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James Stobie was the most famous train-hopping hobo on the internet. He rode the rails in a way that was reminiscent of a desperate man searching for work at every city he could find during the Great Depression. Except that Stobie, aka Stobe the Hobo, made YouTube videos about his experiences, hopping trains to move around the country for the pure fun of it.
Stobie died earlier this month while train-hopping, and though it’s unclear exactly what occurred, his fans on this Facebook memorial page are distraught at his death.
“He died doing what he loved, bringing the world his art of train filmmaking,” wrote a Facebook user named Jeffrey James Horvison on the memorial page. “Stobe was an artist. He played the piano for all his videos. His cinematography and film editing, his commentary and vocabulary, and his perspectives, were a true art form. I hope you get the time to enjoy all his videos and share them with your friends.”
There were several online theories about how Stobie could have died. The Secret Society of Internet Hobos site wrote about internet reports that Stobie, who might have been trapped on a bridge by an oncoming train, either fell off a bridge onto tracks below or that his backpack got tangled in a passing Amtrak train while he was on the bridge and that he was dragged to his death.
The Baltimore Police Department did not respond to a Daily Dot request for comment.
According to a redditor in the Vagabond subreddit, this unlisted video apparently was the last thing Stobie uploaded.
As another redditor wrote, “Trainhopping is a decidedly DANGEROUS undertaking. It’s a federal crime and you can do serious time if you are busted. This lifestyle WILL catch up to you. Trainhopping is NOT glamorous or romantic. The novelty wears off RAPIDLY. It is a life choice of HARDSHIP and DANGER and will KILL you – even if you are super intelligent and careful.”
But Stobe’s videos were always compelling to watch.
In the video below, for example, he gave viewers the layout of the train yard, his thoughts on the best place to hop a train departing from New Orleans, what provisions he needed to take with him (beer, cheap wine, and fried chicken), and why the train was moving so slowly for so long.
On Nov. 6, he posted this video as he traveled through Wyoming.
His YouTube following wasn’t huge—nearly 11,000 subscribers—and you wouldn’t necessarily think watching a guy ride slowly through the swamps of Louisiana or the windy plains of Wyoming would be captivating. But Stobie was entertaining in his exasperation and his nonstop quest to procure cheap beer. Mostly, Stobie wanted to be seen and heard.
“I have tried a lot of ways to get attention as an artist; this seems to be the only one that people notice,” Stobie told the Daily Dot in October 2016. “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.”
During his interview with the Daily Dot, Stobie acknowledged the dangers of his passion.
“Trying to get on or off at high speed, or [with] too much alcohol in my system,” he said. “A specific instance would be dismounting while fatigued and blitzed, wiping out and watching a wheel go two inches from my face.”
As his online obituary reads, “To some he will become a legend through his life’s work and to others he will be fondly remembered solely for his quirky yet lovable self as evidenced by his humor, fierce wit, compassion, dead-pan delivery, solicited and unsolicited commentary on just about anything, unbridled passion for unconventional living, mad piano skills, the enormous talent that he generously shared with all whose lives he intersected with, and countless other things. He will indeed be greatly missed by all who knew him while leaving an irreparable gaping hole in the hearts, minds, and souls of his family.”
According to reports, Stobie was 33.
Update 8:23am CT, Nov. 18: According to a Baltimore Police Department spokesperson, Stobie’s death is part of an open investigation and a police report about his death is not yet available.
Josh Katzowitz is a staff writer at the Daily Dot specializing in YouTube and boxing. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A longtime sports writer, he's covered the NFL for CBSSports.com and boxing for Forbes. His work has been noted twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series.