The great American Hobo may be a thing of the past. Once a romanticised group of travelling strangers, the classic "hobo" hopped the rail and criss-crossed the United States with just the clothes on their backs. Now thrill seekers may try their hand at hoboing, and some modern day vagabonds even use cellphones to communicate!
In early American hobo days, the hobos used signs and symbols to communicate with each other and help out fellow travellers with tips on the area and the friendliness of it's inhabitants. If you walk the rail today you may still see some signs of the traditionalist hobos. Learning how to read their symbols will help open the door to the past and help you understand the classic hobo culture.
- Skill level:
Notice circle and arrow combinations. These combinations usually contain information about what direction a hobo should go from the rail. If the arrow and circle are together, it means, "Go this way." If the arrow goes through the circle it tells the hobo to avoid that area.
Look for triangles. A series of triangles in descending order indicate a woman and her children live there. This usually tells a hobo that if they tell a sob-story they may be able to get food and shelter there for a night.
Note that a typical crucifix shape tells a hobo that if they speak about religion in a positive way they can get a meal!
View a simple U shape. This means it is safe to camp.
See the animals. Animal symbols are used for a variety of things. A sign of a cat means a kind woman lives at that residence, whereas the sign of a duck means you can use a telephone for free!
Learn about hobo safety signs. There are several hobo signs that deal with crime, safety and police. A typical cross-hatch or "pound" sign means that the area is not safe and that crimes have been committed in that location. A basket weave pattern or "waffle" pattern means there is a jail nearby, while two connected circles mean that police in the area do not approve of hobos.
Tips and warnings
- Hoboism is making a resurgence on the Internet, so if you want to become a modern day Hobo or learn more about it, there is plenty of information and groups for you to join.
- Be careful in hobo areas. Never go alone, and travel with a dog for safety.
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