The poor condition of Arkansas prisons has long been a subject of controversy in the state. The national prison system as a whole, and particularly in the South, was substandard up to the 1960s. Repeated scandal, evidence of extensive violence and rape, and violation of human rights brought national attention to Arkansas, placing pressure on the state to reform its penal system. Through a series of reforms beginning in 1967, the Arkansas prison system greatly improved, although issues of overcrowding still plague the state today.
Calls for prison reform began in the late nineteenth century, especially with regard to the system of convict leasing, whereby prisoners were rented out to labor for private enterprises, often in horrible conditions. Governor George Donaghey, elected in 1908, oversaw the dismantling of the convict lease system in Arkansas. At a 1921 penitentiary board meeting, activist Laura Conners demanded that the head warden of the Tucker Prison Farm be removed and a prison superintendent be instated to regulate prison conditions. Her motion was denied, but she continued to fight for prison reform throughout her life. In 1941, the Arkansas House of Representatives formed a committee to investigate conditions in Arkansas. The committee reported that the prisons served nearly inedible food, provided insufficient clothing, tolerated corruption and gambling, and beat and tortured the prisoners. Despite these findings, no measures were taken to improve the Arkansas penal system at that time.
On January 16, 1967, newly elected governor Winthrop Rockefeller published a state police report on the prison system detailing events and conditions from August 19 to September 7, 1966. The investigation had taken place while Orval Faubus was still governor, but Faubus did not reveal the findings of the investigation. The report detailed the lack of food, the fourteen-hour work days, the violence, the rape, and the corruption within the prison. Some prisoners had been appointed as “trusties,” and they supervised the other prisoners. This system of convicts policing convicts contributed to the violence and corruption. The report also revealed the use of the “Tucker Telephone,” a torture device used to keep the prisoners in line.
During the police investigation, Tucker prison director Jim Bruton resigned from his position without warning. Although the police attempted to conceal from Bruton their true reason for investigating the prison, he fled during the first night of the investigation and never returned. Superintendent O. E. Bishop assumed control of the prison. In 1969, the federal government accused Bruton of nineteen counts of violating inmate rights and of torture. Of the nineteen counts, the federal government dropped ten, and the jury acquitted Burton of eight more. The remaining count resulted in a fine of $1,000 and a one-year prison sentence, which was suspended.
Gov. Rockefeller’s choice to publish the police’s findings initiated further investigation into the Arkansas prison system, led by the newly appointed superintendent, Thomas Murton. The continued investigation revealed the unsanitary conditions in the prison, particularly in the kitchen and dining room. The prisoners were underweight and overworked, and a disproportionate number died from diseases that they previously had no record of having.
In January 1968, Murton discovered three skeletons buried on the Cummins penitentiary property. His and many others’ immediate suspicion was that these were the bodies of abused and murdered Cummins inmates. Investigators worked to determine the identity of the skeletons, and while no credible information surfaced, it later appeared to be the case that the site constituted a pauper’s grave for deceased inmates not claimed by families.
Murton had an open communication policy with the media and faced the repercussions when he was fired by the Rockefeller administration for providing details of his findings to the public before formally reporting them to the state. Before he left his position, he found approximately 200 more skeletons buried in the Cummins graveyard, most of which could not be identified. Although Murton was fired after only eleven months of service, he made significant improvements at Tucker and Cummins. He stopped the use of the Tucker Telephone, improved sanitary conditions, and reduced rape and violence. In 1969, Murton published a book detailing his experiences with Arkansas prisons titled, Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal. The film Brubaker, based loosely on Murton’s book, was released in 1980.
Murton’s discovery of “Bodiesburg,” as it came to be known, embarrassed the state and undercut the support for extensive reform movements that had been set in place. Before Murton’s discovery, the Rockefeller administration had made great progress toward prison reform, and Act 50 of the 1968 Arkansas General Assembly special session had the potential to improve Arkansas’s penal system significantly. However, with Murton’s discovery in the forefront of people’s minds in the state and the nation, support for reform floundered, and the Arkansas General Assembly failed to fund the reform plan.
