Discussion in 'The Interchange' started by Flanderian, May 7, 2017.

  1. Flanderian

    Flanderian Well-Known Member

    "A jar of cider and my pipe,
    In Summer, under shady tree;
    A Book by one that made his mind
    Live by its sweet simplicity:
    Then must I laugh at kings who sit
    In richest chambers, signing scrolls;
    And princes cheered in public ways,
    And stared at by a thousand fools."

    . . . . . W. H. Davies

    A remark elsewhere by a member that a subject in a photo looked like a hobo, renewed my meditation on this class of person. Growing up in a large northeastern city 60+ years ago that was a terminus or through point for many rail lines hobos were a common sight. And as recently as 30 years ago those who chose not to travel by rail were still a common sight on secondary highways hitching each spring and autumn.

    While for many younger folks the term hobo is synonymous with the term homeless, that conflation is a mistake. While many hobos are homeless, they were not and are not The Homeless as the term has come to be used in describing individuals who are mainly resident in one urban local having reached an unhappy situation entirely through misfortune of various forms, usually involving substance abuse, and/or mental illness.

    And while the hobo can, and sometimes is, a romantic character, I have no illusions that a greater than average portion of hobos share some of those same unhappy characteristics, but it is not universal, and there are important distinctions. The first being that a hobo is by definition transient, and the second being that their state of life is to some degree, at some point, voluntary, and among some, even preferred for reasons as different as the individuals that possess them. Beyond these two characteristics what is or isn't a hobo, bum or tramp and who occupies those categories becomes disputed and largely a product of the individual using the term.

    That all hobos were degraded, low individuals is a falsehood. For being a hobo was most essentially a way of life, sometimes by necessity and more or less permanently, but for others a passage in life. Among the men and few women who have hobo'ed are included literary figures, and other individuals of renown. Including Jack London, W. H. Davies, Carl Sandburg, Jack Kerouac, Jack Dempsey, Louis L'Amour, George Orwell, Robert Mitchum and Woody Guthrie.

    But the self-proclaimed King of the Hobos was A-No.1. (AKA, Ray Livingston) A surprising, self-educated man who continued this life through his eventual prosperity. He was fictionalized in the brutal but excellent film Emperor of the North. He created the hobo alphabet, and was likely the only man to ever travel the rails always in possession of two $50 bills, a letter from The President of United States., and an autograph from Teddy Roosevelt.
    Last edited: May 7, 2017
  2. tda003

    tda003 Well-Known Member

    "Shucks folks, I'm speechless." (The Cowardly Lion ((Bert Lahr)) in the Wizard of Oz")
  3. WA

    WA Well-Known Member

    One person I knew, because of my father, he had become a young man when the depression began. No jobs and plenty of time. He and some friends hopped the rails to see some of the US. He meet a young woman out west and started a business and they lived happily ever after. In my travels if I was in that area sometimes I stopped by. Without fail they gave lunch, supper, a bed and breakfast. Never stopped by, except for the visit, but got all the rest. Sadly, that is history, now.

    Hobo certainly has a number of meanings. From adventure to, perhaps, there is something better down the rails. With the lack of box cars seems there is less opportunity.
  4. Gurdon

    Gurdon Moderator

    Homelessness has changed over the last 20 or so years. As a planner for a major American city, I was involved in helping a well-known charitable organization figure out how to navigate the permitting process so they could reconfigure their large downtown facility to better accommodate their changing client base.

    They were set up to serve mostly older single male veterans with substance abuse and psychological issues. With changing times the client base had come to consist predominately of families with children who had fallen out of the bottom of the economy. Their main problem was that they had lost their jobs and did not have the means to provide food and shelter for themselves.

    The organization needed to modify their facility so they could provide separate facilities for families with children, for single women and for their original client base of single men.

    On a lighter note the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento has a hobo camp display with electric campfire and a recorded lecture by "Haywire Mac" McClintock. This "habit group" gives a glimpse of the romantic dimension of the life of the hobo.

    Last edited: May 8, 2017
  5. Dhaller

    Dhaller Well-Known Member

    Well, never underestimate Millennials!

    There IS a hobo movement, these days involving living in a car or van (since boxcars are lacking.)

