Hobo who?

In our last exchange I touched on hobos, itinerant workers who moved around the country by grabbing rides in boxcars or on top of one.

A 1925 map shows the five railroads that passed through Richland, Ga. An aerial view reveals old road beds but rails were ripped out long ago.

There is one railroad through town but there has been no regular passenger service in decades.

Two lines ran south. One passed the coal chute, the other line passed through a cut in a hill.

The hill was the site of the local hobo camp or “jungle” named “Hobo Hill.”

Kids were told to never go there but Hobo Hill drew the curious. We tried to reconnoiter the camp while it was empty and poked through cast off shoes, tin cans and rotting bedrolls or “bindles.”

If discovered kids were chased away by thrown rocks. Hobos didn’t want kids around their jungle: It was in everybody’s best interest to stay away from children.

The hill was graded down decades ago and only old timers or the recently enlightened can identify the remains of Hobo Hill.

Hobos had their own lingo such as “jungle” for camp; “bindle” bed roll on a stick; “crums,” for lice.

If a housewife served a meal on the front doorstep that was an “exhibition meal.”

Communication was by “hobographics,” marks written on walls and sidewalks with pieces of coal the average person would not notice. There was a sign for a free meal at a particular house, a bad dog, or that cops didn’t like hobos.

Starting in the late 1800s there were millions of hobos on the rails, many teenagers. Their goal was to do odd jobs and get from one place to the next.

Hobos lived communally, sharing what little they had, often making mulligan stew out of whatever they could toss into the pot. Nicknames, or handles, were based upon hometowns or former occupations. Nobody used their real name.

The ever changing micro community was structured by a code of conduct that promoted personal cleanliness, personal responsibility and a work ethic.

I recall a man sitting on the back steps of our house eating a meal out of a pie pan. My parents kept a woodpile in the back yard and there was always a guy willing to split firewood for a meal.

A man in my father’s office said he was from the west coast and knew William Boyd before he became Hopalong Cassidy. My father didn’t comment, just grinned.

The church had an arrangement with a local cafe’ to feed travelers who ran out of luck, money or both.

There aren’t many real hobos left, maybe a hundred, or less but there is a national Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa, each August. There are always more visitors than hobos but a Hobo King and Queen are crowned. The only qualifications seem to be old tattoos and bad teeth.

The National Hobo Museum occupies the old Chief Theater on Main Street across from Mary Jo’s Hobo

House restaurant.

It would be an interesting road trip.

Joe Phillips is a noted historian, a Douglas County resident and a regular columnist for the Sentinel.

Joe Phillips is a noted historian, a Douglas County resident and a regular columnist for the Sentinel.