Another outspoken prison reform supporter was Arkansas commissioner of corrections Robert Sarver. A group of inmates, including Lawrence J. Holt, filed a suit in the federal courts (Holt v. Sarver) regarding Arkansas’s prison conditions, with Sarver named as the respondent—despite Sarver’s actions on behalf of prison reform. On February 18, 1970, Federal Judge J. Smith Henley declared, in the case of Holt v. Sarver II, that the entire Arkansas prison system was unconstitutional, and he required Arkansas to undertake the task of prison reform. He banned the use of convicts as security officials or “trusties,” as well as the use of violence to subdue or control inmates. Furthermore, he banned the tolerance of contraband, gambling, and other forms of corruption.
After Henley’s decision, Arkansas made some attempts at reform, but none met Henley’s expectations. One of the most important changes occurred on July 1, 1970, when Arkansas replaced convict personnel with free-world personnel. Despite improvements, however, Arkansas prisons remained places of violence and corruption.
On June 1, 1971, the new commissioner, Terrel Don Hutto, assumed control over the Arkansas prison system. During his time as commissioner, he further expanded the personnel and security, as well as bettered conditions for inmates through improved education and work-release programs, bedding, and medical facilities. He also banned possession of guns by all inmates. Hutto created separate maximum security centers and rehabilitation centers, as well as units for the elderly and minor inmates.
In August 1981, the Eighth District Court conducted a hearing on conditions in Arkansas prisons in order to determine constitutionality. During the hearing, both inmates and prison officials testified as to the state of the prisons. The inmates asserted that, despite improvements, violence was still prevalent, and living conditions were unconstitutional. In return, the prison officials discussed the improved medical facilities and claimed that they had no knowledge of gang rape, violence, intimidation, or threats occurring within the prison.
After hearing all testimony, Judge Thomas Eisele ruled that the case against the Arkansas prison system would be dismissed in one year if officials continued plans for improvement. Eisele acknowledged that many problems remained in the prisons, but he felt that none warranted court oversight. The case was dismissed on August 20, 1982.
Arkansas prisons had improved since the late 1960s when Rockefeller publicized the prison report. However, serious problems still existed. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, what came to be known as the Arkansas prison blood scandal drew both national and international press to the Cummins Unit. An investigation in 1993 revealed that prison officials at the Cummins Unit had knowingly been collecting HIV-infected blood from prisoners and selling it around the world. In 1994, Arkansas became the last state to stop selling blood taken from prisoners. Despite the troubles, it was during these years that the Arkansas Department of Correction began working toward accreditation from the American Correctional Association, thereby standardizing the state’s prison system.
Overcrowding became an issue for Arkansas prisons as early as the 1970s but became a dramatic problem by the 1990s. During the 1980s, the national mood shifted and there was a strong demand for stricter, harsher punishment for criminals. The result of this shift was an increase in the number of prisoners nationwide. By 2011, more than 16,000 people were held in Arkansas prisons, with the number expected to increase rapidly. Approximately ten percent of the state’s budget was devoted to the upkeep of the prison system. Under such conditions, it was difficult for the state to maintain the reforms of the previous years.
In 2010, Governor Mike Beebe designated a committee, the Arkansas Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections, to investigate the prison system once again, this time with a focus on reducing overcrowding. In response to the investigation, Beebe and state senator Jim Luker worked to pass a prison reform bill through the Arkansas House of Representatives. The bill provided for lesser sentencing for nonviolent crimes, increased the number of inmates eligible for early parole, and expanded the parole system. These measures were intended to primarily keep only violent offenders in prison for extended periods of time, thereby reducing overcrowding.
