“Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.” This is the first rule of the Hobo ethical code.
In most people’s minds, hoboes are a thing of the past, frozen in time since the Depression. The hobo’s picturesque image, walking along rails with a light bindle stick, hopping steam trains from state to state to avert his fate, solidifies him as an iconic American figure.
However, one might be surprised that “hoboes” don’t just belong to the past of the US. Small but dynamic communities mindful of preserving their history, their ethics, and their legacy exist today.
Since 1974, three different generations composing the hobo community converge once a year in the city of Britt, Iowa to celebrate and exchange thoughts, tips, and stories about a penniless lifestyle. They gather to share tales of wandering around the country avoiding troubles and danger and preserve their self-taught train engineering and coded languages generated by decades of hoboes.
With the goal of archiving and keeping alive their culture, the Hobo Foundation bought the Britt movie theater and installed a permanent display of artifacts donated by the itinerant workers: extensive memorabilia of such famous hoboes as Frisco Jack, Connecticut Slim, Hard Rock Kid, and Pennsylvania Kid, just to name a few. The foundation also hosts the National Hobo Convention.
On display are original hobo crafts, photographs, videos, and documentaries depicting the hobo lifestyle, paintings, a historic postcard collection, and a hobo doll collection. Visiting the Hobo Museum is a deep dive into the most Americana‑esque branch of vernacular archeology.
Know Before You Go
Downtown, in the old Chief Theater. On the east side of Main Ave. S. between Center and 1st Sts.