I will soon depart on my annual trip to the little town of Britt, Iowa, home of the National Hobo Convention since 1900. That’s right…for the last 110 years, hobos from all over America converge on this little town the second week of August to share stories and music about life on the rails. Hobos were migratory workers who rode freight trains from job to job, following a work circuit and living between jobs in “hobo jungles”–their network of encampments tucked secretively away just off America’s railroad system.
Actually there are still a few genuine hobos left, folks like Stretch and his dog, Burlington, Road Hog, and Bodene, but for the most part, Britt now works simply to keep their history alive through the National Hobo Museum located on Main Street. Never-the-less, thousands of free-spirits show up every year to eat hobo stew, sit around the jungle fire and listen to the old songs of Haywire Mac and Jimmy Rodgers, attend Friday’s graveside ceremony honoring the many Knights of the Iron Road who are laid there to rest…and to attend the coronation of the Hobo King and Queen. Among those who have shared that esteemed title are Steamtrain Maury, Gascan Paddy, Minneapolis Jewel, Connecticut Tootsie, Ink Man, and Straycat.
So you’re probably wondering why all this interests me, right? Well my father lived the hobo life for nearly twenty years as a young man. I came along later in his life and throughout my childhood, I sat at his feet, listening to him sing songs and tell stories about his own adventures. Going to Britt each year is a way to scratch my own proverbial wanderlust itch, and a way of honoring my dear father.
The canvas below was donated to Britt’s Hobo Auction last year by Canvas on Demand to raise funds to maintain the museum. For more information about the Convention, click here: http://www.brittiowa.com/hobo/index.htm
May your feet stay loose and your fancy free–Mom