The reforms proposed by Luker and Beebe’s bill had been suggested before, but many Arkansans, including the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association, felt that the bill was too lenient on criminals. In response to concerns over the practicality of the bill, Beebe and Luker implemented revisions designed to ease prosecutors’ concerns. Such revisions included improvements to the parole system, which would allow better monitoring of the released criminals, as well as more extensive treatment methods, particularly for those convicted of drug-related crimes. In light of the revisions, the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association, on March 4, 2011, publicly announced its support of the bill. On March 9, the Arkansas Senate passed the reform bill, followed on March 16, 2011, by the House of Representatives. Beebe gave his final approval on March 22, 2011, signing the bill into law. Without the bill, Arkansas projected spending more than one billion dollars on its prison system over the next ten years and having a prison population growth of forty-three percent. Instead, by reducing overcrowding, it is hoped that the bill will allow the state to provide humane conditions for prisoners while still saving the state an estimated $875 million over the next ten years.
The Arkansas prison system has undergone perpetual reform since the late 1960s. While concerns still exist regarding the numbers and treatment of prisoners, the Arkansas penal system has greatly improved. The prison reform movement was largely due to Gov. Rockefeller’s intervention, which began a string of investigations revealing Arkansas’s desperate need for improvements in its antiquated penal system.
For additional information:
Crosley, Clyde. Unfolding Misconceptions: The Arkansas State Penitentiary, 1836–1986. Arlington, TX: Liberal Arts Press, 1986.
Murton, Thomas O., and Joe Hyams. Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal. New York: Grove Press, 1969.
Urwin, Cathy K. Agenda for Reform: Winthrop Rockefeller as Governor of Arkansas, 1967–1971. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.
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The “Tucker Telephone” was a torture device invented in Arkansas and regularly used at the Tucker State Prison Farm (now the Tucker Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction) in Jefferson County. It was likely used on inmates until the 1970s.
The Tucker Telephone consisted of an old-fashioned crank telephone wired in sequence with two batteries. Electrodes coming from it were attached to a prisoner’s big toe and genitals. The electrical components of the phone were modified so that cranking the telephone sent an electric shock through the prisoner’s body. The device was reputedly constructed in the 1960s by, depending upon the source, a former trusty in the prison, a prison superintendent, or an inmate doctor; it was administered as a form of punishment, usually in the prison hospital. In prison parlance, a “long-distance call” was a series of electric shocks in a row.
The name Tucker Prison evoked scenes of sadism and brutality prior to the prison reform initiatives put forward by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. According to a February 20, 1967, Newsweek report, inmates were punished with beatings, whippings, torture with pliers, and needles put under their fingernails, in addition to the use of the Tucker Telephone. Much of the abuse was carried out by guards and the prison trusties who reported to them. The 1980 movie Brubaker, loosely inspired by events within the Arkansas prison system, depicts an inmate named Abraham being tortured with the Tucker Telephone.
Devices similar to the Tucker Telephone have been employed up to the present day. A Tucker Telephone was allegedly used in a Chicago violent crime unit managed by Lieutenant Jon Burge to torture suspects during the 1980s. During the Vietnam War, some American GIs reportedly converted their field phones into torture devices, and something like the Tucker Telephone was used by American interrogators to torture Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.
For additional information:
“Arkansas: Down on the Farm.” Newsweek, February 9, 1968, pp. 39–40.
Crosley, Clyde. Unfolding Misconceptions: The Arkansas State Penitentiary, 1836–1986. Arlington, TX: Liberal Arts Press, 1986.
“Hell in Arkansas.” Time, February 9, 1968, p. 74. Online at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,844402,00.html (accessed March 26, 2007).
Murton, Tom, and Joe Hyams. Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal. New York: Grove Press, 1969.
Released in 1980, Brubaker is loosely based on the 1969 nonfiction book Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal by Joe Hyams and Thomas O. Murton. Murton was hired as a prison warden in the late 1960s to modernize two prison farms: the Tucker State Prison Farm and the Cummins State Prison Farm. The controversial book and movie brought national attention to issues such as prisoner abuse, inhumane conditions in prisons, and the need for modernization.
