The National Hobo Convention convenes in Britt, Iowa the second week every August, bringing together a colorful assembly of hitchhikers, rail riders, ramblers, and roamers from all over the United States. Since the late 1800s, the figure of the hobo—with baggy pants, battered hat, and meager possessions wrapped up in a cloth bindle on a stick resting on the shoulder—has become a familiar figure in American popular culture. From Charlie Chaplin to Woody Guthrie to Boxcar Willie, the hobo or tramp has become a familiar and romantic character, embodying the joys and heartbreak of life on the road.

But what is the difference between hoboes and the homeless? What are the forces that have driven generations of men and women to leave home and family and strike out on their own? In this episode we’ll tell the story of the annual Hobo Convention, which has been the meeting place of the fraternity of the footloose since 1900. Britt, Iowa is itself a product of the railroad, established as a depot of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway. It’s a perfect place to tell the story of hobo culture and reveal the hidden customs and bizarre happenings that take place, even today, at the nation’s hobo camps.

Music and FX Credits

  • Steam Engine-w-Whistle – multiple passes, by Davestalker, Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license, https://freesound.org/people/DAVESTALKER/sounds/400549/
  • Noel Westbrook performs The Highway Hobo, 1940, Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin migrant workers collection (AFC 1985/001), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/toddbib000071/
  • Fire wood bonfire high eq, by honejrande, 2006, Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license, https://freesound.org/people/homejrande/sounds/17374/
  • Symphony no. 9 in E minor, ‘From the New World’ Op. 95, II. Largo, performed by Symphony Orchestra, Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (3.0) license, https://musopen.org/music/4942-symphony-no-9-in-e-minor-from-the-new-world-op-95/
  • “Hobo” Jack Turner performs The Bum’s Rush, 1928, public domain
  • Train, performed by Ace Johnson, 1939. John and Ruby Lomax 1939 southern states recording trip (AFC 1939/001), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
  • Freight Fast Horn – mixdown, by davethetech, 2016, Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (3.0) license, https://freesound.org/people/davethetech/sounds/357900/
  • Palmer Mason performs Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, 1938. Alan Lomax collection of Michigan and Wisconsin recordings (AFC 1939/007), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
  • Dear Present & Departed (ft. NiGiD) by robwalkerpoet (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license, http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/robwalkerpoet/55776 Ft: NiGiD
  • Fred Perry and Glenn Carver perform Lost Train Blues, 1939. John and Ruby Lomax 1939 southern states recording trip (AFC 1939/001), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
  • Gloomy Sunday, by Paul Whiteman and Johnny Hauser, 1936, public domain
  • Stephen Griffith performs Big Rock Candy Mountains, Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (3.0) license, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1v8aPKDRxA
  • Over and Outback by Martijn de Boer (NiGiD) (c) copyright 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/NiGiD/46093 Ft: Robwalkerpoet, Javolenus
  • Freight Train Slow – Mixdown, by davethetech, 2016, Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (3.0) license, https://freesound.org/people/davethetech/sounds/357574/

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