You young'uns have missed out on so much of Americana that is gone forever. You really would have had to been there, done that, to fully understand a hobo life.
This new High Tech living is quite fascinating, especially to us old timers, but comparing your newest High Tech electronic gadget to a real live hobo from the past, is like comparing a fence post to a thoroughbred race horse. And your gadget is NOT the race horse.
During the Dirty Thirties, riding the rails became a way of life for many down and out men. Some, like my father, only rode the rails a few times when it was necessary to get from here to there, and there was no other way. People with money had their own wheels or rode the new vehicle called Greyhound Bus. Or rode the rails from inside a passenger train.
The ones without money rode the inside of a box car. During the Dirty Thirties the railroads tried to keep the Hobo's off their trains. They wanted the revenue from selling a ticket, rather than giving a free ride to the Bo's. There was a constant battle between the railroads and the hobo's, and usually, the railroads lost.
It should be mandatory for every school teacher in America to watch the movie “Emperor of the North.” Then, it should be mandatory that every student in America watch that great movie. You talk about some eye opening learning taking place.
I'm not suggesting being a hobo was the way to live. Most of the Bo's were professional bums, stealing rides, bumming for food. But during the Dirty Thirties, with no jobs available, it became a way of life for many, and even for some good honest men.
After watching “Emperor of the North,” some of you will change your mindset about hoboing. Guaranteed.
Then the crazy one started World War Two, and hoboing became easier, mainly because the railroads just gave in and allowed it, on a grand scale. There was the job of moving the war materials, jeeps, trucks, guns, tanks, to the killing fields of Europe and the South Pacific.
The Bo's found easier travel, riding inside the vehicles on the flat cars, and it was allowed.
We lived in the railroad metropolis of Imlay, Nevada, population of about three hundred.
Imlay was a terminal point, which meant the steam engines stopped for fuel and water, and to change train crews. There was a large roundhouse, that could accommodate three engines at a time. There was a Depot with a ticket agent and railroad Telegrapher. Telegraph was the only communication the railroad industry had.
And the train crews needed communication because a lot of the line did not have double tracks. So the single railroad tracks shared East and West bound trains. Somebody had to go into siding, to let someone pass. It amazes me the few train wrecks that did happen back then
Imlay had a Railroad owned restaurant, that served fine food. I remember ice cream cones were a nickel. Full meal deal for fifty cents.
There was an ice house, with the ice needed for the passenger trains and company restaurant. A turn table where the million pound steam engines could be turned around. Switch yards where train cars and cabooses could be switched.
At every railroad terminal point, there was a "Hobo Jungle." This was an important part of every railroad town. The Bo's had to have a place to live, when they weren't riding the rails.
They would find a nearby spot, on railroad property if possible, to call home. It became known as “Hobo Jungle,” They always improvised some kind of shelter, so they could be sheltered from the rain and snow. In Imlay, they had confiscated some tin roofing, and had enough shelter for all. They even had a fireplace under cover.
To them, having one big hot meal every night was important. They had a huge cooking pot, and their meal was shared by all, their nightly Hobo Stew.
In Imlay, one Bo would go to Burkes Mercantile store, and buy the makings for their stew. Very rarely did a Bo come into town and bum for food. When they did, it was usually the Bale house that got hit, because Mama would give her own meal to feed a hungry soul.
Bo's tried their best to stay out of sight and out of trouble. As long as they did that, they were left alone, by the railroads and the community and the law. Most Bo's always offered to do work for their meal. Sharpening scissors was a popular offer for a meal. Mama always had the sharpest scissors in town.
In Imlay during the Great War, I became acquainted with hundreds of Hobo's. Dale Austin and I frequented the Hobo Jungle real often. Dales mom and dad worked at the Mercantile, and we always took a loaf of bread along as peace offering. We felt safe there, because the good men were always in control. Hoboing was their way of life, and in those days, they did their best to be law abiding and keep out of trouble.
Next week I'm going to tell you about the neatest long time professional Hobo I ever knew. Virgil Warren, who eventually settled in Linden, Texas, married and raised a family. I spent dozens of hours visiting him in the nursing home, where he spent his final days.
He started his story with, “I didn't run away from home till I was eleven years old.” Virgil was a Hobo to remember. Come back, See you next week.
Contact Roy Bale at firstname.lastname@example.org.