The movie follows Henry Brubaker, a new warden who has been hired to modernize and reform Wakefield Prison. Brubaker pretends to be a prisoner and mixes with the general population until he discovers widespread corruption and reveals himself in disgust. Though faced with resistance from every direction, Brubaker goes on to uncover a prison saturated with abuse, including local businesses that use prisoners as slave labor and then use shoddy materials in the prison itself, resulting in the collapse of a roof. He also uncovers unsanitary conditions in the kitchen, including food tainted with weevils and vermin, and he discovers that prisoners are being forced to consume inferior food products because the prisoners’ food was sold on the black market. Brubaker’s investigations culminate in the discovery of a mass of unmarked graves which he believes belong to inmates who had been reported as escapees. This discovery creates a political scandal, and Brubaker is asked to take part in a cover-up. Authorities claim that the graves are part of a potter’s field, though this cemetery is more than a mile away. Brubaker refuses to take part in the cover-up and is forced to resign, only months after being hired.
The film was directed by Stuart Rosenberg. It starred Robert Redford as Brubaker, Yaphet Kotto as Dickie Coombes, a trustee (a prisoner serving a life sentence who has earned a certain amount of authority by being trustworthy), and Morgan Freeman as Walter, a death-row inmate whom Brubaker tries to help. The script was written by W. D. Richter and Arthur A. Ross.
Brubaker was released to wide acclaim and brought national attention to alleged abuse in Arkansas prisons. The movie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay and won a Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing.
Among other differences, in real life, the unmarked graves Murton referred to in his book were later proved to be part of a prison graveyard containing the bodies of prisoners no one had claimed.
For additional information:
“Brubaker.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080474/ (accessed February 5, 2007).-The truth about trainhopping is that it is exceedingly uncomfortable. The NOISE can be almost unbearable. Just like in the Marine Corps, I carry EAR PROTECTION all the time. Those little military ear plug containers that you attach to your helmet or field jacket are an excellent idea for trainhopping too. So are the type of ear plugs that have a long plastic string attached between them.
The vibration, roll, and pitch inside the car can be very disturbing. It's like being rattled and shaken 24-7. If the springs or wheels on your car are damaged, it can be excruciating. A "flat wheel" will bang-bang-bang-bang you all the way to whereever you are going.
Boxcars, while they provide good protection from the elements and good concealment from the bulls and "citizens", are restrictive, in that you cannot easily move about from car-to-car, as you can on container well cars or flatcars. Of course, they are great if you have a group of people travelling together, and you can walk around easily inside the boxcar. I have seen (but never done it) people move from car-to-car on container well cars, by holding on to the top edge of a container and inching along the gunnel of a TTX 48. One slip and you're a dead man, however. I have walked the tops of boxcars, back in the 70's, with the train rolling fairly slowly. Back in those days, there were ladders that "went to the decks" and you could either jump from boxcar-to-boxcar (I did this, too---insanity of youth is my plea) or climb down the ladder, cross over the coupler by holding on to a ladder on one side until you could reach the other, and then climb up the ladder on the other car. Small wonder that the railroads eliminated ladders on boxcars. All I can say in my defense is that I would NEVER do anything like this today, but when I was 20, I was a reckless idiot.
Time in transit is extremely boring. It's exciting the first few times, but once you've gotten over the adrenaline rush of hopping a train, it's basically a very noisy, uncomfortable, DIRTY and smokey, free ride from one industrial slum to another. Boxcars are so noisy that you cannot easily converse, so even if you have a traveling companion, it's fairly isolating. Learning American Sign Language would be good. We used to pantomime conversations, but it's limited and after a while there's not much to say. We watched a lot of rural scenery go by. No doubt, riding trains you get to see a part of America very few people ever lay eyes upon. There are few, if any, stores or places to obtain supplies. I felt very fortunate if I could find a water faucet. Water can be hard to obtain. Because of this, train crewmen often throw bottled water to tramps and hobos on foot, especially in the West.
There are numerous stories and photographs documenting tramp life and trainhopping on the net. There are also some well-known "internet hobos" who have made a point of popularizing their exploits on the net, and are relatively famous. The National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa, is held the (edit: 8/25/04--policy changed) SECOND weekend in August--contact the National Hobo Museum in Britt 641-843-9104.
Coming up this month is the Amory Railroad Days celebration in Amory, Mississippi. I am going to try to attend this year. April 9-13.
