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Hobo culture: Riding the rails

Our correspondent leaves Iowa

THEY found the Hardrock Kid under a tree in Ogden, Iowa back in 1977. He was on his way to the National Hobo Convention in Britt when he stopped for lunch and quietly passed away. In hobo vernacular: he caught the Westbound. His body is buried in the hobo cemetery in Britt; his humble possessions are displayed in its museum, which celebrates wanderers. On a glass shelf are toothpaste, a toothpick, some cutlery, a razor, a reel of cotton, a needle, cigarettes and a pair of pliers.Hobos have long been misunderstood. People call them bums, often prefaced with the word “lazy”. Yet life on the road is arduous. Hobos travel to find work for food and lodging, an old tradition. In the late 1800s, 63 of them started a union with a small subscription fee and a set of laws. These, among other things, told members not to abuse handouts, to respect nature, and wherever possible to find work and stay clean. Linda Hughes, who works at the National Hobo Museum in Britt, says that hobos were the first migrant workers and that they helped to build America.During the Depression there were probably hundreds of thousands…

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