When I was growing up, being a homeless hobo had a certain romantic appeal to it. Hobos are wandering itinerant workers who ride the rails in the United States, a tradition that got its start after the Civil War when men and women had to journey from their homes to find work. It continued unabated through the Great Depression, but has tapered off with the decline of the rail industry in the United States. Still, while there are less trains now and a lot fewer hobos, many of their traditions live on in the American imagination.
For example, Appalachian Trail nick-names have always struck me as being uncannily similar to hobo names, and I don’t have any doubts about there being a connection there. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to meet a hiker with a hobo name like Cardboard or Harmonica Spike at an AT lean-to. There are also similarities between hobos and ultralight backpackers, especially when it comes to cooking or shelters and improvising with the materials at hand.
While you might think it childish or romantic to maintain hobo traditions, I think that hobo ways are inextricably part of the hiker mystique in the United States. We admire people who wander with a purpose, whether it’s to find work or find ourselves on the trail.
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