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Meet 8 American Hoboes

Interviews with the last of a dying breed.

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1. Wrong Way

How he became a hobo: In the early '70s, Wrong Way hit a guy really hard in a bar in South Alabama. He thought the police were after him, so he hopped on a train and left town. At first he was scared of the hobo jungles, but he met a guy named One-Armed Blackie who took him under his wing.

How he got his hobo name: In the early '70s, Wrong Way's nephew got him a job hauling meat in Chicago. His nephew offered him a bus ticket, but Ronnie said he would just hop on a train. The night before he left for Chicago he went out to the liquor store and got hammered. The next day he woke up in a city and called his nephew. His nephew had never heard of the street he was on. Ronnie hung up, found a cop, and asked him where he was. The cop said "the Bronx."

His favorite places:

- Up North in the Summer

- Down South in the Winter

- He hates Florida because it's a crazy place and the laws are insane.

- He likes the Pan Handle of Texas because he does really well there.

- Doesn't like Salt Lake City because there are too many bums.

His hoboeing tips:

- A good solid pair of boots. It's the best tip he could ever give. He sees guys in tennis shoes and thinks they're insane.

Random facts:

- His name used to be Wrong Way Ronnie, but he thought it was too long, so he dropped "Ronnie."

- It was his first time at the Hobo Convention after hearing about it for a million years. He said it felt like home to him and reminded him of the hobo jungles of the '70s and '80s.

- This summer is probably his last season hoboeing. He has some health and legal problems he needs to take care of.

- Ronnie used to be a real angry person, but in the past couple of years, he's snapped out of it. He realized everyone isn't after him.

2. Tiny Legend

How he became a hobo: Tiny Legend has basically always been a hobo. His father was a carnie and his mom was a hippie. He traveled the rails from fair to fair with his father ever since he was a little kid.

How he got his hobo name: He was born on Route 66 in a "hippie van." His father had to cut his umbilical chord with some type of carnie knife. Unfortunately, Tiny Legend was born premature and had to go to the hospital because he was so tiny. He also told me he was a legend, so, "Tiny Legend."

His favorite places:

-Little Rock, Arkansas, because the people are nice and feed you good.

His hoboeing tips:

- Pee before you get on the train. The train loosens up your bladder and peeing out the side is dangerous.

Random facts:

- He's a self-proclaimed carnie hobo/carnie tramp which means he travels from fair to fair on the rails.

- Tiny Legend was also really good at hustling the Britt, Iowa, locals. He would charge people $1 for giving them their hobo names.

- This was his first year at the Convention.

3. Pantomime

How he became a hobo: Pantomime had his first ride at age 14 when his mother and father separated. His parents lived on opposite sides of town, so he would hop a train to go between them. He became a full-time hobo after he lost his job as an iron foundry worker in the '70s. He said iron jobs went overseas.

How he got his hobo name: He made a film with his stepbrother in the early '70s about riding the trains called "Pantomine." Unfortunately, the film was destroyed shorty after it was edited in a fire. He said he was just looking to make a movie and maybe get a job.

His favorite places:

- Anywhere with work. He said it's like fishing. You pick an area, throw the bob in, and hope you get a bite.

His hoboeing tips:

- Wear a pair of long pants. The steel can get really hot and you can burn yourself.

- Get a good job and keep it!

Random facts:

- He made me write down this quote, "A recession isn't just a word, it's actual human suffering."

- He's running for President. The booklet he's holding is his platforms. You can see his website here.


4. Fruit Loop

How he became a hobo: In 1991, after getting kicked out of the Navy, Fruit Loop was working a job by a railroad in Spokane, Washington. He saw all the fun the hoboes were having and was miserable with his wife. So, he went out, bought a backpack and tent (he had money from his job then), told his wife "fuck this," and jumped on a train. He hasn't looked back since.

How he got his hobo name: He used to pick apples in Washington.

His favorite places:

- Seattle, Washington

-Omaha, Nebraska, because they have a huge park downtown and no bums.

His hoboeing tips:

- Carry water. A LOT of water.

Random facts:

- He hadn't been to the Convention since 2009, so it was a real nice homecoming.

- Hates New York City.

5. Bolty

How he became a hobo: At 24, Bolty was the youngest hobo at the convention. He's been hoboeing for 7 years and started because he got sick of his life in Portland, Oregon.

How he got his hobo name: He was hit by a drunk driver while crossing the street. He has screws in his head and in his knees. He made me touch them.

His favorite places:

- He really likes the people in Alabama because they're nice.

- Anywhere in Virginia.

- Minneapolis

- Chicago

His hoboeing tips:

- If you are hitchhiking and no one is picking you up just lay down on the ground. Eventually someone will pick you up.

Random facts:

- Says he's addicted to riding trains.

