Q: What is the Hobo Convention?
A: The National Hobo Convention is the largest gathering of hobos,
rail-riders, and tramps, who gather to celebrate the American
Q: When and where is the Hobo Convention?
A: The National Hobo Convention is held the second weekend every
August in Britt, Iowa
Q: How can we get to the Hobo Convention?
A: Britt, Iowa is located 31 miles west of Mason City, Iowa. Route 18
travels through Britt. Greyhound Bus services Mason City. Clear Lake
Municipal Airport offers flight service.
Q: Can we still ride a freight train to the Convention?
A: Freight train riding is illegal! Train service to Britt, Iowa is
sporadic at best. There are trains daily in either direction but the
schedule varies quite a bit. While we don’t condone freight train
riding, we recognize that there will be individuals who will choose to
travel that way. Please be careful.
Q: What is there to do at the Hobo Convention?
A: Aside from the scheduled events, there are many opportunities to
visit with local townspeople and hobos and share stories and music and
poetry. There is also many tourist attractions in the area including,
the Armstrong House, The Grotto of the Redemption, The Surf Ballroom,
the Museum of Farming and Agriculture. Hancock County Race track is
located in Britt and has weekend racing.
Q: Are there any real Hobos at the Convention?
A: There are many former and current hobos who join us at the
Q: Are there any hotel or camping facilities at the Convention?
A: There are hotels in Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa. There is
camping available in Britt.
Q: Where do the Hobos stay?
A: Most of the hobos stay at the hobo jungle, located on the Northeast
side of town, by the railroad tracks.
Q: Who runs the Hobo Convention?
A: The City of Britt runs the Hobo Days Celebration, The Council of
Hobos (Tourist Union 63) handles the business of the convention. The
Hobo Foundation operates the Hobo Museum and maintains the Hobo
Q: Can we drink at the Convention?
A: The Convention events are located on public property. Local laws do
not allow for drinking alcoholic beverages on public property. There
are a number of taverns located in Britt.
Q: Can anyone become Hobo King or Hobo Queen?
A: To be elected King you must be a true rail-rider. You must pass a
committee of hobo kings who will test your worthiness to run. To run
for queen, you must attend the convention for 3 years and help out at
Q: How can we trace a loved one who was on the rails or possibly still
on the rails?
A: You may contact the Hobo Museum for more information. Call
641-843-9104. During Hobo week, you may ask at the Hobo Jungle.
Q: How can we get someone buried at the Hobo Cemetery?
A: Contact the Hobo Foundation for information at 641-843-9104.
Q: How can I donate to the Hobos?
A: You may donate to the hobos at the hobo jungle during Hobo Week, or
you can donate financially or with memorabilia at the Hobo Museum
“City life is interesting but full of danger. … The flophouse
and the cheap hotel compel promiscuity, but do not encourage intimacy
or neighborliness. On the outskirts of cities, however, the homeless
men have established social centers that they call “jungles,” places
where the hobos congregate to pass their leisure time outside the
urban centers.” 
Allan Pinkerton made one of the first descriptions of a hobo jungle
back in 1877. While he doesn’t use the term hobo (it doesn’t come into
custom until the 1890s), he does describe a scene which would become
all too common along the railroad lines in the coming decades. This
scene was reported as repeatedly occuring along the line of the Boston
and Albany railroad.
“It is night, and in a deep gorge near the railroad, where the
trains are constantly passing and repassing, a collection of some
twenty or thirty of these outcasts, who have been driven from a
neighboring village, are gathered. At the bottom of the gorge, where a
stream of water leaps down from the hills through the stone archway
sustaining the tracks, are sleeping or dozing, about a fire which has
been kindled for warmth and to cook what little the wanderers may have
stolen or begged for their supper, a large number of the poor fellows,
exhausted from their day’s march; for, like “Joe” in Dickens’s “Bleak
House,” it is their destiny to be kept “moving on” and on. In
different places are seen old and young men who have retired from the
companionship of their fellows, to brood over their misfortunes,
regret lost opportunities in the past, or possibly to resolve upon
better things for the future….” 
Pinkerton hit on the elements of what would come to be called “the
jungle”. Not only are the geographical characteristics correct, but
his description of a ‘society’ of outcasts, gathering, eating, and
sleeping together is a fine description of the social function of the
The hobo jungle was a place to rest and repair while on the road
outside of the city. Some were more permanent than others, but all
shared the element of refuge, an out-of-the-way place where the hobo
could eat, sleep, read a newspaper and wash himself before heading out
Accordingly, the jungle was located near the railroad, close enough to
get to and from the train yard or rail line but not so close as to
attract unwanted attention. According to Anderson, accessibilty to the
railroad is but one of the requirements for a good jungle. “It should
be located in a dry and shady place that permits sleeping on the
ground. There should be plenty of water for cooking and bathing and
wood enough to keep the pot boiling. If there is a general store near
by where bread, meat, and vegetables may be had, so much the better.
