Something for Martyn to go to?

There is a National Hobo convention, who would ever have thought.

The Economist has a report from the convention.

Hobos have long been misunderstood. People call them bums, often prefaced with the word “lazy”. Yet life on the road is arduous. Hobos travel to find work for food and lodging, an old tradition. In the late 1800s, 63 of them started a union with a small subscription fee and a set of laws. These, among other things, told members not to abuse handouts, to respect nature, and wherever possible to find work and stay clean. Linda Hughes, who works at the National Hobo Museum in Britt, says that hobos were the first migrant workers and that they helped to build America.

During the Depression there were probably hundreds of thousands of them, including many teenagers. Few were paid-up union members. But some of the better-known were poets, artists and dreamers. “Tramp art” has become collectable: hobos engraved cameos on nickels, made models with matchsticks and carved intricate designs on cigar boxes.

Minnesota Jim, who attended the 113th convention this year, has a weather-beaten face like a map of the world. He says he rode the rails in the 1940s out of a sense of “curiosity and adventure” before settling down. He washed dishes, picked cotton and potatoes, and worked in a lumber mill.

Another hobo, a young woman with blond dreadlocks and bare feet, says she is on her way to Oregon to work on the marijuana harvest. She says she loves small towns; she ran away from a pimp in St Louis, a city she describes as both “dangerous and boring”.  

Sounds appalling.

The hobo convention was a riot of straggly hair, hobo poetry and free Mulligan stew. Convention-goers such as Connecticut Shortie, Dapper Darrell and Lump came together to pay homage to those who have caught the Westbound. Iowa Blackie, Steam Train Maury, the Pennsylvania Kid and many others are buried nearby.

Hobo groupies came too: people who wish to keep the culture of this vanishing breed alive. Hobo slang is earthy and evocative: a hobo camp is a jungle; a sit-down meal a knee-shaker; washing dishes is pearl-diving; living in a car is rubber tramping. Disappointingly, few hobos at the meeting arrived the traditional way, by hopping off a freight train. The railway drivers know about the festival and refuse, rather unsportingly, to slow down on their way through town.


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  • tarkwin

    I thought they held that convention in the Auckland town hall last night?

    • Saccharomyces

      Comment of the day!

    • Col

      Yes they did, I saw it on TV ,a big fat bastard was there and talked funny, must be that slang they use.

  • cows4me

    When I was a kid my grandparents use to tell me stories about hobos or tramps that would work on the farm for a week or so. They use to live in a small house with a wood stove on the farm. Some would just want a meal so my grandparents would give them a meal and they would be back on the road again. Of course this would never happen these days we are much to enlightened. Besides why go looking for work when it’s handed to you on a platter and who can give anyone work without filling out the bloody forms and paying the correct hourly wage.