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“Hoboically Yours” ~ A peek into the underground world of America抯 hoboes
By Jennifer Zimmerman ~ Assistant City Beat Editor ~ “The Columbia Chronicle”

Photo Courtesy of MamaJo ~ OHNS RM-889
   It抯 a quest for adventure for some, while for others it抯 the feeling of being alone with just the stars but most hoboes will agree they choose their lifestyle for the freedom it brings them.
   Although some history books may say the hobo culture died out after the Civil War, MamaJo, the hobo queen of 2003, will be the first to tell you this culture is still alive and thriving.
   Meet some of today抯 hoboes who continue to keep their community vibrant and continually growing through the illegal lifestyle they lead by riding America抯 rails, or 揻reight-train hopping as the railroad police may know it as.

Adman (Full-Time to Recreational Hobo)
   For Minnesota man Todd Waters, who was later donned Adman as his hobo name and alias as former king of the hobo community, life on and off the rails started with much more than just the need for excitement. In 1970, his hobo life began as an escape and need to belong somewhere.
   After his girlfriend ran off with a bartender, leaving the then-20-year-old heartbroken, Adman spent the next ten years of his life growing up on boxcars, train engines and many other freight train carriers. The middle class white kid traveled all around North America, often riding the rails with Mexican immigrants trying to hop the border or to the Rocky Mountains just to see the sunflowers blooming in the sunrise. He now belonged somewhere.
   揑 pretty much had the whole nation as my backyard, including Canada and Mexico, he said.
   The relationship Adman had with his 搖nderground family was one that he said was like no other. It was the type of relationship where they looked out for one another, kept each other safe the 揑 saved your life and you saved mine intense closeness as he referred to it as. Soon Adman抯 搉ormal life was one of the distant past.
   When Adman returned home for a quick visit, he realized he was no longer comfortable sleeping indoors. The 揹ead-air of the room prevented him from finding comfort in his own bed and later led him to sleep in more open places around his parent抯 home. He was truly reformed into a full-time hobo.
   揑 was homesick for the road when I was back in society and then I was homesick for society when I was on the road, he said.
   Now, 60 years old and with a long record of trespassing on public property, Adman dropped down from full-time status as a hobo to a recreational hobo.
He is a successful owner of his own advertising firm and is also a husband and a father. And although he may not be able to go back to full-time status any time soon, he still has kept the hobo life in the family just ask his daughter, Alexandra Waters.

Alexandra Waters (Daughter of Adman)
   Now 19, Waters grew up with a home full of hobo visitors. Whether they were looking for a place to stay, a bite to eat or somewhere to get cleaned up, Waters spent her entire life growing up around her father抯 underground family.
   揑t was part of our life all growing up, Waters said. 揧ou just kind of assumed that everyone抯 dad was like that.
   Some nights Waters said she and her mother, who is not a hobo but has ridden the rails, would return to their home with the lights already on and her father抯 friends sitting in the living room playing their music until the family came back to greet them.
   Her mentors and friends were often members of the hobo community. With her father still taking frequent trips on the rails, she started to get the itch to see what the life was really like. She got her turn this past summer.
   Starting off in their hometown of St. Paul, Minn., Waters hopped her first freight train with her father. For two weeks she traveled with just a change of clothes, a toothbrush, sewing kit and boots. It was her time to get to know the life her father had chosen.
   揑 wanted to better understand my dad and his requests for freedom, she said. 揑 wanted to know his passion.
   Traveling through Wisconsin and up to parts of Michigan, Waters learned quickly that the hobo life was one that consisted of a lot of waiting. Whether it was waiting for another train to arrive to take them to their next destination, waiting for food or simply waiting to even get to their destination, time was spent much differently.
   Waters said she and her dad would make up games, often playing Adman抯 own called 揔nuckle Chips, which would consist of trying to throw a woodchip in between the two train cars. They had no cell phones or iPods, and getting fed meant dumpster diving outside the KFC or occasionally grabbing a bite to eat at a small cafe. To top it all off, the whole two weeks also meant no shower. Waters said it was a trip to really get to know her dad.

Two hoboes play their instruments for spectators.
Photo Courtesy of MamaJo ~ OHNS RM-889
Hytech Hobo (Recreational Hobo)
   Glenn Robison, also known as Hytech Hobo, started riding the rails in 1990 after coming across an article about hoboes in a California magazine while at his optometrist抯 office.
   First traveling just around California, Hytech soon made his longest hop to Arizona. He too was seeking adventure in his life.
   揙n the train, it抯 always Friday afternoon, he said.
   Hytech enjoyed the feeling that there was no sense of time while being a hobo. After 30 hops and now at age 57, Hytech has also decided to bring the hobo life into his own home. Recently Hytech抯 son took his first trip on the rails alongside his dad.
   Hytech currently works in human resources in Colton, Calif. Despite taking a break from the hobo life, he said he will eventually ride the rails again.
   揑t抯 that sense of adventure that you can抰 get anywhere else, Hytech said.