For those who have no money, but enough courage to ‘bum lumps’ it is
well that the jungles be not too far from a town, though far enough to
escape the attention of the natives and officials, the town
Anderson divides jungle camps into two classes: the temporary and the
permanent. Temporary jungles are just stop-overs or relay stations
inhabited intermittantly by men temporarily stranded and seeking a
place to lay-over without being molested by authorities or criminals.
Of course, a smart man would look first for a place where others have
already been because there he might find a pot to cook in. In places
where the trains stop frequently – always a convenience – these camps
tend to become more permanent.
In the jungle camp, especially a permanent jungle camp, might be found
pots or kettles, utensils of various kinds, a line strung on which to
dry clothes or a mirror with which a man might more easily shave. Much
in the tradition of the cowboy camp whose basic tenet is that you
leave it as you found it, the jungle has certain rules designed to
keep it functional and self-sustaining.
* Making fire by night in jungles subject to raids.
* “hi-jacking” or robbing men at night when sleeping in the jungle
* “buzzing” or making the jungle a permanent hangout for jungle
“buzzards” who subsist on the leavings of meals
* wasting food or destroying it after eating is a serious crime
* leaving pots and other utensils dirty after using
* cooking without first hustling fuel
* destroying jungle equipment
“In addition to these fixed offenses are other crimes which are dealt
with as they arise. Men are supposed to use cooking cans for cooking
only, “boiling up” cans for washing clothing, coffee cans to cook
coffee, etc. After using, guests are expected to clean utensils, dry
them, and leave them turned bottom side up so that they will not fill
with rainwater and rust. They are expected to keep the camp clean. To
enforce such common-sense rules, self-appointed committees come into
“The jungle also is the kindergarten for the road kid and the
academy for all. Here are learned the techniques of survival and even
enjoyment. There is, at the simplest stage, the two-times table of
tramping: the shorthand code of symbols which the floater’s eye picks
up on a town’s signboard or gatepost, the half-moons and triangles and
interlinked circles and crossed lines that indicate in hieroglyphic
detail the reception a hobo can expect and the potentials for working
or bumming.” 
While often viewed as the haven in which hobo law, lore and tradition
were passed on, the jungle could also be a place of danger and
intimidation. Police, railroad bulls and criminals could find
scapegoats or easy targets in the jungle congregation.
On all counts, the good and bad, the jungle was the place where “the
fledgling learns to behave like an old timer,” where the “slang… and
the cant of the tramp class is circulated” and where the “stories and
songs current among the men of the road, the sentiments, the
attitudes, and the philosophy” of the migratory laborer are aired and
passed on. 
As the railroad carried the hobo from the jungles to the cities and
back again, it also carried the slang, stories, songs and sentiments
that were the heart of hobo culture.
THE HOBO CODE
As inscribed in the Annual Convention Congress of the Hoboes of
America held on August 8, 1894 at the Hotel Alden, 917 Market St.,
1. Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.
2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
3. Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
4. 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 insure employment should you return to that town again.
5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos.
7. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
12. Do not cause problems in a train yard, Another hobo will be coming along who will need passage thru that yard.
13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose to authorities all molesters, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
14. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
16. If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it, whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!
WHAT IS A HOBO?
Subject: Addressing the public about hobos
What a hobo looks like: To begin with, there is no real way to
visually tell who a hobo is, there are no specific uniforms, or style
of dress. No secret hand signs, or greetings, no membership cards, and
contrary to most police attitudes, no organized gangs. This Idea come
from an attitude called “Pass The Buck”, where a police officer cannot
figure out a conclusion to a crime, so the police officer finds a Hobo
to blame. And where a Hobo is concerned, migratory in activities, and
habits, they are still predictable to return to places and areas they
deem comfortable with a frequency. With only a past history of
employment, they return to areas they are used to, the police know
this and so, with that predictability, they haunt areas that Hobos
frequent. Looking for someone who fits the description of the criminal
suspect the police cannot otherwise find. The Hobo, having no
community ties in the town, has no physical proof of his travels, and
past places of residence, and therefore is an easy scapegoat to blame
for what local crime the police cannot otherwise solve. The traveling
and working man/woman know each other by sight and nickname from past
experience of travel, work, and residence of locales. Life habits
become character traits, which are the fingerprints of each Hobo
encountered. There are many eccentricities of each Hobo that cause
each one to be identified in the Hobos dress, name, way of living, and
what friends he/she surrounds themselves with, or if they are loners.
