DONE AND BEEN: Steel Rail Chronicles of American Hobos by Gypsy Moon

DONE AND BEEN: Steel Rail Chronicles of American Hobos

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An adventurous daughter of an ex-hobo gamely rides the rails, treks through hobo jungles, and even gets crowned National Queen of the Hobos in this stew-to-nuts treatise. Gypsy Moon (the moniker bestowed on Jacqueline K. Schmidt after her inaugural ride on a grain car) does not need to travel widely in search of her quarry. A former director of the Indiana Transportation Museum, she maintains a shack for hobos behind her house. Here and at the annual hobo gathering in Britt, Iowa (where she was inducted into royalty in 1990), the writer sought out colorfully named old-timers, most of whom did their freight-hopping earlier in the century. While their stories have a sameness to them, particularly with respect to hobo ethics about sharing and work, one is struck by the lack of suspicion and generosity shown by townspeople of the 1920s and '30s to these men (and sometimes women): Bakers routinely gave them their day-old bread; butchers contributed scraps to their mulligan stews, and housewives fed them in return for some wood chopped or a floor swept. All faced the dangers of falling between cars, getting beaten and thrown from trains by railroad ""yard dicks,"" or being robbed by ""jackrollers,"" who preyed upon these migrant workers for their wages. Not content to merely report their stories, however, Moon undertakes a short but harrowing journey aboard several freight trains through the midwest in company of a younger hobo who shows her the ropes--which includes getting soaked to the skin in a rainstorm and evading railroad police by dangerously climbing over the couplings of a ""live"" train. In addition, readers seeking a gastronomic guide will find hobo recipes such as Snapshot's caboose chili and Be-Gone Norm's bean soup. A sincere and simply-written work, best read as a glimpse into an earlier, poorer, but less cynical America.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Indiana Univ.