After the 1929 stock market crash our nation was thrown into a disastrous depression. One of the resulting freedoms exercised was the way of life of the hobo.
The first 15 years of my life I spent very close to the trainmen on the Lake Erie & Western Railroad. By the 1930 standard it was a slow train going downhill, but when going uphill and overloaded, it chugged to a dead stop, in order to get a good head of steam. As the train slowed, all hobo’s ran for cover. More often than not it was all in vain as railroad bullies were few and far between.
My mother fed all the hobo’s, not much, but something. She (unknowingly) fed the hobo’s that told stories galore to her google-eyed 2 sons, Jim and I. Tales of hobo signs and lingo, travel, places to see, and how to ride at no cost.
When you are out of money, ask a member of the Hobo Club, he’ll show you how to get by. If you get down and out, be honest and offer to work for food. A professional told us how he gets his food. He went to the community restaurant and kept his eyes on a man at the bar alone, no one on either side. He asked for the remains of his meal. He always got a handout.
Going north? Look for a reefer (refrigerator car) packed with ice. You will get there in hurry. The best ride of all is on a passenger or baggage car blind. The blind is on the outside of the accordion structure that connects passenger cars and baggage cars. Stand on the ledge and hold on to the metal bar, that way neither the engineer nor the conductor can see you while the train is moving. Though you will be standing all of the time, you will enjoy the scenery flashing by. It is tiresome, and you are not able to sit, but it is very rewarding.
My Uncle John McCauliff was a professional hobo, and proud of it. He was one of the best storytellers I have ever heard and his pride defended the profession. He was the ultimate in courteousness and very polite, but he totally despised any work beyond that for the need of food. Mother was always glad to see her brother. We boys, with mouths wide open, were at the height of anxiety to hear of his travels. His last visit found him shedding his Texas winter clothing as he headed for Fort Wayne.
He planned to catch a train to Fort Wayne and all went as planned until impatience set in. With only five miles to go, instead of waiting for a slow freight, John boarded the fourth car from the front of the gondola, as it was a very safe comfortable blind. He knew the train would be going uphill and slow enough to jump off…what he didn’t know was how very fast this particular express was.
My mother spent two days and nights with a pair of tweezers, digging, scraping, and pulling. We never tired of listening to his stories about hobo’s.