Recently, I’ve been fascinated with the YouTube channel of Stobe the Hobo, an ordinary guy who slices off months of his life to train-hop his way across America. It’s interesting how parts of antiquity never totally disappear. Train-hopping used to be a lot more normal a century ago, but still, there’s nothing stopping someone from venturing out to a yard and jumping on a cart pointed in the general direction of where you want to end up.
Stobe proves that if you put up with the uncertainty and danger, riding the rails is still about as easy as it sounds. He’s been train-hopping off and on for about 11 years, and he frames his videos as an ongoing diary. There’s nothing particularly notable about his videos. He’s never gone viral—most of his videos get only a couple thousand views—and he doesn’t soundtrack his clips with twee indie folk like so many other urban adventurers. Instead, you just follow along and experience the beauty, boredom, and anxiety of, say, a Labor Day journey to Chicago.
We reached out to Jim Stobie, the man behind the channel, and learned how his process works, how long he expects to be train-hopping, and that time he almost got killed in northern Colorado.
Are you homeless or do you have a base somewhere?
I am not homeless and never have been. I have a few "crash pads" around the country I can use intermittently. I have also had plenty of off time during jobs and other commitments.
What made you want to start vlogging your experiences?
I have tried a lot of ways to get attention as an artist; this seems to be the only one that people notice. I am really disappointed with modern boring life in the U.S., and the fact that traveling basically requires a personal vehicle these days. I only make YouTube videos that are original content, and this is a way to do that with the total glut of material on YouTube these days
Where do you edit your videos? I imagine you carry a laptop, but how do you find the time to find Wi-Fi and commit the time to edit videos?
I don't keep a computer on me while out and about; it's way too much of a risk as I often leave my main pack in a bush somewhere. It is safe at one of the crash pads.
What's your favorite memory in your train-hopping experiences?
Staying at the Nugget Casino and Hotel in Sparks, Nevada, in mid-winter after riding over Donner Pass.
What was the most dangerous experience from train-hopping?
Trying to get on or off at high speed, or [with] too much alcohol in my system. A specific instance would be dismounting while fatigued and blitzed, wiping out and watching a wheel go two inches from my face. That was back in college in Fort Collins, Colorado.
How long do you see yourself train-hopping? Do you think you'll slow down as you get older?
It's always fun but is also a huge time commitment and is prohibited by most life situations that people enjoy like having a full-time job and being married. If the right situation existed, I would always like to go a few months a year and be occupied with a fulfilling job the rest of the time. It’s becoming less important over the years as I've done a good portion of the U.S. now. So ideally I would do it recreationally for life, but not ever as a permanent lifestyle.
Last but not least, why do you think people like watching your videos?
I think people enjoy these videos for several reasons. First of all, many many people are into trains, and find any videos about trains interesting. Second, these videos are fairly high quality with decent editing, and are this is the only channel that actively produces these videos currently. Additionally, anyone into travel and uniquely themed, up-to-date programming should appreciate these hopefully due to a hopefully wider appeal than just train fanatics.