How to be a Hobo

Brett & Kate McKay

Am I the only boy who secretly dreamed of becoming a hobo? Riding the rails, traveling across the country, and carrying everything you own on your back has a romance that appeals to every man’s desire to wander.

In a 1937 issue of Esquire magazine, an anonymous writer penned an article called “The Bum Handbook.” Unlike most bums, he had chosen his vagabond lifestyle. And he was tired of seeing the sub-par job most other bums were doing. This was during the Great Depression, and many men found themselves homeless, lost, and ignorant of the art of bumliness. The author had being a hobo down to a science and claimed to enjoy 3 meals a day and a comfortable place to sleep each night. While he didn’t desire to return to regular society, he knew that most fellow hobos did, and so he offered these tips in hopes they could maintain confidence and a respectable look and thus find their way back to steady work.

Although much has changed since the 1930s, if you by chance find yourself a hobo during this Great Recession or desire to become a bum by choice, perhaps you can learn some tips from hobos of old. Enjoy these excerpts from the article and this fun peek into the past

Keep yourself clean. Filthy men can’t charm the housewife into giving food, the passerby into relinquishing money, the man of business into giving jobs: the housewife is scared and repelled, the passerby is annoyed and anxious to be away, the business man responds curtly. And there is no need to be unwashed. Every gasoline station and railroad depot has a washroom replete with running water, soap and paper towels; anyone may use these facilities, the bum should wash and shave there. In the handbook for bums the first motto is: A bum should be clean.

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