A book with a photo of a train car about to go through a tunnel

Railroad Semantics #1: Eugene, Portland, Pocatello, and Back!

by Aaron Dactyl Author

Devoted to trainhopping and railroad culture, Aaron Dactyl's first Railroad Semantics zine describes the sights, sounds, successes, and defeats of riding around the U.S. inside of (and sometimes on top of!) freight trains. This first issue, re-published here in book form, explores a round-trip, early-spring train ride from Portland to Pocatello and back, as well as a long, winter ride to Eugene. Both informative and entertaining, issue one also features a wide array of articles on railroads and rail-related activity, letters, postcards, and is full of absolutely gorgeous photographs of landscapes and hobo graffiti--a poetic sense of adventure captured in words, pictures, and scenic vistas!

  • Railroad Semantics #1: Eugene, Portland, Pocatello, and Back! image #1
  • Railroad Semantics #1: Eugene, Portland, Pocatello, and Back! image #2

Comments & Reviews


it's easy reading, and I believe in finding a freight then hop it to it's destination

where ever it may be... going


I enjoy reading about trainhopping when the author describes the sights they see, the adventures they embark on, the people they meet, and so on. Ya know, a good tale of traveling freely as they wish. I don't particularly care for the junkies and alcoholics that frequent these stories, and I definitely don't understand trainhopping lingo (which is mostly technical railroad stuff and slang regarding it). This zine kind of balances all these things. It involves a short trip where the author goes out to Pocatello, Idaho, Eugene, Oregon, and Portland (and all points in-between of course). Idaho is just one of those places that I've driven through a couple times and never really stopped for anything. But something about the desolation and open expanse of the area make me sort of want to go exploring. So to read about the big open sky, the surrounding mountains, the little go-nowhere towns is pretty neat. Rounding out this zine is a bunch of train graffiti photos, newspaper clippings about trains (the workers, derailments, deaths, arrests, and a bit of history), and some hand-written letters to others.


My exposure to zines dealing with the culture of trainhopping is limited to... well, this zine right here. In Railroad Semantics, author Aaron Dactyl describes his short hops on freight lines in Washington State between "Eugene, Portland, Pocatello and Back" as the zine's subtitle states. In his despictions of these travels, Aaron writes as if he were talking to fellow hobos (my term, not his). He uses railroad terminology as if we, the readers, were also intimately familiar with the differences between a EEC and a DPU. This is less a detraction than the added weight of authenticity, and it makes the pictures he paints of the Pacific Northwest, and the isolation of solo train travel, no less appealing. Like the markings on railcars that train hoppers leave for each other, Aaron is simply sending a message to later travelers, warning them what to look out for by relating what he encountered in different yards.


This is a promising new booklet zine about train hopping and train culture. This first issue is dedicated to an early spring ride from Portland to Pocatello and back. The description of the characters, the landscape and trains Aaron meets on this trip make it seem like you are there. I have never jumped a train and at this point in my life doubt that I ever will, but this great little book (is it a book or a zine?) makes me feel like I was there.I also enjoyed the short story about Bill Wyoming a town of around five people with an 112 room hotel because of its position as an overnight for train crews. This book (I have now decided it is a short book, not a zine) also has a lot of great photos of the scenery of ride and a lot of great hobo art.