TALES OF THE IRON ROAD: My Life as King of the Hobos by Maury & Robert J. Hemming Graham

TALES OF THE IRON ROAD: My Life as King of the Hobos

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As the last generation of real hobos totters toward the grave, some 50 years after the demise of the steam locomotive, the lettered amongst them are setting down their memoirs. Last month, we had Charlie Fox's fine Tales of an American Hobo (p. 1444); now comes Graham's equally enthralling, considerably slicker contribution. Graham, who has appeared on the David Letterman and Johnny Carson shows, hopped his first boxcar at the age of 14 in 1931; he gave up his wanderings in 1980. In the intervening 49 years (interrupted by one long stretch of marriage), he immersed himself in the hobos' ""strict society that lives by a narrow code of conduct."" Here, he reveals much 'bo lore, including techniques of freight-hopping, the hobos' secret signal system, the hobo code of conduct. He recalls legendary hobos, including Reading Red, who turned out to be a wealthy financier in disguise, and the ""brilliant"" hobo-scholar, Hood River Blackie. And--lest we forget that hobo life is not entirely inviting--he recalls savage beatings by railroad bulls and, even less pleasant, times that he and other 'bos beat up ""queers."" Since his election as King of the Hobos, Graham has been making the rounds of veteran hospitals, bringing ""a message of cheer."" This book won't add to his benevolent image--there's too much violence and too many eccentric opinions (he describes Masters of the Universe toys as ""satanic,"" for instance)--but it demonstrates that hobo writing, if not the hobo life-style, is alive and well.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1989
Publisher: Paragon House