First night in a Hobo camp

This tale was related to me by a kind, old gentlemen.  He had escaped from an orphanage in Texas during the depression, and was headed west to California.  The story is told here in first person.

In order to get to California, I did the only thing I knew that would get me there, hitch a ride on any train heading west.  In preparation for my trip, I had packed several sandwiches.  However, after 3 days the sandwiches were gone, and I was very hungry.

Up to this time, I had avoided going into Hobo camps.  Because I had heard how tough those ‘bos could be, and I didn’t want any trouble.  But with the aroma of something cooking in a nearby camp, and the pangs of hunger from my stomach, I finally ventured to go in.

Cautiously, I walked into the camp.  Politely nodding to those that made eye contact, but mostly trying to act as if I had done this all my life.  I found a place to sit away from most of the others.  One of the Hobos called out to me, “Been out long kid?”  “Yes”, I answered, “three days.”  This brought a roar of laughter from the hobos around the campfire.  Only then did I realize that these folks have been “out” for a long, long time.

“Are you hungry?”, asked the first Hobo.  “Yes.”  “Well then, get ‘ya a piece of chicken.”  I had noticed that something was cooking (how could I not?) over the fire, that a large metal bucket was hung.  The bucket had originally held wheel bearing grease for the railroad, and with a little clean up, but not too much clean up, now held a boiling liquid.  It sure smelled good.  Hanging on the bucket was a piece of stout wire, with a hook fashioned at the end.  I used to wire to dip into the boiling liquid, and pulled out a chicken leg.  Not a drumstick, but the whole leg, thigh and all.

That chicken leg was the best chicken I had ever eaten before, or since, and I didn’t waste a bit.  As I was gnawing at the bone to get the last piece of meat, the Hobo called out again, “Are ‘ya still hungry?”  “Yes.”  “Well then, get yourself another piece!”  I didn’t have to be told twice.  I stood up and again grabbed the wire with the hook, and started dipping into the boiling liquid.  My first dip into the bucket brought up another chicken leg.  I let it drop back in.  I was looking for a larger piece, a chicken breast would be the best.  Again I dipped, and again another chicken leg, and another leg.

“What’s the matter son?” called out the Hobo.  “Well”, I answered, “Ain’t this chicken got nothing but legs?”  The laughter, hooting and hollering from the entire camp was almost deafening.  “No son, them chickens ain’t got no legs at all.  Not now least ways.”

What I came to learn in my subsequent travels on the rails, was how that chicken dinner came to be.  At that time, chickens were transported in crates in open air rail cars.  The quickest way to a chicken meal was to reach through the slats of the crates, grab legs, and pull.

                                            How to Be a Model(er’s) Wife

  1. You shall not speak ill of model railroading.  Are you embarrassed that your husband “plays with trains”? Many wives would rather say their husband’s hobby is drinking than admit he has a model railroad. Your husband does not “play with trains” he “works on his railroad” or “has a layout”.   Modelers take their work seriously.  They are trying to create an accurate, although fictional and miniature, railroad that can be operated like the real thing.
  2. You shall not nag or have temper tantrums about the money your husband spends on model railroading.  All hobbies cost money.  From the beginning it’s wise to include model railroading in the family budget.  This not only demonstrates your awareness of its importance to your husband but also acts as a curb on runaway spending. Another way to handle the large expenditures for the layout is to make a marital compact specifying a new outfit for you of comparable price for each major purchase. You may be the best dressed women in town.
  3. You shall not covet the space occupied by your husband’s railroad.  Most houses are not designed with a special place for model railroads. Therefore, you may find that you’ll have to accommodate a layout in a spare bedroom, the dining room, or the living room or even in the basement.  Second, your husband will be spending much of his time in the basement.  This may be the way you like it, but if you’d rather have more togetherness, part of the basement can be made into a comfortable television and reading area for you to share. You could decorate this area in a railroad theme and display his memorabilia (which is better than having it in the living room)
  4. You shall not begrudge the time your husband spends on his layout. Since his layout is in the basement, you’ll always know where your husband is and how he is spending his time. Think of all the worrisome ways he could spend his time away from home. He’ll probably be more relaxed and pleasant to be around after an evening’s work.
  5. You shall resist the temptation to clean his model railroad. Since cleaning is one of the ways you have been taught to show your care and concern, it’s only natural that you will want to help keep your husband’s  railroad neat and tidy. In your zeal for cleanliness, you may cause serious damage. It is almost impossible to pick up a boxcar or other equipment without getting out-of-scale fingerprints on it somewhere or mashing some miniature detail. For the good of the railroad and the happiness of your marriage, it’s best to let the dust accumulate.
  6. You shall not use your husband’s railroad tools without his permission.  Over the years your modeler husband will acquire precision tools. You’ll be tempted to borrow these gems for craft projects of your own. But just as you would not want your dressmaker’s shears used to cut his plastic sheeting, respect his tools and do not use even and X-acto knife without permission.
  7. You shall maintain your poise when your husband brings home a prototype railroad treasure. Many modelers are also collectors of railroad memorabilia. Often these are so heavily encrusted with rust and dirt it’s hard to visualize their hidden beauty or recognize their value. But control the impulse to refuse them entry to your home. Once cleaned and polished (try to go shopping when this is being done) some items can be additions to the décor of your basement railroad room. At worst, they make interesting conversation pieces.
  8. You shall respect your husband’s model railroad club night. Railroaders are sociable. They like to get together to share ideas, operate trains and swap stories. Compared to other activities that might take place during a night-on-the-town, these are quite wholesome. Your gracious acceptance of his night at the club may have a more beneficial effect than trying to make him feel guilty. As the saying goes,
    “Honey catches more flies than vinegar.”
  9. You shall not complain about visiting museums and old depots or attending model railroad conventions. 
  10. You shall not take these precepts – or yourself – too seriously. Relax and enjoy the hobby with your husband. Always remember: “Model railroading is fun!”