Driving along a remote road at night can be a surreal experience. The utter darkness seems to press up against the pool of light cast by your headlights, the lane dividers flicker past as they crawl forth from the dark beyond only to skitter away back into the vast night behind you, and only the occasional animal may scamper across the road to break the tireless monotony. At times it seems that something truly bizarre will creep forth from the abyss of black to come looming into the slashes of light parting the night before you, something for which there is no rational explanation, and which is often gone back into the dark before you even have time to gasp in surprise. One of the strangest of these things that one could come across out here in the murky expanse of nighttime highways is what has been called “Road Trolls,” and it is quite difficult to categorize indeed.
Written of extensively by author Jerry D. Coleman in his books Strange Highways and the follow-up More Strange Highways, the phenomenon of the Road Troll is a deeply weird one, and encompasses a range of rather far-out reports giving similar descriptions of a certain hairy troll-like creature allegedly prowling the highways, mostly from truckers making the lonely journey along darkened highways in the Southern and Midwest portions of the United States. The creature is often described as a hulking hairy humanoid of some sort, often dressed in filthy, tattered clothing, and oddly with a wooden peg-leg in most of the reports, often being mistaken for a drifter before the driver draws closer and sees that the creature is perhaps not quite human.
The rash of odd sightings apparently began in 1981, with one very bizarre sighting made by a trucker called Gary Durbin, of Effingham, Illinois. In that year, Durbin was apparently traveling through a remote stretch of road through Tyson Mountain in Arkansas, just east of Ouachita National Forest, carrying a load of chicken headed towards Chicago. The drive was a rather harrowing one, dark and with numerous hairpin turns to navigate, and at one point he passed what looked like a hairy, disheveled looking homeless man with a peg-leg standing forlornly at the corner of one of these treacherous turns. At the time Durbin thought him to be just some derelict, even allegedly thinking to himself, “Now that must have been a real mountain man, wanting to get really run over.” Durbin continued on, curious about who he had seen but not thinking it was anything too bizarre just yet. However, it would not be his last encounter with the enigmatic stranger.
Durbin made it to a truck stop a little further down the road and stopped for a cup of coffee, after which he hit the road again, traveling over I-55 and finally making it beyond the state line into Missouri, where he stopped at a rest area. As he pulled out of this rest area, he claims that he once again saw the odd hairy man with the peg-leg just standing there along the road just staring at him, which sent a jolt of shock and surprise through Durbin. He reasoned to himself that the stranger must have hitched a ride to get so far in front of him, but it was all very unsettling to say the least. Bizarrely, Durbin would over the years see the curious creature a total of 5 times in such far-flung locales as central Texas, Arkansas, southern Missouri, southern Mississippi, and northern Florida, and he is still not quite sure what to make of it all. Durbin has described the thing thus:
He stands a good 6'0" to 6'5", his peg is just below his right knee, made of wood, it looks. Always seen by the road towards evening, just past a rest area or truck stop, leaning towards the road, only moving his head a little. Very long hair and beard, light brown in color, covering his entire face, except the eyes, old type clothes, ripped and torn, seems like the same clothes. The creature carries a little hobo type pouch with him, always.
According to Coleman, many other truckers have apparently seen the very same sort of entity haunting the nighttime highways of America. In almost every report the description of the appearance is very close, if not identical, and that peg-leg is inevitably often mentioned. Coleman would say in his book:
Other drivers I interviewed admit to seeing peg-leg as well. In a truck stop south of Dallas, Texas one driver told me of a peg-legged man he saw next to an interstate split outside of St. Louis. Another truck driver interviewed in Atlanta swears he saw a peg-legged hairy-man standing just a quarter mile from a weigh station in Florida. Is peg-leg a wildman, bigfoot, road troll, a driver's road angel or simply a traveling gent we’ve termed hoboes?
In 1983, Coleman interviewed a woman known only as “Barb,” of Des Plaines, Illinois, who told him of a rather frightening encounter she had had with possibly the same unexplained creature. Barb claimed that she had gone on a trip by car to visit her sister in Alabama, and she reached her destination without incident. Upon meeting her sister, the two went on their way to a mall in the area, which was located on I-20 and I-59 by Green Pond. As they made their way there, they passed a “wild looking man” by the side of the road, who was described as being around 6 feet in height, with very long hair that hung in his face, and clothes that looked as if “a car dragged them,” as well as apparently a wooden peg-leg. Barb would say of the deeply odd encounter:
The man or whatever it was, just looked at us, a look of curiosity I'd call it. We both agreed it had a wooden leg or walking stick in front of its leg, we were not sure. I felt guilty that we didn't call the police to check it out. After seeing the creature or whatever it was, it like totally changed our plans. We didn’t go on to the mall as planned, instead, so shaken and concerned we stopped at a nearby coffee shop and quietly sat composing ourselves.
She would later muse that far from being a scary presence, she felt that it may have been a portent warning her of potential disaster. She told Coleman that when she returned home, apparently around 3 hours earlier than planned, it turned out that her sister’s son had fallen out of a tree and badly broken his leg, to the point that a shard of bone had poked through the skin to cause profuse bleeding. Since they had gotten back early they were able to rush him to the emergency room, leaving Barb to wonder what would have happened to him if they had not seen that weird hairy wildman who had cut their plans for the day short.
