Reporting Sandra McNeill
DETROIT (WWJ) – It’s a dangerous and illegal form of hitchhiking that became popular during the Great Depression. But the practice of hopping on a freight train for a free ride isn’t history.
When he jumps on board, Sterling Heights native, 29-year-old Kozmo, said he can see up to five groups of people — of all types and ages — doing the same.
“I’ve hopped alone; I’ve hopped with friends. I’ve hopped with way too many people in boxcars — and that’s fun,” Kozmo told WWJ Newsradio 950′s Sandra McNeil.
“The only time I ever see anyone who’s hopping a train is when I’m hopping a train, and then you could never guess,” Kozmo said. “The whole point is to be discrete. The whole point is to be a ninja.”
It’s an underground movement, complete with freight train schedules marked to show the best places and times to sneak on and off.
Train hoppers, Kozmo said, hide in the “little nooks and crannies” on the train cars.
And it’s not just about free travel, Kozmo said.
Sometimes it’s a beautiful adventure.
“Going through the Sierra Nevada, I’m literally going in and out of mountains, curling through high pines, and looking around … Giant expanses of nothing by desert, cow skeletons turned over, telephone lines. Like the only people who ever see that are the people who laid the tracks, the people who are driving the train, and/or train hoppers.
“Cars don’t go where trains go. Boats don’t go where trains go. You’re actually in nature, chugging along,” Kozmo said. “It’s not easy; it’s not romantic, in some ways. But, also, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done. So, I’ll take a little bit of discomfort to experience something like that.”
It can be risky, however.
Kozmo himself has lost three friends on the tracks.
“One kid pulled out his sleeping bag and it got sucked under. And he tried to pull it as it was getting sucked under, and he got sucked under,” Kozmo said, “One kid just rolled.”