The Last Red-Blooded American Adventure

| 2/16/2018 12:01:00 PM

Country Moon 

We have had some colorful groups of people shape our country into what it is today. One of those groups is the hobo. Unlike their counterparts, bums who won’t work at all and tramps who only work when forced to, hobos are more than willing to work, but mostly for a short duration, as their main focus is travel. They love the journey more so than the actual destination.

Although not as prevalent as in the last century, the hobo culture is still very much alive today. They all don’t fit the image of a man (or woman) in overalls with a charcoal beard, a red bandana and carrying a brindle on a stick (bundle of belongings on a stick). Today’s hobos blend into our society rather than draw attention to themselves. True hobos are not to be confused with “gutter punks,” crusty kids and dropouts trying to piece together a meager existence outside of conventional society.

The very first hobos were cast-offs from the Civil War in the 1860s. Soldiers came home and jobs were scarce so they looked to the railroads for their fortunes. The word “hobo” is derived from “hoe boy,” which is an individual who goes from town to town looking for odd jobs, mostly in menial farm work. During the Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s the hobo ranks swelled to 250,000.

It is hard to believe that most hobos actually like living like they do. Although it is still, and always has been illegal, they hop trains and go wherever the rails take them. They forage for food wherever they can find it and take handouts. Train hopping is an art in itself. There are actually books and websites that tell how to befriend the train staff, find your way around the freight network, and find a good container to hunker down in for a ride through mountains and forests.

As inviting as this may sound for an adventure, the danger is real. They ride inside, on top of, and under boxcars. Losing limbs is sometimes common as loads shift. Sometimes doors close and lock and no one has any idea that someone is trapped in the rail cars. Hobos have been known to starve, die of thirst, and freeze inside these cars. They have a rule of thumb; never hop a moving train unless you can count the bolts on a wheel because if you can’t count them, the train is moving too fast to jump.

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