KNIGHTS OF THE ROAD: A Hobo History by Roger A. Bruns


Email this review


Hobos still convene in Iowa every August, but few of them are left, according to one hobo called the Pennsylvania Kid--who complains that there are ""bums who won't work and winos who can't."" Roger Bruns concentrates on hobos--""the working class of the road""--but he also covers tramps (whose aim is to live without doing any work) and bums, ""the dirt under society's totem pole."" The hobo era grew with the railroads and the post-Civil-War expansion of industry, but with railroads in decline and industry increasingly mechanized, the hobo's transportation and livelihood have been curtailed. Bruns describes the hobo's heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries--freight-hopping, riding the cowcatcher, avoiding ""train dicks,"" gathering in hobo ""jungles"" to trade experiences, etc. He introduces Episcopal rector and Trinity professor John McCook whose 1880s investigation concluded that ""idleness"" and ""intemperance"" were hobos' main characteristics; Chicago physician Ben Reitman who gave up his practice for the road; ""tramp poet"" Harry Kemp (""There's a lice in jail as big as a rail. . .""); and such notable sometime-hobos as Jack London, William O. Douglas, Winthrop Rockefeller, and Clark Gable. We learn about the hobo ""colleges"" established at union locals in some 15 cities by John Eads How, the ""Millionaire Hobo,"" and we get a generous sampling of ballads and poems of the road.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Methuen