Let's Reminisce: Hobo tales
By Jerry Lincecum
Jul 17, 2018
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According to Wikipedia, a hobo is a migrant worker or homeless vagrant, especially one who is impoverished.  Unlike a "tramp," who works only when forced to, and a "bum," who does not work at all, a "hobo" is a traveling worker.


Most hobos traveled on trains, and since I grew up in a rural area with no railroads nearby, my family had no exposure to these travelers.  By contrast, C. J. Moore lived in Temple, a railroad town, and during the Great Depression hobos were common there.  His grandparents had opposing viewpoints toward hobos.


Grandpa, who was a night watchman for businesses downtown, viewed the hobo as a lazy drifter and a threat to civic law and order.  Grandma, a good-hearted woman, saw only a hungry, wayward soul that it was her Christian duty to feed.  Despite her tight budget she'd cook extra or save scraps for her kitchen door "customers."


Grandpa searched the alley fence looking for hobo marks indicating his house was good for free handouts.  He never found those marks, and Grandma continued her Christian feeding duties when her husband wasn't at home. The word spread along the hobo telegraph to wait until Grandpaís old two-door Ford sedan was not in the driveway before asking for food.


Contrary to the stereotype, C.J. doesn't recall seeing a hobo who was particularly dirty or ragged. Where they washed was a mystery, and the ones who came for Grandma's handouts wore patched but clean clothes even if they didn't fit well or were out of season.  Before and after they ate they'd ask to use the garden hose to rinse off.  That was never refused. They might be broke and hungry, but each seemed to try to maintain some personal standard. 


Surprisingly, Grandma had very few "repeat customers."  Most came and went quietly without lingering. But occasionally, when the weather was good, one would ask to sit in the shade of their backyard hackberry tree and smoke if he had the makings. Along with a friend from down the street, C.J. took advantage of those opportunities to pry loose tales of boxcar travels and adventures.  Never once did their travels seem aimless. They all had a reason to be on the road, usually looking for work (or so they said). 


C.J.ís reminiscence about hobos agrees with those of others I have heard over the years.  For example, another writer commented on the pleasure of sitting around a backyard campfire with a hobo who shared some tales about his experiences.  My wifeís mother was convinced that their house was marked by hobos as a good place to get a meal. But the most remarkable hobo story Iíve heard involved religion.


One Saturday in the 1950s a couple from Grayson County on their way to attend a religious service in Fort Worth encountered a hobo with a knapsack over his shoulder.  They invited him to share a cafeteria meal with them and then took him to the meeting in the Convention Center, where he was seated on the front row during a sermon.  About halfway through, he got up and left but took with him some gospel tracts the woman had given him.


As the couple left town on their way home, they saw the hobo, seated on the sidewalk next to a corner building, with four men, two on each side.  He was reading to them from what looked like those tracts the woman had given him.  She prayed that he had accepted Christ and was witnessing to the other men. 


Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories.  He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: