Hobos and Tramps


To-day it is the boast of the hoboes that they can travel in every State of the Union for a mill per mile, while in a number of States they pay nothing at all. On lines where brakemen demand money of them, ten cents is usually sufficient to settle for a journey of a hundred miles, and twenty cents often secures a night's ride. They have different methods of riding, among which the favorite is to steal into an empty box-car on a freight-train. At night this is comparatively easy to do; on many roads it is possible to travel this way, undisturbed, till morning. If the train has no "empties," they must ride on top of the car, between the "bumpers," on one of the car ladders, or on the rods. On passenger-trains they ride on top, on the "blind baggage," and on the trucks.

Taking this country by and large, it is no exaggeration to say that every night in the year ten thousand free passengers of the tramp genus travel on the different railroads in the ways mentioned, and that ten thousand more are waiting at watering-tanks and in railroad yards for opportunities to get on the trains. I estimate the professional tramp population at about sixty thousand, a third of whom are generally on the move. (1893: Flynt, 304)

Thousands of wandering wage-earners in search of work are killed on American railroads, because society as a whole, and the railroad as a public carrier in particular, are ignorantly uninterested in the welfare of the less fortunate members of society. The number of so-called "trespassers" killed annually on American railroads exceeds the combined total of passengers and trainmen killed annually. From 1901 to 1903, inclusive, 25,000 "trespassers" were killed, and an equal number were maimed, crippled, and injured. From one-half to three-quarters of the "trespassers" according to the compilers of the figures were "vagrants," wandering, homeless wage-earners in search of work to make their existence possible. (37, Brown)

When Spring reached Chicago, it lost me.
I planned a trip to Omaha with a lad of my own age. We left the Northwestern station one night just after dark. Bill had beaten his way on mail trains before.
We waited a few hundred feet from the station, until the train was well on its way. The engine came thundering down the track at a fast rate of speed, and rolled by our hiding place with a great blowing of steam and shrieking of whistle. The engine and first coach were enveloped in white and dark clouds of smoke and steam. We felt our way through the clouds and were soon aboard the train.
My heart beat fast with the thrill of adventure. We reached De Kalb without mishap, and ran for a dark place to hide while the train stopped at the depot. When the engine steamed away, we were aboard the first blind. Another man was there ahead of us.
Great clouds of steam and smoke fell all around us. A faded yellow moon would now and then shine through the vapour. The train ran a few miles until it came to a siding. It stopped for a signal, and was slowly starting up again when the third person spoke. "You guys hold up your hands," he said, as he pointed a long, dark revolver at us.
We did as we were told, and the man hastily handcuffed our wrists together. "We'll ride nice and easy on into Clinton, 'Boes, and I'll see that you get the rock pile for a couple o' months." (49, Tully)