Head gear: Ball Caps permeate through out the entire Hobo Culture;
some may be from certain Football, Basketball, or Baseball Teams that
a Hobo is a fan of. Other caps can be of Industry, or Industrial
Companies that the Hobo is seasonally employed by. Other caps may be
showing Cities, or States the Hobo spends their winters in, and still
other caps have no denotation at all. These can be Military Caps,
Welders Caps, “Boonie Hats”, Corn stripes, or Toboggans, still, like
the Native American, the Hobos hat tells something about him/her.
Clothing: Clothes can be of any style, but generally consists of long-
sleeved shirts, and denim pants, good denim pants are needed because
the work and travel of the Hobo is rough, easily destroying clothing
not made for the job. Too many attendants at the local mission are
used to locals wearing what ever pants are given, and will not even
try to understand the Hobo looking for the rough and tough pants that
will endure a working punishment, and last for at least a year. They
are used to most accepting what ever scraps are given, so they cannot
fathom one discriminating over clothing. Another thing that mission
attendants cannot understand is the Hobo wanting to wash his/her
clothes. It is inconceivable to them that someone living “outside”
would want to take care of their property. The mission attendant is
too used to folks preferring no responsibilities, that they cannot
fathom someone wanting such. In fact the mission attendant has been
brainwashed by an administration with a “Big Brother” attitude, which
are too used to seeing folks existing as a nameless, faceless number
in a crowd. And are not used to anyone wanting to be an individual, so
the Hobo is the freak of nature to the mission attendant.
Foot wear: There is no specific kind of footwear that can be called
“Hobo Shoes”, or “Hobo Boots”, some wear work boots, some wear tennis
shoes, some wear military dress shoes, some wear mountain climbing
shoes. Most will find footwear that will last through the most extreme
punishment, so if the boots/shoes cost $$, or not it is up to the
individual to determine what will be obtained, and how. A big benefit
to the Hobo is the “Military Stand Down”, where the Army gathers to
redistribute many goods to veterans. At this activity a Hobo can
replenish his/her living goods, boot, clothes, underwear, socks,
coats, gloves, sleeping bags, food, etc. At a time, and in a culture
that constantly tries to make its’ finances “go the extra mileage”,
this is a better benefit than getting a Federal Tax Return, and will
last much longer. Usually, at a local jungle, Hobos will group
together and decide, of what they have gathered at the Stand Down,
what each personally wants to keep, and what to pass on to others in
A grand sense of family permeates the Hobo Culture, and in that idea
is the constant activity of giving unto others. This constant is
ingrained in their minds by a street quote-“what goes around, comes
around”, and most Hobos will remember the good done to the by others
of the family/culture. And when they are “flush”, they will return the
favor, maybe not directly, but eventually it will return to the giver.
Although the use of a sleeping bag may appear self explanatory, it
serves several functions in a Hobos life. As a bed, as a couch, as a
worktable, as a seat, it can just be used to keep warm with, most will
be military issue and will definitely show signs of heavy use, and
Back Packs: In older days a backpack was called a bindle, and it is a
staple of the Hobos life, and will carry extra clothes, food, eating
utensils, cooking utensils, possibly a small stove, (although most
hobos will opt for building a small fire, unless they are on the run,
then they will eat cold). This container also holds their working
tools, or “traveling trade”, and may contain pliers, screwdriver,
knife, razorblades, needles and thread, denim material, leather or
Traveling Intelligence: Traveling Intelligence is an item most hobos
try to keep in their head; this might not always be possible
(especially in this day and age). Mostly Traveling Intelligence
revolves around the mode of transportation that the Hobo uses to get
from Point-A, to Point-B. This usually is by a freight train, but also
includes interstate bus, or hitchhiking so to say a hobo only travels
by freight train is totally erroneous. For independence of life,
enjoyment of freedom, and self-reliance in caring for ones’ self and
ones’ personal finances is the basic essence of the Hobos way of life.
