Hobos In The 1930's


My name is Wayne Gretzki. I am a hobo from the 1920’s. To me, a hobo is a person without a home, little to no money and are also workers who wonder. We are not hobos because we are lazy, or we want to be. Most of us don’t have any other options.Most hobos are soldiers looking to get home and end up having to train hop with the rest of us. I live a very tough life. I travel on freight trains hoping to find work on the American frontier and jobs are extremely hard to come by in the 1930’s. I wasn't the only one either, there were more like me and we all stuck together when it came to staying alive. We communicated in our own little lingo. This way, we knew if a certain area of the city was safe to stay in or if it was dangerous. The reason why we are around is because of the fact with the stock market crash and the great depression a lot of people, mainly men who lost their jobs.

I remember waking up every morning feeling groggy, maybe it was because of the fact i was sleeping at one of the worst flops in chicago, i definitely didn't recommend this for any other bo i met. I have to admit, sleeping here at the flop was a lot better than sleeping in the accommodation car. Today wasn't any different from any other day, savaging for food, desperately looking for a job, and just flat out staying alive. In the morning i made sure i boiled up my clothes real good so i don't get no infection due to those darn lice. After that i was spearing biscuits for breakfast, ever since the crash and with it leaving me without a job, food was scarce. Even if you lived by the Main drag, it made no real difference when you wanted to eat. I stop by the soup bowl to gather a few items of food to last me a good week, so for lunch i popped some bullets on the ol' banjo and that lasted me till dinner as well. The days i would be looking for work would be the worst days, walking past dozens of bone polishers, and bone orchards along my way was unbearable. This was my life, this was my way of living, and this is who i am because of the great depression.

At the start of the great depression there were over 300,000 people, mainly men homeless, and jobless. The hobo culture reached the exceeded levels of composure, meaning they were at their highest level of influence on American culture. Contact with these hobos was a common experience and they influenced the American Language with a wave of new lingo that they used and it is still used today. Along with the new language they created, hobos created symbols to go along with most of their new words. These symbols would be drawn or scripted onto gates and signs when entering a new area of the city. This is how hobos communicated with each other during the great depression and this is how they lived. Now there are still hobos around today, but obviously not as much. But some still ride trains and ride the rails as well. Modern day hobos consists of a mix of sub-cultures consisting of "gutter punks", illegal immigrants, the homeless, and even some graffiti artists. And finally below is the commonly known lingo that hobos during the great depression used.

Here Are some Hobo lingo that they used to use during the great depression.

Hobo term
Explanation
Accommodation car
the caboose of a train
Angellina
young inexperienced kid
Bad Road
a train line rendered useless by some hobo's bad action
Banjo
(1) a small portable frying pan. (2) a short, "D" handled shovel
Barnacle
a person who sticks to one job a year or more
Beachcomber
a hobo who hangs around docks or seaports
Big House
prison
Bindle stick
collection of belongings wrapped in cloth and tied around a stick
Bindlestiff
a hobo who carries a bindle.
Blowed-in-the-glass
a genuine, trustworthy individual
"'Bo"
the common way one hobo referred to another: "I met that 'Bo on the way to Bangor last spring".
Boil Up
specifically, to boil one's clothes to kill lice and their eggs. Generally, to get oneself as clean as possible
Bone polisher
a mean dog
Bone orchard
a graveyard
Bull
a railroad officer
Bullets
beans
Buck
a Catholic priest good for a dollar
Buger
today's lunch
C, H, and D
indicates an individual is Cold, Hungry, and Dry (thirsty)
California Blankets
newspapers, intended to be used for bedding
Calling In
using another's campfire to warm up or cook
Cannonball
a fast train
Carrying the Banner
keeping in constant motion so as to avoid being picked up for loitering or to keep from freezing
Catch the Westbound
to die
Chuck a dummy
pretend to faint
Cover with the moon
sleep out in the open
Cow crate
a railroad stock car
Crumbs
lice
Doggin' it
traveling by bus, especially on the Greyhound bus line
Easy mark
a hobo sign or mark that identifies a person or place where one can get food and a place to stay overnight
Elevated
under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Flip
to board a moving train
Flop
a place to sleep, by extension: "Flophouse", a cheap hotel.
Glad Rags
one's best clothes
Graybacks
lice
Grease the Track
to be run over by a train
Gump
a scrap of meat
Honey dipping
working with a shovel in the sewer
Hot
(1) a fugitive hobo. (2) a decent meal: "I could use three hots and a flop."
Hot Shot
train with priority freight, stops rarely, goes faster; synonym for "Cannonball"
Jungle
an area off a railroad where hobos camp and congregate
Jungle Buzzard
a hobo or tramp who preys on their own
Knowledge bus
a school bus used for shelter
Main Drag
the busiest road in a town
Moniker / Monica
a nickname
Mulligan
a type of community stew, created by several hobos combining whatever food they have or can collect
Nickel note
five-dollar bill
On the Fly
jumping a moving train
Padding the hoof
to travel by foot
Possum Belly
to ride on the roof of a passenger car. One must lie flat, on his/her stomach, to not be blown off
Pullman
a railroad sleeper car. Most were made by George Pullman company.
Punk
any young kid
Reefer
a compression of "refrigerator car".
Road kid
a young hobo who apprentices himself to an older hobo in order to learn the ways of the road
Road stake
the small amount of money a hobo may have in case of an emergency
Rum dum
a drunkard
Sky pilot
a preacher or minister
Soup bowl
a place to get soup, bread and drinks
Snipes
cigarette butts "sniped" (eg. in ashtrays)
Spear biscuits
looking for food in garbage cans
Stemming
panhandling or mooching along the streets
Tokay Blanket
drinking alcohol to stay warm
Yegg
a traveling professional thief, or burglar


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