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Vollmann Hops Trains, Lives to Tell All

Author William T. Vollmann took a deep dive into the culture of "catching out."

Vollmann hopped freight trains around the United States, meeting hobos, tramps and prostitutes. He writes about his travels in Riding Toward Everywhere.

He says catching out has become much harder, as rail companies modernize. "The technology is changing, so there are fewer boxcars and more container cars," he says. "Everything is ridable to an expert, but . . . there are no experts."

Plus, Vollmann says, the hobo and migrant worker economy has gone dry. But for sheer sensory pleasure, almost nothing beats being on a train. He describes being on a freight train as something like "being in a kernel of popping pop corn." It's Vollmann's favorite way to travel.

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