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Hobos

Icons of romantic travellers or desperate lonely men
with nowhere to go?


In the bookFried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe,one of the important characters,
Smokey Lonesome,was a "hobo". But just what is a hobo? To answer this question, we have to
look back in American history.

Hobos first appeared on the scene after the Civil War, mostly in the form of former soldiers searching
across a war-torn country for non-existent jobs. In the 1930's,The Great Depression, was the reason
for the large numbers of people (for they were both men and women, and sadly, children) who took
to life on the rails. Homeless, jobless, often with no hope, these people travelled for mile after mile,
year after year.It was a perilous life: facing railroad bulls(detectives hired by the railroad to
keep hobos off the trains)
, harsh weather and grisly accidental deaths waiting for those who chose this life.

In the mid-40's, World War II offered jobs and opportunities to many. After the war, most returned to
"respectable" society, attending universities on the G.I. Bill and settling down.

So today, the great numbers of hobos from the 30's is more af an echo of the past and a piece of American
heritage: a persona that we have romanticized -- even to the extent that there are modern-day "yuppie"
hobos,hobo clubs, and even places on the web to write messages.

And yes, there still are real, genuine hobos today. You can find them if you want. These hobos are hobos
more from choice -- choosing to pursue freedom and to enjoy the challenge of an unknown tommorow,
embracing the contentment and joys of the rails or the road that streches out before them.

Take a moment to look through these links below, to become acquainted with an unique piece of
American history.


Background Info
A Glossary can be helpful, and be sure to read the warning about avoiding the brakes!

A map of the railroad could be useful! -- both are brought to youfrom The Train Hoppers site

A Short Essay on Hobos:A well-researched paper that gives the overall story and covers many aspects of the life of a hobo. You'll be glad you read it!

This is an in-depth and excellent article on hobos, fromThe Smithsonian Magazine.

Links Worth Visiting
National Hobo Association:
"...This is the Cyber-Jungle of the NHA
where the fire is always crackling and
the stew is always bubbling.
It never rains here and the trains all
pass by slowly. If you close your eyes
you can almost smell their smoke
and hear their whistles...."

Be sure to take time to readWhistles,a short story that tells you a great deal about riding the rails. This site also offers poetry contests and a place to shop for on-the-road gear.

Fran's great site! -- A fun and friendly introduction to hoboing. Fran has the most extensive collection of links anywhere, too! Fran is a true treasure!

Hobo Jungle -- Great photos, poetry and historical info is found on this site. Be sure tospend some time here, looking and learning.

From North Bank Fred. a photo essay of boxcar art -- 35 pages of it!!
Take a look atthese photos, too, by the same photographer/hobo. Actually, you'll want to take some time to look at all the photos and read all the articles. Very refreshing!

Here's some advice for beginning train-hoppers from Dawson.

Hobo poetry, and a well-written history of hobos in America. You'll be glad you saw this site. The Annual Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa is mentioned, too.






A family waits by a train in the 1930's


A Poem About a Hobo
This is a poem written some years ago, based on memories of an itinerant worker who used to stop at the family home when the writer was a child. She says that if she was writing it today it would have been of a hobo instead of a bum, as she now knows the difference.

THE LAST TUNBRIDGE BUM

(by Linda K)

From out of nowhere he seemed to come,
A rough little man, the last Tunbridge Bum.
Daddy saved Skoal on our top kitchen shelf
For when he'd clean out our barn and wash off himself.

Momma would serve him out on the back stair.
We'd watch through the screen door while he ate there.
He'd gum down his chicken, grease down to his chin,
But we were taught to respect old Ed Dennison.

If he had a home, I never knew where.
He rambled our back roads, seemed without care.
Every spring would find him out in our town
For a few chores to do and a good meal to chow down.
And when he was done, he'd drift away.
I never knew where and he never would say,
And I never knew where he had come from.

He was the last of his kind, that old Tunbridge Bum.

One winter hit hard kinda late in the year,
More snow than one pass of the snow-plow could clear.
The story came to us, for they knew we would care:
The wing of the plow threw him forty feet in the air.

