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Wandering Worker: The American Hobo

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 9, 2022 3:04 am

Wandering Worker: The American Hobo

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 9, 2022 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the term hobo is often confused with homeless or beggar, but the truth is, wandering through life was what they preferred. Connecticut Shorty of The Hobo Museum shares the story of the American hobo and how they are still celebrated today.

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To learn more, visit Bose.com. And we return to our American stories. And up next, you're going to hear from Connecticut Shorty. And yes, you heard it right. That's the name she goes by. And she also happens to be on the board of the Hobo Museum. And you heard that right, too, the Hobo Museum.

And she is here to share the stories of the history of the American Hobo. Betty Moylan is my given name. My Hobo name is Connecticut Shorty. Hobo names usually are given to you by someone, another Hobo usually. But some people will pick their nickname they had when they were a kid or a nickname somebody gave them along the way. My Hobo name, Connecticut Shorty, came from an old-time steam air Hobo named Steam Train Mari Graham.

A steam air Hobo is a Hobo that rode steam trains. And he gave me my name in Logan's Port, Indiana. In 1992, at a railroad festival, he decided that should be my name. So that's my name. Prior to that, I had a Hobo name that was Twinkle Toes.

Because I was kind of a dancer, you know. So my sister's Hobo name is New York Maggie. I gave her that name because although we were both raised in Connecticut, she raised her family in Rochester, New York.

She left when she was fairly young. So I gave her the name New York Maggie. My brother is very thin, so his Hobo name is Slim Tim. Redbird Express, he picked up his name because he was a truck driver. You know, when he was driving the truck, they called him Redbird Express.

So he kept that as his Hobo name. Connecticut Tootsie. Her father used to give Tootsie Pops to the kids in his shoemaking store.

So she took the name Connecticut Tootsie in honor of her father. Slow Motion Shorty was an old-time steam air Hobo. He had him hit by a car a couple of times walking along roads, and he moved pretty slow.

Of course, he had had a lot of injuries. So the Hobos called him Slow Motion Shorty. Oh, Hard Rock Kid. He got his name. He was a Hard Rock miner out in the West.

He liked to mine those minerals and stuff. So he got the Hobo named Hard Rock Kid. So they come from a variety of places, different names.

They're kind of fun. A lot of people mix up the American Hobo. I say American Hobo because it's really only an American phenomenon, this Hobo person that road trains. A lot of people mix up the Hobo with the homeless or the local people that, you know, hang around towns and begging stuff. So classically, the Hobo worked and wandered, and they were homeless by choice. Some of them had homes. They could go home if they wanted to. You know, a lot of them had families and homes or a relative would take them in. But they didn't want that. They loved to be out American wandering. They didn't want to have a home. It sort of gave them claustrophobia or something.

They had to be outside. Classic example is my father. Now, he married my mother in the 1940s, and he had Hobo before he met my mother. So he tried very hard to settle down. He had three children.

There's three of us. And he did his best, but there was a lot of problems in the marriage because he was restless. Sometimes he'd leave and disappear for three or four days. And then eventually, the marriage ended, and he left. So we were raised by our mother, and he went back to Hobo. And he worked and wandered his whole life.

He just road trains and wandered around America and worked. So there's all kinds of stories connected with Hobo's having to... I guess you can't explain it to a person that doesn't have it. It's called the wanderlust, where you just can't stay there. You can't settle down into a home in a normal kind of life, what we call normal. But to a Hobo, a normal life was wandering around and picking up odd jobs to make enough money to keep going just to see what's going on all over the country. So the classic definition of a Hobo is they wander and work and work to wander because they don't mind working, and they'll take a variety of jobs.

But they get restless after usually just a couple of months tops. And they just got to get on the road and see what's going on down the tracks, basically. So they leave the jobs, short-term jobs. They started pretty much after the Civil War.

A lot of the veterans, of course, didn't want to go home, or they couldn't go home depending on their personal circumstances. And they had been, you know, a lot of them wandering around, you know, fighting, of course, for five years or so. So they started following the railroad, working for the railroad, and just wandering and working.

But they'd do anything. They'd paint. They'd wash dishes and restaurants. They took all kinds of jobs just to stay for a short term. Some of them worked in lumber camps like that hard rock kid.