Another sighting was made in the winter of 1998, when a trucker calling himself only “Gunslinger” was headed for Chicago, Illinois along I-255. According to Gunslinger, when he was about 12 to 14 miles from Alton, Illinois, he saw what appeared to be a huge, unkept hairy man in worn out clothes hobbling along the side of the road. So odd was the lone figure’s appearance that he slowed down his truck, after which he was shocked to see that it was even more bizarre than he had possibly counted on. Gunslinger would say:
It stood well over 6 foot tall, maybe even 7 foot tall, long hair that covered its face and arms, the creature had a peg-leg just below the right knee and was wearing very out of date, torn-up clothes. It didn't move until the truck got right up to it, I was going fairly slow and got an excellent look at it, I honestly didn't think it was real but then it turned its head and looked my way! I'm not sure what I saw, thoughts of a wild, weird creature quickly crossed my mind, I am sure it was no ordinary hitch hiking man!
In 2000 there were at least two separate sightings of the strange creature. The first was in March of that year, when a trucker named Brad Royalty claims to have seen a large, peg-legged man with hair all over his body standing along I-44 outside of Big Cabin, Oklahoma, saying of it, “The thing was tall and hairy and had a wooden leg, I first thought it was a bum but it freaked me out, it just stared.” In summer of that same year, a husband and wife trucker team saw the Road Troll in Boonville, Missouri, again with the peg-leg. The husband, only referred to as “Doug,” would say of it:
The man or whatever it was didn't even act like he was hitch hiking or doing anything, no vehicles were broken down within miles, and to be honest it looked like a huge scarecrow, it had an artificial leg and a lot of hair!
Sightings continued when in June of 2003 a pastor named Jim Washington saw the thing as he was driving along to a church service in Tennessee when he saw a massive hairy man who appeared to be limping along highway I-181 just outside of the town of Unicoi. Washington at first passed the stranger, but then decided to turn back to see if he needed any help, thinking that is was perhaps a crippled homeless man. When he returned to the same spot minutes later the man had apparently vanished and was nowhere to be seen. The startled Washington would say:
I felt sorry for him and wanted to help if I could, so I turned the car around. Although it took me 2 or 3 minutes to get turned around, he was long gone. He was so wild and strange looking with an obvious disfigurement of the leg that I can't imagine anyone picking him up. I can’t explain it but he appeared lost.
In total, Coleman has personally collected 11 such sightings made of the so-called Road Troll, ranging from 1981 to 2003 and spanning across the country in the states of Illinois, Missouri, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee, with every one of these cases describing what appears to be the same creature from totally independent witnesses. In most of these cases the eyewitness is described as being reliable and not prone to telling tall tales, leading to the question of what these people could possibly be seeing.
The most obvious answer is that it is merely a very large, unkept drifter with a peg-leg, but it seems rather odd that he should be seen in such far-flung places by so many people who think him to be something somewhat more than human. There is also the idea that these people have seen a Bigfoot, with the matted hair mistaken for clothing and an injury giving it the appearance of having a peg-leg, but again, why would it be seen in such disparate locations and described the same exact way? Then perhaps this is all due to hallucinations of tired minds traveling through monotonous scenery for hours on end, but if it is all hallucinations, then why would so many different witnesses describe essentially the very same thing? It could also just be that this is a bit of trucker lore and tall tales passed amongst them or even the result of drug-use, but remember that not all of these witnesses were truckers, with a housewife and pastor amongst them. Coleman would say of this:
If one insists on sticking to their theory of drivers seeing Road Trolls due to hallucinations, then address this next question; how is it that even some short run drivers, drivers that have just began their trip, which are well rested and drug tested have seen and reported these Road Trolls? But more importantly how would the skeptics explain away such cases as the mother of two, headed to the mall or the pastor going to a church gathering, both who claim an encounter with a Road Troll? These latter two cases are not alleged drug-taking truck drivers, deprived of sleep and spinning yarns, they are average citizens out on a thought to be average trip.
Coleman himself muses that it could be some sort of mystical being that serves as a protector or omen of possible bad fortune. In this case, the appearance of the Road Troll may be a benevolent occurrence, somehow subverting some accident that would have happened otherwise, for whatever inscrutable reason. He explains of this thus:
Perhaps it is an unknown entity of our mind, an unexplained homo anomalous with little purpose, playing cosmic games or with a lot of purpose changing fate to those who see it? Does the witness think they see something thus stimulating or alerting these drivers back to reality where their minds may have drifted from the task at hand or as in Barb and the pastor's case an obvious detour in the direct path of travel, possible delaying them and others, avoiding an accident awaiting around the next curve of changeable fate?
Whatever it is, it is all very bizarre and intriguing, and one wonders just what is going on here. These are some very unique cases of a phenomenon not really well-known of by most, and Coleman has done a splendid job of bringing them all together for us to ponder. Just what is the Road Troll? Is this a ghost, specter, or spirit of some sort? Is it an unknown hairy hominid such as Bigfoot? Is this just a feral drifter with a peg-leg who gets around enough to pop up in sightings all over the place? Or is it a hallucination, tall tale, or figment of the imagination? It is hard to say, but it certainly gives us something to look out for the next time the road meanders off into the yawning chasm of pitch-black before us, from which it seems anything might emerge.