColorStorm:

Let’s face it, there is an element of sympathy for a soul who lives ‘on the rails’ as it were; no place to call home, feeding on others leftovers, not owning a pillow, no steady job, an unfortunate identity, a ‘nobody,’ sloppy in appearance, somewhat odorous, no phone, no address, and most sadly of all, no true family.

We like to think we do not know anybody like this, for that would be an indictment of our own lack of ‘love thy neighbor’ but sadly, we do in fact know a hobo or two.

It is easy to confuse a beggar with a hobo, for we mistakenly put them in the category of lazy souls looking for a handout, with no meaningful differences, both being an encroachment to society, but the hobo is a man not afraid to work.

He finds rest on the ‘cow crates,’ those rolling freight cars bringing him to another place,  looking for a moment to belong. The search is short, and a meal is traded for a small amount of labor. The hobo does not want a handout, for he has mettle in his soul.

Remember the ‘kid’ nobody wanted on their team, remember the girl who smelled funny, remember the guy who had no friends, remember the strange lad on the bus who everyone thought was from outer space? Well, these kids grew up, and to this day they have no friends.

Their peculiarity grew stronger and they were forced to a life of separation, whose days were fixed by the seeds of neglect. These ‘nobodies’ were made so by the artificial and unfounded opinions of people who looked on ‘outward appearance’ only.

These hobos became weeds of humanity, just ‘in the way’ of others good fortune, and a mere blight on an otherwise good day. Immediate thoughts of ‘get a job,’ ‘mooch,’ or ‘beggar!’ are common when we see these souls.

Perhaps more is revealed about ourselves than we would like to admit when we run into these kind, for our hearts cannot hide from the arrow of honesty; our thoughts have spoken. But the hobo is a step up from the average beggar, for this man travels the world looking for his next adventure with another strange bedroom only to be found in the great outdoors.

What then is not to like about an adventurer? Unplanned, not knowing what, when and where  a day will bring, accountable to not a soul, where friendships are rare, and judgments by others are even less. Perhaps the hobo has found a way to go through life hiding from the scrutiny of others, no more fear of being ridiculed for simply waking up.

Maybe the hobo would not exist if it were not for the indifference of the privileged.  This ‘bum’ has become a master of the game of ‘hide and seek,’ for hiding is easy and  seeking is a necessity. He has crafted a life of unexpected predictability where the day is arranged by a pattern of decisions that always lead down the road.

The hobo is industrious and strange in the best possible way, with manners that exceed most others. He is the lone maverick who does not engage in jealousy; he simply plays the cards he has been dealt, for whatever reasons, he must live this life.

He gets no mail, has no address, does not have a phone, has no place he really must attend, and if he has a friend, that would be the greatest of jewels. Mind you, he knows a lot of other hobos, but long difference friendships with others who also have no means of communication are difficult to maintain.

It would be easy to be jealous for a hobo, in the very best way, for a life of faith is definitely called for. The charm of what city or farmland will he see the setting sun from today, brings a small upward turn of the lips when considered.

Most will find a slur at the life of a hobo, but consider the benefit of such an aloof life. Waking up like a bird and flying as the breeze permits, following the instinctual chirp of safety, feeding, water, and  touching base with others. Sharing moments of life before passing on yet again, God knows where.

The hobo is probably an intellectual who never ‘fit in,’ or should I say, was never welcomed in the norm of society by  they who paved the way for his solitary life. So while the hobo knows he is considered  a piece of trash by some, a ‘nobody’ by most, and thought to be fool by others,  yet he knows in his heart of hearts, there is value in trash, for he reads, ‘there is much food in the tillage of the poor.’  Yes, this man is a closet scholar.

Reminds me of Another who lived life without a reputation, a nobody, a person thought to be trash-like by the honorable members of the human race. This man too was homeless, but he did not beg, he had not where to lay his head, unlike foxes who at least have holes.

He was thought to have a devil, and his piercing questions revealed knowledge that was other worldly: ‘How can David’s son be David’s Lord?’ Yes, a hobo as it were, held in disdain by most, doubted by they closest to him, and understood by none. Truly a man without a country, yet strange for he owned all, yet kept under wrap his deserved majesty.

His moral glory however could not be dismissed, for he said ‘which of you convinces me of sin?’ a question for the ages still unanswered. This man was full of character, his yes was yes, and no was no. His word was good. He was okay with being known as a miscreant; he was okay being called a religious fanatic; he was okay sitting in the back of the bus; he was okay not being picked for the team, he was okay sleeping with the animals, and being homeless, well, that was expected.

While a  hobo may have impeccable character, he cannot take away your sin. This One who was friend to that devilish Judas Iscariot had every reason not to ‘friend’ him, but the exquisite nature of a good man could not be hidden.

Beggar, hobo, very little difference except in the area of character, but we must guard our hearts when we face such kin. The other man of ‘unfortunate identity,’ well, that’s another story.  Yes, some thought he was a hobo, a complete nobody, and in this incorrect assessment, we learn the worth of the Son of God, and if we care to learn even further, we may glimpse into the heart of man, and not enjoy what we see.

He took upon himself ‘no reputation,’ do we get this? A man whose understanding was infinite, a man in whom dwelt ALL the fullness of the Godhead, this man walked with a reputation that was ‘nothing.’ He said nothing when Herod called him a magician, and was mute when Pilate asked Him ‘what is truth?’  Yes, just another hobo.