He'd work in mines. They worked a lot of the migrant farm work. But they really helped develop the country because the farmers needed the help.

It wasn't the modern generation where machines can do so much today. It was all manual labor and stuff. So they were happy to have this big work crew of people show up. Seasonally, most of them, like they'd pick apples in Oregon. New York State had apples. The hobos would go to New York State to pick apples and cherries and stuff.

So they were all over the place. And they'd hold up in camps that were called hobo jungles. This is where they'd gather and meet each other and cook what they call hobo stew.

Just a pot of water and all kinds of vegetables and stuff. And if they had meat, they'd throw that in. But it filled up a lot of people.

That's the reason they cooked that. Because it would fill up a whole camp of people. They share stories.

They talk about where the jobs were. Some of them would play music. Now that Woody Guthrie hobo, he carried a guitar. But very few people carried a guitar.

Most of them actually play the harmonica, the ones that played an instrument. Because they could just slip that in a pocket or a little bag or something, you know. Because when you're getting on trains, you can't be carrying all this big stuff like guitars. And actually, they never even carried walking sticks on trains. They were in the way when you're trying to, you know, jump on trains. Most of them would get on or off trains when they were moving. They may pick up a walking stick and carry it around the town or something, you know, for things that might try to hurt them. So historically, it came down as fact that this is what the hobos did. But they weren't really riding trains with a walking stick. Some of that stuff becomes folklore. Most of them carried what we would call a bindle or a bag slung over their shoulder. It was more practical. Some of the hobos would dry their socks, hanging them on trees and sticks and stuff. At one time, this old timer had a cane now.

So he was drying his socks on his walking stick. The hobos were originally meeting in the Chicago area. It wasn't really the city of Chicago. It was a lot of the surrounding smaller towns. Prior to 1900, about 1899, word had come to Brit that the hobos were unhappy meeting in the Chicago area. Police were hassling them and this and that. And they wanted to go somewhere else.

So these business people in Brit, Iowa, there was three or four main business people. They decided, well, why don't we invite the hobos to come to Brit? And this will give us, you know, national recognition as a city. It was a railroad town. And, you know, it'll have tourists come and spend money.

And this will be a good thing for us. So they got a hold of one of the hobos. He was the grand head pipe of these hobos that were meeting in the Chicago area.

His name was Charles Noe. And the grand head pipe was the spokesperson for the hobos and the chief negotiator. So he came to Brit in 1899 and met with these business people. And they did the negotiations for him to start spreading the word for the hobos to come and have their convention there. And probably the biggest reason that got him interested in having the hobos come to Brit was they promised him that the hobos could have all the free German suds that they wanted, type of free beer.

So this was a really big ticket item for these hobos. So they all agreed to come. And then 1900 was going to be the first convention held in Brit. And they came, most of them came by trains.

Of course, there was all kinds of trains back in those days. And there was notoriety all over the country. Papers, oh, out in California, Illinois, all over the country, carried this first annual convention. Well, they didn't call it an annual convention. This hobo convention got to be held in Brit.

And then that was pretty successful. So then after that, Brit started inviting hobos. They just started coming back every year. And we still have an annual convention today. The hobo community people come into Brit. I wouldn't classify them as classic American hobos anymore.

But a lot of heavy duty rail riders still come in. And we sit and we have a meeting. And in the old days, they would talk about, of course, where jobs were and what's going on around the town or something. Now we pretty much talk about our community, what we need to do in the jungle maybe to make it better.

And if there's any issues in the town, we try to resolve them, things like that. But we still actually have an annual hobo convention meeting in the city of Brit every year. And you're listening to Connecticut Shorty tell the story of the American hobo.

By the way, when she says Brit, she's talking about Brit, Iowa. That's where the hobo convention is held each year. And hobos, well, they want to distinguish themselves from homeless people. This is their lifestyle. This is how they choose to live, work and wonder, Connecticut Shorty said. And indeed her father, well, he worked and he wandered. And then he kept wandering, but she didn't resent him for it. Clearly she's chronicling the hobo life.

