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The Twenty First Century Hobo

Updated on August 19, 2011

Twentieth Century Hobo

No one is certain where the word "hobo" originated, but two of the most likely sources are a railroad greeting of "Ho, beau," which means homeward bound. Or perhaps the French "hobereau" which means countryside gentleman.

One thing is certain though, a hobo was a migratory laborer. These people worked, and because they used America's rail system to get to where the work was, they also traveled.

A bum, on the other hand, traveled, but avoided work and a tramp neither worked nor traveled.

These are fine distinctions and over time one word has come to be synonymous with the other. But make no mistake, a hobo was a worker. Tramps and bums on the other hand, did not.

Hobo Code

The following is from the wikipedia entry on "hobo."

  1. Decide your own life, don't let another person run or rule you.
  2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
  3. Don't take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
  4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
  5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
  6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals' treatment of other hobos.
  7. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
  8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
  9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
  10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
  11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
  12. Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
  13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose all molesters to authorities, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
  14. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
  15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
  16. If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!

Hobo | Source

Twenty First Century Hobo

Today's hobo isn't called that. Perhaps because today's hobo is wired and connected we should call them Cobo or Dobo (for connected or data).

Rule one certainly still applies. No matter who you are, you should be able to decide your own life and live it on your terms.

Two I'm not so sure about, though its a wise policy. Let's change "gentleman" to "respectful human." Respecting the law, by and large, means respecting other's rights and property. A very good policy.

Three should be followed, but there are a too many folks out there who have it in their minds that the best way to survive is to bilk others out of their money or property. Big business seems to be the worst offender.

Four is most certainly valid, but most people still hope to get back to their old professions whatever they were. I think four "taking what ever work is available" could help a lot if it were observed.

Five is most definitely observed. Those who observe the rule of "make your own work," and it's a lot of people call it volunteer work.

Six is not all that relevant these days, but I've seen more drunks (and druggies) lately. Beside the fact that drinking in public is illegal in most places its an astounding waste of money when you don't have any. It certainly gives the street poor a bad reputation too, even if most of them don't get high out there.

"Jungling" is a term that we now call "rough sleep" where the person performing the act is sleeping outdoors so seven isn't all that relevant these days. The trick these days is to find a place where you won't be hassled by the police or passers-by. Still, seven is a very fine rule to live by. Don't mess things up for the next guy/gal.

Eight for the same reason although. I can imagine that if one is sleeping in a car they should be very careful about where they dump trash.

Nine and ten have to do with sharing outdoor living space. Pitching in should always be expected. If you can't help the group don't be surprised if the group can't be bothered to share what little they have.

"Boil up" means clean your clothes. I haven't witnessed this, but all the parasites that affected the "hobo" are still around. Not a bad policy.

We don't ride trains these days so eleven and twelve really don't apply. Thirteen and fourteen should most certainly apply. As should fifteen and sixteen.

Modern Hobo
The modern hobo can usually be seen in a coffee shop with their laptop, notebook, tablet, or smart-phone networking with others, searching for work, or blogging about their experiences.

They'll travel to the job if there seems to be one, but trying to save enough to survive on means traveling to an iffy job offer is risky.

California Job Rush
Back in the late twenties and early thirties large groups of people would ride the rails on just the rumor of work. Many of these faux jobs were in California.

Alas, things are only slightly different and not necessarily better. Too many job boards post bogus ads or worse. Among the bogus ads are those that promise work, but on a condition. You are required to pay for and take a class. This isn't a job posting; it's an attempt to make a profit on a class that may or may not net a job. Not illegal perhaps, but most certainly unethical.

Then there are the job postings that state that one need not apply if they are unemployed. Again, not illegal, but most certainly unethical.


The author was not compensated in any way, either monetarily, with discounts, or freebies by any of the companies mentioned.

Though the author does make a small profit for the word count of this article none of that comes directly from the manufacturers mentioned. The author also stands to make a small profit from advertising attached to this article.

The author has no control over either the advertising or the contents of those ads.


Submit a Comment

  • MattyLeeP profile image


    6 years ago from Tucson, AZ

    Good stuff, I'm going backpacking this January and I'm excited to hit the streets again. It's a lifestyle I've tried to get my family to understand but had little luck.

  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Thanks AlabamaGirl86.

  • AlabamaGirl86 profile image


    7 years ago

    I liked this alot, many thumbs up.

  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Thanks for reading KCSantiago. I've never ridden the rails either. Damned dangerous looking means of travel if you ask me. I'm enough of a klutz to end up between wheel and rail by accident.

  • KC Santiago profile image

    KC Santiago 

    7 years ago from Texas

    When I was younger I did a lot of running around the country. I often referred to myself as a hobo with the defintion you have posted in mind. It was explained to by a bum the difference between the three. I didn't jump trains though. The one time I went to do that was after I was married, a father, and had settled. Some freinds who did ride the rail invited me on a short trip just for the experience. I got off work, went home and told the wife I would be back in two days, packed a a small bag, and got down to the train tracks to learn all the train employees had gone on strike and nothing was moving.


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