Freight Train Riders of America

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The Freight Train Riders of America (FTRA) are an American gang of transients who move about by freight hopping ("Catching Out") in railroad cars, particularly in the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada and are linked to many violent crimes.[1]

History and background[edit]

The origins of the FTRA can be traced to a group of Vietnam veterans who founded the group in 1984 in a Montana bar.

[2] Members of the FTRA claim to be a loosely knit club of people that share a similar lifestyle, organized for mutual support. In 1998, the SPLC stated that there could be as many as 1,000 active members. Other experts state that the FTRA membership could range between 600 and 3,000. Canadian estimates are considerably harder to find.[3][4]

FTRA members are most frequently encountered along the BNSF Railway's Hi-Line,[1] which stretches from Chicago to Seattle, often sleeping in switching yards, bridge underpasses and boxcars along the route. While the "elite" of the FTRA ride the Hi-Line and are recognized by the color black worn in a bandanna, usually with a conch for a slide, the mid-line wears a blue bandanna and those who ride the Union Pacific "Sunset Route" from Southern California to El Paso fly either a red or desert camouflage-colored flag.

The term FTRA most commonly stands for Freight Train Riders of America but the term "F--K the Reagan Administration" was common amongst original members, many of whom were Vietnam vets, after Founder d boone spotted a freight car marked 'XTRA'.

In Canada, members use the tag FTRC (Freight Train Riders Of Canada) (F--k the Royal Crown). Legend has it that the FTRC was founded by a group of BCRail Workers & Martin "Metroman51/50" Vasil along with 3 FTRA Members NoID51/50, MaryJane51/50 & HiLine51/50 as the group's demographic began to include Canadian born travellers who wished to represent their heritage.

The "51/50" term is believed to designate members who have "3 flags" and is unique to the FTRC. The 3 flags consist of the traditional black bandanna, used because of its stealthy color and being the least sensitive color to stains from engine smoke, red for murderer and blue for recruiter.

In Canada the FTRC are considered a Terrorist organization.

Members of the FTRC ride between Vancouver and Quebec or into America on Canadian Pacific Railways, Canadian National Railways or BNSF.

Criminal accusations[edit]

Retired Spokane police officer Bob Grandinetti has specialized in investigating the FTRA both as a Spokane police officer and since his retirement. He has linked members of the group to food stamp fraud, illegal drug trafficking, and hundreds of thefts, as well as brutal assaults and murders committed against other transients, hobos, and freighthoppers.

The 1996 revenge shooting of 30 year-old Joseph "F-Trooper" Perrigo by fellow FTRA member Martin "Mississippi Bones" Moore. His murder stemmed from an altercation the year before regarding Bones' wife Misty Jane, in which Bones was stabbed and nearly killed. F-Trooper had an arm tattoo reading 'FTRA' lending credibility to several agencies' assertions of this organization's existence and exampling a certain degree of loyalty from its followers. Moore is serving a 25-year sentence for the murder.

A series of murders of transients along the rails committed by a serial murderer, Robert Joseph Silveria Jr. (a.k.a. "Sidetrack"), led to police and media attention on the FTRA, including a May 1996 murder which led to the organization being profiled on America's Most Wanted. Silveria claims to have not been a member of the FTRA, but former police officer Bill Palmini, in his book Murder on the Rails about the Silveria murders, says he was a member. Robert Silveria is currently serving a double life sentence in Oregon for the murders.

Michael Elijah Adams (a.k.a. "Dirty Mike"), 48, a native of Michigan who started hopping trains at age 14. He would go on to kill more than 16 fellow drifters, according to his reckoning [5] He is serving 15 years to life for the killing of train-rider John Owens in Placer County, California. He's also a suspect in murders in Texas and Washington state, among others. According to the Henrico County prosecutor's office, a plea deal for life without parole is all set, waiting for the governor's office in California to sign off on Adams spending the rest of his life in prison in Virginia. Adams has repeatedly claimed in interviews to having been apprenticed in how to commit serial murder via rail by suspected FTRA enforcer John "Dogman Tony" Boris; who has himself beaten the rap on at least one murder charge of his own.

Realistically, any distinction of FTRA or FTRC as an organization, or a count of its members, is a loose one at best due to the circumstances inherent to rail-riding, and to a transient lifestyle in general. This also speaks to the contradictory information regarding whether or not the FTRA or the FTRC are a well organized criminal group. Author Richard Grant writes that various FTRA members, including American founder daniel boone, insist the group was 'founded' on the basis of camaraderie between people sharing a similar lifestyle of adventure and not as a criminal organization.[6]

A 1991Spokane, WA train derailment in which an unidentified person was found to have severed the air-line to the rear cars' brakes. The suspect was killed in the act and his body was recovered wearing a black bandanna with the signature silver-ring conch. It has been speculated that this wreck and another one the same week were meant as deterrents against the rail companies' increased security measures.

The FTRA in popular culture[edit]

  • Authors Bill Palmini, Bob Grandinetti and science fiction writer Lucius Shepard have written about the FTRA, as well as William T. Vollmann, most notably in his book on freighthopping, Riding Toward Everywhere[7]
  • Members of the FTRA appear in issue #6 of the comic book Y: The Last Man, in the collection Cycles (ISBN 1-4012-0076-1) and Deluxe Book One (ISBN 1-4012-1921-7)
  • The FTRA is featured in the television drama Numb3rs in the first season on the episode Sabotage (ISBN 1-4157-2025-8)
  • The band Deadbolt references the FTRA in the lyrics of multiple songs on their 2001 train-themed album Hobo Babylon
  • The 1999 Stephen J Cannell novel The Devil's Workshop depicts the FTRA AND FTRC as a white-supremacist cult who seek to release a biological agent into a milk transport

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Valdemar, Richard (30 November 2007). "The Freight Train Riders of America - Where getting railroaded is even more ominous than it sounds.". Police Magazine. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  2. ^ Howard; Burke, T (Oct 1998), "Train Gangs Today: Another Threat to Law Enforcement", Law and Order, 46 (10): 117–120 
  3. ^ "Hobo Killings Probed", SPLC Intelligence Report (89), 1998 
  4. ^ Douglas, P (20 September 1998), "Trackside Terrorists", Florida Times Union, retrieved 7 July 2015 
  5. ^ Holberg, Mark (3 March 2016). "Admitted train-hopping serial killer is proud, looking forward to 'retirement' in Virginia prison". AOL. Retrieved 3 March 2016. 
  6. ^ Grant, Richard, Ghost Riders: Travels With American Nomads (London, 2003), p.271
  7. ^ Wilson, Scott Bryan "Riding Toward Everywhere by William T. Vollmann" Quarterly Conversation

External links[edit]