In actual physical points of traveling, the intelligence begins with a
total respect for freight trains, seeing that it is hundreds of
thousands of tons of unrelentlessness, and mindless, or heartless
steel. Totally having no feelings for human life, nor prejudice toward
who ever it may kill, it is a machine that takes on the personality,
and attitude of its’ operator. And if the operator/engineer has a hate
directed toward Hobos, then the train will act accordingly! Older
Hobos may not always use past experience, but may also be armed with a
railroad scanner, in the past a hobo could ask and get good direct
information as to whatever train they might be wanting to travel on
going to, or near their destination. This may not be an option in this
age; most Hobos agree that being out of sight is best for catching a
train. Therefore scouting a train yard, and listening to a scanner for
train numbers, then deciphering the cryptic information to tell where
the train is, and its’ departure time, and destination is very
reminiscent of a military reconnaissance operation. While in transit,
keep in mind that you are a guest (uninvited) on the freight train you
are riding, and anything you do that is otherwise asinine, and could
effect the safety of your train must be avoided. If you feel this does
not apply to you, please consider, In all but 16 freight train
derailments in the past 50 years were caused by Dumb Hobos monkeying
Evading Railroad Police: Evading Railroad Police has never been a sure
thing, an older Hobo once told me ” the bull ain’t caught you because
he didn’t want to catch you”. The easiest way I know of to avoid
Railroad Police is don’t drink alcoholic beverages while waiting to
catch out. A person takes too many life threatening chances when they
are alcoholically impaired, I’ve seen too many folks get “Sliced and
Diced” after trying to catch when they are inebriated. Too many yard
employees have had to clean up the tracks after a drunk hobo has
gotten himself/herself killed by a moving train. For your protection
(believe it or not) they will call the Railroad Police when they see
someone drinking near the train yard. The best idea here is to catch
out sober, and celebrate after the train is rolling. The old saying
“Patience is a Virtue” is not too far off the mark, when scoping the
yard to find a ride a person can draw a lot of attention to his/her
self because most are in a hurry to get going. A problem with this is
the fidgety acting, and pacing around also draws a lot of attention to
yourself when around a train yard. It’s a hard thing to do, training
yourself to be patient while waiting near a train yard, but the main
thought here is an old Military Discipline, “Nothing is more evident
than a moving object”. While waiting outside of the train yard, watch
the activity, and try to scan the extent of the yard, you may be able
to find an area away from too much activity that will be easier for
you to access your train. Also in an area of low activity you will be
less likely to be spotted by, or called into a railroad police
officer. When all is said and done, and you still end up getting
kicked off the yard, think of coming back at another time, it might be
that the railroad police officer is doing you a favor!
How do Hobos get Work/Money? In almost every town there is a corner
where people catch out work, most hobos have been working a migratory
labor route for years, they are well aware of when and where seasonal
work crops up. As always, planned travel does not work quite the way
most want it to go, and most Hobos have experienced this, therefore
they have had to seek out labor in areas that they would not otherwise
stop in. Because of this they have established work corners in various
towns across the continent, this also allows hobos who do not migrate
with the seasons to have an area to replenish their road funds.
Seasonal employment has existed since the founding of this country,
most of it is centered on agricultural work. The best way to find out
about this kind of work is to contact the Archer Daniels Midland
Company. Another way most hobos will get work is to go to day labor
offices, like Labor Ready, which has offices in almost every major
town in the nation. The offices pay daily, and while $40 to$60 a day
is not top dollar, it is still not anything to laugh at, especially
when your wallet is full, of dust and lint.
Families: A big thing that has been asked of me over the years is do
Hobos have families? Everyone comes from a mother and father, and some
how they are related to someone somewhere, the problem with this is
sometime neither of the parents have learned to how to love their
children. Basically they are full of cold emotions, and therefore
displace, or throw away their children, and so in a manner of
speaking, they hit the road, many go to the big cities and fall prey
to a destructive sub-culture that permeates in these areas. Some,
however, have a spirit of wanderlust about them, and begin hitchhiking
around the country, to a degree they find a loose knit family with the
hitchhikers they encounter around the country. But many fall prey to
the many greedy opportunists that follow, and feed upon hitchhikers,
but some of them find the hobos. Much like these kids, hobos come from
a family somewhere, and many of them have a family they return to see
from time to time. Because hobos cross paths with each other so often,
or travel the same routes they each become the others’ brothers and
sisters, and form their self-styled family bonds. Because Hobos all
share the same lifestyle, mode of travel, and dangers- the hobo family
bonds, and love become stronger than most blood family bonds. Because
they share everything with each other, they adopt those who have none,
and kids that are thrown away by their own family find the Hobo Family
highly accepting of them. So what if the kid is not college material,
so what is the kid has a lot of body piercings or tattoos, so what is
he/she smokes marijuana? If he/she has decided not to follow a norm or
standard in their hometown life, then they are of the desire to be an
individual, or an outlaw! A friend of mine, Just Jim (R.I.P.) once
told me “hobos are the last of the outlaws”, and because of that the
hobo family still inspires imagination, creativity, and independence.
