Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hobo Sticks and the Hobos Who Tote Them

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hobo Sticks and the Hobos Who Tote Them

You’ve heard the term Hobo Stick. You may know what it is. Maybe you just thought it was a funny phrase, as in, “If I catch that low life rifling trough cars in my neighborhood he’s gettin’ donkey slapped with a hobo stick!”

The hobo stick origins run deep but also it can be just as shallow. It can  be as serious as one’s entire life possessions wrapped up in a handkerchief tied to the end of a stick, or as trivial as a party favor or Halloween costume. I’ve compiled many pictures of the various of hobo sticks that have surfaced since it’s birth. I’ve also Googled and listed here some writings that explain it’s origin.
First here’s a bit  to explain what is a hobo:

Two hobos walking along railroad tracks, after being put off a train. One is carrying a bindle

hobo is a migratory worker or homeless vagabond, especially one who is penniless. The term originated in theWestern—probably Northwestern—United States during the last decade of the 19th century. Unlike “tramps”, who work only when they are forced to, and “bums”, who do not work at all, “hobos” are workers who wander.

ETYMOLOGY

The origin of the term is unknown. Etymologist Anatoly Liberman says that the only details certain about its origin is that the word emerged in American English and was first noticed around 1890.  Liberman points out that many folk etymologies fail to answer the question: “Why did the word become widely known in California (just there) by the early Nineties (just then)?”  Author Todd DePastino has suggested that it may come from the term hoe-boy meaning “farmhand”, or a greeting such as Ho, boy!Bill Bryson suggests in Made in America that it could either come from the railroad greeting, “Ho, beau!” or a syllabic abbreviation of “homeward bound”. H. L. Mencken, in his The American Language (4th ed., 1937), wrote:
Tramps and hobos are commonly lumped together, but see themselves as sharply differentiated. A hobo or bo is simply a migratory laborer; he may take some longish holidays, but sooner or later he returns to work. A tramp never works if it can be avoided; he simply travels. Apart from either is the bum, who neither works nor travels, save when impelled to motion by the police.

HISTORY

It is unclear exactly when hobos first appeared on the American railroading scene. With the end of the American Civil War in the 1860s, many discharged veterans looking to return home took to hopping freight trains. Others looking for work on the American frontier followed the railways west aboard freight trains in the late 19th Century.
In 1906, Professor Layal Shafee, after an exhaustive study, put the number of tramps in America at about 500,000 (about 0.6% of the U.S. population). His article “What Tramps Cost Nation” was published by The New York Telegraph in 1911, when he estimated the number had surged to 700,000.
The number of hobos increased greatly during the Great Depression era of the 1930s. With no work and no prospects at home, many decided to travel for free by freight train and try their luck elsewhere.
Life as a hobo was dangerous. In addition to the problems of being itinerant, poor, far from home and support, plus a hostile attitude of many train crews, they faced the railroads’ security staff, nicknamed bulls, who had a reputation of violence against trespassers. Riding on a freight train is dangerous in itself. British poet W.H. Davies, author of The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, lost a foot when he fell under the wheels trying to jump aboard a train. It was easy to be trapped between cars, and one could freeze to death in bad weather. When freezer cars were loaded at an ice factory, any hobo inside was likely to be killed.

According to Ted Conover in Rolling Nowhere (1984), as many as 20,000 people were living a hobo life in North America. Modern freight trains are much faster and thus harder to ride than in the 1930s, but they can still be boarded in rail-yards.

NATIONAL HOBO CONVENTION

In 1900, the town fathers of Britt, Iowa invited Tourist Union #63 to bring their annual convention to town, and the National Hobo Convention has been held in August each year ever since. Hobos stay in the “Hobo Jungle” telling stories around campfires at night. A hobo king and queen are named each year and get to ride on special floats in the Hobo Day parade. Following the parade, mulligan stew is served to hundreds of people in the city park. Live entertainment, a carnival, and a flea market are also part of the festivities.
Now that we know what a hobo is, let us explore the HOBO STICK:
bindle is the bag, sack, or carrying device stereotypically used by the commonly American sub-culture of hobos. The person carrying a bindle was called a bindlestiff, combining bindle with the Average Joe
sense of stiff.

Hobos in the old days needed something to carry their moonshine, harmonica and other essential belongings in, and back then they didn’t have plastic bags.

In modern popular culture the bindle is portrayed as a stick with cloth or a blanket tied around one end for carrying items, with the entire array being carried over the shoulder.

Particularly in cartoons, the bindles’ sacks usually have a polka-dotted or bandanna design. However, in actual use the bindle can take many forms.

An example of the stick-type bindle can be seen in the illustration entitled The Runaway created by Norman Rockwell which appears on the cover of the September 20, 1958 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.

Though bindles are rarely used anymore, they are still widely seen in popular culture as a prevalent anachronism.
People have taken the symbol of the Hobo Stick and made  HAlloween Costumes, Jewelry, Cartoons and Comedy routines. The Hobo Stick is a part of the fabric of American Culture. It’s here to stay and it ‘aint going away.
Why’d the chicken cross the road?
I don’t know, but he was carrying a Hobo Stick!
This gives a new meaning to being “in the dog house”
Going as  a Hobo for Halloween? Here’s a nice get up.
Running away to join the circus? on’t forget your Hobo Stick.
This looks more like a pic-nick basket on a stick she’s carrying…or more like a nap-sack on a club!
I’ve done that one. The old plastic bag-on-a-stick trick.
Fairy Hobo’s? Anybody? Bueller?
He’s got the hobo stick, but where’s his hobo bindle?
Boggie down Hobos … awwww Keep on Truckin’ baby!
Now that you know everything there is to know about a Hobo Stick is, get on out there, get you a hobo stick and be somebody!

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One Response to “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hobo Sticks and the Hobos Who Tote Them”

  1. Malcolm E. Hudgeon Says:

    ” NOBODY KNOWS WHERE THE HOBO GOES.” ;-D…

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