The Life and Times of an American Hobo, (Then & Now)
With the end of the American Civil War many soldiers looking to return home took to hopping freight trains yet others looking for work on the frontier followed railroads westward on freight trains in the late 19th century. Thus become known as Hobo’s (One who follows the rails).
As times were tough in the late 19th and early 20th century more and more Hobo’s appeared on the scene. In 1906 an exhaustive study was done putting the number of Tramps or Hobo’s at roughly 500,000 and by 1911 the number had surged to well over 700,000 according to The New York Telegraph. Once again in the 1930’s during the Great Depression the population of hobo’s greatly increased. With no work and no prospects at home, many people decided to travel via freight trains and try their luck elsewhere. However life as a hobo was a dangerous one. In addition to the problems of traveling from place to place, being poor and being far from home.
One had to watch out for the train crews that the railroad employed with their hostile and mean attitude towards Hobo’s. Railroad security staff was often referred to as Bulls as they had the reputation of being really rough on Hobo’s sometimes beating them to a pulp.
It was also very dangerous knowing that one could easily lose a leg falling under the wheels while trying to jump on a train, or get trapped between cars or sometimes freeze to death in bad weather. Some Hobo’s were also known to get locked in a freezer car where they would be found frozen to death.
Hoboes usually travel alone but occasionally with a few others for a period of time but, regardless of this, they are a close knit group of people. There are many Hobo Gatherings throughout the country where Hobo’s congregate for a short period of time. At these so calledgatherings they get to visit with old friends and meet new friends. They swap stories; sing songs together and sometimes read poems that they have written. At the end of these gatherings they once again head out in their own direction continuing their journey. One such place is Britt, Iowa where since 1900 has held a National Hobo Convention each year in the middle of August. The Hoboes who gather here stay in the Hobo jungle telling stories around campfires at night. The National Hobo Convention is the largest gathering of Hobos, rail-riders and tramps in America who gather to celebrate the American traveling worker.
Most Hoboes of today are called Rubber Tramps meaning they travel by car rather than rail. Because modern freight trains are much faster and harder to ride than in the 1930s, but can still be boarded in rail yards, however they are much more dangerous in today’s world. According to some sources as many as 20,000 people live the American Hobo lifestyle in North America today.
A Hobo is a person that travels to work.
A tramp is a person that travels and won’t work.
A bum is a person that will neither travel or work.
I wonder if the homeless people in this country today in this new recession, will be considered the Hoboes of tomorrow in the History Books.*******************************