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See rules at FritoLayScore.com. And we continue with our American stories and to Connecticut's shorty on the history of the American Hobo. He had just told us of the long-standing tradition called the Hobo Convention that takes place each year in Britt, Iowa.

Let's return to Connecticut's shorty. Originally, the Hobo Convention was run by those business people that I mentioned and the early Hobos, they had some sack races and games and things they did. But now currently, it's a wonderful event. It's more of a family event.

It's the second full weekend in August every year. That's been consistent for over 30 years that I've been going. We have a Hobo Jungle there. The Hobo Jungle is really a camp. Now the old-time Hobo Jungle was where the Hobos came to meet each other when they got off the rails and they'd gather over by the railroad station in town. And they'd be around the town in the daytime talking to the tourists and stuff. But then at night, they'd go to their own Hobo Jungle. The people really didn't go over and bother them too much.

Probably were a little afraid of them, of course. But today, it's more of a family event. People come into the Hobo Jungle, talk to the Hobos, you know, have them sign autographs, take pictures of them. They bring their kids down to meet them.

So it's changed over the years. But it's still considered a Hobo Jungle because that's where we all are and where our campfire is and, you know, where many of us are sleeping. So and then this is one of the reasons the Hobos came to Brit for so many years and we still go to Brit. We have a memorial service in the Hobo Cemetery. The Hobo Cemetery is a section of the local evergreen cemetery in Brit and they've given us an area where we can bury the Hobos that have caught the westbound in our community. We have a memorial service where we honor not only the Hobos that are buried in the Brit Cemetery, but also the Hobos that caught the westbound anywhere in the world, really. Because some of them were actually World War II veterans.

They never came home. So and then we have a huge parade. And the highlight, of course, is the election of the King and Queen. The King and Queen are elected by the public, really. There's of course, there's a lot of Hobos there.

The whole Hobo community is included in this. They gather around this little gazebo now that they give up to a two-minute speech on to say why they should be king or queen. And then there's judges spread around the audience.

There's six judges and they listen to the claps and they come into the head judge and tell him or her who they think got the most claps. And that person is the person that is elected king and queen. They're crowned with a blue robe and a red robe.

And they're crowned as a straw hat with a Folger's coffee can attached to the top. And that's stored in the Hobo Museum and used every year. The Hobo Museum started in the late 1980s. A Hobo historian, his name was George Horton. He walked into the local Chamber of Commerce. He had two boxes of Hobo artifacts that he had been collecting. And he put them on the desk of the Chamber of Commerce lady, who's name was Willie Klein at the time, and said here you can have these.

You know, I don't really have any place to keep this collection anymore. So that generated the idea, well, why don't we start a Hobo Museum in Brit? So back in 1974, a steam air Hobo named Slow Motion Shorty had caught the westbound. And he had left several thousand dollars with a nonprofit that was called the Hobo Foundation that was organized also by coincidence in 1974 by Three Hobos. So the money was just kept in the bank account of the nonprofit for years. So then the city people and the Hobos worked together.

They found the Chief Theater downtown Brit that was empty. And they used Slow Motion Shorty's donation to purchase it. So opened as a Hobo Museum.

You're talking about 30 years ago now, somewhere's around there. Since then, of course, all kinds of artifacts have come in. Because what happened over the years, especially a lot of people in Brit had these Hobo collections that they'd have Hobo sign things. And sometimes Hobo would give them gifts and stuff. And as they get older and older, and for various reasons, they donate their stuff to the Hobo Museum.

The Hobos themselves donated stuff. Artifacts come in from all over the country. So it's grown to be a world-class museum, now with thousands of Hobo-connected items.

We have a nice collection of paintings. There's two really neat paintings in there. Hobo Joe had those commissioned. They're Hobo jungle scenes. And what's unique about them, he had himself painted into the picture.

So in each jungle scene, you can find Hobo Joe, which is kind of unique. There's a nice collection of various walking sticks. There's a quilt that was hand embroidered by Hobo named Texas Madman. It's made of denim. And he sewed the sayings and the various things on the patches with string. Can you imagine him sewing a quilt together with string?

I can't even imagine it. But he'd carry some patches in his little pack, and little by little, he'd make this and assemble it. And there's some photography, crafts done by the Hobos. There's a knot collection in there, Frisco Jack. He Hoboed, and he was a merchant marine. And he was an expert knot tire.