He didn't have family, but we were his kin,
So Daddy helped bury old Ed Dennison.
I remember with sadness that last Skoal tin,
For years they had been the harbingers of spring.
How now would I know that the season had come,
Since the death of the last Tunbridge Bum?


This web site is about a documentary, entitledRiding The Rails, that was made about this phenomenon. The following is an excerpt from thesite:

"From 'middle class gentility to scrabble-ass poor',
the undiscriminating Great Depression forced
4,000,000 Americans away from their homes
and onto the tracks in search of food
and lodging. Of this number, a disturbing 250,000
of the transients were children.

Forced to travel more by economic necessity
than the spirit of adventure, the film's subjects
dispel romantic myths of a hobo existence and
its corresponding veneer of freedom."

The page with photos and stories from theRiding the Railswebsite is well worth seeing, too!




The author, Errol L. Uys, who wrote the bookRiding the Railsthat the documentary is based on also hashis own website that you need to see.

For the making of the movie, several hobos from the 30's wrote letters to him, describing their experiences.Reading these letters for yourself really drives home what their lives were like, what the Depresssion was like, what their choices were and why they made them.


During the Depression, riding the rails
became an escape for many. An escape
from suffering and confronting the sad
truths about losing your job, your home,
your hope.


A Collection of
Hobo Symbols and
Their Meanings

Hobos would write these on the doors of houses or other places, to let other hobos know ahead of time what to expect. Many symbols no doubt saved lives, warning of undrinkable water or extremely unfriendly folk:

I. From Fran's Hobo Page, a collection of hobo symbols and their meanings.

II. And, from High Tech Bo, another collection. When you move your cursor over the image, the answer will magically appear. It's fun to test yourself, since you just saw Fran's Hobo Signs! And, take a moment to look around. There are lots of photos and stories aboutmodern-day hoboing.

Hobo Symbol Font:
Download and Use it!!
by Jonathan Macagba

If you enjoyed looking at the symbols, why not download this font and "write" your own messages?

Hobofont, Version: 1.0.1 Shareware
Size: 41 Kb
Windows 3.1 -- and a Macintosh version, too!
Approx. download time: Less than 1 min.

Hobofont is a dingbat TrueType font with characters that resembles "secret" hobo symbols.The typeface has the appearance of chalk-drawn symbols on a wood surface. The symbols can be used as design elements in your next project, or they can provide a fun way to send "secret" messages to friends.

And don't forget to send Jonathan his $5 for downloading the font!.


Build A Hobo Stove
Part of Your Survival Skills for Traveling Around the Country
Whether hoboing out of choice or nescessity, you'll need to eat, right? So,let's take a look at How to make a Hobo Stove!

These things are unbelievably effective, dirt-cheap and fun to make. You can easily make one on the fly with a Swiss Army knife and a tin you pick up. Youwill probably find yourself making lots of different designs just for the hellof it!! They are also useful in that you can burn up your camp rubbish to cook your next meal!"



Dawson Morton, who hops frieght trains for fun,
raced to catch one in Oregon in 1996.

(Photograph by Hans-Christopher Steiner for The New York Times.)






The New York Times on the Web

August 20, 1998

A Different Breed of Freight-Hoppers

By PAMELA LiCALZI O'CONNELL

Real hobos don't use cellular phones.

Recreational hobos, however, are an increasingly wired breed. Once, Depression-era tramps scratched symbols on train trestles to pass information to others looking for an empty boxcar and a free ride. Now, so-called yuppie hobos -- who sneak onto freight trains for adventure rather than out of economic necessity -- use scanners to monitor railroad frequencies and cellular phones to talk with other hobos. They also trade information via more than two dozen Web sites, as well as e-mail discussion lists and newsgroups.

"Those of us fortunate enough to have modems use our public and secret hobo communities on the Net to keep in touch, share rail information" and complain "that the railroads are getting too tough on us innocent rail riders," Todd Waters, 50, a recreational hopper, said by e-mail.

