There are multiple opinions as to where the word “HOBO” originated. Most common is that it a slang abbreviation of “homeward bound”.
The word hobo did not really come into prominence until the early 1890s, even though the “man riding the rail” image began much earlier.
The cross-country expansion of the railroads in the 1800s gave men a new way to travel. With the end of the American Civil War in the 1860s, many discharged veterans began hopping freight trains to return home.
Other looking for work on the American frontier followed the railroads west aboard freight trains.
The number of hobos increased greatly during the 1930s. With the Great Depression on and no work or prospects at home, many decided to travel for free by train and try their luck elsewhere.
Life as a hobo was dangerous. In addition to the problems of being itinerant, poor, and far from home and support, they faced the hostility of many train crews and the railroad staff, nicknamed “bulls”, who had a reputation of violence against trespassers.
Moreover, riding on a freight train is dangerous in itself.
W.H. Davies, who authored The ‘Autobiography if a Super-Tramp’, lost a foot when he fell under the wheels when trying to jump aboard a train. One could fall, be trapped between cars, or even freeze to death in bad weather.
No matter the life of the hobo though, early-era...
BY A CODE
They were known to be gracious guests, polite, and even down-right amusing when dealing with people.
1) When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
2) Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals, or other hobos.
3) Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment, should you return to that town again.
4) When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
5) Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for local’s treatment of other hobos.
6. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as badly, if not worse than you.
7) When traveling by train, ride respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
8) Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
9) Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
This article was featured in Haven Toronto’s October eMagazine, you can also view other issues and subscribe.