The ethics of the American hobo

I am not good at coming up with costumes. So, the upcoming season of costumes frustrates me. Usually, I cheat and call a silly t-shirt and wig a costume. But, this year, we are planning to participate in our church’s “trunk or treat” and I will be decorating the Explorer and wearing a theme-related costume. I don’t want to add more “stuff” and I would like a theme that gives me some options. So, I have decided to become a hobo for the event. And, the Explorer will become a box car.

HoboHobos were different than “tramps” or “bums.” Hobos were itinerate workers. They worked their way across the country, often traveling in railroad box cars. Tramps worked hard at not working and liked to be on the road. And, bums, the lowest of the groups, neither worked nor traveled. To be a hobo meant that you were without resources because you could not find work and you traveled to find that next job.

The American hobo population grew after the Civil War and again grew after the start of the Great Depression. Work was difficult to find. And, pride kept men from remaining at home, a burden to family and community. So, American men left home and family and looked for work.

In 1889, there was a hobo convention. At that event, a code of ethics for hobos was adopted. As you read them over, think of your own home and work situations; this code has stood the test of time.

  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 in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as badly, if not worse than you.
  8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are living.
  9. If in a community camp ground, 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!

I started my research to make my holiday presentation more realistic. Instead, I found another example of the heart and soul of America – the hobo. An honest man who lived a tough life on the road, looking for honest work to earn a living. I’ve known some hobos.  They were running toward work, not way from hard work.  Some were Godly people, following the path the Father had set out before them.  I pray that they are warm and safe tonight with a job ready for them tomorrow.


Paul had some interesting advice: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’” (I Thessalonians 3:10)

  2 comments for “The ethics of the American hobo

  1. Bill Sheffield
    October 20, 2014 at 6:20 am

    Good one

  2. Tracie
    October 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you. This was so thought provoking and informative. I really enjoyed this and Love you very much!

    Date: Mon, 20 Oct 2014 01:31:47 +0000 To:

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