It is this kind of lifestyle I grew up with, and eventually hit the
road with, it is this kind of lifestyle most kids find appealing, it
is this kind of family most want to belong to. Because most Hobos have
little, or no monetarily valuable possessions, the adopted kinships
they have with other Hobos is so much more precious. And so hand made
items abound among the Hobo Family, it is a throw back to a time when
gifts could not easily be bought, but they could easily be made. And
when one Hobo dies, though the rest of the U.S. could care less, the
entire Hobo family feels the pain nation-wide.
What’s the appeal of Hobo Life? So what appeal to this kind of life is
there really?, to the neo-phyte, imagine a way of life where you are
not bound by time schedules, home owner bill, job expectations, the
IRS, you can live where you want, sleep where you want, travel
wherever you want as long as its’ in the continental US and Canada.
Never pay a travel fare unless you want to, never pay rent, electric,
gas, water, or cable bills, never pay taxes, and see places in the US
and Canada others only see in the movies, or in a magazine. Sound like
the lifestyle of Bill Gates, or Donald Trump?, well hundreds of folks
live that kind of life every day, in fact that kind of life/culture
has been going on since just after Americas’ Civil War. A lifestyle/
culture so sweet, so addictive, so seductive, so intoxicating, that
those of us who retire after 20, 30, even 40 years of are never really
free of it. Because Lady Freedom has gotten too far in our blood to
gotten rid of her completely. Freedom, complete freedom, and the
ability to pursue that ultimate free life, and the vehicle to propel
you ion such a quest, and a constitutionally base right to free
movement. It’s truly a drug, a greasy steely drug that once it gets in
your blood it’s there for good, and no matte how you’ve retired, no
matter how much you deny it, you’ll never be free of it. Whenever you
hear a train whistle, whenever you see a moving train, or just train
cars, or even train tracks, that longing in your heart will tug at you
so tight you’ll realize that you’re addicted for life!”
TOURIST UNION 63
A Brief History of Tourist Union #63 and it’s Mission
“In the mid 1800’s several hobos found themselves in a jungle next to
the mainline of the B & O RR They all had something in common, they
had been repeatedly kicked out of towns and off train yards because
they had no visible means of employment nor funds on hand at many
times of the year.
And because of strict enforcement of vagrancy laws by all
police agencies nationwide an organization was needed to aid the
migrant working hobo. However if one was the member of a Union then
the unemployed person was granted free passage on any RR, and would
not be persecuted for vagrancy while in any city attempting to gain
even a few hours of employment. And so these few hobos drew up
articles of confederation for a Tourist Union for any hobo nationwide
to join and avoid persecution for vagrancy. Finding that the hobos
present numbered to 63 this Union was labeled Tourist Union #63. The
founding members, both men and women, registered their union in
Cinncinati Ohio holding a small office at 1143 W. Market St. Near
the Queensgate neighborhood, and the yards of the B & O, and Nickel
In August of each year Tourist Union #63 held a National Hobo
Convention to renew friendships, collect annual dues, sign up new
members, and honor the most deserving of their union to the temporary
positions of King, Queen, Crown Prince, Crown Princess, and Grand
Head Pipe. Thereby attempting to elevate the stature of all hobos in
the general public’s eyes. Through the mid to later 1800’s the
Convention of Tourist Union #63 was held in a different city of the USA to
appease to every region of the nation that it’s members originated,
and to enlist new members thereby gaining more political support for
the legitimacy of the union.
During the 1887 convention, held on the banks of St. Louis on what
would someday become the Gateway Arch National Park, the convening
members voted on Chicago as their next convention location. And
Chicago remained the location of their convention for the next 12
years. [for by that time up to 8 organizations were hold a National
Hobo Convention because of the publicity it generated] It was at one
of these Chicago held conventions that the article called the code of
the road was drawn up, voted on, and adopted by the Union as an
absolute of laws that the entire Hobo Nation could enforce at any
time or any place.
In the year 1899 the heads of the town of Britt,Iowa approached the
heads of Tourist Union #63 to hold their annual convention in Britt.
The President of the Union rode the Milwaukee Road to Britt to
inspect the Accommodations for the large gathering of members that
would converge on Britt in August. And so beginning in the year 1900
the National Hobo Convention of Tourist Union #63 was moved
permanently to Britt Iowa. The town needed to be able to accommodate a
large convening body and this was very evident during the 1949
Convention when a total of 1800 hobos converged upon the town.