Britt is the "most important" hobo gathering, but the biggest was generally considered to be the Pennsburg, PA gathering in September. Pennsburg was the event sponsored by the 2003 "king of the hobos" (LOL) a very big guy named Redbird Express, and his buddy Keystone Bob.
For the most part, trainhoppers do what they do without benefit of internet publicity, fellowship around the fire, folk music and the rest of the entertainment associated with hobo gatherings. Most tramps are loners and could not care less about people like the National Hobo Gospel Singers (very nice ladies, by the way, with beautiful voices) or the dedicated citizens of Britt, Iowa, who maintain the National Hobo Cemetary. Tramps who die on the road or are killed in accidents, or who simply ask to be buried at Britt, are usually cremated and their ashes are brought to Britt by their friends and buried under a hand-made poured concrete grave marker made by hobos attending the Convention. There are about thirty or so tramps buried there. There are a few who lie under U.S. Government military headstones, or commercially made marble stones, but most are marked by headstones made by their family and friends, poured "hobo style," with a railroad spike embedded in the concrete and their names and dates carved out of the wet concrete.
Tramp life, as one might imagine, is certainly not glamorous. I have eaten day-old doughnuts scavenged from a dumpster many times, and stews made from food "dumpster-dived" from behind super markets and fast-food restaurants many times. I hate to admit it, but there is something humiliating and embarrassing about eating (perfectly good) food from a dumpster, even when you know you are doing it to prove to yourself you could survive in an urban environment. Ingrained habit is very hard to break, but I have eaten Kentucky Fried Chicken still warm from the infared lights and although it tasted good, and I was glad to have it, I still felt bad. Hobo life is very hard on one's self esteem. True tramps are extremely versatile. They can switch from scrounging to working to panhandling without making so much as a ripple. They think of themselves somewhat the same way that society thinks of coyotes. They are annoying scroungers, but I must admire their survivability. Scroungy, but extremely adaptable.
Most hobos have a set of well-worn gear--a pack, a bindle, a sleeping bag. Some of their gear is often home-made, or made from scavenged articles. Many tramps spend time sewing or wood carving, activities of this nature, just to occupy their time. It's not a life filled with luxuries or entertainment. Owning a battery-powered radio or some sort of musical instrument is considered to be pretty upscale. Often times, anything salable or pawn-able has long since been pawned.
On the upper end of the hobo economic scale are people with a profession that permits them to work for a while, and then travel (nurses, etc.) on the lower end, people who drink every dime they get and live by "flying a sign." Most true tramps fall somewhere in the middle--they follow the harvest, or construction trades, or work sporadically, and then resort to tramp life to stretch their available resources (apartments and cars are expensive to maintain.) There are some female tramps, but not many. Society looks at them and sees "life's losers", but from their point of view, they are free to do as they please. The hobo life is a choice. And not a choice many of us in the "straight" world would care to make.
There is a good book about this by a writer named Ted Conover, called "Rolling Nowhere." It's over twenty years old, but it is not an inaccurrate portrait of tramp life, although I must say that Mr. Conover paints a very bleak picture--not surprising, since he was a priveleged college kid when he experienced it and wrote the book. There are better accounts available from sites like Fran DeLorenzo's "Hobo Grapevine."
A lot of information about trainhopping can really only be obtained by experience, but the basics are good to know. Most traffic in the U.S. is east-west, but there are several \north-south routes that allow one to catch a "good ride." One of the main n-s routes is the Kansas City Southern route between New Orleans and Chicago. Another is the Norfolk Southern route between New Orleans and Roanoke, VA, then on north to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. these hops between these major cities usually are very hazardous (anytime you enter a large city on a freight train, you are at a pretty big risk, especially in the large urban ghetto areas.)
