Memoir of a Trespasser

In 2009 a friend handed me the documentary, “Who Is Bozo Texino?”. As a boy I remember a fond love of trains. Like many American kids I had a wooden whistle, train set, even the striped engineer hat. Years passed and I began to notice doodles at railroad crossings. Who were these men? What drove them to draw on box cars? Where are they now? My mind envisioned classic hoboes, men who traveled across the United States riding the rails, sleeping under the stars. To me they were heroes, men of adventure and wonder, not tied down to one specific place in time, truly free.

I watched that documentary three times in a row, called in sick to work, and hit the tracks. Colossus of Roads, Texas Goth, Ed Haskel, John Easley, Rail Dog. I took picture after picture. I was eight years old again and the mystery was alive! Had I stopped there maybe things would be different, but I was hooked. I started to document monikers and soon had over 10,000 on my hard drive. Through pure luck, I stumbled across a breakman in Texas who introduced me to a guy named ———. From him I discovered a vast network of people like me, who wanted to document and preserve the folk art in danger of being lost to time and graffiti artist with no respect for tradition.

In 2010 I hopped my first freight train and started marking  boxcars with my moniker. By the end of the year I knew all the legends by name and had co-founded the Folklore Brotherhood. Digital Hobo was created in 2010 but for the first few months it was just a blog called “Railroad Earth”. The website was officially launched at the end of 2010 and for the next two years it would be the largest traditional box car site on the internet until I received a cease and desist letter from Union Pacific. 

In 2011 while catching a freight train out of Lufkin, Texas I was spotted by railroad police. They confiscated my gear and roughed me up but I managed to escape. A week later I was caught documenting box car art and banned from all Union Pacific property for “Suspicious Activity”. From there on I had to lay low because they threatened me with a federal offense if caught again. Of course that wasn’t enough to keep me away. I remained trackside just with a heightened since of caution. 

In 2014 I caught a freight train out of Texas into Mexico. I had my MacBook, iPhone, camera, and external hard drive with me to document the trip. All were stolen in Nuevo Laredo. I was stuck in a border town with no money, phone, or ID. Almost five years of documentary photography gone. It took the help of US Border Patrol agents and my friend Marco to get me out of Mexico. 

You’d think after losing all my work I’d learn to back shit up but it took a few more times over the years for that to sink in. I should have taken Bill Daniel’s advice back in 2011 when he told me to shoot film. When you lose a picture of Colossus of Roads taking a photograph with a disposable camera of YOUR moniker, trust me, it hurts.

Fast forward to 2022 and here I am. Still alive. Still shooting. Folklore Brotherhood is still around, Digital Hobo is back, and that bull from Texas still has a raging hard-on for me. As for Union Pacific, my new logo was cleared by legal but they made it perfectly clear I’m not welcome on their property. So goes the memoir of a trespasser.

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