Yet, this ‘nobody’ took upon himself the righteous wrath of a holy God against sin, something a nobody could not do. If you see a hobo say hello, offer  a kind word, a glass of water, a meal, something. Not only is it decent, but you may be entertaining an angel unaware.

The First Time I Rode a Freight Train

Stobe the Hobo

Posted February 28, 2015 by Tim Shey in Uncategorized

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Iowa Blackie   4 comments


Iowa Blackie

25 May 2013

Just in the past half hour, I was hitchhiking on U.S. 395 several miles south of John Day, Oregon.  This jeep pulled over to give me a ride.  It was a man and his wife; they lived in Seneca.

I told them that I had been hitchhiking for a number of years and that I was originally from Iowa.

He told me that twenty years ago, he and his wife were living in Britt, Iowa (Britt is close to where I grew up in north central Iowa).  They met this old hobo named Iowa Blackie.  They let him stay at their place one night.  Iowa Blackie was the Hobo King at the Hobo Convention in Britt back in 1993.

When he mentioned Iowa Blackie’s name, I exclaimed, “It’s a small world!”

I told them that I had a pickup for a few months back in 2000.  I was driving through Boone, Iowa on U.S. 30.  I picked up this hitchhiker; his name was Iowa Blackie.  I drove him to Atlantic where he was going to stay with some friends.  I bought a copy of his book of poetry.  I told them that Iowa Blackie passed away a while back [2011].

The man and his wife dropped me off at this public cabin at the top of this mountain just seven miles north of Seneca.  I’ll stay here for the night and continue to head south on U.S. 395 tomorrow.

Iowa Blackie Obituary

Hobo Shoestring–King of the Rails
The Life of a Hobo
Stobe the Hobo

Posted September 5, 2013 by Tim Shey in Uncategorized

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Excerpts from “The Poor in Ames”   3 comments

Iowa State University

By Bethany Kohoutek

Homelessness in Ames

Lurking underneath the seemingly affluent, professional surface of Ames [Iowa], there is a subculture of people whose problems are life and death and stories are rarely heard. While the ranks of homeless are spiraling out of control, mercilessly leaving less fortunate people behind, the same economic forces are propelling other Ames residents to wealth and prosperity. This is a story about those who aren’t making the cut or don’t want to in the first place, a story of the ups and downs of life on the road-or the street.

Homelessness is a word that the average Iowa State college student probably doesn’t think twice about. But even as students gripe about waiting for CyRide buses in the cold, someone is sleeping under a bridge only blocks away using a plastic sheet to keep warm. As students complain about small dorm rooms and shared bathrooms, one family per day is evicted in Ames because it can’t make rent.

Students from larger cities may scoff at the notion that homelessness and poverty are major issues in Ames. Although there is no one begging for spare change on Lincoln Way, homelessness does exist in Ames. The fact that it is less of a problem than in other, larger cities just makes it worse. Because it isn’t thrown in your face every day, it’s easy to forget about these people.

“If a tornado came through Ames and blew away a dozen homes, it would be front-page news,” Moss [Vic Moss, executive director of the Emergency Residence Project] says. “And yet when we have this kind of devastation happening on a daily basis where families are being broken apart by this, it’s not covered at all.”

Moss estimates that there are around 50 homeless people each night in Ames. There is no one way to stereotype this population. Each situation is different, and Moss says the shelter sees everyone from “saints to sinners.”

Life on the Road

Some people living in Ames without a home do have options. But according to them, street life is the best option.

At 4:15 on a Saturday afternoon, there are seven men congregated in the living room of the Emergency Adult Project adult shelter. They have just come back from work, and the atmosphere is laid back and comfortable as the men chat amiably with each other.

This population of single, transient men (and the occasional woman) makes up the majority of the shelter’s clientele. These men come and go, with no intention of staying in Ames for any substantial amount of time. However, they make up a large percentage of Ames’ homeless statistics. The difference between this population and other homeless children and families in Ames is that most of the men in the living room do not want to get into permanent housing, even if it was provided for them. They insist they’re homeless by personal choice, not because of any particular hardship. The self-bestowed title of ‘hobo’ is a term of endearment to them. Some have road names like Duke and Bullet, and speak of fellow travelers with names like Little Lizzie, the Road King, and Dakota Butch.

These men usually come to shelters to take a temporary rest from their travels to “bathe, eat, sleep, be at peace, and still make a little money,” says Bullet.

“There’s a difference between ‘without a home’ and ‘homeless,'” Bullet explains. “Most people don’t even know what a real hobo is. A hobo is without a home because he chooses to be. He is a man who is a traveler at heart. He works. He has clothes. He has money in his pocket. If he wants prime rib for dinner, he can reach into his pocket and pay for it.”

The men have various reasons for being on the road. Some have been on the road since their early teens, and it is all they know. Others may have gone through a divorce or lost a job. Still others may have had a steady job and a family, and simply “burned out” on the routine of day-to-day life.

“We don’t want to settle down and accept the political society,” says Bullet. “No president, no government is gonna tell us what we’re gonna do. We will not be told ‘You will get up at 6:00. You will get to work by 7:00. You will punch the clock by 7:01. Then you will punch out at 3:30.’ It’s monotony. With us, that just doesn’t work. Everyday is a new adventure. We are one of the last signs of real, true freedom.”