Oats (Recreational Hobo)
   Cliff Williams, a 63-year-old professor at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., turned to the hobo life after seeing an article in the Chicago Tribune抯 magazine. Williams, whose hobo alias is Oats, said something in him felt like he 搉eeded to meet those guys.
   After meeting up at the hoboes yearly convention in Britt, Iowa, Oats said he fell in love with the community.
   揑 just wanted to be one of them, he said.
   After having three books published dealing with hobo history and poetry, Oats said he has traveled close to 10,000 miles since his first hop in 1994. Out of those 10,000 miles, his most memorable moment is seeing the red-winged blackbirds sitting atop the cattail plants in the fields the train would pass by.
   揗ost people ride the rails for a sense of freedom, he said. 揃ut independence is also a factor.

Mickey Rodgers (Friend of the Hoboes)
   Mickey Rodgers and his cousin were looking for a place to ride to for a small vacation on their motorcycles. It was 1979 in Akron, Ohio, and the National Hobo Convention which is celebrating its 107th year in 2007 was once again set to meet in Britt, Iowa. With nothing more than curiosity, Rodgers said he and his brother took off to meet the members of the hobo community.
   Although Rodgers has never ridden the rails himself, the hobo community is one he has grown attached to and also brought into his own family life.
   Rodgers said he took his family to visit MamaJo in California one Thanksgiving. However, dinner was not served around a table but rather under a highway underpass among other hoboes, which served as a humbling example for his son.
   Soon Rodgers may take the leap into the hobo community. Although he has always been interested in that lifestyle, he said he never had the 搉eed to get away that often pushes most people to become a hobo. But now that his son is older, Rodgers said he may soon take his first jump.


   Although all different types of hoboes coexist among their vast community, they have all said to have one thing in common judgements from those outside of their close group. Whether it抯 dirty looks from onlookers, people assuming they are homeless or beggars, or those who just don抰 care to understand their culture, many battle with the negative connotations associated with the term 揾obo.
   揧ou get looks like you should be ashamed to be alive, said Waters. 揚eople are people and it doesn抰 matter if they live in a boxcar.
   According to MamaJo and many other hoboes, their lifestyle should never be considered the same as those who are homeless. This is the life they choose for themselves, unlike a homeless person, whose situation is due to unfortunate circumstances. Once they begin, MamaJo said they may never want to turn back.

Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa
Photo Courtesy of MamaJo ~ OHNS RM-889
   揟he reason they ride it today [is for the] enthusiasm to be doing something, the excitement of it, MamaJo said. 揂nd once they抳e done it they love it.
   Hoboes also have to fight with the law when it comes to their way of life. Depending on which state they are in, they could be charged with a felony for trespassing if caught by the Union Pacific police, according to Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union Pacific railroad.
   揧ou are dealing with a huge safety issue, Davis said. 揑t抯 extremely dangerous.
   MamaJo also said freight-train hopping is illegal and has led to deaths and serious injuries in the hobo community. They do not support the act or recommend it to anyone.
   However, despite their battles within other communities outside of their own, the law and sometimes even death, they all agree that the parts of the world they get to see through the eyes of a train door and the type of camaraderie is among them can抰 be found anywhere else.
   揫Everyone] should follow their own song, Adman said. 揈veryone matters and it抯 not about the destination but it抯 about getting to know the neighbors.

Hobo Definitions ~ supplied by MamaJo ~ OHNS RM-889    The term 揾obo came from the origin word of 揾oeboy, coined during the Civil War when men went out looking for day-labor. By riding the freight trains they were able to take free transportation to different places looking for work. All they would take with them would be a hoe for work and a handkerchief tied to it, which held their personal belongings and socks. Nowadays, a multitude of hoboes exist.
   Full-time hobo - A hobo who rides the rails looking for work .
   Recreational hobo rail rider - Someone who has a job and their own home but uses their vacation time to ride the rails.
   Hobo at heart - Someone who wants to be a hobo but fears it is too dangerous. They may still attend the yearly National Hobo Convention and other gatherings, but do not ride the rails.
   Friend of the hoboes - Someone who attends the National Hobo Convention and other gatherings. They frequent the hobo community, but choose not to ride the rails.
   Flintstone - Kids or teenagers who ride the rails with other hoboes or by themselves. They cannot be considered a hobo until they reach 18-years-old, and they often have a dark, gothic look with tattoos and body piercing. They are sometimes runaways but not all the time.
   Tramp/Bum - Someone who rides the rails but does not work. Should never be confused with a hobo.
Hobo Code of Ethics ~ supplied by MamaJo ~ OHNS RM-889
   Never litter
   Clean up your mess
   No foul-mouth
   Respect the brotherhood of the hobo community

Copyright 2007 “The Columbia Chronicle”. All rights reserved.