Rolling Nowhere

Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes

From the book jacket: Hopping a freight in the St. Louis rail yards, Ted Conover embarks on his dream trip, traveling the rails with “the knights of the road.” Equipped with rummage store clothing, a bedroll, and his notebooks, Conover immerses himself in the peculiar culture of the hobo, where handshakes and intoductions are foreign, but where everyone knows where the Sally (Salvation Army) and the Willy (Goodwill) are. Along the way he encounters unexpected charity (a former cop goes out of his way to offer Conover a dollar) and

But above all, Conover gets to know the men and women who, for one reason or another, live this life. There’s Lonny, who accepts that there are some towns he can’t enter before dark because he’s black, and Pistol Pete, a cowboy who claims his son is a doctor and his daughter a ballerina, and Sheba Sheila Sheils, who’s built herself a house out of old tires. By turns resourceful and desperate, generous and mistrusting, independent and communal, philosophical and profoundly cynical, the tramps Conover meets show him a segment of humanity outside society, neither wholly romantic nor wholly tragic, and very much like the rest of us. Read more »

  • ‘Pops’ in Portola, California.

  • Dick rolls his own on a piggyback car.

  • Dick catches out.

  • Forrest at the jungle in Everett.

  • Sunday morning bath in Puget Sound.

  • Bill shows off the fish he cooked.

  • Forrest, Bill, and Ted in Everett, Washington, 1980.

  • Hobo float at National Hobo Convention, Britta, Iowa.

  • Another view of hobo float.

  • ‘Pops’ takes a snooze outside Portola, California.

  • Penn. Kid, Va. Slim, Portland Gray, and Lord Open Road at hobo convention.

  • Sheba Sheila Sheils in her house of tires.

  • Cooking fire in the house of tires, Bakersfield, California.

  • The Pennsylvania Kid.