Duke, who is 57 years old, “rides the rails” to get from place to place.

He left home at 14 because he wanted to travel–to see the country, meet new people, and because “it’s a lot easier and a lot more mellow this way.” He has four children and seven grandchildren who live in various places around the country. He occasionally sees them when he is in the neighborhood. If he gets bored staying in one place too long, it doesn’t take much for him to “kick mud”, to move on. He says he has been to every state in the contiguous United States as well as Mexico and Canada. He likes Iowa because people seem outgoing and friendly to him.

Shelter stays are fairly uncommon for him; he would rather sleep outside in his tent, even in the winter.

“I’ve been out here so long, I know how to live out in this. It’s all just experience,” he says.

Wherever he goes, he carries a 65-pound pack on his back that holds his tent, a change of clothes, campfire-making materials, a flashlight, string, a bedroll, a tarp, and a folded up sign that says “Will Work For Food. Thanks. God Bless.” Most of his money is spent on groceries and tobacco, and besides his smokers’ cough, he says he rarely gets sick.

Others have entirely different reasons for traveling.

Tim, who is one of the younger men in the shelter’s living room, graduated from Iowa State with a degree in English. He actually had two religious poems and a short story published in Ethos. He said that in the future he plans to settle down, get married and have a family.

“I’m a Christian; I hitchhike by faith,” he says. “I am being led by the Holy Spirit wherever I go. I share my faith with other people. I’ve met a lot of great people, and I’ve learned a lot from them. In fact, these pants were given to me by a family in Texas. My coat was given to me by a guy in Wyoming. Things like that. You meet so many neat people. I can’t complain.”

Hearing Tim talk, Bullet is quick to interject that things aren’t always so easy going on the road.

“Everybody always tries to glorify it. You don’t hear about the nights under the bridge, or sleeping alongside the interstate in the rain and cold. You don’t hear about standing out there on a ramp when it is 35 below zero wind chill, and you got frost formed to your mustache and your hair. It can be real tough, lonely, scary. That’s the downside.”

“I think Bob Seger said it best,” says Bullet, “‘Turn the page.’ Life’s a book. Each day you turn the page to something different. It could be great, or it could be a real sh*thole.”

Moss says that usually during summer months, there are some people who live under bridges, along the railroad, and in the wooded areas of Ames.

There is one such place under a bridge not far from campus. Plywood and plastic sheeting have been set up to make a little lean-to against the girders of the underside of the bridge. Bags of collected cans and bottles surround a green sleeping bag that is neatly laid out on the dirt. Nearby is a blackened spot in the dirt, which still smells of charcoal and lighter fluid, and various food cans are scattered around the fire pit.

There is a greening picture of Jesus looking heavenward duck-taped to the cement that forms the back wall of the makeshift dwelling. A six-inch angel statue, in perfect condition, is standing upright on the ground nearby, surrounded by other miscellaneous items–Hy-Vee Charcoal Starters, an empty pack of Camel lights, a few bottles of Hawkeye vodka, an old pair of jeans, and a few T-shirts.

Issue 3, Volume 52
February 2001
Iowa State University

[Originally published by]

Iowa Corn–Golden Treasure
Hobo Shoestring–King of the Rails
A Prophetess from Minnesota
Ethos/Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication
The Life of a Hobo
Stobe the Hobo


Ames, Iowa

Harry Truman, Hoboes and the Santa Fe Railroad   9 comments

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) was the 33rd president of the United States. Below is an excerpt from Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S Truman by Merle Miller.

Pages 41-43:

[Merle Miller] Mr. President, I understand that when you were still a boy, you got a job working as timekeeper for the Santa Fe Railroad.

[President Truman] “I worked for an old fellow named Smith, L.J. Smith his name was, and he was head of the construction company that was building the double track for the Santa Fe Railroad down here from Eaton Falls to where the Missouri Pacific comes into the Santa Fe down at Sheffield.

“I was eighteen years old, and I’d just finished high school and knew I wasn’t going to get to go to West Point. So I took this job as a timekeeper. I took it to help out at home, to keep my brother, Vivian, and my sister, Mary, in school. My father was having a hard time with finances just then.

“Old man Smith had three camps, and there were about a hundred hoboes in each camp, and I got very well acquainted with them. My job was to keep tabs on them, to keep track of how much time they put in, and then I’d write out their paychecks for them. I’d usually write those checks in a saloon called Pogunpo’s or in old man Schmidt’s saloon in Sheffield. I used to sit there and pay off those hoboes. And they weren’t bad fellows. They’d work for two weeks. They’d get discounted if they drew their checks before that time. So they’d work two weeks, and then they’d spend all their money for whiskey in the saloon and come back to work the next Monday morning. I’d pay them off on Saturday night.

“But they weren’t bad fellows. Not in any way. Most of them had backgrounds that caused them to be hoboes. Either they’d had family troubles or they’d been in jail for some damn fool thing that wasn’t a penitentiary offense. But they weren’t bad citizens at all. I remember one time I told the old man that ran the saloon, he was an old Dutchman and wore whiskers, I told him, I said, ‘This old bastard is the blacksmith out there on the railroad, and we need him. So try to cut out on his whiskey.'”

“Well, damn old Schmidt went out and told this blacksmith what I’d said, and I never got a better cussing in my life than I did for interfering with the freedom of an American citizen. And he was right. And that taught me something.

