Our friend Jeff Seal spends most of his time putting together offbeat comedy performances, short films, and variety shows, which he sometimes hosts at Williamsburg's Dead Herring. (There's another one coming up August 13th.) But there's another side to Jeff Seal: that of the atavistic train hopper who spends his vacation time riding the rails to points unknown. We recently talked with Seal, who just returned from a rail jaunt, about how one goes about train hopping in 2011, and why.

So how long were you on the road for? Or on the tracks? It was just for 4 days and 3 nights, so it was actually pretty short.

How did you get into this sort of thing? Well, I've done it a few times before and I've wanted to do it for a while since I was a kid, but I just kind of lucked out and I became friends with a guy who knew how to do it, so he showed me how. Then this last time I just went by myself.

Were you at all nervous about going alone? Not really, no.

It seems very dangerous. I mean, I guess it's dangerous, but I don't know. It's one of those things where if you know what you're doing, it's not that dangerous. I wasn't too worried. I guess if I got my legs chopped off I would be kind of screwed, but I don't know. I didn't think that would happen.

Train Hopping Through NJ and PA from Jeff Seal on Vimeo.

Has anyone you know had any bad experiences like that or other trouble? A friend of mine, Rob, said he knew some people who got a leg or two cut off when he used to do it. And I just read this book You Can't Win by Jack Black. It's really good. Apparently William S. Burroughs based a lot of Junkie off of it. Jack Black was just this guy in the 20s who was sort of this hobo/thief right after the Civil War, and he had a character in it who lost both of his legs, but I don't know anyone personally. I saw a documentary about a girl who got Hep C... but that wasn't related. It was a documentary about people who were train hopping and she got Hep C because she was sleeping with a hobo. But you can't really blame that on train hopping in general.

Were you telling me that there was some weird coincidence with that book? Yeah, my friend who showed me how to train hop is a graffiti artist and that's one of the reasons he got into it, from painting train cars. Recently another friend of mine told me, "You've gotta read this book You Can't Win," so he lent me his copy I found my other friend's tag on the back cover. These two don't know each other, and the guy who loaned be the book bought it in San Francisco. And they've never met, but it was my train-hopping friend's old copy. So think about that for a second. That'll blow your mind.

So what do you need to be aware of if you're going to do this?
Well, I don't know. I don't want to recommend people it. You should go with someone who's done it before. There is a guide book you can get; it's a zine called the Crew Change Guide and it tells you where to catch out from. Basically, it has every train yard in America and where to catch out in the yard and around what time the trains leave.

So you know if you want to go north from New Jersey, you go to this part of the train yard. You get on the train that's on this track going west and you eventually go north. Otherwise you could just get on a train and not really know where it's going. I kind of did that this last time, just because I didn't want to wait around all day, so i just took the second train that went through. It didn't really matter where I went. But, yeah, I would suggest doing it with someone who's done it before

Where did you catch out from this time? Newark. I thought I wanted to go to Chicago, but I kind of didn't realize how long that would have been. So I knew that to go west you get on a certain track and it would be a Norfolk southern train rather than a CSX. Do you ever listen to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me? You know, "brought to you by CSX moving such and such amount"? That's the train company. Anyway, so the second train that came through was a CSX train, and I wanted to catch a Norfolk, but it was on the right track, and I've done it before where you have to wait all freaking day, and I just wanted to get on the first one. And it did go west, which was lucky.

And when you're waiting you have to hide, right? Yeah, you have to hide. At this particular spot, there's just a ditch and you just hide down there when the trains go past. I've never seen any real yard workers around there, so once the conductor goes past you just kind of jump up. That's the other thing: you have to be in the part of the yard when the train isn't going so fast that you can't get on it. You just hide in the bushes or in a ditch or whatever.

At some point you ran into some trouble. Yeah, a railyard cop saw me in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He said that they saw me at some point. I was definitely kind of lazy. You're supposed to hide when you go through the train yards. At some point somebody saw me and they called into Altoona and they called the railyard cop. I was sitting on the side of the train checking my Facebook on my phone when he saw me. I should have been laying down hiding, but I just was too lazy. Then he told me to get down, and he was more nervous than I was. He was shaking. He was like, "You don't have a knife or anything, do you?" He thought I was this bad drifter or something like that. Then he just handcuffed me. He took me to the station, gave me a fine, and let me go.

Did you have to pay it right there? No, I took a bus home and just paid it online later.

How much was it? 180 bucks.

Wow. Yeah. I mean, if I ever got caught again doing anything I have to go right to jail, so I just paid it.

Was it worth it? Yeah, it was fun. I just had a week off, but I was ready to come home after the 4 days. I've gone for longer before, but it's not a vacation. It's really fucking tiring. I smelled. I smelled like shit. I was just tired. I was definitely ready. I got it out of my system. What I really wanted to do was catch trains during the day because a lot of times you have to do it at night, but I wanted to do it during the day 'cause it's really pretty, so I was happy with doing it just for that short amount of time. I'm definitely not an actual hobo or whatever. It's just fun to do.

How would somebody who wants to do this get a hold of this book—this guide to doing it? You just have to ask someone else who has one to make you a copy. You can't get it on the internet. Some girl tried to put it on the internet. I've seen the thread and it's just a total flame war between this girl and all of these people telling her to take it down. There's no link for it. My friend was telling me that someone wanted to put it online and a bunch of people got pissed off at her, so it's kind of cool, because it's one of those rare things that you can't get online.

Unacceptable. Can you give us a copy of it? I could show it to you. I could totally show it to you if you want to look at it, but you can't put it on Gothamist. Just don't make me sound like a snot. I can picture the fucking comments right now: "Oh this stupid hipster fuck wants to be a hobo. Go back to Williamsburg and fucking take the cab like everybody else."

It doesn't matter what you say with some of hese commenters. It's like five lonely guys who live to anonymously vent their negativity and bitterness. They're just trolls under the bridge who want to throw rocks at anybody who creates something. That's actually where you catch trains is under a bridge, so I'll just try to do a preemptive 'fuck you guys.'