Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hobos: The Knights of the Road

Hopping the train.

Today, most people who have a business card, as I do, which says they keep a blog on politics are probably planning on writing about Ted Cruz, the man who just announced he is running for president. Or maybe about Rand Paul, the man who is about to announce. Or perhaps they are writing about Iran and its coming atomic bomb, or maybe take another look at Hillary Clinton. But not today, we’ll save Cruz and the politics for later. The story today is about a man named Chuck.

I met him yesterday, and he is a man well into his old age. And somehow he started talking about Hobos, the men who started jumping trains during the Great Depression.
The Hobos have a storied history. They were men out of work at a time when it wasn’t possible to find it, and so the only they could do was hop an illegal ride on freight train boxcars to a city that might have work. Some cities might have it, others might not, and some might have it for a while, but often, they ended up keeping on going.
Riding the train, hopefully to a job
On the places that they stopped, they would knock on doors, “work for a meal, ma’am?” Of course some people were kinder than others. Some had work, some just had angry words. And so, if they were not wanted, the Hobos would put a certain mark by the house which said to their fellow brothers “don’t stop here.” And on the house that had work and food, there was another mark, the “stop here” sign.
In Chuck’s town, the cars came in on Friday, and left on Monday, so the Hobos were there for a couple of days, and his home had the “Stop here” sign. The Hobos would come, his father would have them mow the lawn, clean up the alley way, whatever, and give them what he could. That is, until he died. When he did, knocking on the door was a small army of men, down on their luck with ragged hats, come to pay their respects to the man who had been kind to them. And they came much more often after that, to see if Chuck’s widowed mother needed anything done.
For a long time they had just been an oddity, Chuck told me, people who visited his house. But then, as he became an older teenager, and things didn’t improve, and he got bored in town, he started hopping boxcars himself. He had a problem though; his uncle was a Railroad Detective, the man who was supposed to keep the boxcars free of people. But he also had a solution-without telling his uncle he was turning Hobo, he asked him at what times the Detectives did their sweeps, and so he knew when to jump the cars and hide, to stay out of a night in jail for vagrancy and trespassing.
Chuck, unlike many, was never caught. And today he has lived a good life, has a home, and it’s been decades since he jumped a car, of course.
But since this is a political blog, I have a thought about these hard working, industries men, and how they were always willing to work, and get the job done. And to solve their problems. Maybe we should elect some men like them to congress. Anyway, they were gentlemen, or at least tried to be, with their own rules of conduct. They even called themselves the Knights of the Road.

Andrew C. Abbott 

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