Those who choose to live as transients face prejudice and risk death, but a group of self-proclaimed hobos embrace these hardships as they travel the country on one of its last free rides: the freight train. Robert Michael Glausier, who goes by his moniker, "Patchwork," has been a hobo for six years. At 26, he's traveled through 39 states and found his place among of thousands of fellow riders. At all times, Patchwork carries a notebook of 147 phone numbers — “family” — he can call for help or company throughout the country. Some run from troubled homes. Others from the monotony of 9-to-5 jobs and perceptions of limited opportunity. Patchwork rides for adventure, he says, and the self-reliance that comes with an untethered life.
Patchwork, left, and Cameron "Zero" Martinez, who Patchwork calls his "freshcut," or trainee, hide behind a fence near a Memphis, Tennessee train yard. They've camped here for two days, waiting for a train headed to California.
Zero, left, and Patchwork rest under a highway bridge in Memphis, Tennessee after walking eight miles to another yard, where they hope to "catch out." But the yard is heavily secured, they'll find, making an attempt too risky, so they'll spend the night in a lumbar yard, sheltered from the rain.
Patchwork peeks out from unter a train car to check for passing workers or cops.
A well lit yard in Memphis, Tennessee was impossible to catch out of.
Patchwork hoists his dog Eris onto a freight train in Memphis, Tennessee. He thought the “hotshot” train was their ticket to the west coast, but it took them back to Sheffield, Ala. where they had left just four days before. A hobos schedule must always be flexible, he says.
Patchwork and Zero, 20, find pizza in a Little Cesaer's dumpster. They live off of food stamps, panhandling, odd-jobs and trash, which they call "ground scores."
Patchwork sleeps beside his dog, Eris, while riding on a “suicide” freight car through Alabama. Hobos call these cars "suicides" because of the large holes that some hobos have fallen through, a guarantee of death or dismemberment.
Patchwork sits in his sleeping bag under a bush in a Memphis slum. Patchwork says hobo life teaches patience, as long waits are frequent.
Patchwork sits with his girlfriend, Byrdie, who he caught up with after reaching the west coast, and two other travelers on the bank of a lake outside Seattle, Wash. He moved into his friend’s apartment in Everett, about 30 miles north of Seattle, after months on the road.
Patchwork shops for groceries that he'll buy with food stamps in a store near his new apartment. He plans to attend a vocational school to become a welder.
A party at a house of other riders allows an opportunity for community, live music and shelter, something he often sacrifices during his travels.
Patchwork and Byrdie share a bed in their Everett apartment. They have no sheets, just the sleeping bags they've laid on ground across the country.
Patchwork grins after climbing onto a moving train in Sheffield, Ala. He has hitchhiked, walked and caught rides with friends, but he prefers to ride freight trains.
Patchwork walks past a set of train tracks in Memphis, Tennessee. In summer 2010, he plans to take the “high line,” a train route that stretches across the northern United States, from Washington State to Maryland.