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        How I came to carve Hobos
    Rick Ferry ... Click to EMail this person. - August 18, 2004    
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Santy Claus
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San Antonio Slim
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Skagway Short-line
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Uptown Harry
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Captain Jack
      Twelve miles or so down river from Wenatchee, Washington is a wide spot in the road called "Rock Island". This "town" was named for a couple of large rocks that protrude from the middle of the river just above the Rock Island Dam. As a young boy I would see hobos following the tracks that ran along both sides of the Columbia River.

      There was a hobo jungle just outside of Wenatchee where they would gather to cook, sleep, and share information while looking for work or waiting for their next hop. The jungle was just a small clearing under the railroad bridge that provided some shelter from the weather. Located far enough from the highway, it allowed the hobo time to disappear should the law stop by. (Hobos were often blamed for crimes the sheriff could not otherwise solve)

      Every now and again, a hobo would find his way to our door. My Grandmother would always have something that needed fixing or firewood that needed splitting. So, while the hobo was working, Grandma would cook him up something to eat; usually no more than beans, cornbread, and coffee; but they never complained. I always wondered where they came from and where they were heading.

      I can't recall when I first started woodcarving, but I received my first set of "real" carving tools on my twelfth birthday as a gift from my Father. Dad did his best to pick out a good set of tools, but somehow he found the worst set available at the time. They were impossible to carve with because they were so thick. I finally donated them to a missionary who was traveling to a remote Mexican village.

      I have real sympathy for the poor Mexican boy who received those tools.

      Nearly forty years later, I have more tools than I like to admit, and my love of carving is just as strong as it was on my twelfth birthday. I prefer to carve older men because of the character and experience that is reflected in their faces.

      It seemed natural that if I was to carve elderly gentlemen, they may as well be hobos.
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Soft-Heart Swartz

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Frisco Joe
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Whitey
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Coal-Car Tony
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Tea-Time Thomas
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      The story of America's hobos is the story of America herself; many immigrants arrived with little more than their wits to rely on. Some were skilled craftsmen who simply could not find steady work, so they traveled from town to town seeking employment.

      As railroad tracks were laid across the land, the hobo found it easier to travel from one job to another. Of course, paying for each ride was out of the question. So hopping outbound trains became a way of life for many hobos.

      Americans have always been a generous people and would often provide temporary shelter or a warm meal. The hobo usually would not accept charity, but would gladly work or "sing" for his supper.

      A sad side to hobo life was old age; elderly hobos after years of living on the road found themselves without family and in failing health. Occasionally, an old hobo would luck upon a position as hired hand with a caring family. Although the job rarely paid more than room and board, it often meant the difference between life and death to the old hobo.
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West Coast Willie
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Wistle-Stop Pete
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Frank The-Sodbuster
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Rock Island Red
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Kansas City Kid