- Has been arrested many, many times. Has tons of expensive tickets around the country and gets calls (most hoboes have cellphones) from claims collection agencies, but he doesn't have a cent.

- Traveled to the Convention in a coal car and got really dirty from it. No matter how many times he showered he couldn't get clean.

Bolty is also really into tattoos. He told me he gets bored on the trains and will tattoo himself. This one is a quote from the movie Trading Places. It says, "I had a horrible dream. I was poor and nobody liked me." Other tattoos he has are: "Fart" and "Fuck" on his knuckles. He also tattooed a radio station's call numbers on his toes, so they would play a song for him.


6. Adman

King of the Hoboes 2004

How he became a hobo: After college Adman opened up an advertising shop in St. Cloud, Minnesota. In 1972, his wife ran off with another guy, so he just walked away from everything. Adman hitchhiked up to Cheyenne, Wyoming, but got arrested. As soon as he got out he jumped on a train. That night he saw the most beautiful sunset he'd ever seen and thought to himself, "Fuck, I'm gonna do this forever."

How he got his hobo name: In the early '80s he met a hobo named Mountain Dew that took him under his arm. Adman was afraid of the hobo jungles and Mountain Dew showed him the ropes. Mountain Dew called him Adman because he used to work in the advertising business.

His favorite places:

- Portland, Oregon

- Tuscon, Arizona

- Down the Mississippi River

His hoboeing tips:

- Don't judge anyone. Everyone matters.

Random facts:

- Adman rode into Mexico quite a few times, and no one could understand it because people were trying to get the other way. Most people were trying to get out of Mexico, not into Mexico.

- Adman lives in a million dollar house in Minnesota. Riding trains is his hobby.

- His ride to this Hobo Convention was his last ride. At 64-years-old he is retiring from the rails.

- Oh yeah, he got arrested on the way down to the convention for trespassing on rail property.

- He's been arrested over 70 times.

7. Uncle Freddie

King of the Hoboes 2011

How he became a hobo: Uncle Freddie first rode the rails when he ran away from his Pennsylvania home in 1943 at the age of 14. He made it all the way to West Virginia before he was arrested and sent back. He served in the military for 2 years from age 17-19, and when his service was up, he hit the road.

How he got his hobo name: In the '70s, Uncle Freddie got stopped by the police in Pennsylvania and they found him with his knife. When they asked for his address Freddie told them he didn't have one and that he was a hobo. The lady who arrested him didn't know what a hobo was, so she put him in jail. Eventually Freddie got a hold of his nephew in California who asked him, "Uncle Freddie, what the hell are you doing?" Freddie said, "Everyone has an Uncle Sam, but hoboes needed an Uncle Freddie."

His favorite places:

- Minturn, Colorado

- Denver, Colorado

- Anywhere along the Rio Grande Rails

His hoboeing tips:

1. Don't ride alone.

2. Have necessities because you could be on a train for 3 days. Have a gallon of water, peanuts, and little snacks.

3. Have a good pair of shoes.

4. Don't get caught.

Random facts:

- He got the tattoo on his arm of the official hobo symbol in 1948.

- He was in an episode of Murder She Wrote (!!!!!!).

- Arrested numerous times. In Mississippi the judge told him, "I'll let you stay, but when you get enough money you better get out of my state!"

- Says the best part of being a hobo is being free, sleeping when you want to sleep, eating when you want to eat, working when you want to work, and NO IRS!

- Is one of the few remaining bridgers. Bridgers are hoboes who rode both steam trains and diesel trains.

- Retired from the rails in 2000.

8. Czech

How he became a hobo: When Czech was 13-years-old, his mom got a job in the railroad in Czechoslovakia. They spent a lot of time in the back of old railcars. Czech said his blood was mixed with steam. In 1983 Czech escaped Czechoslovakia because the Communist regime was controlling every aspect of his life. Fast forward to 2 weeks before 9/11 when he was fired from his job as a mechanical engineer. He couldn't get a new job, so he took off on the rails for 2 years.

How he got his hobo name: Well duh. He's Czech!

His hoboeing tips:

1. Be very careful.

2. Learn the hobo signals.

3. Some people get police scanners to monitor police activity at railroad stops.

4. Don't hop a train if it's running. Find a train before it departs.

5. Be aware of your surroundings.

6. Get a good pair of leather gloves.

7. Bring 2-3 days worth of water.

8. Bring canned food and ramen. You can always get water at gas stations.

9. Have a little pocket knife. Make sure it's not too big because laws are different by state.

His favorite places:

- Black Canyon, Colorado

- Gunninson River, Colorado

- Big Horne Canyon, Wyoming

Random facts:

- He traveled mostly on the Southern Pacific

- He was definitely the most "exotic" hobo at the Convention.

- Said he will never run for Hobo King because he doesn't feel worthy.

All photos by Matt Stopera