Waters, who once rode the rails full time in his youth, theorizes that the appeal of freight-hopping is due to what he calls "the drift: "For me, the drift occurs when I migrate from the linear world, neat with its processes and models, to the road, where everything happens at once. You've got a general direction, but it doesn't have much glue on it. The plan has equal weight to every new distraction that comes along."

Recreational hobos train-hop in part to pay homage to an ideal of hobo freedom and self-reliance that experts say belies historical reality. Yet, their stories of hopping can have a romantic appeal and an infectious enthusiasm, as evidenced by those found on the Train Hopping Space and other sites.

Hans-Christoph Steiner of Manhattan posts photos of his hops on his personal Web site and takes part in a recreational hobo mailing list. "The idea always intrigued me," he said of train-hopping. "I liked the image of a hobo:a self-sufficient wanderer who doesn't burden others."

Steiner said he was hooked after his first hop with some college friends from Portland, Ore., to Seattle: "Even though we spent 10 hours waiting for the train in two different yards, the trip was well worth it,"he wrote in an e-mail. "We came upon the Puget Sound -- the tracks were right on the coast -- and we watched the sunset while sitting on top of a double-stacked container car traveling through the forest."

But the online activities of recreational freight-hoppers --whose hobby is illegal and dangerous, as adisclaimer on Steiner's page states -- has also drawnthe ire of rail-safety groups, known as "rail fans"who fear a crackdown on legal access by all train hobbyists, and the railroads themselves. Some Web sites now offer a contrary view of hopping. One such site,www.deadtrainbums.com, contains gruesomephotographs of what are said to be hoppers caught beneath the rails, and links to news articles aboutinjuries and deaths related to railroad trespassing.

In 1997 deaths caused by trespassing in railyardsand on railcars (not including suicides) increased 15 percent over 1996, according to the Federal RailroadAdministration.

While the statistics don't reveal how many of thosedeaths involved hobos, some believe there is a link between the availability of online information about hopping and the rise in trespassing. In testimony before the House subcommittee on railroads in April, Gerri Hall, president of Operation Lifesaver, arail-safety group, said: "Effective action needs to be taken to discourage the promotion of romanticizedimages of dangerous railroad trespassing activities. We need to find a way to put a damper on Web sites that encourage unsuspecting young people to engagein illegal and dangerous activities on railroadproperty." Sarah George, a filmmaker completing a shortdocumentary called "Hobo Jungles," said she had heard estimates from 10,000 to 100,000regular freight-hoppers. "But my guess is there are probablya couple thousand really hard-core riders and maybe asmany as 20,000 who ride the rails occasionally,"she said.

Of those, she said, the largest general groups are truetramps (mostly men from 30 to 50 years old whoare indigent) followed by "punks" (youths rebelling againstsociety). She takes a dim view of purely recreational hobos.

Ms. George's own Web site drew an angry response from the freight railroads, she said, because they feared the film would glamorize hopping. Railyard personnel were told to be on the lookout for her cameras, she said, and she took down all but a brief description of the film from the site.

Mike Furtney, Union Pacific Railroad's director of public relations for the Western region, says that with just 250 special agents to police 35,000 miles of track, Union Pacific has started keeping at least a casual eye on hobo sites. This monitoring results in "a small, incremental amount of intelligence for our agents,"he says. And railroad employees have been known to post personal messages on newsgroups to counter the hobos' information.

Perhaps the most well-known recreational hobo is a man known only as North Bank Fred, a middle-aged construction worker who is determined to preserve his anonymity and who collects photos of modern-day "monikers," hoppers' painted or scrawled symbols.

He recently removed an extensive collection of hopper anecdotes from his page, citing "the prying eyes of the railroads."

Via e-mail, North Bank Fred said "the Internet is the perfect way for me to get my 'information' out to people who can benefit from it," who he said were "Net-savvy would-be (or current) train riders or established riders."

"Attention from such a broad-based audience as newspaper readers can only do harm to freight-hopping-- it has in the past and I'm sure it will happen again."

Bill Mellman, another recreational hopper, has become even more ambivalent about his Net presence.Although a frequently-asked-questions document he wrote several years ago on hopping continues to be linked to widely, he now requires a password to view his main hobo page.

