Hobos or 'knights of the road' were once was a group of people that followed the call of the locomotive steam whistle.
Many hobos were people that during the Great Depression in the 1930s, left home so there would be one less mouth to feed. Hobos are not bums who are too lazy to work and do not roam. They hoped that at the next town or out west there would be a chance at a job. A hobo was willing to work for food and shelter but people did not have much to help them out. Sometimes people did not want hobos in their neighborhood and would give them trouble. Because of this, they developed signs to communicate with each other so that they would know what to expect. Can you match these signs with the messages below? Click on the symbol for the answer.
Here are some more Hobo signs and their meanings. Can you make up some of your own?
The National Hobo Association publishes the Hobo Times that carries articles about hobo life by former hobos. Some famous former hobos are:
- Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
- Folk singer Burl Ives
- Author James Michener
- Comedian Red Skelton
- Country artist Roger Miller
The old freight trains that slowly chugged through towns are gone now. Today trains are streamlined and have few places to ride as they travel rapidly across the country. It is very dangerous to try to hop on one of these trains and it is also illegal. Railroad and local police are alert for people trying to hop on trains and arrests are common. They are trying to prevent accidents and also know that some of the people who hop freights are armed and dangerous.
It is fun to dream about hobos and their life. They are a very interesting part of railroad history. However, the best way for us to experience the carefree and wandering life is with camping equipment and at a local, state, or national park.