Tourist Union #63 is a Hobo Nation oriented organization, we DO NOT
expound a political attitude, but one that is directed towards a
Nationwide Family. Our Mission is to preserve the Hobo Culture into
the future, to police our own when needed, and to give a more concise
image of our nation thru the control of our personal print media, and
our many corners of the internet.”
Hobo lingo in use up to the 1940s
* Accommodation car – The caboose of a train
* Angellina – young inexperienced kid
* Bad Road – A train line rendered useless by some hobo’s bad
* Banjo – A small portable frying pan.
* Barnacle – a person who sticks to one job a year or more
* Beachcomber – a hobo that hangs around docks or seaports
* Big House – Prison
* Bindle stick – Collection of belongings wrapped in cloth and
tied around a stick
* Bindlestiff – A hobo who steals from other hobos.
* Blowed-in-the-glass – a genuine, trustworthy individual
* “‘Bo” – the common way one hobo referred to another: “I met that
‘Bo on the way to Bangor last spring”.
* Bone polisher – A mean dog
* Bone orchard – a graveyard
* Bull – A railroad officer
* Bullets – Beans
* Buck – a Catholic priest good for a dollar
* C, H, and D – indicates an individual is Cold, Hungry, and Dry
* California Blankets – Newspapers, intended to be used for
* Calling In – Using another’s campfire to warm up or cook
* Cannonball – A fast train
* Carrying the Banner – Keeping in constant motion so as to avoid
being picked up for loitering or to keep from freezing
* Catch the Westbound – to die
* Chuck a dummy – Pretend to faint
* Cover with the moon – Sleep out in the open
* Cow crate – A railroad stock car
* Crumbs – Lice
* Doggin’ it – Traveling by bus, especially on the Greyhound bus
* Easy mark – A hobo sign or mark that identifies a person or
place where one can get food and a place to stay overnight
* Elevated – under the influence of drugs or alcohol
* Flip – to board a moving train
* Flop – a place to sleep, by extension: “Flophouse”, a cheap
* Glad Rags – One’s best clothes
* Graybacks – Lice
* Grease the Track – to be run over by a train
* Gump – a scrap of meat
* Honey dipping – Working with a shovel in the sewer
* Hot – A fugitive hobo. Also, a decent meal: “I could use three
hots and a flop.”
* Hot Shot – train with priority freight, stops rarely, goes
* Jungle – An area off a railroad where hobos camp and congregate
* Jungle Buzzard – a hobo or tramp that preys on their own
* Knowledge bus – A school bus used for shelter
* Main Drag – the busiest road in a town
* Moniker / Monica – A nickname
* Mulligan – a type of community stew, created by several hobos
combining whatever food they have or can collect
* Nickel note – five-dollar bill
* On The Fly – jumping a moving train
* Padding the hoof – to travel by foot
* Possum Belly – to ride on the roof of a passenger car. One must
lay flat, on his/her stomach, to not be blown off
* Pullman – a rail car
* Punk – any young kid
* Reefer – A compression of “refrigerator car”.
* Road kid – A young hobo who apprentices himself to an older hobo
in order to learn the ways of the road
* Road stake – the small amount of money a hobo may have in case
of an emergency
* Rum dum – A drunkard
* Sky pilot – a preacher or minister
* Soup bowl- A place to get soup, bread and drinks
* Snipes – Cigarette butts “sniped” (eg. in ashtrays)
* Spear biscuits – Looking for food in garbage cans
* Stemming – panhandling or mooching along the streets
* Tokay Blanket – drinking alcohol to stay warm
* Yegg – A traveling professional thief
Many hobo terms have become part of common language, such as “Big
House”, “glad rags”, “main drag”, and others.
To cope with the difficulty of hobo life, hobos developed a system of
symbols, or a code. Hobos would write this code with chalk or coal to
provide directions, information, and warnings to other hobos. Some
signs included “turn right here”, “beware of hostile railroad police”,
“dangerous dog”, “food available here”, and so on. For instance:
* A cross signifies “angel food,” that is, food served to the
hobos after a party.
* A triangle with hands signifies that the homeowner has a gun.
* Sharp teeth signify a mean dog.
* A square missing its top line signifies it is safe to camp in
* A top hat and a triangle signify wealth.
* A spearhead signifies a warning to defend oneself.
* A circle with two parallel arrows means to get out fast, as
hobos are not welcome in the area.
* Two interlocked humans signify handcuffs. (i.e. hobos are hauled
off to jail).
* A Caduceus symbol signifies the house has a medical doctor
living in it.
* A cat signifies that a kind lady lives here.
* A wavy line (signifying water) above an X means fresh water and
* Three diagonal lines means it’s not a safe place.