He donated a collection of knots. It's a pretty unique place. It's the only Hobo artifacts museum in America, in the whole world, for that matter.

So it's one of the most unique museums in Anywhere's that you could find, because it's amassed quite a collection of items. I've been on the board of directors for the Hobo Museum since 1992. Today, there's a lot of steam air Hobos still alive.

But most of them, you know, are in their 90s or over 100 years old. The genuine classic steam air Hobo, which is the history that we're trying to preserve in Brit. We had only one steam air Hobo come to Brit this year. His name is Minnesota Jim.

He's 94 years old. There's other Hobos still alive from that generation, but they don't necessarily come to Brit. So what we have today coming to Brit, not coming to Minnesota Jim, is mostly what I would call rail riders. We have a lot younger generation coming in the riding trains from California to Minnesota and making their way to Brit and stuff. But I wouldn't call them a classic Hobo anymore.

The Hobos that worked in Wandered are pretty much gone. So today we have people that still ride trains. Some of them have been riding trains since the 70s.

They're heavy duty rail riders. Still coming to the Hobo convention and coming into the Hobo jungle, where we share a lot of stories and history. There's still a lot of us, you know, older people wandering around that are happy to talk about the Hobos to anybody. There's a neat little restaurant in Brit called the Hobo House. That has all kinds of Hobo memorabilia on the walls and around the restaurant. So if people are interested in Hobo history, the place to come is Brit, Iowa.

And you can't do any better than that. You just never know who's going to be there, who's going to show up. Like some people, they come back year after year. I've actually been to 31 consecutive Hobo conventions myself.

And there's still a handful of us. Redbird Express and my sister have been there 31 years consecutively. Minneapolis Jewel has been there 41 consecutive years this year.

She's 10 years ahead of us. So there's some really old timers there. And the most fun is meeting your friends. A lot of times you see people there that you haven't seen all year. You see them once a year. They show up in Brit. Sometimes you'll meet a unique person and you'll spend a lot of time talking to them or socializing with them. And you'll never see them again.

So I think it's probably the interactions with the various people that is the reason I keep going back to Brit personally. And of course, my father's buried there, Connecticut Slim. I think we mostly go for each other to meet our friends and honor our dead. That's really the big reason the Hobos go to honor our dead. When we have our Hobo service out at the cemetery at the end of the service, we all walk around and touch all the stones with our walking sticks to show the people that have caught the westbound honor. So that's a tradition that we have.

That probably started 40 years ago. I just think that Brit is a unique, wonderful small town in Iowa that honors these Hobos since 1900. And it's worth a stop when anybody's passing through. And a great job on the storytelling by Madison. And a special thanks to Connecticut Shorty for sharing her passion with the American Hobo with all of us. And we all learned something from that story. A, that it's a unique thing, the Hobo.

It's an American thing. Moreover, that there's a convention where people convene to talk about Hobos. And we also learned that there are not many Hobos left. And indeed, the Hobo life is over in large part, though the heavy-duty rail riders, well, they still prevail all over this country. The people who just love hopping on a train. By the way, The Emperor of the North, a movie with Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin, is a classic story centered around Hobo life and Hobo jungles.

The story of the Hobo Museum here on Our American Stories. Sign up today so you can jump right in when Paris's Sliving Land goes live on Friday, November 11th. Visit paris.world.co today. Share your team on live at the FIFA World Cup 2022 final in Qatar. Frito-Lay is giving you the chance to win two tickets by joining their Pass the Ball Challenge. Add your picture to the Golden World Soccer Ball.

Then pass the ball to fellow fans to score additional entries. Scan the QR code on specially marked bags of Lay's, Cheetos or Doritos, or visit frito-layscore.com. No purchase necessary. Open to legal residence at 50 USDC, 18 plus grand prize entry deadline, 11-10-22. Entries received after 11-10-22 are only eligible for secondary prizes.

See rules at frito-layscore.com. When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. Next-gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you, delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound. So you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. Sound shape to you? To learn more, visit bose.com.
Whisper: small.en / 2022-11-09 08:41:32 / 2022-11-09 08:47:42 / 6

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