The Union Pacific's Sunset Route runs between New Orleans and Los Angeles. This used to be Southern Pacific, until UP bought out SP. The SP was known all over America as a "tramp friendly" railroad, almost as tramp friendly as the old Burlington Northern and before that, the Great Northern. When Burlington Northern combined with the Santa Fe (a notorious tramp-hating railroad) it ruined the good ride on the BN. The new BNSF combined the Special Agents of the two railroads into one railroad police department, and now the BNSF is known to be pretty hard-hearted towards transients and "trespassers." When I rode the BN in 1970, we jungled up in the BN yards, sometimes right near the station house. It was not uncommon to see tramps boiling up coffee on a fire built ten feet from the tracks right in the railroad yard. This would never be tolerated today, on any railroad.
The Burlington Northern "Hi-Line" is the northernmost route that runs between Portland, OR and Chicago, ILL (some people say it runs a little farther east.) It goes through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. Back in the day, this was the most tramp-friendly route in America. Today, due to misbehavior by thugs (some say because of the FTRA) it is one of the hottest routes. If you get caught on a train in Montana, today, you will get 90 days. Back in 1970, the usual sentence was a scolding and a ride to the edge of town.
There is a tendency for people to fall into that "Old Corps" attitude. ("Oh, yeah, back in the Old Corps everybody could hit targets out to 800 yards with iron sights, we marched fifty miles a day with full marching packs---these modern Marines are all a bunch of wimps.") This attitude is that "way back when" there was no crime on the rails, that the cops all gave tramps a wink and a nod and so on. Not true, of course. Riding trains is a little bit more dangerous now than "back in the day", but mainly because the trains run faster and there is less money being spent on track maintenance.
People used to be beaten by the railroad special agents. They don't do that anymore. People used to "ride the deck" (the tops of boxcars) and they don't do that any more, either. Things change. One needs more knowledge to successfully ride freights than one did thirty years ago. But it is still possible.
Not every railroad yard has a "bull." He may only visit the yard once in a while. Some rail yards, that have a theft problem, may have a whole raft of Special Agents. Englewood Yards, in Houston, has what looks like a SWAT team patrolling their yard. In other yards, it may be a week, or more, between visits by the SA's, either because there's no "high priority" cargo (like container stack trains or bulk chemical shipments, or military cargo) or because there is very little theft or vandalism.
The guy that taught me to hop used to say "Leave no trace, Do no harm, Make no disturbance." He believed in "low-lining," which basically means sneak in, ride the train, sneak out, and don't let anybody see you, hear you or smell you.
"Good tramps" or "good hobos" understand that any sort of misbehavior at all brings trouble. The idea is to avoid trouble. Completely.
Okay, guys, let's not freak out here. I ride freight trains frequently. Yes, the FTRA exists. It's more or less like the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. One-on-one, they are okay guys. If you are with a group, and they are drinking, time to leave.
Yes, hopping freight trains is hazardous. Old timers (like me) do not jump a moving train unless there is no choice. A train moving faster than "walking speed" is going too fast to hop. It's possible to hop a faster train, but unless I was being pursued by a pack of ravenous wolves, I wouldn't do it. Too dangerous. Basically, for you to be able to catch out, you must be able to run as fast as the train is rolling. Every second you delay, it is picking up speed. But it may just roll up and stop dead still a couple of hundred yards down the track. This is why KNOWLEDGE of what is going on is VERY VALUABLE.
There's a great book about hopping that will save me a lot of typing. Buy Duffy Littlejohn's book "Hopping Freight Trains in America." You can get it for $18.80 from Zephyr Rhoades Press, P.O. Box 1999, Silver City, New Mexico 88062-1999, or contact Littlejohn directly at dlittlejohnZRP@zianet.com (505)534-1888 or FAX (505)534-2888. He is a very experienced trainhopper who is also an attorney.
You can obtain an excellent, but expensive ($76), atlas of railroad maps called the "Professional Railroad Atlas of North America" from Desk Map Systems, Inc., 3636 Executive Center Dr., Suite 150, Austin, Texas 78731. There is a less expensive 1st Edition ($25), but it is less detailed. Still not bad.
With the knowledge contained in these two books, you could successfully hop trains and go, say, coast-to-coast. It is very time-consuming, as well as extremely noisy (wear ear plugs) and dirty, but there are few thrills like it.