    A good example is Hobo Ahle, who documents her adventures on Youtube, offers advice for living in a van, and otherwise wanders America. She even has a website: http://www.hoboahle.com/

    She's well on her way to becoming the A-No.1 of our era.

  6. WA

    WA Well-Known Member

    Thought hobos were rail riders when they could. But, apparently it covers other ways of traveling, and maybe no rails ever!
  7. Flanderian

    Flanderian Well-Known Member

    This is where definitions become slippery. It certainly is classic, but I don't believe a requirement. There are quite a few characteristics, and I would say that if an individual possesses a sufficient and/or significant number of them, they may be so described.

    In the early '60's when there definitely was still a substantial hobo culture, I made the acquaintance of two such gentlemen, Ray and Clyde. They were traveling companions. (But not a romantic couple.) One owned an old car, but one that ran and could still be fixed. One was large and a little slow. (No, his name was not Lenny!) The other small and slight, but clever. (Sorry, but those are just the facts.) In the winter they headed South to pick the harvests, and in spring they returned to my city to find temporary work.

    In all these places they had contacts they knew who would either be willing to hire them, or suggest other places for seasonal or other temporary employment. In any location they sought temporary lodging once they found work. If any of these arrangements grew tiresome, they changed them. They were simply foot-loose, and made no permanent commitments, taking themselves wherever life and their individual whims suggested.

    Despite an absence of rail-riding, and some other typical characteristics, I and they considered themselves hobos. And if you had known them, I believe you would have too.

    Edit: Just remembered, Ray also did bookkeeping if he could find it, when not engaged as a picker down South.
    Last edited: May 9, 2017
  8. Langham

    Langham Well-Known Member

    The English equivalent, the tramp, was still quite prevalent when I was a student. Possibly somewhat less ambulatory than hobos however, and motivated to move less by a search for work than by more obscure impulses. One I remember, bearded like Karl Marx and dressed in an old great coat, had remained static by the roadside verge for so long that the hedge seemed to have grown up around him, like a sentry box.
  9. Flanderian

    Flanderian Well-Known Member

    And so Welsh poet W. H. Davies described himself, as evidenced by his autobiography, The Autobiography of a Super Tramp.

    In 1889 Tourist Union #63 held its National Hobo Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. (Strongly suggestive that hobos didn't originate during the Great Depression of the 1930's ;))

    And there published their ethical code for hobos. And guess what? It makes a lot sense, reveals a desire for human decency and might be instructive for some in contemporary society. Offered here:

    1. Decide your own life, don't let another person run or rule you.
    2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
    3. Don't take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
    4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
    5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
    6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals' treatment of other hobos.
    7. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as badly, if not worse than you.
    8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
    9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
    10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
    11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
    12. Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
    13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose all molesters to authorities, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
    14. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
    15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
    16. If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!"
    Last edited: May 9, 2017
  10. drlivingston

    drlivingston Well-Known Member

    Between the ages of 7-9, my family lived next to a set of train tracks. It was an area where trains slowed. A buddy and I would commonly hop on open box cars for a quick trip. We would hop off a few miles down the line, buy a 16oz glass Coca-Cola at a nearby store, and walk back home. Life was fun before it became complicated.
  11. Flanderian

    Flanderian Well-Known Member

    I used to fall asleep in Biloxi listening to freight trains click-clacking for what seemed to be hours. They must have stretched to the horizon!
    Last edited: May 9, 2017
  12. drlivingston

    drlivingston Well-Known Member

    I remember spending MANY days of my youth getting sunburned at Slippery Sams in Biloxi.
  13. Flanderian

    Flanderian Well-Known Member

    Sadly, my experiences in Biloxi were confined to roughly 5 months in USAFSS tech school in 1967 at Keesler AFB during which time we were kept on a very short leash, assured in no small part by enforced poverty. Hard to do very much with no jingle in your pockets. The only off-base establishment I would visit with any regularity was the Triangle Bar & Grill. Great pool tables! Edible cheese burgers, truly detestable beer. And once the summer arrived in all it's un-air conditioned glory, I only yearned for escape. The weather report could have been done with a rubber stamp: 95 degrees, 95% humidity, thunderstorm at 12:30PM.