“But after that I guess the blacksmith was grateful for it because he took a file, a regular ordinary file about that long and made a butcher knife out of it and tempered it so that the edge would never come off. He made two of them for me, and I think one of them is still around the house somewhere. . . . So he didn’t hold it against me that I was trying to keep him from getting drunk.”

[Miller] When you said camps, what were they, houses or tents?

[Truman] “Tents mostly. There were tents, and I had a tricycle car on the railroad that I went up and down on. I had to make a list of the men that were working every morning at seven thirty, and then I had to go back at one thirty in the afternoon to be sure that they were still there. So when the time came for their being paid, I had the records. No one ever doubted the records I kept.”

[Miller] How much did those men make?

[Truman] “They made eleven dollars for two weeks’ work, and as I say, they’d get paid on Saturday, and by Monday morning most of them had drunk it all up. But it was one of the best experiences that I ever had because that was when I began to understand who the underdog was and what he thought about the people who were the high hats. They felt just like I did about them. They didn’t have any time for them. And neither did I. I always liked the underdog better than the high hats. I still do.”

[Miller] Weren’t you ever uneasy? I mean, you were a reader of books and wore glasses and, as you say, you’d been called a sissy.

[Truman] “No. No. I never had any trouble with those birds. They were just as nice as they could be, and when I left, the foreman down there in Sheffield said, ‘Harry’s all right from the navel out in every direction.’ Which when you come to think of it is just about the highest compliment I ever have been paid.

“Some of those hoboes had better educations than the president of Ha-vud University, and they weren’t stuck up about it either. The average of them was just as smart as the smartest people in the country, and they’d had experiences, and a lot of them told me about their experiences. I hope I profited from it, and I think I did. I had to quit at the end of the summer, but my goodness. That was a great experience for me.”

[Miller] I understand you learned a few cuss words that summer.

[Truman] “I did. The words some of those men knew I’d never heard before, but later when I was in the Army, there was an occasion or two when those words came in handy, and I used them.

“That experience also taught me that the lower classes so called are better than the high hats and the counterfeits, and they can be trusted more, too.

“About this counterfeit business. My Grandfather Young felt the same way. We had a church in the front yard where the cemetery is now. And the Baptists and the Methodists and all of them used it. And Grandfather Young when I was six years old, he died when I was eight, he told me that whenever the customers in any of those denominations prayed too loud in the Amen corner, you’d better go home and lock your smokehouse.

“And I found that to be true. I’ve never cared much for the loud pray-ers or for people who do that much going on about religion.”

[Originally published by]

Hobo Shoestring–King of the Rails
The Life of a Hobo
Stobe the Hobo

The First Time I Rode a Freight Train   6 comments

Hobo climbing a freight car

Back in July of 1980, I was house sitting for some friends in Ames, Iowa. They and their two daughters were gone for a month or so seeing relatives in Southern California.

One day I decided to hit the road and see how far west I could get. I took my backpack and some of my belongings and began hitchhiking west on U.S. 30.

I got a few rides to Denison. Then this young lady picked me up near Dow City or Dunlap. She had a can of beer in her hand and offered me one; I declined the offer. I went to enough beer parties in high school; my beer-drinking days were pretty much over. She was fairly drunk and she would swerve over into the other lane every so often and then correct herself.

Finally, I said, “Hey, if you want, I can drive for you.”

She said, “No. I’m doing just fine.”

A few minutes later she barely missed hitting this tractor-trailer coming from the opposite direction.

I had had enough, so I said, “Pull over and let me out.”

She pulled over onto the shoulder and I got out of the car. She gave me the finger and drove off. I was so glad to get out of that vehicle. That was the first time (and maybe the only time) I asked to get out of a car because the driver was drunk.

So I walked down the road and this guy picked me up. He had just graduated from the veterinary school at Iowa State University in Ames. This guy was going to Nebraska to take his boards for the state of the Nebraska.

He dropped me off someplace and I later made it to Blair, Nebraska. The sun was setting as I walked down main street. I walked past this gas station and this kid that worked there was sitting in a chair.

He looked at my backpack and asked, “Where ya goin’?”

“I’m heading out west,” I replied.

“Have a good trip.”


I walked through Blair and was a mile or so out of town, when a sheriff deputy stopped me. He asked me where I was going and then he checked my ID. At the time, I was a little annoyed that they would stop and check me. I was walking down the road minding my own business. What’s the big deal, I thought. That was probably the first time I had been stopped by law enforcement for walking or hitchhiking. I was a little rattled about the whole thing.

The sheriff deputy gave me my ID back and I continued walking due west on U.S. 30.

The sun was down, so I decided to jump over this fence and hightail it to the railroad tracks. It wasn’t long and I was walking down the tracks of the Union Pacific.

I had been walking for a while when all of a sudden this powerful light came around the bend behind me and this locomotive was bearing down on me! I didn’t even hear it coming! I took evasive action, quickly jumped off the tracks and ran into the ditch. The four or five engines roared past with its grain cars in tow. That was a close one, I thought.

I later learned that the sound of the engine travels out from the sides of the locomotive, not from the front. I had been hitchhiking in New Mexico back in the late 1990s, when this man and his wife and kids picked me up. He worked as a welder for the Santa Fe Railroad. He told me about the sound traveling out from the sides and not from the front. He and his fellow welder almost got run over by a train while they were welding “frogs” on the tracks. They never heard the train coming–just like in my case.