It would be a good escape-and-evasion skill, but only if there was no major national crisis. Right now, for instance, "the heat is on."
Because there are few alternatives to the major routes, when the Forces of Authority wish to choke trainhoppers off the trains, they set up checkpoints in major yards and at important rural junctions. They use infared heat-sensing devices that can detect riders inside boxcars or gondolas. The reality is, of course, that trainhoppers ride 24-7, and railroad cops cannot work around-the-clock. It's too expensive. Hoppers get through, despite all the drama, searchlights and WWII border-crossing nonsense.
Hopping freight trains is illegal. You could be charged with trespassing, or "theft of transportation" (in a few states), or if the special agents really had it in for you, "interfereing with railroad operations," which is actually a felony. This one won't stick in Court unless you are messing around with railroad equipment like switches or signals. LEAVE THE RAILROAD'S PROPERTY ALONE. If you damage something, it will cause the railroad to sic the special agents onto that subdivision for several days or weeks. Don't be stupid.
The guy that taught me how to hop had a lot of rules. I adopted them all wholesale. Most of them are in Duffy Littlejohn's book, because they are simply common-sense behavior that any intelligent person could figure out.
I can give a little comment. My brother is a train nut. He will drive ten miles to watcha freight train go by. He has spent most of his free time figuring out train schedules and routes. Once you figure out the train lines in your area and when they go by you could theoretically hop them with some success. Freight trains around me don't go faster than 45 most of the time, but even that is too fast to hop. You really must catch a train right when it is stopped at a siding, or when it is barely crawling out of a yard or nearing an extremely sharp turn where itmust slow drastically. remember too, if you make one slip up while trying to hop onto a moving train you could easily loose a limb. Steel wheels on steel rails with 50 tons of weight on them will act just like a shears. My great uncle lost a half of his foot that way. He was a conductor though.
There are then two ways to hop a train.
1) climb on while the train is moving and hide on the deck at the ends of cars, or in an open box car. This is dangerous because if the crew spots you they will chase you off or call the cops. You could also be maimed or killed while hopping on.
2) climb aboard a stopped train. This has a few advantages. You can pick and choose the best car to hide in. You can locate other spots to hide (I've heard hobos would actually hide under the cars in the framework!). You also don't have the risk of injury as much, but you are far more likely to get spotted. When a train is stopped in the yard a crew might be coming or going, or it might be getitng serviced so there are a lot of people around it. WHile it is stopped at a switch the switchman might be coming or going towards the switch so he could spot you.
Train crews in most places are not allowed to drive longer than a certain time. if their is only one crew on the train it might have to stop in the middle of nowhere and change crews. This happens regularly on routes that require it, so you could find one of these stopping points and hop on there, but the crewmen might spot you if their attention isn't focoused on operating the train.
Hiding on top of cars is a bad idea unless it is a flatcar or something. You are easily spotted, and vulnerable to low clearance obstacles. Also, loads of things like logs or scrap metal can shift in cars so hiding amongst a cargo like that on a flatcar could get you killed. Boxcars with the doors unlocked are good cars to travel in. Big hopper and ore cars have this triangular pocket in gront and back that is big enough for a man to crouch in. It will offer you some concealment, and you might be out of some of the wind, but it's not really that great. Hiding in bulk cars with walls and no doors, like grain hoppers, is a good way to get killed. Every year some little kids climb into a hopper car somewhere and freeze to death or die of dehydration because they can't climb out the slick metal sides and nobody otices them. Also, would you l,ike to get 30 tons of iron ore or woodchips dumped ontop of you while you sleep? no, hten stay out of hopper cars. Tank cars might be OK, but they are usually full of nasty stuff and residue on the outside of the car might do you some harm. I'd stick with hiding in front or back of a bulk car, or inside an unlocked boxcar if I were ever to consider it, but it is highly illegal. A lot ofhobos did this in the depression because if they got thrown in jail for a few nights they had a bed ect....but now you'd probably just get smacked with an absurd fine and a black tick on the criminal record.