Seven answers on 7Q (also known as the FAQs of life.)

Interviewed by Tom Mangan

Wes Modes, adventure traveler.

His homepage is here.
His trainhopping page (required reading for vicarious adventurers) is here.


Michael Fuchs
Elizabeth Hilts
Paul Riddell
Gary Rivlin
Jim Motavalli
Barbara Shafferman
Jules Siegel
Keith Snyder


Jon C. Allen
Will Baker
Mike Leung
Jon Sarkin


Mike Cash
Scott O'Neal Colf
Godfrey Daniels
Cliff Davis, DDS
Tammy Hocking
Wes Modes
Frank Rogan


Ralph Becker
Don Bruns
Linda DeVault
Mike Reed
Moira Richardson
Jessamyn West


Ben Kufrin
Dean Mermell


Mary Cooley-Jones
Lindsay Crysler
Jamie Dupree
David Moll
Robert Niles
John Orr
Steven Ovadia
Pierce Presley
Mack Reed
Rip Rense
Curtis Ross
Neal Ross
John Scalzi
Catherine Seipp
David Sheets
Dwight Silverman
Matt Welch


MaryAnn Johanson
Brian Koller


Debbie Farmer
Mike Jasper
Madeleine Begun Kane
Patrick Keller
Bob Sassone
Valerie Sprague
Ken Swarmer
Ian Wolff


Maj. Jon Anderson, USAF


John Warner


Chris Adamson
Mike Gunderloy
Michael Ivey
Greg Knauss
Floyd Maxwell
Ellen McDonough
Mike Pingleton
Wayne Thume
John Worth


Gary Baum
Marty Beckerman


Bev Gibbs
Beth Reid


Jason Kottke
Jish Mukerji


What's the closest you came to serious bodily harm while jumping trains?

Last summer I went to a hobo gathering in Dunsmuir. I'm not a safety nut, but I am always pretty conscious. I jumped off a train that I knew was going too fast because I was in a hurry.

I faceplanted directly into the gravel. I busted my glasses, hurt my leg, and opened up a cut on my head. It was just plain dumb, and on a positive side, quite humbling.


You mentioned the long hours with nothing to do while riding the train. How have you occupied your time on some of these jaunts?

Train hopping is the closest thing to meditation that I do. Train hopping is time out of time.

You wait and you wait and you think and you fidget and you wait some more. You sit in the weeds and the dirt and you read and you smoke a cigar. You pull the seed heads off of grasses and pick stickers out of your socks. You write for a while.

You watch the sun set. You put on more clothes. You watch the moon rise. You have one of those absolutely perfect moments and then it passes and you smile and wait some more.


What's the furthest you've traveled via boxcar?

By boxcar, from the San Francisco Bay area to Oregon in one boxcar trip.

By train (mostly on intermodal 48s) from California to Colorado. By hobo standards, I am a baby. My friends track back and forth across the country every summer.


I can imagine you've had your share of moments of divine strangeness that you had to hop trains to experience. Care to describe one of them?

I was eating sardines, I think.

Writing in my journal, curled up in a disorderly pile of railroad ties, waiting for a train. Though the sky was clear, the air was charged! There was a current of electricity on the wind!

Lightning started striking from wispy clouds in the distance. The wind picked up and dark gray clouds moved in. I wondered where I was going to ride comfortably if it was going to rain.

I covered up with a tarp just as the rain hammered down. Lightning struck the ground nearby and it was like the whole world got a flashbulb in the eye. The ground lurched up.

Moments later, a train pulled out of the yard with its headlight up bright. Through the driving rain, tarp trailing behind, afterimages still burned on the back of my brain, I ran right up to the train and collapsed in the cab of the back unit.


A casual observer might think train jumpers and urban explorers have a certain "rules don't apply to me" mindset. What's wrong with such a conclusion?

Of course, in any fringe group there are still rules, spoken and un-. There are a lot of social rules the old hobos still honor.

You always wait to be invited at another traveler's jungle fire. You never shake hands (I don't know if this is really true, but I've heard it). You share what you have.

But I don't know most of this hobo etiquette since I've traveled mostly alone.

There are some cardinal rules though that I never break: I never vandalize or mess with freight on the railroad. I am always respectful to rail workers (and bulls). Never break locks or cut fences. In general, don't do anything that will make life harder for other travelers.


From your resume, it appears you've done a lot of bouncing back and forth between Silicon Valley and Bloomington, Indiana. The appeal of living in California is obvious: great weather, scenery, culture, etc., but I wonder, what do you give up when you leave Indiana?

True love.

And warm nights at the drive-in.

But maybe these two are one in the same.


Share your favorite "this happened to me at a drive-in movie" story.

Ha! Drive-ins in California are a poor substitute for the drive-in experience I remember from Indiana.

Picture this: The sun is just setting and the sky is blue-orange. The kids are still out on the grass playing cartoon tag and nerf football.

The fireflies are beginning to come out, twinkling away at the edges of your vision. It's a warm night and there is a couch in the back of the pickup piled up with blankets and a six-pack.

There is a beautiful woman curled against you, laughing.

I was there.



Who they are, what they do, how they think. Go there now.


Everybody here, with quickie bios. Go there now.

Return to the main Seven Questions page

See the original Newsies 7Q project

Copyright 1999-2002, Thomas L. Mangan