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    Twenty years old and he has been hopping freight cars on the bum for two years. He is a complete hobo and is not seriously in search of employment. - 1940, courtesy National Archives.

Click to visit the NPS Golden Spike website.
The War Between the Central Pacific Brakeman and the Iterant Hobos, During the Golden Spike Era.
−by Pappy Clay - February 12th, 1969

      Who were the Brakeman? They were the foot soldiers of the army of technicians who kept the C.P. trains moving, and each one carried a big stick. Why a big stick? Each brakeman carried a pick-handle to set the hand-brake up tight on any railroad car when so required. Said pick-handle also had other uses.
      Who were the Iterand Hobos? They were the eager souls looking for work who had crossed the continent once by snitching rides on the trans-continental railroads and just before they got there they had remembered that they had left their toothbrush at the end of the line, so they were retracing their steps by snitching more rides on the trans-continental railroads, to get their much needed toothbrush.
      How many brakemen were there? There were two assigned to each train so there were exactly twice as many of them as there were trains on the road at any given moment.
      How many hobos were there? At the peak of the season of hobo movements, there were as many as could ride the trains without being spotted by the brakeman and ditched, which this writer, as an observer of that period, now estimates to average about 20 to 1.
      Why were the brakemen instructed to keep all hobos off all trains? When hobos got to thick on a train then some were bound to be brushed off of the cars en route and the Central Pacific Roadmasters didn't like so much grease on the rails which sometimes caused the locomotive driver to slip.
      Didn't the hobos carry any wood at all? Yes, sometimes a hobo would carry a flat board one foot wide by six feet long which he could lay across the longitudinal bracing-rods under a railroad car, then he would crawl under the car and lie on the board. This was called; "riding the rods". As the weather got hotter more hobos would cling to each car so the war between the brakeman and the hobos got fiercer as the weather got hotter.
      The above was the general picture. Now for some remembered specifics.
      As and example, let us take the year 1893. During the year the United States was experiencing a substantial depression. Many hobos were favorable to, or participating in a protest movement known as the "March of Coxey's Army", so most hobos were then headed east towards Washington, D.C. to be sure, some had forgotten their toothbrushes in California so that minority were headed west.
      This writer's father, C.M. Clay, was telegraph operator at Blue Creek water tank station which was 42 miles west of Ogden, Utah, by rail, at the time of this story. All trains stopped at the Blue Creek water tank for at least 20 minutes to take on water so the front brakeman started the locomotive while the rear brakeman started from the Caboose, each with instructions to "clear the train of hobos and keep them off until the train picked up some speed". Then each brakeman would swing onto the train with ease since they had had much training in so doing, but after that the boldest of the hobos would make a run for it and get on the train again in spite of the brakeman. However, there was always a sizable bunch of hobos each time who did not make that train so they were destined to lay over at Blue Creek until they could catch a subsequent train.
      There wasn't much doing at Blue Creek between trains so many of these hobos would use their "bundle" as a pillow and go to sleep in the cool shade of the water tank. Some of the wickedest would throw stones a the mud swallow's nests fastened up under the eaves of the water-tank roof and poor half-grown little swallows would fall to the ground and be killed.
      There was usually a number of merchandise-cars set out on the long back side-track at Blue Creek, to be lugged up Promontory Hill later by one of the hogs between regular trains, and the craftiest of the hobos would sometimes try to break unto such merchandise-cars. At any rate, after a sleep in the shade of water-tank, each hobo would wake up very hungry so he would head for the backdoor of the telegraph-office residence and beg from the writer's mother, Mary M. Clay, for just a small bite of anything to keep body and soul together until the next train arrived and stopped to take on water and hobos. Such a situation was very trying to a woman's soul and patience since real hunger was apparent to another human being yet if all those hobos had each been given a modest handout as requested then a telegraph operator's salary would not be sufficient to foot the bill.
      Among so many hobos, there was bound to be many kinds, the tall and the short, the kind hearted and the mean, the dirty and the only half dirty, the lazy and the willing worker etc., etc. The writer's father hired one such willing worker whose given name was Bruce and he stayed over at Blue Creek helping my father for more than a month before the "traveling itch" go the better of his need for money. Most of that time Bruce's work was digging post-holes to fence some land my father had nearby. Bruce had mastered a trade as an "Iterant Baker" and digging post-holes went against his grain. While at Blue Creek he condescended to leave my mother some of the secrets of the baker's trade. One such was the secret formula for making "Bruce's Yeast" which was really a wonderful product being a self perpetuating yeast based on additions of sugar and mashed boiled potatoes and which formula mother shared with others until it became famous all over the Promontory area. Once Bruce had mother to stand by whilst he baked a batch of bread like the big city bakers would do it. Mother only had a cast-iron cook stove having a much smaller oven than Bruce was used to working with and when Bruce started to throw flour around mother pointed to her small oven and this persuaded him to put some of the flour back. However the force of habit got the better of him and the mixing and he dumped in a double hand full of salt. Mother stood aghast but Bruce reassured her it she would wait and see the baked bread before commenting on the making of it she would be well pleased. Needless to say those loaves of bread never rose a bit in the oven, and to Bruce's chagrin, came out of the oven a dark brown color and harder than rocks, in fact, the writer's father kept two of them on his telegraph desk for years using them as paper weights.
      Yours truly,

"Sage of the Sagebrush Hills" Pappy W.A. Clay

{ This is an archival copy of the original webpage just in case the owner ever deletes their posting. }
Your editor purposefully did not make spelling corrections to Pappy's article. - vrw
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  A Sampling of the Fantastic Resources  
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Click to visit the NPS Golden Spike website.
{ This is an archival copy of the original webpage just in case the owner ever deletes their posting. }
Click to return from whence you came!