Still Riding the Rails

Letter From Nevada

The only interruption in 32 hours of driving was a five-hour respite in a no-star motel somewhere in western Nebraska. Physically exhausted and emotionally inebriated by the nearness of the destination, I marveled at the sight of a Union Pacific freight train, eastbound, in the evening's final thrust of amber sunlight. It steadily snaked its way through a lush, green valley in preparation for its ascent of the Pequop Summit. The events of the next few days would etch that image into my mind.

An hour later, the parking lot of the Stockmen's Hotel and Casino in downtown Elko, Nevada, became the site of happy reunions and long-awaited introductions. The National Hobo Association's Rendezvous 2000 had attracted an unusual assortment of souls, all afflicted with wanderlust. They came to celebrate the history and folklore of the American hobo.

While hoboes nowadays are about as common as bowling-alley pinsetters, there are still a handful of remaining practitioners. Several arrived in Elko from all parts of the country as ticketless passengers on a national rail system that comprises an ever-decreasing number of companies. Omar, a youngish "knight of the road" who leads a life devoted to social activism, had set out from a Burlington Northern yard near the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. He was almost embarrassed to admit that he had to complete die last leg of his trip by bus. Busted by high-tech railroad...

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