Crust Gets in Your Eyes

Forced into the light by a recent murder, a transient community starts talking.

By St. John Barned-Smith
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Jul. 25, 2007

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He says rape and unwarranted murder are the two most egregious sins in the hopping culture, and former hoppers and friends of Bradly--now clean and gainfully employed--put bounties on the heads of his alleged murderers.

"I hope that bitch [Ward] gets the chair," Marc says, "because if she don't--if she gets out--it'll still be going on. History doesn't fade away.

"There are people now that are really, really upset. It's all Tim's friends putting out money on these kids' heads. They might be settled down now, but they remember the squat life."

The lives of America's modern-day hobos are fraught with physical danger.

David Lustig, a correspondent for Trains magazine, says hoppers often get injured trying to jump into boxcars, losing arms or legs because they can't get out from underneath in time.

"Security is a very big issue," says Lustig.

Railroad police have no idea if riders are harmless train hoppers, naive teenagers looking for a shortcut through the yard or an organized gang intent on jacking expensive cargo from easily opened boxcars.

Lustig has little sympathy for the likes of Marc and Steve-O.

"Today's hobos are more interested in causing trouble," he says. "They're drifters who don't want to fit into society."

Marc says one of his friends died when the train he was trying to hop started moving, and the bag on his back swung his body underneath the car and beneath the wheels. He and Steve-O say they've seen friends lose limbs on rides that went bad. But that didn't stop them from hopping from one moving train to another a few days ago when they needed to switch directions.

Stunts like that are extreme even for them, says Marc. "It's good way to lose your fucking arms and legs, and maybe get split in half."

There are other hazards too, including "suicide cars" with open floors that are easy to fall through and foul engine exhaust (the reason for Steve-O's blue bandana, which he uses as a primitive gas mask). Hoppers sometimes develop lung ailments, and even heart problems, from the smoke and cinders that spew from train engines.

One of Steve-O and Marc's friends, after years of riding without even the most basic protection, developed eye problems from flying "rust dust," cinders, smoke and asbestos that might've contributed to the blood clot in his heart. Even worse are the "suicide tunnels"--tunnels so long they fill with smoke and dust, suffocating riders.

And then there's the spanging.

While Marc and Steve-O are being interviewed, a determined man in a blue-and-white athletic shirt approaches, telling them, "If you want to ride trains, hop on Jesus." For a while the two tolerate him, telling him about their own spirituality. Steve-O says he's a Buddhist, and Marc counters that Jesus depended on other people's goodwill to survive. The man eventually walks away.

These sorts of semi-intimate conversations aren't unusual for Steve-O and Marc. Men walk up to them and tell them how envious they are of their lifestyle, or complain about how they're saddled with a wife and kids.

Steve-O and Marc reckon that on a good day they might make $70. Other days they make nothing.And of course there's the crust, the grunge.

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Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. jp said... on Jul 18, 2008 at 11:20PM


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2. wraith said... on Aug 28, 2008 at 10:41AM

“do you have any picks of kids known as....lost,wraith,or horace?”

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3. sour pickles said... on Sep 25, 2008 at 08:23AM

“this is the worst article i have ever read. not only is it poorly written , and terribly researched, but it fails to take into account more than two individuals perspective on how they live and the subculture they claim to be a part of . to not include the viewpoints of numerous subjects, and allowing the journalist to make such obviously generic statements regarding an entire subculture and way of life, shows extreme lack of integrity .thanks for nothing, but a sensationalized piece of trash that only seeks to cash in on tragic events.”

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4. shannon said... on Nov 11, 2008 at 08:38PM

“hahahahaha blow job”

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5. me said... on Dec 1, 2008 at 02:58AM

“More than half of your glossary is totally or partially wrong. Don't add something you're not confident about just to give your readers a spiffy decoder ring in a cereal box. Most of the folks interviewed probably could have defined those terms instead of you guessing at them, incorrectly.”

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6. Otter said... on Dec 5, 2008 at 06:23PM

“>> FTRA Freight Train Riders of america >> Homebums Hobos' terms for not just squatters, but people who spend a long time in one place. the older ones sometimes call themselves "homeguards", such as in AZ. >> Spider/Kill shwill Backwashed dregs of ANY beer.”

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7. upthepups said... on Dec 21, 2008 at 07:07PM

“this is one of the worst articals i have read. i think ol' pickles summed it up pretty much. ”

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8. Nope. said... on Dec 22, 2008 at 02:24PM

“Let's just marginalize another group of people we don't know and consider ourselves worldly. It takes all kinds and reading this doesn't mean you know anything. I am particularly fond of the bit about facial tattoos. Also who doesn't call it a space bag? ”

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9. ?? said... on Jan 12, 2009 at 12:08PM

“RIP - Tim. Your killers pleaded Guilty. Tim was a Hockey Champion and a teammate of mine. My brother is also a crusty and hope he does not meet the same fate as Tim. ”

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10. jz said... on Jan 12, 2009 at 01:09PM

“anyone know where marc is”

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11. your worst nightmare said... on Jan 29, 2009 at 11:13PM

“UM..... WHAT? are you fucking serious? you have no idea what the fuck you are talking about and the fact that you would put it on the fucking internet on some bullshit site like this is fucking retarded. way to call everybody who does this for real out. Are you too much of a pussy to call this shit on the spot? You shouldn't write a check that your ass can't cash. bitch. Have you ever met a SF Scumfuck? what goddamn planet are you from? Where do you get your info? you need to check your shit.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Jul 31, 2010 at 11:40PM

“hahaha, humm, well, i guess their equal cuz tim was tryin to rape echo, her face blooded by him, whem conor woke up, so i think it was very fuckin justified. rapos have no fucking right to live, im not sorry if im to blunt because thats the truth. Conor is not a normally violent person, i should know, i lived in a bathroom with him for 15 months, he was my cellie up state. He is the contrary, very giving and forgiving so dont talk shit just cuz u can, nobodys doin shit cuz its all talk...”

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13. hoohah said... on Aug 18, 2015 at 03:36PM

“I'm thinking Sour Pickles may not have realized that the article was longer than just the first page. Click the 'next' button by all the numbers at the bottom and see if your opinion changes.”


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