The freedom of the rails

“You got any weed?” is how William “Trash” Hansen introduced himself on a hot spring day in the Little 5 Points neighborhood of Atlanta. The heels of his socks peeked through the disintegrated soles of his steel-toed boots as he walked the strip in search of the drug.

At 20, Trash has endured, experienced and seen more of the United States than most will see in their entire lives. He has been riding freight trains around the country for nearly eight years.

Just like everyone, his story is unique, but his tales of foster care, abuse and ultimate freedom are a glimpse into a culture existing on the fringes of society, rarely seen by the general public. Trash and many others like him have no home, yet they call home the hundreds of thousands of miles of railroad that cross the country, the rail cars that bump along the tracks and the expansive yards of gravel and steel found in nearly every American city.

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Clay Duda is a freelance journalist specializing in investigative reporting, feature writing, editorial photography, and digital media.