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HomePreppingWhat We Can Study About Survival from the Hobo Subculture

What We Can Study About Survival from the Hobo Subculture

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By the creator of Road Survivalism: A Sensible Coaching Information To Life In The Metropolis and The Final Survival Gear Handbook

Round 100-150 years in the past, the title “hobo” was used to explain a homeless or nomadic individual, normally a person, who would hop on freight trains to get from place to put, typically to search out work. In the US within the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, hobos had been a well known subculture, significantly through the Nice Despair. 

They wandered from city to city, looking for transitory employment, meals, and shelter, main a nomadic life-style. Despite the fact that they lived on the periphery of society, hobos upheld values that inspired independence and respect for each other and the neighborhood they labored in.

Hobos had been well-known for having a singular tradition that included a code of conduct, symbols for communication, and even a yearly conference. The American touring employee’s folklore has benefited from the songs and tales that hobos often wrote about their experiences. Their lifestyle has additionally been romanticized in literature, with some seeing it as a logo of freedom and journey. There are some fascinating issues that preppers and survivalists can study from their lives.

Past their cultural and social relevance, hobos are additionally survivors – a very good type of survivor. 

As one can think about, life as a hobo was difficult and sometimes concerned risks and hardships. Nonetheless, it was a type of survival for a lot of throughout a time of financial instability and job shortage. Hobos didn’t survive on handouts. As a substitute, they relied on their resourcefulness, the assistance of their fellow vacationers, and the communities they labored in. 

In my Road Survival Guide, I describe the homeless as “succesful survivors.” No matter one’s opinion of them – and right this moment, there are numerous several types of homeless – we should acknowledge the talent set essential to stay on the fringes of society, whether or not in a metropolis or on the highway. It’s one thing to behold. 

Simply as with the homeless, there are numerous completely different sorts of vacationers: hobos, tramps, bums, the Roma, hippies, and so forth. Most individuals take into account these sorts to be linked, however they’re completely different: a hobo travels and is raring to work; a tramp has a cause to be on the highway however tries to keep away from employment. And a bum does neither: they keep fastened and depend on the assist of others solely. 

The hobo is topic to the identical challenges, hardships, and probations as everybody residing on the streets or the highway. Nonetheless, they are often thought of distinctive due to their origins, their historical past, and, above all, their ethics. These issues make all of the distinction. Touring from city to city as a good individual was a lot simpler than a vagrant. Likewise, it’s loads simpler to stay within the streets as a good individual. 

Additionally, in my e-book, I highlighted how first rate conduct can influence the usual of residing and high quality of life of somebody residing on the streets. After years of attempting that life-style myself and getting involved with all types of road folks, I can affirm that residing by the code of the hobo is a superior – significantly better, safer, and more healthy – means than being a bum or worse, an outcast, concerned with medicine, alcohol, and crime. 

The historical past of the hobo

Though there are a number of variations and unclear origins, the title first appeared within the American West round 1890. Some declare it was a shorthand for “homeless boy” or “homeward certain.” Others declare that after the warfare, Accomplice veterans of the Civil Warfare had been destitute, impoverished, and hungry, and a few even strolled by way of cities searching for work whereas carrying a backyard hoe. Writer and journalist Invoice Bryson wrote many nonfiction books on matters in American tradition. In his 1998 e-book “Made In America,” he means that the time period “hobo” may need originated from the prepare salutation “Ho, beau!”

By the late nineteenth century, the guts of Hobohemia was the principle drag in Chicago, the place prepare traces radiated out into each nook of America. It was straightforward to search out work within the slaughterhouses, to go west and construct a dam, or go east and take a job in a brand new metal mill to make a buck earlier than you caught the highway once more.

The hobo would observe the boom-and-bust actions of a shifting economic system, looking for transient work like lumbering and mining or seasonal fruit selecting in components of the nation with out a lot inhabitants, the place extra palms had been wanted. That’s how railroads and hobos turned integral to the US labor motion, particularly within the Pacific Northwest.

The hobo subculture of the US within the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has parallels with the “Beat Era” of the Nineteen Fifties. Each embraced different existence and values that challenged mainstream norms. The Beat Era celebrated nonconformity, spontaneity, and a nomadic life-style, very like the hobos earlier than them. 

The Beats additionally traveled throughout the US, typically by hitchhiking or hopping freight trains, looking for private discovery and broader cultural engagement. Their motion laid the groundwork for the countercultural revolutions of the Sixties, such because the hippies. 

A singular interval of American historical past is mirrored within the hobo moral code. 

The Hobo Code – an overview of moral apply and communal etiquette for these residing a transient life-style – was written in Chicago in 1894 and launched through the 1889 Nationwide Hobo Conference held in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Primarily based on mutualism and self-respect, it stays each hobo’s founding doc, a easy and forthright set of directions to stay by. It’s a captivating research in nomadic social order and serves as a reminder that each subculture has customs and pointers that set expectations for conduct and assure the well-being of all members. 

