Daniel Webster defines a hobo as a migrant worker or a person who is usually a vagrant or a tramp that is homeless or penniless. Only in the last few years have I heard a story about 20 or so men (boys)
who traveled away from home (mostly out west) to seek an adventure.
When I found out I knew most of the men, I wanted to talk to some of them and hear about their travels. Two of the men who were “Boy Hobos” were Bobby Butler and George Page, Sr. I was taken a back when they told me stories about
their travels. Mr. Page said they were not really homeless because they were leaving a good home and they were traveling to a destination where they would have shelter.
He also said they usually had a dollar or two in their pockets, so they were not penniless. Using Webster’s definition, this meant they were not tramps or vagrants either. I figured they were just like the migrant workers that travel from farm to farm in the west today picking fruits and vegetables, so I figure migrant workers suit them best. Mr. Page said hearing men talking about hoboing during the depression, watching the westerns starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry at the picture show (movie theatres) and possibly seeing them on one of the large farms and ranches out west was too much to just sit around and dream about.
He also said jobs other than hauling hay and such around Mt. Juliet during these years was few and far between. They had heard a person could get a job out west if they worked hard and they also wanted to see the scenery that is so different than Middle Tennessee. All of these reasons helped make George’s decision to leave on his travels in 1948. Page along with Randall Pike, both 16 years old, jumped on a boxcar and headed for the western states. I thought it funny that neither of them would say if they had the blessings from their families to make these travels. After finding jobs in the farming areas, they did all kinds of jobs such as harvest fruits and vegetables and working in the grain fields. They would bunk at the house or barns of the farm owners where they worked.
These were much better accommodations than the boxcars, empty cabooses in the train yards or under the stars in bed rolls during their travels. George, along with other friends, traveled in this manner for several years. After hearing the adventures of Randall and George, Bobby Butler left for his hobo experience in 1954. Usually going in groups of two or three, Bobby recollected one time going alone. In those days people would pick up a person hitchhiking and sometimes
you could go hundreds of miles with them to get to his unknown destination. When a car came down in one direction, he would put out his thumb to hitch a ride. If they did not stop and a car going in the other direction came by, he would simply cross the road and hitch a ride with them. He said you might not end up exactly where you wanted to go, but a good worker could always find employment. He says if you were lucky, you might be able to afford a hotel or an apartment if you stayed a few weeks and had good employment.
He said many times he had to sleep in fence rows, barns and once in a large culvert. Both George and Bobby said they would usually stay out from a couple of weeks to three or so months. Their pay ranged from one to three dollars an hour. If they were lucky, they would come home with a few dollars in their pockets. They said farmers would hire Tennessee boys quickly because they had a good hard worker reputation. Some of the men found good jobs in big industry and stayed in other states for a while, but returned home to Mt. Juliet after a few years when jobs in our area became more
available. I was most surprised when they told me how well they were treated. They said even train workers would not harm them and would even warn the boys if train detectives were around.
About twenty local boys from Mt. Juliet made these travels at different times, but due to time restraints I was only able to interview George and Bobby. In conclusion, I have met most of the “Boy Hobos” which are now in their 60s and 70s and all became hard working men, some being leaders in the community. If you would like to hear more adventures of these men, most of these “Boy Hobos” usually show up at the Mount Juliet Homecoming. I know any of them would be happy to share their personal experiences with you.