A Hobo, a Tramp, and a Bum



A hobo, a tramp, and a bum walked into a bar…Sorry, that’s as far as the joke goes. There is no punchline. To most of us the three terms are interchangeable. They’re one and the same.

hobos1They’re not. Among many things in life that look similar from afar, there are varying degrees to these wandering men we associate with days long gone.

According to Wikipedia, “A hobo is a migratory worker or homeless vagabond—especially one who is penniless. The term originated in the Western—probably Northwestern—United States around 1890. Unlike “tramps“, who work only when they are forced to, and “bums“, who do not work at all, “hobos” are traveling workers.”

Hobos were not uncommon since the turn of the century. With the Great Depression in the early 1930’s, hobos proliferated across the country. While growing up a small child, I enjoyed hearing my Grandpa Jones talk of the days when he ‘rode the rails’ looking for work and eating cold cans of pork and beans.

In Britt, Iowa, there is a Hobo Museum. Check out their webpage here for lots of great photographs, symbols the hobos used, a Hobo Cemetery, and information on this piece of our past. http://www.hobo.com/home.html

These men from long ago even had a Hobo Code. (From their website)

An ethical code was created by Tourist Union #63 during its 1889 National Hobo Convention in St. Louis Missouri. This code was voted upon as a concrete set of laws to govern the Nation-wide Hobo Body; it reads this way:

  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 ensure 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 through that yard.
  13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose all molesters to authorities, 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.

Now there’s another place on my growing list of places to visit. The Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa. Until then, I’ll just thank my Grandpa Jones for his stories of his hobo travels in the days before he became ‘Daddy’ and ‘Grandpa’.



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