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Santy Claus
  Year after year Santy has worked the department stores as Santa. All the hobos know and love him; he always finds a way to make Christmas special for them. The fact that he honestly believes he is Santa Claus is okay by them. Who knows, perhaps he is....
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Skagway Short-line
  With Skagway, it's a never-ending story of the Alaskan gold fields where he nearly struck it rich. One of these days... he will get a grub-stake together and return to his claim. Truth be told, for nearly two years he worked his claim and barely scratched out a living. Although there was one nugget, just large enough to buy himself a gold tooth right up in the front row. Skagway is a good man to have around; he can make a meal out of slim pickings.
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San Antonio Slim
  Nobody knows how Slim got his name, but it has stuck with him. Originally from New York, he still has a thick Bronx accent. Slim can tell some whoppers; like the time he pitched for the Yankees. Some stories he will stretch more than others; he swears he logged off the Sahara Forest (known ever since as the Sahara Desert). Slim once worked (for a short time) as camp cook for a logging outfit in Idaho; until the logging crew helped him onto a southbound freight train.
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Uptown Harry
  Commonly known as "Slick", comes from a good Boston family. It is said "the nut doesn't fall far from the tree" well, that isn't true in Harry's case. While his parents are well respected citizens of the community, nobody shed a tear when Harry hit the road. The problems began when his association with a certain dance hall girl became public; along with his extensive gambling debt owed to the wrong people. When "Daddykins" refused to foot the bill, Harry made a quick getaway on a southbound train. So now he makes his way doing card tricks with an occasional con job on some unsuspecting hayseed.
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Soft-Heart Swartz
  How do I explain Swartz? Toward adults, he is as contemptuous and ornery as an old man can get; but he simply loves children and animals. There is nothing he likes more than playing Santa while ringing his bell for charity donations. Children can't resist dropping a coin into his black pot on the sidewalk. After the Christmas season, Swartz has a hard time of it. Other hobos don't like him around because of his ill-temper, so he wanders the cold dark streets with an occasional stray dog to keep him company.
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Captain Jack
  As a young man, Jack signed-on to many a sea-going freighter. He visited faraway places and met exotic people with strange customs. Capt. Jack can spin a tale like nobody's business. It has given him the opportunity to "put on the feedbag" while the ladies devour his every word. Jack's large size has limited his travels to the various kitchens around town.
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Frisco Joe
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  If there is a job that Joe hasn't done, it probably ain't been invented yet. From boxer to undertaker, Joe has tried his hand at it for a time. His old man swore Joe would never amount to a hill of beans, but Joe can take on any job and do it well. It's his problem with the bottle that always seems to mess up a good thing. When he gets paid on Friday, you won't see him again until that money is liquidated. It's a vicious cycle that Joe has come to accept as his lot in life.
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Coal-Car Tony
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  Tony has never been inside a coal car, but gets his name from looking like he has. Tony is pretty much a loner; having never placed bathing too high on his list of priorities. Actually, he can be rather interesting to talk with; until the wind changes direction. Originally from New Jersey, his wife threw him out saying: "don't come back until you take a bath" that was eighteen years ago. Not that he wouldn't take a bath, let's say; if he were to fall into a river and had a bar of soap handy.
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Whitey
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  Whitey earned his nickname when his hair and beard turned white. He could just as easily been named Santa due to his large size and kind face. In fact, like other bearded hobos, he works department stores as Santa whenever he can; it gets him in out of the weather for a spell.
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Tea-Time Thomas
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  One of the oddest stories to come down the pike in some time; Tea-Time found his way to America as a servant to a wealthy English gentleman. Traveling to Chicago by train with his employer, he was not allowed to ride inside the passenger cars. He settled in for the trip inside an empty cattle car; where he met some "Gentlemen of the open road". They quickly deduced that with his English accent and skills as a man-servant, he would do well to strike out on his own. During the last ten years on the road, Tea-Time has concluded they may have overstated his prospects.
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Wistle-Stop Pete
  Pete is the sweetest smelling hobo you will ever meet; he will take a bath when it ain't even Sunday. Back in the days, he had a way with the young ladies; nowadays, it is mostly the larger ladies who can really cook. (It all comes down to priorities). Pete has a habit of leaving town on short notice; seems that putting on another mans feedbag can be a dangerous sport.
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West Coast Willie
  Willie picked up his handle from riding the rails more than ten years and never leaving the west coast. He once caught the wrong train and ended up in Nevada, but that was purely accidental. Willie prefers to travel up and down the coast from Mexico to Canada. If you want to drink with West Coast Willie, bring your own bottle; he don't share. Willie is well known around the train yards and even tolerated for some unknown reason.
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Frank The-Sodbuster
  Frank once owned a big farm near the Kansas - Oklahoma border where he grew corn, wheat and a bushel of young-uns. He was the first in the county to own a farmall tractor; in fact, it was the only tractor in the county. One day the wind started blowing and didn't stop fer quite a spell. By the time it did, there wasn't much left that was fit for man nor beast. So Frank sent the wife and kids to live with her folks while he hit the road for California; that was eight years ago. Frank figures the kids is all grown and the wife has probably given up on him, so their aint much reason to go back.
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Rock Island Red
  Just plain "Red" to his friends; earned his moniker by virtue of his thick red hair. Originally from the Scottish Highlands, his given name is Thomas MacGregor. As a lad, his pappy would call him Tommy-Boy. Red left Scotland for America at the tender age of fourteen. Now forty odd years later, he dreams of returning to the highlands. Sometimes it is necessary to leave home to truly find it.
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Apple Box
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  This apple box is a separate item and is not included in Frank's price... just in case you were wondering ...all though it looks good when displayed with Frank. -vrw
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Kansas City Kid
  He Started out as a hot-shot lawyer in Philadelphia; but a big (underworld) defense case went awry and the Kid was forced to lay-low for the rest of his life. It hasn't been all bad, he has gained some valuable skills like; cooking, hoeing and bean picking. So just where did the name "Kansas City Kid" come from? Seems the Kid bestowed it upon himself to throw the hounds off his trail.
Coming Soon!
Chattanooga Charlie
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  Charlie is actually from Shake Rag, Tennessee; which lies about 30 miles west of Chattanooga. It's not that Charlie isn't proud of being from Shake Rag, but the name reminded him too much of work. Charlie has been chewing on the prospect of converting; not his religion, just his work ethic. You see, a hobo is expected to work his way through life; whereas a tramp avoids any such nonsense. There was a time when Charlie was a working fool; but he saw his pops work hard only to earn a shady spot under a big elm tree. That's when Charlie decided to hit the road and enjoy the shade trees every day.
Coming Soon!
Stubbs
  An "old-school" carpenter; (between jobs) gets his name from a run-in with a power saw. His gruff appearance belies his soft heart. After uncounted years on the road, he has lost all contact with family. Time is catching up with Stubbs; winters are longer and colder than they used to be. Each year when the leaves begin to fall, he talks of settling down somewhere....
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We hope Rick's hobos stir memories of a simpler time and bring a smile to your face.
© Copyright 2005 ~ Rick Ferry ~ “HOBOS IN WOOD” ~ All rights reserved.
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Webpage last updated:   Tuesday, November 8, 2005

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