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

  1. Flanderian

    Flanderian Connoisseur

    United States
    New Jersey
    "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 Senior Member

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

    WA Honors Member

    United States
    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

    United States
    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 7, 2017
  5. Dhaller

    Dhaller Super Member

    United States
    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 Honors Member

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

    Flanderian Connoisseur

    United States
    New Jersey
    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 8, 2017
  8. Langham

    Langham Honors 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 Connoisseur

    United States
    New Jersey
    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 8, 2017
  10. drlivingston

    drlivingston Connoisseur

    United States
    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.

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