Regardless of the difficulties of a nomadic life-style, the tenets outlined exhibit a powerful sense of camaraderie and respect amongst hobos and a give attention to particular person accountability and dignity. The code emphasizes the worth of honoring the legislation, the atmosphere, and the cities they journey by way of.


  1. Determine your individual life; don’t let one other individual run or rule you.
  2. When on the town, all the time respect the native legislation and officers, and attempt to be a gentleman always.
  3. Don’t reap the benefits of somebody who’s in a weak state of affairs, locals, or different hobos.
  4. All the time attempt to discover work, even when short-term, and all the time search out jobs no person desires. By doing so, you not solely assist a enterprise alongside however guarantee employment must you return to that city once more.
  5. When no employment is obtainable, make your individual work through the use of your added abilities at crafts.
  6. Don’t enable your self to turn out to be a silly drunk and set a nasty instance for the locals’ therapy of different hobos.
  7. When wandering on the town, respect handouts and don’t put on them out; one other hobo might be coming alongside who will want them as badly, if not worse than you.
  8. All the time respect nature; don’t depart rubbish the place you might be wandering.
  9. If in a neighborhood jungle, all the time pitch in and assist.
  10. Attempt to keep clear and boil up wherever doable.
  11. When touring, experience your prepare respectfully. Take no private probabilities, trigger no issues with the working crew or host railroad, and act like an additional crew member.
  12. Don’t trigger issues in a prepare yard; one other hobo might be coming alongside who will want passage by way of that yard.
  13. Don’t enable different hobos to molest youngsters; expose all molesters to authorities – they’re the worst rubbish to infest any society.
  14. Assist all runaway youngsters and attempt to induce them to return dwelling.
  15. Assist your fellow hobos every time and wherever wanted; you might want their assist sometime.
  16. If current at a hobo courtroom and you’ve got testimony, give it. Whether or not for or towards the accused, your voice counts! 

The hobo custom and life-style lives on.

The hobos nonetheless have a Nationwide Hobo Conference, held on the second weekend of each August since 1900 within the city of Britt, Iowa. It’s organized by the native Chamber of Commerce and recognized all through the city because the annual “Hobo Day” celebration. It’s the most important gathering of hobos, rail-riders, and tramps, who collect to have a good time the American touring employee.

Picture from Reddit

The Symbols

The unique, secret language primarily based on symbols to speak with different hobos coming to city about threats, alternatives, and plenty extra, reveals how subtle and established is the hobo tradition. That alone separates them from every other type of wanderer or road sort and is in no small half chargeable for the enduring custom of the hobo.

“This good, hieroglyphic-like language appeared random sufficient for busy folks to disregard, however completely distinctive for hobos to translate. The code assigned circles and arrows for normal instructions like, the place to discover a meal or the perfect place to camp. Hashtags signaled hazard forward, like unhealthy water or an inhospitable city.” [SOURCE]

The same technique is utilized by folks in numerous SHTF, from wars to invasions, and even amongst trekkers and backpackers. Generally it’s extra discreet (for OPSEC causes), others it’s extra open. However the precept stays, and it’s one other distinctive side of the hobo tradition. 

Ultimate phrases.

I’m a typical citizen with household, pals, work, and a house. Nonetheless, between my ardour for trekking, backpacking, and tenting in wild and rural settings, my days and nights within the streets among the many homeless, I confess to have an attraction to the nomadic, unbiased life-style. Perhaps that’s why I preserve going away infrequently. 

I even have a ardour for historical past, and discover the hobo a captivating a part of American tradition. They exist in lots of, if not most, different nations as effectively, and their unimaginable tales are accounts of a distinct period, reflecting knowledge, custom, and the true spirit of survivalism. 

For additional reference, listed here are some books that may be discovered on Amazon and different shops.

The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man, by Nels Anderson and Robert E. Park

The Autobiography Of a Tremendous Tramp: The Lifetime of William Henry Davies, by W. H. Davies

The Highway, by Jack London 

The hobo life-style, code of conduct, work-based ethics, and system of communication had been all cast in apply throughout a really arduous and difficult interval, which suggests it’s confirmed to work and thus can present worthwhile classes for crises and different SHTFs.  

Are you aware of every other classes we will take from the hobo subculture? Do you’ve gotten any tales about hobos to share? Let’s focus on it within the feedback part.

About Fabian

Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class employee residing in São Paulo, Brazil. Removed from being the super-tactical or extremely skilled army survivor sort, he’s the typical joe who since his youth has been concerned with self-reliance and outside actions and the sensible aspect of balancing life between a giant metropolis and rural/wilderness settings. For the reason that 2008 world financial disaster, he has been coaching and serving to others in his space to turn out to be higher ready for the “fixed, slow-burning SHTF” of residing in a third world nation.

Fabian’s book, Road Survivalism: A Sensible Coaching Information To Life In The Metropolis , is a sensible coaching methodology for frequent metropolis dwellers primarily based on the approach to life of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be extra psychologically, mentally, and bodily ready to cope with the tough actuality of the streets throughout regular or troublesome instances. He’s additionally the creator of The Final Survival Gear Handbook.

You may observe Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor


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