So I continued to walk down the tracks. I then camped out in some grass. It was hot and humid–it was probably in the upper nineties that day. The mosquitoes were bad. I don’t think I got much sleep that night.

The next morning I got a couple of rides to Fremont.

I was walking in downtown Fremont heading towards the railroad tracks (I was thinking about hopping a freight train) when a local cop stopped me.

“Where you going, son?” he asked.

“I’m heading west,” I said.

“You’re going in the wrong direction. Hop in and I’ll give you a ride west of town.”

“Sounds good.”

He dropped me off near this pond of water; it looked like a state park or campsite. I thanked him for the ride and he drove off.

It was now around a hundred degrees and I was getting hot, so I spent some time swimming in the pond. After a while, I lay down on this picnic table and took a nap for an hour or two.

Then I heard this low rumbling. I woke up and saw this freight train slowly moving westward on the tracks maybe a hundred yards away. I quickly put on my socks and boots and grabbed my backpack and ran to this brand, spanking-new flatcar. It had my name written all over it.

I climbed onto the flatcar and put my backpack against the bulkhead. I sat down and rested my back against my backpack. The train merged from the siding onto the main line and gained some speed. I was now in business.

It was exhilarating and free, sitting on that flatcar watching the green Nebraska countryside go past. Eventually, I took off my boots and socks and sat on the flatcar barefoot. I felt even more free. The train was now traveling at around fifty miles per hour.

The Union Pacific tracks ran parallel with U.S. 30. Cars and pickups would drive down the highway and people would wave at me and laugh. I would wave back and smile. Some people would honk their horns. It was a lot of fun.

The train rolled through North Bend and Schuyler and finally slowed down and stopped in Columbus. We weren’t stopped very long. They were switching out some cars, I’m guessing.

The train slowly moved out and we were heading west again.

My plan, when I left Ames, was to see some relatives in Ogallala, Nebraska. Well, I didn’t know their names and I didn’t know exactly where they lived in Ogallala. I just knew that I had some relatives in Ogallala and this is why I headed west. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense now, but back then I was twenty years old and all I wanted was an excuse to hit the road and head west. Relatives in Ogallala: sounds good to me. (I later did meet these relatives in Ogallala back in 1983–just before I hitchhiked to California for the first time.)

The train was now going down the tracks at a pretty good clip. I was absolutely enjoying everything about life on a flatcar when I saw this Nebraska Highway Patrol drive by on U.S. 30. I smiled and waved at him, but he didn’t wave back. He gave me a dirty look. It was then that I began to think that maybe I wasn’t supposed to be riding this freight train.

I didn’t think it was illegal to hop freight trains (but that maybe some people might frown on it). My great-grandfather, who was born in County Roscommon in Ireland, lived for thirteen years in Australia herding sheep and prospecting for gold. He came to America and settled down in southwest Iowa. He used to ride freight trains between Iowa and western Nebraska all the time. But that was back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I began to think that sitting on this flatcar in plain sight of everybody was not such a good idea.

The train rolled through Central City and soon began to slow down. As the train slowly made its way through the small town of Chapman, there was this cop in his car stopped at the intersection. I smiled and waved at him, but he didn’t wave back. Then I began to get this sinking feeling. Maybe I better get off of this train ASAP.

Well, the train stopped maybe a quarter of a mile from where the cop was sitting. I saw the cop car back up and drive down the service road that ran parallel with the tracks. He stopped his car next to my flatcar and motioned for me to get off the train.

I looked at him and said, “Who me?”

He nodded his head as if to say, “Yes, you.”

I put my socks and boots back on and climbed off of the flatcar. I didn’t like this one bit.

I got in the car and the cop told me that it was illegal to ride freight trains. He drove me to Central City to the police station. He said that he was going to contact the “U.P.” (Union Pacific) detectives and see if they wanted to prosecute me.

I sat at the police station as the officer phoned the Union Pacific. The guys in the jail asked me why I was there. I told them that I got caught riding a freight train. They howled in laughter. I sort of laughed, but not really.

The officer hung up the phone and told me that the Union Pacific didn’t want to prosecute. He told me to get back in the car and that he would drive me east to the county line.

As we drove east on U.S. 30, the cop asked, “So Tim, do you ever think about where you will go when you die?”

I answered, “Yeah, I think about it all the time.”

So he began to tell me about Jesus and the Gospel. We had an intense talk. I was not yet a Christian, but this cop definitely sowed some good seeds into me. I asked Christ into my life two years later. Getting caught on a freight train by a Christian cop was definitely the hand of God–but I didn’t know it at the time.

I was restless and seeking something: truth, beauty, literary aspirations, freedom from Adamic slavery. I dropped out of high school twice because it was so oppressive and unchallenging. I was hungry and desperate. Heaven was on my mind. I was looking for God, but did not know how to truly access Him. In July 1980, I was not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.

The cop dropped me off in the middle of somewhere. It was ten o’clock at night, it was hot and humid and I forgot to fill up my water bottle back in Central City. I was not a happy camper. I thanked the officer for the ride and he turned around and drove west into the Nebraska night.

The next town was six miles away. So I walked past the corn fields and the hay fields of eastern Nebraska. I was thirsty. The noise of diesel engines roaring away pumping water into irrigation circles could be heard as I walked back east.

