A Bit of Railroad History


A few months ago in Marker Lights we wrote about "monikers" that were left by railroad workers on cars that they worked on. Another piece of railroad history from bygone days are the symbols left by hobos on walls, fences and tree trunks that advise or warn other hobos about what they could expect in neighborhoods where they may layover in their cross country trips.

Almost everyone knows about Woody Guthrie's "Dust Bowl Ballads" and the hardships suffered by many Americans during the Great Depression. Large numbers of people took to the roads to find work and traveled from city to city, many times because they had lost their homes.  Without cars, they would "hop" freight trains and dodge the railroad detectives during their journeys. Every major city had a "shanty town" where hobos would gather and lived in crude shelters that they built with whatever materials they could find.

To help each other out, these "hobos" developed a system to guide those on the road as to where they might find food, drink, medical care and a helping hand, and also places to avoid.
As the depression ended, the number of hobos riding the rails gradually came to an end and little by little, the symbols that were scratched to guide their path disappeared. The history, however, still remains.