Two Hobo Convention Songs
In early hobo conventions, hobo singers looked around the crowd of hoboes and included their names in “The Hobo Convention Song.” Here are two versions of that song, taken from George Milburn’s The Hobo’s Hornbook (New York: Ives Washburn, 1930), pp. 25-30. The first was sung at Green Castle, Iowa, on May 12, 1900, and the second at Portland, Oregon, on June 3, 1921. The second is attributed to George Liebst.
Back in the Spring of ’90,
As everybody knows,
Green Castle, Iowa, was swamped
By a gathering of ‘boes.
They came from north, south, east, and west,
Everywhere you could mention,
And the reason they were there was,
They held a big convention.
That sunny day, the twelfth of May,
They collected in a mob,
Hoboes from Chi’ and Kokomo
Clear down to Eagle Knob.
There was some ‘boes I never seen
They came from far and near;
They all laid in and tanked-up ten
Big wagonloads of beer.
I put my peepers on them all,
And recognized a few,
And now if I remember them,
Here’s their monikas for you:
There was Pete the Shive from Slapjack’s dive,
And Wino Bill from Cal,
Parson-faced Ed and Wingey Red
And a ’bo named Sugan Al.
There was Boogie Sam and Biff ‘n’ Bam,
And a little punk from Q.
Hikes and Spikes and Old Ring-tail Sykes
And a Philly ‘bo called Lou.
Back in the shade of the jungle’s glade
We slopped up on that beer.
Each ‘bo throwed his guts while the other mutts
Laid back and lent an ear.
The night was getting started
When someone heard a clatter,
And the clowns from the town came swarming down
And maybe we didn’t scatter.
Some flipped freights to other states,
And others stayed behind,
Some glommed the rod and hopped the tops
And others hit the blind.
Now here I am in Omaha,
A hungry, ring-tailed bum,
Tooting ringers for poke outs,
When what I want is slum.
Toot! Toot! There goes a highball now¾
The rattler’s under way;
They’re reefers for New Orleans, ma’am,
I’m off again—good day!
One More Train to Ride: The Underground World of Modern American Hoboes (Indiana University Press, 2003)
You have heard of big conventions,
And there’s some that can’t be beat,
But get this straight, there’s none so great
As when the hoboes meet.
To Portland, Oregon, that year
They came from near and far;
On tops and blinds where cinders whined
And hanging to the drawbar.
Three hundred came from New York State,
Some came from Eagle Pass;
That afternoon, the third of June,
They gathered there en masse.
From Lone Star State came Texas Slim
And Jack the Katydid.
With Lonesome Lou from Kal-mazoo
Came San Diego Kid.
And Denver Dan and Boston Red
Blew in with Hellfire Jack,
Andy Lang from longshore gang,
Big Mack from Mackinac.
I saw some ‘boes I never met;
A ‘bo called New York Spike,
Con the Sneak from Battle Creek
And Mississippi Ike
Old Joisey Bill, dressed like a dude,
Shook hands with Frisco Fred,
And Half-breed Joe from Mexico
Shot craps with Eastport Ed.
St. Looie Jim and Pittsburg Paul
Fixed up a jungle stew
While Slip’ry Slim and Bashful Tim
Creaked gumps for our menu.
Then Jockey Kid spilled out a song
Along with Desp’rate Sam;
And Paul the Shark from Terror’s Park
Clog-danced with Alabam.
We gathered ‘round the jungle fire,
The night was passing fast;
We’d all done time for every crime,
And talk was of the past.
All night we flopped around the fire
Until the morning sun;
Then from the town the cops came down¾
We beat it on the run.
We scattered to the railroad yards
And left the bulls behind;
Some hit the freights for other states
And many rode the blind.
Well, here I am in Denver town,
A hungry, tired-out ‘bo;
The flier’s due, when she pulls through,
I’ll grab her and I’ll blow.
That’s her—she’s whistling for the block—
I’ll make her on the fly’;
It’s number nine—Santa Fe line.
I’m off again—Goodbye!