‘…[they] were lounging upon the velvety lawn in front of the ranch foreman’s residence, and while the silvery stars were peacefully twinkling in the heavens overhead, they were repeating stories of their checkered lives, which only too often brought back memories of those long-ago days, before they too had joined the flotsam of that class of the “underworld”, who, too proud to degrade themselves to the level of outright vagrancy while yet there was a chance to exchange long and weary hours of the hardest kind of labor for the right to earn an honorable existence, were nevertheless, included by critical society in that large clan of homeless drifters – “The Tramps”.’ – Leon Ray Livingston, “The Trail of the Tramp”
My little brother Jon is quite the historian. This could stem from his college major in secondary education social studies or because he’s a little nerd. Either way, he’s pretty good about remembering dates, and events, dictators and other things of that nature. I prefer memorizing the league leaders in OPS during each baseball season, but to each their own.
A while back, Jon wrote a piece about the storied history of our home town, Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, which you can check out here. Cambridge Springs has a pretty interesting history. Our town can boast about having a sitting President, William H. Taft, staying in it. We have a bad-ass opening chess move that originated in our town, known as the Cambridge Springs Variation [Gambit]. Our town is also the halfway point between New York and Chicago via railroad, which used to be a big deal when dastardly villains were still tying maidens to the train tracks.
And that is a perfect segway into today’s topic. We all know what busy train tracks means: hobos. Now, first off, I understand that everyone’s mental picture of a hobo is not the same. A hobo, in the context of this writing piece, is simply a migrant worker. Most people think of that kid in school who was too poor to afford a Halloween costume, so their parents dressed them up in a tattered old jacket and wrapped a handkerchief around their neck. They still got to wear their shoes, which were appropriately enough full of holes. Don’t cringe. We all knew those kids in elementary school. Hobos are nothing like this.
There is also a big difference between a homeless person who will give you a handjob for a cheeseburger and 3 cigarettes and a hobo. Homeless people are disgusting. A hobo is much more romantic, in the literary sense. I suppose you could say that they would be the Jedi of homeless people. Hobos are totally awesome. Do you see the difference now?
One of the more interesting pieces about the history of Cambridge Springs is Leon Ray Livingston, AKA – “A-No. 1”. A quick Google search will teach you that this man is quite possibly the most famous hobo ever. He invented and popularized hobo symbols, which are a series of symbols used to communicate to other hobos about important information and how they may be received in the community. A self proclaimed wanderlust, Livingston embraced the drifter lifestyle and even paired up with Jack London for period of his travels. While his hobo-ness began out of necessity, he quickly embraced the lifestyle and died, from all accounts, a wealthy man.
Rumor also has it that A-No. 1 purchased a gravestone in Cambridge Springs because of how much he loved returning to our town. Apparently it reads quite poignantly, “A-No. 1 – The Rambler At Rest as Last.” (I’m not 100% certain of the punctuation on the tombstone. People on the internet cite it all kinds of different ways)
Because of Jon’s introduction to this incredibly interesting drifter, I hopped onto my amazon.com account and purchased ‘The Trail of the Tramp’, one of several autobiographical stories written by A-No. 1. As previously mentioned, Cambridge Springs has an amazing wealth of history. However, most of that history is kept alive through local community members and high school teachers. Very rarely does one have an opportunity to learn through firsthand knowledge of life in that bustling metropolis in early 1900’s Northwestern Pennsylvania.
So I’ve dived in eagerly to ‘The Trail of the Tramp’ to see what life was like for Leon Ray Livingston. A vagabond playboy of the highest caliber. The hobo high roller. He was like the Mick Jagger of hoboing. After reading a few chapters, in all honesty, aside from watching all of his friends die from exposure or disease, it doesn’t seem like his way of life was all that bad. Everyone he talked to had really cool nicknames, which seems like a definite plus to hoboing. I personally have never had a really cool nickname, but it’s something I’ve always wanted.
Maybe it’s time for me to take to rails.
Take some time and check out Leon Ray Livingston at amazon.com. Instead of going out on a Saturday night this weekend, spend that money on a book. Nestle up and enjoy the weekend with everyone’s favorite hobo.