    Perusing satellite views of Keesler, the only thing I can recognize is the flight line. Looks like Camille and Katrina didn't leave much.
  14. tda003

    tda003 Well-Known Member

    I have little experience with true hobos. In my early years as an Atlanta police officer, around 1971, I remember speaking with what we termed a "station house", a kind of trustee. It was winter and he advised me that a number of his group used to travel by rail to Atlanta when winter came because the police treated them well. When arrested, they were most often given 30 day sentences to the City prison farm which in those days was almost completely self sufficient raising pigs, chickens and vegetables and buying only bread. The meals were excellent as there always seemed to be some very good cooks among the population as well as painters (many), carpenters, etc. to do the maintenance. The inmates had warm and comfortable quarters and Atlanta was the de rigeur enforced vacation spot for over wintering.

    It's been a long time and many administrations since I visited there and I expect much has changed, but that conversation and some visits to the City prison farm made a lasting impression on me.

    The homeless population is, to me a separate issue as they are more permanent residents. Many have interesting backgrounds. One was a retired Army colonel and another had been a married with children tenured professor at Georgia tech. In the old days, the regulars would stay drunk until nearly dead and then approach me or another officer and ask to be arrested, as they'd receive medical care and dry out. I'd write a ticket and hand it to them and tell them to wait there. I'd call a wagon and when it arrived, they'd chand the wagon driver their paperwork and climb in. It was an interesting, if sad and bizarre, way of life.
  15. Flanderian

    Flanderian Well-Known Member

    Thank you for offering a real-life look at your experiences with hobos and homeless.

    About both populations I have no delusions concerning a propensity to petty crime, and alcoholism and/or drug abuse. In my home town I worked in an office across the street from a park known among us as "bum central." We would wander across the street during lunch hour to enjoy a breeze if the day was fine, as would many other office workers. This park's proximity to low cost daily rentals also made it the favorite gathering place for hobos.

    Their only common offenses were panhandling and public intoxication. The first being largely tolerated by law enforcement and the latter dealt with when it became a nuisance. They universally engaged in pan-handling openly and with gusto. But with rare exceptions they were polite and accepted rejection without complaint. If you engaged them in conversation a surprising number were both well educated and articulate. The common theme for most was that their life on the road commenced with some personal hardship and continued as a result of either preference or their not seeing a better option.

    At the time, it was a society of its own. And these individuals seemed to find kinship within it. It was a club to which anyone could belong. Whatever disappointment or rejection set them on their course did not pertain in these new circumstances, and they found an acceptance which in earlier life often had been lacking.
  16. tda003

    tda003 Well-Known Member

    I can remember at roll call as a young officer, from time to time the captain would call on a particular older officer and say, "Officer _______, would you please talk to the homeless and askj them to stay out of the downtown area for a while? The citizens are getting upset." And, lo, it would come to pass. It wasn't until some years later that I learned that Officer _______ would actually gather them up in a van and deposit them, still sleeping, in rail cars and they'd later wake up...elsewhere. I guess it was an early form of community policing and possibly turned conventional homeless into (unwilling) hobos.
  17. Flanderian

    Flanderian Well-Known Member

    This discussion has jarred loose another memory; while never present at an above referenced "hobo court" it wasn't uncommon to see hobos correct the behavior of unruly members of their society. I've seen behavior deemed outrageous, discourteous or harmful dealt with by peers. Things such as engaging in some bodily function when public conveniences are available, starting fights or abusing the general public. Less severe infractions would be handled by loud, general verbal chastisement. For more serious acts, I have seen ad hoc groups form and physically eject or restrain the offending party.

    Obviously, a prime motive for such justice was self interest, not wishing to befoul their pan-handling grounds, or invite added scrutiny by law enforcement. But none the less, there was always an unambiguous tone on behalf of the protesters that they were personally offended by the unacceptable behavior.
    Last edited: May 10, 2017
  18. Mr.D

    Mr.D Active Member

  19. eagle2250

    eagle2250 Connoisseur<br>Moderator

    An interesting read...thank you for sharing it with us! I didn't realize that aspect of society was so well organized. ;)
  20. Flanderian

    Flanderian Well-Known Member

    Thank you! :thumbs-up:

    That is one of the best and most entertaining pieces I've ever seen on the topic. Great work from the writer and editor.

    Now my only fear is that the whole shebang will wind up being purchased and made a wholly owned subsidiary of Walmart or Starbucks! :(

    Edit: No, of course not! I can see it now, Disney presents . . . . Hobo World!!!

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