Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Railroad Hobos in the 1930s

A memorable era in my youth were the years of the railroad Hobos. I grew up in a town that was a base for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad shops and it had a Roundhouse. These were the days of STEAM ENGINES. My dad and one of my uncles worked at the Missouri Pacific Railroad Shops. We kids often hung around the railroad switch yards and visited with the Hobos. We even played "Work-Up" baseball with them. "Work-Up" is where the players in various innings progressed through the field positions hoping to be pitcher.

The Roundhouse was a large circular building and the center was a huge TURNTABLE, where Steam Engines could swivel to different directions.

There is a lot of information on the internet about "Hobos". In fact there is an annual convention at Birks, Iowa in August of each year.

Along with Hobos riding the trains came door to door beggars for food. In fact our family had what you might call a HANDS ON experience.

Mother was raised on a Kansas farm with 6 brothers. During the depression of the 1930s jobs were scarce. In looking for work, her brother Henry "rode the rails". One night about 2 o'clock a.m. we heard a knock on the door. At that time we were living in Hoisington, Kansas. We opened the door to my mother's brother Henry asking for food. He had come into Hoisington via freight train, passing through from Pennsylvania enroute to Colorado to find work in the Gold Mines. Dad carried a lunch pail in those days, so Mom was able to fix Henry the meal she was keeping in the "ice box" for Dad's lunch. I remember Mom apologizing to Henry, for lack of more food in the house to make him a meal at that hour. It was his intention to hop a ride on another freight train that same night yet. We kids got up and experienced a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. Out of the blue here was my Uncle Henry "hopping trains"-- "riding the rails" like a railroad Hobo.


Jennifer said...


I'm so glad you wrote about this topic. I was just blogging about my grandmother's Uncle William, whom she said always "rode the trains like a hobo." I had no idea how common this was in the 1930s. My grandmother was born in 1930, so this must be the right time frame. She said that one day he left his trunk at her dad's house and never returned. I've always wondered what happened to him. Thanks for more insight into the issue.

Greta Koehl said...

Thank you for writing about this; I've always heard I had a great uncle who did this. And I had no idea there is an annual hobo convention!