For more information about life for children and hobo­ing during the Great Depression check out the oral his­tory sec­tions located on our website here and here.

This arti­cle was writ­ten by Kathy Alseth (Kingston), based on a per­sonal inter­view with her Grand­fa­ther, Clyde Wes­ley Creech Sr., on April 16, 1988

Hobo­ing was a spe­cial part of the Amer­i­can Great Depres­sion years. Although many peo­ple left their homes out of neces­sity, their expe­ri­ences on their own were often times adven­tur­ous, thrilling and more than interesting.

I was able to speak to a man who spent seven years of his life Hobo­ing across the United States. From 1935 at age 14 to 1942 at age 22, he saw 42 states from a box­car. He remem­bers his expe­ri­ences fondly and they gave him insight to the real envi­ron­ment of a Hobos life, insight unat­tain­able from books.

Clyde Wes­ley Creech 1937, at age 16

Hobos often left home when they were very young.

“I was just a kid. I had no strings, no ties what­so­ever to keep me in one place. I enjoyed myself, get­ting out and trav­el­ing, mak­ing my own way. ‘Course when I left home there was noth­ing in the house to eat because the folks had noth­ing. Then was the Depres­sion times, and things was tough. I fig­ured that if I got out, there would be one less mouth to feed. Maybe my Dad could give more to the other two kids and my mother and be able to take care of ‘em and not have to worry about hav­ing to take care of me. ‘Course that a whole lot of the rea­son why I was on the road, why I was Hobo­ing around over the country.”

Fam­ily life was one of the major rea­sons young chil­dren left home through­out the United States. What they found after they left all depended on who and what they met along the way.

“I was always hook­ing up with a bunch of Hobos ’cause I was just a kid I could bum and get any­thing I wanted. I could get all the eats I wanted. There was not a ques­tion of eat­ing because every­body would feed a young kid, and I was just a young kid, 14 years old.”

It was easy for young­sters to receive meals because of their age. Clyde rapidly learned to cap­i­talise on this advantage.

“It was then that I was taught to pan han­dle and in Cheyenne, Wyoming, at that time, 1935, why a dol­lar a day was pretty good wages for most men I was hit­ting as much as 25 to 30 dol­lars a day. Then I was receiv­ing any­where from 5 to 6 meals a day so I was doing pretty good.”

Still, pres­sures of soci­ety did show up quite often. The younger hobos were often shel­tered by more expe­ri­enced bums. This pro­tec­tion was some­times harmful.

“That’s my first time I ever got hooked up with dope, the only time in my life. I smoked one mar­i­juana cig­a­rette, and that was enough. We went into a bar, ‘course I was big for my age, and I passed myself off as 18 years old. I went into a bar at Cheyenne Wyoming and a col­ored man came up to me and he said, ‘You boys want to get drunk? I got some stuff that will make you drunk’ I says ‘fine’, well gee whiz, I had quite a bit of money on me, so I gave him a dol­lar for a cig­a­rette. He went out and down the street, and I fol­lowed him. I seen him get it from a white girl. She swung into the curb, and he gave her a dol­lar, she handed him the cig­a­rette. We smoked that, and boy, I tell ya I was on a good one, a good binge cause that was my first time.”

Of course not every­one was a bad influ­ence. Being on the road enabled the Hobos to meet all types of peo­ple and there could always be a learn­ing experience.

“I was trav­el­ling around with an old timer and he says, ‘well I’ll teach you the ropes on how to tell when­ever you can get a hand­out or a sit down, when­ever you go to a man’s house and ask for some­thing to eat.’ We started out down the street, he’d just walk along, and he’d look across the street, ‘well now you go over there, you’ll get a sit down, he says, ‘I’m going over here, I’m gonna get a hand­out.’ A sit down was exactly that. You were invited in and fed a meal out of a plate. The hand­outs were sim­i­lar to a sack lunch that you took and ate on your way. “He taught me how to read the signs on the houses and on the fences, or out along the rail­road track where they piled up the rocks and where they took and put up a spe­cial way of telling other bums where they could find some­thing to eat.”

These signs could be dis­as­trous to those who pro­vided the meals.

“Once you fed a Hobo, you would be hit by every Hobo that ever came along because he’d know about it. Some peo­ple wouldn’t feed a Hobo because they’s afraid they’d have to feed a lot of them, if they fed one, which was true.”

Cloth­ing seemed to be a prob­lem with many Hobos, being able to get clothes that would fit was a very slim chance. There were, how­ever, agen­cies set up for this.

“My clothes were got­ten mostly at the Good Will, they didn’t have so much at Good Will at that time, but there was the Red Cross, and at the Tran­sient cen­ter they usu­ally had some clothes around there that was donated by other peo­ple around town. We usu­ally could find some­thing to wear. There were always hand-me-downs. I never had a decent pair of shoes or decent clothes until I got to pan han­dling and made enough money to buy my own.”

Hobo­ing wasn’t iso­lated to sin­gle men, whole fam­i­lies were caught short in the depres­sion, and forced to live the hobo life.

“I had seen men and women with two or three kids, small kids, every­one car­ry­ing a bun­dle or a box a stuff, hik­ing down the high­way. I seen some of ‘em throw their kids in a box­car and jump in to ride the freight cars. Rail­road bull caught ‘em, why they caught ‘em, and threw them in jail for a day or two. They had some­thing to eat in jail at least.”

Hobo­ing was not the eas­i­est for those with families.

“Nobody had noth­ing. After the depres­sion hit, why every­one was in the same boat. Money was no good, there was no money. You got what ever Uncle Sam pays you to work on WPA.”

The WPA was what Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt set up for the men to work instead of giv­ing them money to live on they had to work for what they got. It was help­ful, yet for those need­ing more for their fam­i­lies, it didn’t quite cover it.

The Hobos in the Great Depres­sion had an entirely dif­fer­ent soci­ety. They shared their lives with each other. No one had any­thing. Those with homes and fam­i­lies pulled together to sur­vive. The same was true with those who lived in the train box cars. They pulled one large fam­ily together which expe­ri­enced it’s hard­ships and great adven­tures. Clyde remem­bered times when sev­eral Hobos would get together. Each would bum a cer­tain type of food and they would make a large “sum gul­lion” or stew. Those expe­ri­enced this fam­ily like bond remem­ber it as good times despite the poverty of the sit­u­a­tion. Care­free souls out for some adven­ture, and those that had no choice, seem­ingly received what they needed.

For more infor­ma­tion about life for chil­dren and Hobo­ing dur­ing the Great Depres­sion check out the oral his­tory sec­tions located on our web­site here and here.