Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


September 25, 2012

Random Thoughts: Could economy spawn a new generation of hobos?

CROSSVILLE — Economic news recently has brought memories of past times this country has lived through. There have always been bums and tramps but it is during serious troubled times that the hobo appears. Could today’s situation spawn a new generation of these displaced souls searching for jobs?     

The word hobo was invented following the Civil War as unemployed veterans and freed slaves began heading west to find employment. Riding the rails was free and became the answer to getting there. Some believe the term hobo came into use when people started calling them “hoe boys”  because of the tools they slung over their shoulders.

Many years later during the Great Depression thousands of unemployed became hoboes to survive. The dangers of riding the rails were many and a Chicago physician established Hobo College to teach survival skills. This huge travel free, close-knit society referred to those days as ‘bos glory years.

Many of those called hoboes had been tops in their trades and were desperate to work again. To call them bums was a mistake. Among those who were hoboes in the 1930s were former Supreme Court Justice William A. Douglas, writers Louis L’Amour, Jack London and Ernest Hemingway.

They developed and followed their Hobo philosophy of hard work, thrift, environmental awareness and sharing. They became role models symbolizing independence and freedom wherever they traveled. They learned patience as they stayed out of sight for hours in a freight yard or hunkering down along a steep grade of track in the Rocky Mountains until they grabbed a free train ride.

Nothing angers a true hobo more than being called a bum or tramp. Their Hobo Guide defines a hobo as a wanderer willing to work to make his way. A tramp is a traveling non-worker who begs for hand-outs and a bum is too lazy to work and never roams.

The remnants of hobo jungles can still be found. This is where these travelers of the open road gathered at night to share tips while the hobo stew simmers over an open fire.

A few years ago I saw a sweatshirt covered with 27 symbols of the language they used to communicate with each other. These hobo hieroglyphics sent messages of warning, encouragement, of good places for a handout, a dishonest man, don’t ask for work, a barn you can sleep in and so many other bits of information.  

Most hoboes dropped their true name and replaced it with something more colorful. There was Roadhog, Steam Train Maury, Fishbone, Slow Motion Shorty, Fry Pan Jack and each name told something about its owner.

The National Hobo Association has a membership of thousands. Last weekend they named Minnesota Jack and Angel the King and Queen of the Hoboes for the year during their annual convention in Britt, Iowa. They stay in touch through their paper, the Hobo News.

The membership stays high because younger generations were drawn to the open road through train hopping. The NHA does not publicly endorse this way of traveling because it is illegal. In spite of the risks there is an abundance of weekend adventurers who are “call-that-freight-car-my home hoboes.”

One young woman was introduced to freight cars by her hobo friend “Itchy Foot.” They hopped a car for a ride that lasted nine hours and this nutritional consultant said, “Being in that boxcar lived up to every fantasy I’ve ever had. Going by that open scenery was like being in another space or time.”               

May the hobo population never again explode because of bad times. The American History Project is making a documentary film about that Great Depression period and the “knights of the road” so younger generations learn and take the message from the past as a warning during these present troubles times.

Text Only
  • LION AND THE LAMB: Four ways to demonstrate opposition

    Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan mention in their book, “The Last Week,” that Roman-occupied Palestine during the first century was under the control of Pontius Pilate who lived in the coastal city of Caesarea. Each year at the beginning of the Passover observance when Jews celebrated their liberation from Egypt, Pilate feared that they might be getting ideas about revolting from Rome, so he would come with additional soldiers on horses to beef up the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. 

    April 15, 2014

  • WE THE PEOPLE: Is it (new) party time?

    The Democratic and Republican parties are toast, according to Joe Trippi. The Republican Party is coming apart at its Tea Party seam. Democratic candidates struggle to celebrate President Obama’s health care successes, while responding to criticism of his failed promises, e.g., government transparency.

    April 15, 2014

  • TIDBITS: I found it at the library

    I have such fond memories of going to my local library as a child, searching through shelf after shelf and finding a book that would make me a Little Princess in World War II England, or bring me along as Nancy Drew solved the Secret in the Old Attic.

    April 14, 2014

  • STUMPTALK: The reason words have meaning

    If words did not have accepted meanings we would not be able to communicate effectively and civilized society would not exist.

    April 14, 2014

  • Lion and the Lamb: Do we really believe in democracy?

    The recent Supreme Court decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, is in a long line of debates about power in a democracy. Should power be in the hands of all the citizens or should it be in hands of those who have greater wealth and social position?

    April 8, 2014

  • We the People: Public education or business opportunity?

    A month ago, we followed the money trail left by a ‘think tank’ to the major sources funding an attack on our traditional, locally controlled public schools. We saw that a handful of billionaires provide major support to many organizations lobbying for change.

    April 8, 2014

  • Stumptalk: Just another government lie?

    There is a vault located in Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was built in 1936 and encased in 16 cubic feet of granite and 4200 feet of cement. The door is made of 20-inch thick material that is immune to drills, torches and explosives.

    April 7, 2014

  • GARY'S WORLD: The chance to speak your mind

    Are you tired of hearing people complain about the way things are run in Cumberland County? Or, do you like the way the county government is run and operated in our beautiful county?
    Are you happy with the way things are, or would you like some change?

    April 3, 2014

  • LION AND THE LAMB: Digging beneath the headlines

    Our media have been focusing on two important events that have taken place overseas during the last several weeks.

    April 1, 2014

  • WE THE PEOPLE: SNAP, health and work

    A recent letter from Representative Diane Black to me states that she voted for the farm bill (with $8 million in Food Stamp (SNAP) benefit cuts) because she, like me, is a supporter of food stamp benefits for Tennessee families who qualify. That’s a lot of families, as most recipients are families with children and the elderly. Now, recall that there was already a major cut to the food stamp program back in the fall. But for some Republicans, that was not enough.

    April 1, 2014

Marketplace Marquee
Must Read
Section Teases
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Weather Radar
2014 Readers' Choice