* A square with a slanted roof (signifying a house) with an X
through it means that the house has already been “burned” or “tricked”
by another hobo and is not a trusting house.
* Two shovels, signifying work was available (Shovels, because
most hobos did manual labor).
“Some hobos now communicate via cellular phones and e-mail. But the
classic American hobo of early this century communicated through a
much more basic system of marks–a code through which they gave
information and warnings to their fellow Knights of the Road. Usually,
these signs would be written in chalk or coal on a trestle, fence,
building or sidewalk, letting others know what they could expect in
the area of the symbol.”
RIDING THE RODS
Riding the rods was by far the most dangerous occupation and as such,
was a rite of passage for a true hobo.
“But to “ride the rods” requires nerve, and skill, and daring.
And, by the way, there is but one rod, and it occurs on passenger
coaches…. Between the cross-partition and the axle is a small
lateral rod, three to four feet in length, running parallel with both
the partition and the axle. This is the rod. There is more often than
not another rod, running longitudinally, the air-brake rod. These rods
cross each other; but woe to the tyro who takes his seat on the brake-
rod! It is not the rod, and the chance is large that the tyro’s
remains will worry and puzzle the county coroner.  – Jack London
Clearly, beating the trains was a very dangerous occupation. Thousands
were injured and killed riding the rails.
“Thousands of wandering wage-earners in search of work are killed
on American railroads, because society as a whole, and the railroad as
a public carrier in particular, are ignorantly uninterested in the
welfare of the less fortunate members of society. The number of so-
called “trespassers” killed annually on American railroads exceeds the
combined total of passengers and trainmen killed annually. From 1901
to 1903, inclusive, 25,000 “trespassers” were killed, and an equal
number were maimed, crippled, and injured. From one-half to three-
quarters of the “trespassers” according to the compilers of the
figures were “vagrants,” wandering, homeless wage-earners in search of
work to make their existence possible.” 
“A #1, The Famous Tramp” was the moniker of a tramp whose claim to
fame was to have traveled 500,000 miles for $7.61. While Nels Anderson
notes that his books were more or less sensational and that many
tramps thought the incidents he related were overdrawn, “A-No. 1”
nevertheless laid out some slang terms for those who had been injured
while beating trains. 
* Sticks: Train rider who lost a leg.
* Peg: Train rider who lost a foot.
* Fingy or Fingers: Train rider who lost one or more fingers.
* Blinky: Train rider who lost one or both eyes.
* Wingy: Train rider who lost one or both arms.
* Mitts: Train rider who lost one or both hands.
* Righty: Train rider who lost right arm and leg.
* Lefty: Train rider who lost left arm and leg.
* Halfy: Train rider who lost both legs below knee.
* Straight Crip: Actually crippled or otherwise afflicted.
* Phoney Crip: Self-mutilated or simulating a deformity.
Outsmarting the bulls and crew was another matter altogether. While
some crewmen accepted money or goods as exchange for a ride, there was
a strong tradition of violence against the trespassers. They might be
beaten senseless by the shacks or forced to jump from the moving
train. The especially brutal bull might then shoot at the hobo as he
was running away, that is, if he landed running. One might also be
left out in the middle of a literal nowhere, in the dark, in the cold,
with nothing. At best, the tramp may just face arrest – and the work
GET TO EL PASO
Hobo Sign Language Targeted El Paso / BY David Uhl
“Graffiti covers scores of walls, businesses and residences in El Paso
today, a result of gangs communicating with each other while leaving
the general public in the dark. This isn’t the first time that
distinct groups have used code to converse with each other.
During the Depression thousands of unemployed men turned hobo
overnight flocked to Texas because they heard from others traveling
the country that there was a town out West called El Paso known for
its generosity to beggars. This news reached the vagabonds through a
simple system of symbols which could be found on street curbs and
A February 8, 1932 El Paso Times article carried the following code
used by the hobos of the 1930s to spread world of El Paso’s
generosity: 1. Two hobos, traveling together, have gone the direction
of the arrows. 2. Hobos not welcome. Will be put to work on rock pile,
sawing wood, or hard labor. 3. This sign depicts the bars of a jail.