Mellman says he threw a roadblock in front of his site not because of surveillance but because "I just started to get worried that I could end up being responsible for some kid getting his legs cut off."




To go to the article in The New York Times, click here:
* A Different Breed of Freight-Hoppers

Below is the list of links that were provided with the article, some of which have already been presented in this site. They may or may not be current:

* Hans-Christoph Steiner's Freight-Hopping Hoboing Around Page

* The Train Hoppers Space

* Hobo Jungles

* Northbank Fred's Freighthopping Site

* Bill Mellman's Train Hopping FAQ



ONLY A HOBO

a Song by Bob Dylan

Click to go to the site where you can hear the song.
To hear the song, wait for the site to load,
then look for the link on the left, under the photo.


As I was out walking on a corner one day,
I spied an old hobo, in a doorway he lay.
His face was all grounded in the cold sidewalk floor
And I guess he'd been there for the whole night or more.


Only a hobo, but one more is gone
Leavin' nobody to sing his sad song
Leavin' nobody to carry him home
Only a hobo, but one more is gone


A blanket of newspaper covered his head,
As the curb was his pillow, the street was his bed.
One look at his face showed the hard road he'd come
And a fistful of coins showed the money he bummed.


Only a hobo, but one more is gone
Leavin' nobody to sing his sad song
Leavin' nobody to carry him home
Only a hobo, but one more is gone


Does it take much of a man to see his whole life go down,
To look up on the world from a hole in the ground,
To wait for your future like a horse that's gone lame,
To lie in the gutter and die with no name?


Only a hobo, but one more is gone
Leavin' nobody to sing his sad song
Leavin' nobody to carry him home
Only a hobo, but one more is gone



This well-known painting of a hobo
tells us a great deal about how the
hobo has been tradionally viewed by society.

This painting shows that hobos are a
laughable, pitiable people -- they are not
to be taken seriously, they are to be
laughed at and the butt of our jokes.

They represent the fear in all of us
that we, too, may loose our jobs, They represent the fear humans have of
something or someone
who is different.

Today, hobos are more accepted.
Why do you think that is?







Acknowledgements
A personal "Thanks!" to Fran DeLorenzo . His generousity of spirit and his time are most appreiciated.




Sources
A salute to each of these websites! Each website that you and I casually visit for a few seconds or for many hours is the result of love, sweat and dedication, not to mention many many hours worth of keyboarding. I thank these webmaster for their unselfish efforts to share themselves with the world and the internet community.


http://www.thehistorynet.com/AmericanHistory/articles/1999/10992_cover.htm
http://www.catalog.com/hop/misc.html
http://www.hobo.org/
http://www.hobo.org/whistles.html
http://www.oven.com/ridingtherails/
http://www.oven.com/ridingtherails/stories.htm
http://www.erroluys.com/frontpage.htm
http://www.erroluys.com/GeneWadsworth.htm
http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/98/08/circuits/articles/20hobo.html
http://yagaland.razorfish.com/hoboFrame.html
http://catalog.com/hop/
http://www.worthyent.com
http://www.snowcrest.net/bndlstif/index.html
http://php.indiana.edu/mellman/trfaq.txt
http://www.2ndarmoredhellonwheels.com/hobo-jungle.html
http://homeboyz.com/railrelics/hobosigs.html
http://members.iquest.net/~evanw/hobo.htm
http://www.worldpath.net/~minstrel/teresa.htm
http://www.worldpath.net/~minstrel/index.html
http://www.slackaction.com/signroll.htm
http://www.macagba.com/shareware.htm
http://forums.cosmoaccess.net/forum/survival/prep/hobostv.htm
http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/onlyhobo.html
http://home.talkcity.com/MemoryLn/santafejack/index.html
http://members.aol.com/mrboxcars/index.html
http://www.deadtrainbums.com/
http://www.homeusers.prestel.co.uk/opensystems/diary/980824.htm
http://www.snowcrest.net/bndlstif/favorites.html
http://www.reed.edu/~dmorton/advice.html




Note: All efforts have been made to give correct and proper credit. If you see a source that has not been credited, please let me know and I will make every effort to correct the oversight.