The Unsung History of America's Hard-Working Hoboes


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Despite the ever-widening wealth gap, most of us continue to grasp at the American Dream, which promises financial security in exchange for hard work. In fact, for many workers in today’s economy, attaining middle-class status is exactly that—a dream—while digital technologies have pushed enormous numbers of steady-paycheck employees into the unpredictable “gig economy,” where contracts are the norm.

Roughly 140 years ago, American workers faced a different set of economic uncertainties, as machines began to replace able-bodied men in factories and on farms. But back then, a safety net existed in the form of the newly laid railroad, which promised hope to workers willing to trade the comforts of hearth and home for the chance at gainful employment. All one had to do was hop a train to a new town and declare himself a hobo.

The first and foremost thing to understand about hoboes is that hoboes are not bums. Got that? Hoboes are not bums. Hoboes fully embrace the Protestant work ethic, bouncing from place to place, looking for short-term jobs to earn their keep, while bums and tramps want to just bum everything—money, food, or cigarettes. But free-loading tramps and hard-working hoboes have one thing in common: Both have traveled the rails, starting in the 19th century, much to the chagrin of the railroad owners. So-called bums, who might be too old, disabled, or ill to work, tend to stay in one place.

Today, the word “hobo” tends to call up one of two caricatures deeply ingrained in our collective imagination: One is a sad sack with saggy pants, five-o’-clock shadow, and a bindle stick, probably passed out in some alley with a bottle of whiskey—an image that’s interchangeable with that of a bum. The other is a fantasy about living free on the fringes society: jumping boxcars despite the danger, wandering from town to town with no roots or commitments, sleeping under the stars with fellow hoboes who trade banjo tunes and wild stories. Woody Guthrie, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, James Michener, Louis L’Amour, Clark Gable, and multi-millionaire Winthrop Rockefeller were all drawn to this untethered lifestyle and told stories about their time on the rails, burnishing the legend.


Lem Putt
I read the entire article. :faint:

Now I want to be a hobo. :ohwell:

It's not a choice. You either are or you aren't a hobo. Some people believe that hobos can be turned back, but others see that as ignorant and hateful.

If you turn hobo, will you put a rainbow bumper sticker on your car?


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