Train-Hopping Scabs of Capitalism

by lizard

First-time filmmaker, Daniel Skaggs, will be showing Missoula a humanizing depiction of “modern train-hoppers” during this year’s Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. After last summer’s inundation of Rainbows, Drainbows and Gutter-Punk “Anarchists”, it’s going to be a tough sell.

The Missoula Indy’s review by Erika Fredrickson probably won’t help Skaggs humanize the subjects he followed joined across the country for over a year, and this is why:

Besides falling into the Maumee River, which happened toward the end of production, there were a couple other near disasters. In Portland, Ore., just two weeks into meeting and hanging out with Skrappe’s group of travelers, Skaggs got drunk and stole beer from a convenience store and brought it back to the train yard. The cops showed up to haul him off to jail and he found himself in a predicament: take his camera equipment to the jail where it might get lost, accidentally or otherwise, or leave it with his newfound companions? He decided on the latter. After being released six hours later, he nervously wandered through the city trying to track down Skrappe and the gang. He finally found them in the parking lot of a Fred Meyer.

“There were 10 train-riding kids sitting outside with their packs yelling at people and causing a ruckus,” Skaggs says. “And Skrappe, who is such a charismatic individual, comes running up [with] my pack. He was so proud that he had [kept it safe]. And we eventually formed a really strong bond.”

I wouldn’t call getting arrested for drunkenly stealing beer from a convenience store a disaster—I’d call it consequences for an asshole breaking the law.

Though I’ve personally had a few positive interactions with members of this counter-culture, the majority of my interactions have been with rude, entitled punks who have zero regard for the messes they leave behind, and I’m not just talking about trash.

There is a direct connection between the type of behavior Skaggs’ crew apparently exhibit in this film and the panhandling ordinances our city is going to get sued over. We will see what happens this coming Monday, when City Council tries to pass compromise ordinances. From what I’ve heard, there is a good chance the Montana ACLU will litigate anyway. That means taxpayer money will be spent defending ordinances crafted to curb the obnoxious but not criminal behavior of, primarily, the seasonal migrations of travelers Missoula experiences every year.

At the end of the interview, Skaggs says it’s hard to be the object of public disdain:

“It was difficult after a year of being in the trenches, living on the street with these people when I knew I didn’t really have to,” Skaggs says. “And there were a few times when I really didn’t want to do it anymore. I had come from graduating at the top of my class at the university, getting an award and operating my own farm, to putting myself out there on the street being judged every day by the populace.


Attitudes toward these traveling train-hoppers will probably get more negative as the economic engines of late-stage capitalism sputter and choke toward the inevitable cliff. My own animosity comes from watching their hypocritical dependence on local food banks, local ER’s and the generosity of people in the communities they travel through while too many of them get drunk and belligerent.

  1. JC

    You going to go and see it? I’d like to hear your take on the film if you do.

    • lizard19

      yeah, I’m going to try. maybe it will balance my bias a bit.

      • JC

        I haven’t previewed the film yet, but I don’t know that it needs to “balance” your bias. It might reaffirm it for all I know. I found it odd that the filmmaker would go and steal from a store. That wasn’t necessary to tell the story. And if one is going to embed oneself in a “documentary” it becomes more autobiographical than anything.

        Anyways, I’ll try and see it, maybe we’ll cross paths. With over 130 films and other events to pick from, it is a bit overwhelming to decide what to view.

  2. Hey lizard, someone shared this article on my website,, which has become kind of a social networking site for a lot of the people you’re talking about.

    Granted, it tends to be the ‘upper crust’ (haha) portion, ya know, people that can take care of themselves, have a few nice things (a laptop to get on the site) and whatnot… we don’t often have a lot of the more ‘oogle’ people your article refers to.

    The crappy part of your article for me is that I can’t really disagree with it. Over the past 15 years I’ve seen a severe decline in the quality of people traveling, and most specifically on the rails. It sucks since I remember a time when everyone I knew riding the rails did so because of their passion for it, and they would go place to place working seasonal jobs and just enjoying life.

    Unfortunately though, that lifestyle also attracts the people we all hate, that don’t give a damn about anyone else, besides themselves and where their next beer is coming from.

    It pisses me off to no end to see someone that’s perfectly capable of working using a ‘cardboard credit card’ to get fucked up every day and causing a nuisance when there’s actual people out there that need the money to survive. I’ve been one of those people at a few points in my life, so I kinda take this personally.

    It’s also ironic to hear those words coming out of my mouth, since they sound right-wing as hell, but politically I’m an anarchist. I just believe in providing alternatives to society instead of just saying ‘fuck everything’ and leeching off anyone and everyone indiscriminately.

    Anyways, sorry for the rant, but just wanted to let you know that not all of us are the kinds of losers you’re describing, and we dislike these people as much as the rest of society.

    • lizard19

      I appreciate the comment, Matt.

      I think some of my frustration comes from the part of me that would love to live that life for awhile. I’ve talked to some old school FTRA, and the stories I’ve heard gives the wanderlust I’ve put to pasture some serious spark.

      I also need to remind myself that addiction is addiction. that is partly why I responded so harshly to the anecdotal story of drunken beer theft told by the film maker.

      it’s so much easier to say fuck everything when you’re mired in the oblivion of addiction. helping to facilitate that—and actually being arrested for it—makes it really hard to give this documentary a fair shot.

      • I agree with you, all of the ‘old heads’ of the FTRA I’ve met have been pretty great people. They’ve taught me a lot, but have unfortunately gotten a bad rap by the media for things they really have had nothing to do with.

        Just as a rule of thumb, I never travel with anyone claiming to be FTRA if they’re under 40 years old. The younger people of that group have just taken the name and used it as an excuse to do whatever they want.

        Like you were saying though, i’ve always seen it as a ratio of 50% addicts, 40% crazy people, and 10% ‘travel kids’ (or just people wandering for adventure). Addiction is a crappy thing, seen it ruin a lot of good people.Also, I agree that the beer run by the director was pretty dumb.

  3. Scott Fields

    I’m not saying what the director did was right or wrong, but I believe it was an act to gain the trust of the group he was attempting to film. Actors and directors the world over immerse themselves in the roles they are trying to portray. There is no way a group of street kids would take to an outsider with a camera unless he gained their trust. Looking forward to see this doc.

    • lizard19

      you don’t have to say if what the “director” did was right or wrong, because the law does that. that’s why he was arrested.

    • JC

      “Actors” and documentary are mutually exclusive events, unless you are making a documentary about an actor.

      And the degree of involvement of filmmakers with their subjects always raises questions of authenticity of outcome. We’ll see how well the filmmaker manages to wend his way between autobiography and documentary.

  1. 1 On Freeload and Almost Getting My Ass Kicked in Downtown Missoula | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] writing about the Train-Hopping Scabs of Capitalism I felt obligated to actually watch what I was being preemptively critical […]

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