Eventually, I made it to the small town of Duncan. I found a water hydrant and drank a ton of water. I then found a pickup parked next to the railroad tracks. I climbed into the cab of the pickup and slept there that night.

The next morning, I walked to the shoulder of U.S. 30 and began thumbing for a ride to Columbus. Within half an hour, some guy walked up to the pickup that I had slept in the night before and drove off in it. Sometimes it is a good idea to get up early in the morning.

I got a ride to Columbus. This guy took me to the bus station. I met a lady there that helped me pay for a bus ticket to Des Moines. I got on the bus and it went through Omaha. I got off in Adel, Iowa that evening. Adel is just west of Des Moines on U.S. 6.

I phoned a friend in Ames. He picked me up in Adel and drove me back to Ames. He thought that it was funny that I hitchhiked to Nebraska and hopped a freight train. He thought it was really funny that a cop told me to get off the train. I didn’t think it was so funny.

[Originally published by]

Iowa Blackie
The First Time I Rode a Freight Train & other hitchhiking stories
Hobo Shoestring–King of the Rails
The Life of a Hobo
Stobe the Hobo


The Short, Short Hitchhiker   10 comments


The Short, Short Hitchhiker
By Stanley Gurcze
Edited by Richard Menzies

This afternoon I finished reading The Short, Short Hitchhiker by Stanley Gurcze.  I thought it was very good.  It reminded me of my own hitchhiking experiences.  The unique thing about Stanley Gurcze is that he has no feet—his feet were amputated at the age of 10.


Here are a couple of excerpts from his book:

Page 72:  “So back to the highway I went, where if I was going to starve, at least I wouldn’t be working for the privilege of doing so.  I headed west until I reached Indio, California, which is where I found my first hobo jungle.  It was quite an experience.

“A hobo jungle is a camp near a railroad division yard where trains stop and change crews.  It’s also where non-paying passengers get on or off the train.  These non-paying passengers consist of two different classes:  bums and hobos.  The difference between the two is as follows:  Bums will not work, and will steal or beg or do anything to meet their needs.  Hobos, also known as tramps, will work for their needs but no longer than absolutely necessary.  Both classes can be found wherever trains go in the country.

“I was camping alone at the east end of Indio when a man with a bedroll over his shoulder walked by.  I mistook him for a fellow hitchhiker and said, ‘Hi.’

“He looked me over, saw my crutches and decided I was harmless enough.  So he came over and said, ‘Howdy, Crip.’  He paused and then added, ‘You ever been here before?’

“‘No, it’s my first time.’

“‘Thought so.  Let me give ya a little advice.  Git over on the other side of the road by the trees there.’  He pointed to a grove of trees approximately half a mile to the north.

“‘Why?  What’s there?’

“‘A camp where you’ll be safe tonight.  There’s a bunch of ‘bos there, pretty decent guys.  This side’s the jungle with the bums and winos.  They’ll take you for everything you got.  You’d be lucky to wake up tomorrow.’

“‘I sure better get out of here, then.  Thanks for the heads up.’

“‘Okay,’ he said, then added.  ‘You see those two guys back there by them bushes?’

“‘No.  Where?’

He pointed behind me.  “There.  That’s the reason I stopped.  I noticed they had their eyes on ya.’

“‘Yeah, now I see ’em.’  There stood two of the most disreputable looking characters I had seen in quite a while.  One was staring in our direction, the other was sipping from a wine bottle.  Both were unshaven.  Their clothing had the appearance of never having been washed.

“‘Heavens to Betsy,’ I said.  ‘They look worse than I do.’

“‘Come on.  I’ll walk you across the road.  They won’t bother ya as long as I’m here.’


“I got to the other camp as fast as I could.  There I found a group of men with bedrolls and not much else, sitting around a large campfire above which hung a huge pot, boiling.  It contained meat, potatoes, onions, and a few other vegetables all mixed together.  They called it mulligan stew.

“I was informed that anyone who joins the group contributes whatever they have to the pot, which keeps boiling all the time.  Share and share alike.  No one is ever refused hospitality unless they demonstrate by their actions that they’re not worthy, in which case they are booted out in a hurry.  By contrast, the bums across the way aren’t interested in anything but scoring that first bottle of wine to start their day–in any way they can.

“Sometimes bums even steal from one another, taking whatever they believe will get them ‘the price.’  Many awake to find their shoes gone, or any other item of any value they possess.  They are the lucky ones, because there are others who never awake.

“Unlike bums, hobos are men who have left their homes, wives, children, friends, and jobs to seek freedom from their humdrum lives and spend the rest of their days wandering about the country, searching for this elusive thing called happiness–or at least peace of mind.  Some might reach this goal; others may not.  Perhaps they will all find it in the beyond.”


Page 112:  “I cook over an Indian fire—never a white man’s fire.  I learned this from an Apache Indian—in Apache Junction, Arizona, of all places.  Of course, no Apaches live there; they live on the San Carlos reservation east of Globe.  This young Apache worked at the lumber company, which is no longer there.

“I remember I was preparing to build a fire as prescribed in the Boy Scouts manual.  I gathered an armload of dead branches and arranged them in the form of a tepee.  Just then this young Apache came by, sat down, and watched.  He started to chuckle softly.  When I got my matches out and prepared to light it, he stood up, still chuckling, and kicked my campfire in every which direction, which of course made me a bit angry.

