On the Road to the Hobo Convention

11Aug12

Hobo ClownAs you read this, I’m hoppin’ a freight train box car and heading out to Britt, Iowa for the National Hobo Convention.

It’s no joke. There really is a National Hobo Convention. It’s been held in Britt, Iowa on the second weekend in August since 1900.

“The National Hobo Convention,” the description goes, “celebrates current and retired hoboes and the independent lifestyle they lead.” It got me wondering about these “retired” hoboes. Do they get a hobo pension or is there a hobo 401(k) plan?

So many questions.

I began my research online. And sure enough, even hoboes have a web site (who doesn’t?) So I went to www.hobo.com. Ironically, the hobo web site has a “Home” page. The link, “What is a Hobo” seemed like a good place to start.

“A hobo wanders and works,” the site explains, “a tramp wanders and dreams and a bum neither wanders nor works.” Based on that definition, I realized that I’ve known very few hobos and tramps, but quite a lot of bums.

Hungry Hungry HoboI learned from the web site that there’s a Hobo Foundation, which runs the Hobo Museum in Britt. “The Hobo Museum currently contains extensive memorabilia of such famous hobos as Steamtrain Maury, Frisco Jack, Connecticut Slim, Slo Motion Shorty, Hard Rock Kid and Pennsylvania Kid, just to name a few…”

I realized at that point that I needed a hobo name (or “moniker” in hobo lingo). “Massachusetts Mark” doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, so I’m going with “Wakefield Willie.” It’s a damn hobo name – it doesn’t have to make sense.

I’m also brushing up on my hobo lingo.

A “bindle stick” is a collection of belongings wrapped in a cloth and tied around a stick.

Hobo Stew“Mulligan Stew” is a type of community stew, created by several hobos combining whatever food they have or can collect.

“Stemming” is panhandling or mooching along the streets.

A “nickel note” is a five dollar bill.

“Padding the hoof” means to travel on foot.

A “jungle” is an area off a railroad where hobos camp and congregate.

“California blankets” are newspapers used for bedding (another casualty of the digital age).

Leafing through the Hobo Convention conference brochure, I must say it’s not at all what I would have expected.

I was anticipating breakout sessions like “Panhandling for the 21st Century,” or “Bathing: is Once a Month Enough?” “Roamin’ Roundtable,” “Lice: Friend or Foe?” or the inevitable “Social Media and the Future of Hoboing.”

Instead, I see sessions like “Ugly Shoe Contest,” “Toilet Bowl Races” (don’t ask), and the Hobo King and Queen Coronation.

Well, I think I hear that old train whistle a-blowin’, meaning we’ve reached our destination. I’ve booked lodging at the jungle under the bridge. Time for me to grab my bindle stick and pad the hoof on over there. Maybe I can stem a nickel note on the way so I won’t have to dine on Mulligan Stew tonight.

I’ll need my strength for the Toilet Bowl Races.

[This column originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.]

Hobo Clown photo by Tee Sam.
Hungry Hungry Hobo photo by Paul Hocksenar.
Hobo Stew photo by David Joyce.

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One Response to “On the Road to the Hobo Convention”


  1. 1 Train tracks: King of the Road « Notes from the train

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