Blue Heron in flight

Saturday, May 11, 2013


4/23/1910 I.W.W. flyer
Here is a little hobo dictionary of words that I have grubbed from Mark Wyman's Hoboes book.

The hobo was known, among other monikers, as a blanket stiff or bindle stiff, floater, harvest gypsy, apple glommer, sugar tramp and drift in. The bindle was the rolled up blanket or bundle that they carried on their back.

Hoboes "beat their way" on freight trains. This migratory population "rambled" and "freighted" around the country. They "hibernated" at fleabag hotels in the city between harvest seasons.  They often "bummed" their way home.

They would try to steal a free ride in the "blind baggage" area of the train.

"Riding the bumpers" meant standing on the train couplers between the cars.

To "ride the rods" was to hang onto an under frame truss rod below the car. Very dangerous, especially when the "bulls" or "shacks" would dangle a metal coupling pin under the train and try to kill the poor vagrant. That deadly practice was called a "bo-teaser."

"Mission stiffs"wouldn't work but would accept a "religious conversion" for bread, coffee and a free bed.

A dead hobo would normally be buried in a "pauper's field."

"Lodgers" were allowed to sleep in the jail for a night.

An "apple knocker" picked apples, "pearl divers" washed dishes, farmers were "clover kickers," shacks" were brakemen, "scissor bills" was the name for those who refused to fight back. A carpenter was a "splinter belly", a "shovel stiff" worked a shovel, "rust eaters" worked the railroads. A "working stiff' worked steady.

Masses of hoboes lived in "jungles", those pushed off the trains were called "jumpers."

Many hoboes worked timber. Short log country was logged by "tramp lumberjacks." These folks "galloped" from Montana to Idaho. They started as "Whistle punks" and graduated to "choker setter."

They used "steam donkeys" to "highball log."

Their labor champion, the IWW, was of course known as the "wobblies."

"First bale" marked the start of a season.

Cotton was first hoed and then "chopped," the hardest work in the field.

"Snowdiggers" were tramps that came from the north.

Mexican workers composed and sang "corridos", blues songs describing their hard lot.

The sugar beet topper, often a child, was known as a "beeter." Hispanic beet workers were known as "betabeleros."

Japanese harvest workers were known as "buranketto boys."

Packing house workers "rustled" oranges.

This book, Hoboes, bindlestiffs, fruit tramps and the harvesting of the west is a good read if you have an interest in American history and spirit. Pick it up at your local library like I did.

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