“‘Let me show you how to build a fire.’ he said.

“He squatted down, dug a hole approximately six inches deep and twelve inches across, took a few of the smaller branches I had gathered and broke them into little pieces, which he placed in the pit.  He then took the two thickest branches and placed them across the top of the hole.  ‘These two thick branches you use as a grill,’ he said.  ‘Just put whatever you want to cook on top of them.  By the time they burn through, whatever you’re cooking will be ready.’

“Well, I cooked a whole chicken wrapped in aluminum foil using only the few pieces of wood he put into the hole.  It works, he explained, because when the wind blows, it passes over the top of the hole and creates a draft.  This results in a hotter fire, and the sparks don’t blow out of the hole.  With a white man’s fire, which is above ground, the sparks fly and start wildfires.

“Another nice thing about an Indian fire is that when you are finished with it, just pour a little water onto the remaining hot coals, then refill the hole with dirt and tamp it down.  When you walk away, nobody would know you ever had a fire there.”

Virginia Avenue Press
Reno, Nevada
Published in 2011

[Stanley Gurcze, 1917-1989]


Book Launch
The Life of a Hobo
Hitchhiking Stories from Digihitch
A Ride in Nebraska, Blue Highways and William Least Heat-Moon
Stobe the Hobo

Nevada Public Radio – The Short, Short Hitchhiker


“Stanley Gurcze, Footless Vagabond” by Richard Menzies

Chris McCandless Revisited   5 comments

Chris McCandless

Dreams from the LORD 2007-2010
15 August 2010

Four days ago (11 August), I was hitchhiking in Idaho and this guy picked me up. He told me that he went to school at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia; he graduated in 1994. So I asked him about Chris McCandless (Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer) (McCandless went to school at Emory).

This guy said that he was three years behind McCandless in school. After McCandless’ body was discovered in Alaska (1992), he was in an English class (in 1993?) with a professor that had taught McCandless a few years previous. The professor had the class study some of McCandless’ papers.

This guy told the professor and the class that he thought McCandless showed a lot of hubris or suburban hubris when he tried to live in the wilderness of Alaska; he thought that McCandless was not well-prepared to live on his own. The professor and the rest of the class reacted very negatively to this guy when he used the word “hubris.” This guy ended up getting a C- in the class.

Hubris: “n. [Gk., violence] Excessive pride: ARROGANCE.”
Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Book Review:  High Plains Drifter
Into the Wild (2007) (Tragedy, Epiphany and Closure)
Chris McCandless on 20/20 (1997)
The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless

Into The Wild Documentary – Return to the Wild


I just discovered a couple of days ago that someone is trying to sell my manuscript (High Plains Drifter: A Hitchhiking Journey Across America) on Ebay.

I got a ride from Lolo, Montana to Orofino, Idaho on U.S. 12—I rode in the back of a pickup. I walked to the library in Orofino and googled “Tim Shey hitchhiker” just for the heck of it. One of the results was “Hitchhiking America/ Hiker Rage”, so I clicked-on to it. I was surprised to see that someone was trying to sell my manuscript.

I thought it was pretty funny.

An American Pilgrim:  Some Reflections on High Plains Drifter
Into the Steel
The Life of a Hobo
Hitchhiking Stories from Digihitch
Stobe the Hobo

Into The Wild   1 comment

[14 June 2010]

Two days ago I finally finished reading Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild. I read the first five or six chapters at a bookstore in Driggs, Idaho; I finished reading it here at the public library in Dubois, Wyoming. I liked the book a lot. Even though, the death of Chris McCandless was a tragedy, I believe that the two years of his life before his death were redeeming. He experienced more in two years than most people experience in a lifetime. He lived “deliberately” as Henry David Thoreau would have said.

Krakauer writes extensively on his own life and experiences. Krakauer was trying to draw a parallel between his strained relationship with his dad and Chris McCandless’ difficult relationship with Walt McCandless. When McCandless found out about his dad’s other wife and children, it seemed like he had been living a lie–maybe McCandless felt he was illegitimate: it wounded him deeply. This deep wounding partly drove him into the wild, onto the edge, the fringes of society.

The main reason McCandless hitchhiked, rode freight trains and ended up in the wilderness of Alaska was to prove to himself that he could survive on his own. Krakauer writes of his own mountain climbing experiences; he was young and he wanted to prove to himself that he could climb the mountain and survive some near-death experiences.

At first glance, I thought, how does mountain climbing compare with hitchhiking? Isn’t it much more dangerous to climb mountains than to hitchhike? At second glance, people die climbing mountains and people die hitchhiking the highways of the world. Mountain climbers explore and hitchhikers explore: they explore new geographical territory and terrain and they explore their own limits in difficult environments.

McCandless was obviously a very well-read young man. I liked the quotes of various writers at the beginning of each chapter in Into The Wild. McCandless left a deep and lasting impression on many people in his travels. Ron Franz, the old guy McCandless met in southern California, was especially touched by his life. I don’t see any evidence that McCandless had a relationship with Jesus Christ, but he did believe in God.

When a man of ninety-five dies, people say that he lived a long life and that it was time for him to go. When a young man like McCandless dies at the age of twenty-four, we say it was a tragedy that he died so young. Tragedy is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, I would rather that McCandless had survived his ordeal in the Alaskan wilderness, but he lived more in twenty-four years than some people would live in two hundred years. People have and will learn from McCandless’ life and death. It is not how long you live your life, but it is the quality of the life you lived that is important.

