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Veteran Hobo: 1938

Veteran Hobo: 1938

December 1938. "Napa Valley, California. More than 25 years a bindlestiff. Walks from the mines to the lumber camps to the farms. The type that formed the backbone of the Industrial Workers of the World in California before the war." Photo by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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My mom used to tell me about hobos who would pass her parents' farm on the highway south of Walla Walla, Washington. They would often knock on the door and ask if they could get something to eat and if there was any kind of job they could do. Grandma would always find something for them to eat and sometimes Grandpa would find some work they could do. Grandma got a bit frightened, however, the time a hobo came to the door, pointed to a bull in the field across from their house, and said "See that bull over there? I'm gonna go grab him by the tail and throw him out!" She sent mom out the back door to find Grandpa!

Industrial Workers of the World

My mother (b. 1902) translated "IWW" as "I Won't Work." Apparently a contentious organization.

Also known as "Wobblies."

Apple pickers headed for Wenatchee

A friend and I shared a boxcar with two older hobos headed east out of Seattle for the beginning of the apple harvest in Central Washington in 1972. We were both very impressed when they would crack raw eggs over their mouths and consume the contents in one gulp. Old heads indeed.


We lived in a suburb of St. Louis and I remember mom giving sandwiches to men who would knock at the door right after the war. I guess now they would have EIB cards.

On the Road Again

In the summer of 1951 I worked as busboy in the Dining Room of an upstate New York resort in the Catskill Mountains, the so-called "Borsht Belt." In the kitchen were a couple of hobos working as dishwashers. They were paid on Saturday nights and most didn't come back the next day. I remember one Saturday evening myself and another college kid were finishing our shift and cleaning up in the kitchen when we started to sing "You Are My Sunshine," we were joined by these two down and outers and the group sounded pretty good. They had their gear and were ready to leave when my friend and I had to return to the dining room to set up for the next meal. When we returned the two itinerents were gone along with our clothes and shoes.

What a face

He looks like Paul Newman playing the part of a bindlestiff or what Butch Cassidy did in his later years (if there were later years). If this picture was color, I'll bet he has piercing blue eyes

What's in a Name

I was born in 1939 and had always heard the terms tramp and hobo. I asked my Mom, once, what the difference was. She said that a hobo was someone out of work and would do chores or other work for either food or money. She said a tramp only looked for handouts and was not willing to do anything for it.

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