4. Means “OUT” or “GET OUT.” Poor pickings. 5. The town itself is no
good, but the churches and missions are kindly disposed. 6. This is a
good place for hobos to meet other hobos. 7. All the ministers,
mission heads, and Christian leaders are disposed to welcome
transients. 8. The pendulum indicates that the people here swing back
and forth in their attitude toward hobos, sometimes friendly and other
times unkind. 9. Represents two rails and a cross tie. Means “Railway
Terminal” or “Division Point,” a good place to board trains in
different directions. 10. This sign represents teeth; it means the
police or people are hostile to tramps. 11. This means “the jail is
alive with cooties.” 12. Keep on moving: the police, the churches, and
the people are no good. 13. This is a swell place to stop: these
people are bighearted. 14. Food may be had for the asking. 15. The
sign for “OK.” People are very good, kindly disposed. 16. Best results
are secured if two hobos travel together, not so good for a lone hobo.
As a result of its generosity, El Paso came to be known as an “easy
mark” for beggars. These men could make from $2 to $5 a day or more
panhandling when working men took home much less: Olive D. McGuire,
secretary of the El Paso Community Chest, warned townspeople to
inspect their curbs and be thrilled if hobos had placed an emblem of
lattice work there- a symbol meaning “hobos not welcome.” McGuire
distributed sheets containing the hobo language and asked residents to
send panhandlers to organized agencies for help.
The generosity of El Pasoans has continued through the years even
though the city is not affluent. Some restaurants in town give their
left-over food to shelters or charity organizations, or they simply
give it to the homeless who ask, rather than throwing it away.
Although the hobo sign language no longer exists, many homeless still
know that El Paso is a generous city, recently having been named one
of the top 50 U.S. cities for charitable giving.”
HOBO KINGS (1900 – PRESENT)
Year Kings Queens
1900 Charles Noe
1933-35 Hairbreadth Harry
1936 Scoop Shovel Scotty
1937-38 King David I
1939 Scoop Shovel Scotty
1940-45 Hobo Ben Benson
1946 Skeet Simmons Polly Ellen Pep
1947 Hiway Johnny Weaver Polly Ellen Pep
1948 Hobo Ben Benson Polly Ellen Pep
1949 Cannonball Eddie Box Car Myrtle
1950 Hobo Ben Benson Box Car Myrtle
1951 Cannonball Eddie Sylvia Davis
1952 Scoop Shovel Scotty Sylvia Davis
1953 Hobo Ben Benson Sylvia Davis
1954-55 Scoop Shovel Scotty Box Car Betty Link
1956 Hobo Ben Benson
1957 Scoop Shovel Scotty
1958 Arizona Bill Box Car Betty Link
1959 Scoop Shovel Scotty
1960-61 King David I Box Car Betty Link
1962 Scoop Shovel Scotty
1963 Pennsylvania Kid Wilson
1964 Beef Steak Charlie
1965 Hard Rock Kid
1966 Pennsylvania Kid
1967 Hard Rock Kid
1968 Pennsylvania Kid
1969 Slow Motion Shorty Box Car Myrtle
1970 Hard Rock Kid Longlooker Mic
1971 Pennsylvania Kid Longlooker Mic
1972 Hard Rock Kid Longlooker Mic
1973 Steamtrain Maury Longlooker Mic
1974 Slow Motion Shorty Longlooker Mic
1975 Hard Rock Kid Adventurer Jan
1976 Steamtrain Maury LuAnn Uhden
1977 Sparky Smith Longlooker Mic
1978 Steamtrain Maury Longlooker Mic
1979 Steamtrain Maury Longlooker Mic
1980 Sparky Smith Cinderbox Cindy
1981 Steamtrain Maury Hobo Lump
1982 Hobo Bill Mainer Longlooker Mic
1983 Mountain Dew Hobo Lump
1984 Fry Pan Jack Slo Freight Ben
1985 Frisco Jack Longlooker Mic
1986 Ramblin’ Rudy Minneapolis Jewel
1987 Alabama Hobo Hobo Lump
1988 Fishbones Would-be hobo
1989 El Paso Kid Slo Freight Ben
1990 Songbird McCue Gypsy Moon
1991 Ohio Ned Minneapolis Jewel
1992 Roadhog USA Connecticut Shorty
1993 Iowa Blackie Blue Moon
1994 Sidedoor Pullman Kid New York Maggie
1995 Luther the Jet Gett Cinderbox Cindy
1996 Liberty Justice Come On Pat
1997 Frog Minneapolis Jewel
1998 New York Slim Cinders
1999 Preacher Steve Slo Freight Ben
2000 Bo Grump M.A.D. Mary
2001 Grandpa Dudley Derail
2002 Redbird Express Nightingale
2003 Hobo Spike Mama Joe
2004 Adman Sunrise
2005 Ironhorse Brad Half-track
2006 Iwegan Rick Miss Charlotte
2007 Tuck Lady Son Shine
2008 Stretch Connecticut Tootsie