People will be reading and writing about McCandless’ life for years to come. I saw the film Into The Wild for the first time last summer; the cinematography is beautiful—I liked the movie a lot. The hitchhiking scenes in the movie reminded me of my own hitchhiking experiences: the people you meet on the road, sleeping in the desert, the odd jobs you get to make a little money. I may have hitchhiked more miles than McCandless, but he rode more freight trains than I ever will.

I was hitchhiking through Belle Fourche, South Dakota a couple of years ago and this lady picked me up. She told me that she and her boyfriend picked up McCandless while he was hitchhiking through South Dakota back in 1992.

I believe the Lord wanted me to read Into The Wild for a reason. There are similarities and differences between my life and McCandless’ life. I did a lot of exploratory hitchhiking back in 1986 and 1987, but since 1996, my hitchhiking has been God’s will for my life—this is my work: obeying the Lord on the road.

Genesis 47: 9: “And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.”

Jacob’s pilgrimage ended when he was one hundred and forty-seven years old (Genesis 47: 28); Chris McCandless’ pilgrimage ended when he was twenty-four; I am still a pilgrim on this earth.

“When the Stranger says: ‘What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?’
What will you answer? ‘We all dwell together
To make money from each other’? or ‘This is a community’?
And the Stranger will depart and return to the desert.
O my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger,
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.”

–T.S. Eliot

Matthew 8: 20: “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”

Chris McCandless Revisited
A Critical Review of Into the Wild
Fairbanks Bus 142
Into the Wild (2007) (Tragedy, Epiphany and Closure)
Into the Ordinary
Into the Steel
Into the Foolishness of God
Chris McCandless on 20/20 (1997)

The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless
Krakauer + “Supertramp” + “Grizzly Man”
The Life of a Hobo
Stobe the Hobo

The First Time I Rode a Freight Train & other hitchhiking stories   6 comments

The First Time I Rode a Freight Train & other hitchhiking stories

By Tim Shey


The First Time I Rode a Freight Train & other hitchhiking stories
Hitchhiking Stories from Digihitch
Writings from the Road
Book Review:  The First Time I Rode a Freight Train & other hitchhiking stories
Stobe the Hobo


These are the titles of the 91 chapters in The First Time I Rode a Freight Train & other hitchhiking stories:

The First Time I Rode a Freight Train
A Conversation with a World War II U.S. Navy Frogman
A Hot Meal at a Campfire in Montana
A Providential Ride to Manhattan, Kansas
The Only Time Someone Pulled a Knife on Me
Sleeping at the Post Office in Bridgeport, California
My Backpack
Washing Dishes
A Christmas Story or Junked Cars Can Be Beautiful
Meeting a Former Editor from Warner Brothers or Things Happen for a Reason
A Conversation with a Vietnam Veteran
My First Time in Jail for Hitchhiking
On a Ranch Near Ennis, Montana
High Plains Drifter
A House or a Home?
Las Vegas Earthquake
A Fast Trip
A Dog Named Patton
Some Monks Hitchhike
San Miguel, California
Acts 2: 38
A Foot Soldier
A Hitchhiker in Bakersfield
A Speed Skating Coach, a Dream and a Former Drug Dealer
Stacking Hay in Ashton, Idaho
They Are Fighting People
Escape from Cuba
Sitting in Jail in Broadus, Montana
Abraham from Macedonia
A Hitchhiker, a Knife and a Piece of Paper
A Ride in Nebraska
Barack Obama and the Media
Sleeping on a Stack of Lumber in Columbus, Montana
Men Plan and God Laughs
Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight
Someone Gets a Free Gas Can
Goodbye, Las Vegas
The Strangest Thing I Ever Saw
At a Cafe in Merriman, Nebraska
The Things I Carry
A Week in the Life of a Hitchhiker
The Pacific Ocean
Picked You Up On The Road
Good Karma
Miguel the Chef
A Ride on the Reservation
It’s a Small World
Branding Calves and the California Outback
Greensburg, Kansas
Rock Springs, Wyoming to Barstow, California
Chris McCandless Revisited
A Hitchhiking Trip to Kansas
Western Kansas
Meeting a Hermit in Montana
Why is Hitchhiking Illegal in Wyoming?
Outside the Box
Smuggled Over Teton Pass
Reckless Faith
Some Days Are Slow and Some Days Are Fast
I Should Go To Dairy Queen More Often
North of Brookings
The Son of Man Hath Not Where to Lay His Head
Wyoming, Idaho and Montana
Victor, Idaho
Marty the Stonemason
Truth in the Inward Parts
A Bank Robbery
A Sleeping Bag in the Ditch
Eastern Wyoming
Egypt is Burning
A Walk in the Sun
The Helena Hobo
A Ransom For Many
A Peculiar Path
A Great Multitude Followed Him
The Spirit Driveth Him into the Wilderness
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Fixing Fence and the Emigrant Trail
The Sunrise This Morning Was Very Beautiful
Two Pleasant Surprises:  High Plains Drifter Revisited
Wyoming to Utah
The Computer, Jane Smiley and Iowa State University
Dubois, Wyoming
Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, USMC, 1984-2004