BEN: Your heart’s racing. Obviously, you’re hoping that
we wouldn’t get caught. -There’s something about the
hobo that has to be recorded in American history. BEN: The whole time we were
asking ourselves, what is the story here? What is the story of the hobo? What is a hobo? EMPRESS VAGABOND HOBO LUMP: It’s
not like people think. It’s hard, like, a hard life. -It’s speeding up! Go go go go go go! [APPLAUSE] AARON SMITH: This
is Britt, Iowa. It’s a small town of about
2,000 people out in the central Iowa cornfields. Over the last 112 years,
Britt has become known for one thing– an annual event called The
National Hobo Convention. There’s a hobo jungle, a hobo
museum, and a hobo cemetery. In 1900, Britt was just a newly
incorporated farming community in search of
migrant workers. The town founders enticed the
hobos to move their annual gathering from Chicago
to Britt. A tradition was born that still
brings self-described hobos to Britt every year
for one August weekend. HOBO MIKE: I’ve been traveling
trains since I was eight, and as a living since ’63. FROG: I started riding trains
when I was 20 years old. I’m 62 years old now. WRONG WAY: [LAUGHING] I’m Wrong Way. My nephew gave me that name
in the early ’70s. HOBO SPIKE: I started in 1952,
and I used a train to go from one place to another
to find work, and that’s how I survived. AARON SMITH: Most historians
agree the hobo emerged after the Civil War. Young men from both sides set
off across the country in search of work. By the turn of the century, the
hobo had become part of the fabric of America. But today, what was once a
substantial culture and way of life seems close
to extinction. We wanted to see what was left
of the hobo community, and we hoped we’d find it in Britt. In our minds, there was only one
way to travel to the hobo convention– the
freight train. We began our journey in Oakland,
California, hoping to travel 1,900 miles on the
rails in five days. AARON SMITH: These are the maps
that show the different rail lines all over California,
with like, special zoom-ins that show you all the
little small towns that you can stop in, different crew
changes, and this is something totally like, pre-iPhone. Now you can totally just
GPS your location. But these maps were really
helpful for a lot of people for a long time. Before a cohesive network of
roads was laid across America, the train was the fastest way
to get from place to place. Early hobos learned to ride by
swapping information with other travelers they met along
the way in hobo jungles. Chris is from Virginia and
spends his time hopping freight trains around the
country for pleasure. Our friend Ben lives in San
Francisco and had a couple weeks off work and decided
to join us. BEN: I wasn’t sure what
to expect of the trip. I knew it was going to be an
adventure, but I didn’t know exactly what the details
and the minutiae of the trip would hold. We woke up that morning, hoping
to catch a train. But we woke up, got ready,
there was no train there. And as more time passed, we
realized that the information we had gotten was probably
incorrect. AARON SMITH: We decided to wait
for another train, but a worker spotted us in the yard
and called the bull. Bull is an old-time term
for a railroad cop. It’s always been a cat and mouse
game between the hobo and the bull. Back in the day, bulls had
no problem killing hobos. Today, it’s a little
bit different. -We don’t really have
hobos anymore. -A transient, a hobo, vagrant,
is a guy who participates on the rail property– trespass, hopping
freights, yeah. -And a tramp, tramp’s in
the middle, right? -What did they call it? Tramps. I like that. That was back in the day, man. That was back in the day. Tramps, hobos. -When have you seen somebody
with a broomstick– -A tramp with a bag tied around
his shoulder, right? All right, guys. You know how to get out
of here, right? Don’t come back, all right? -Don’t come back. AARON SMITH: There seem
to be very few people hopping trains anymore. The hobo seems like
a museum piece. It’s like a joke, a word
nobody uses anymore. We didn’t want to go to the
Oakland jail, so we headed to Amtrak station with our tails
between our legs. We got out to the next crew
change stop on the line– Roseville, California. As soon as we got to Roseville,
there was a train getting ready to take off. Bad decision. A conductor saw us and we got
pulled off the train five miles outside of town. Uh, we just got pulled
off this train here. -Again. AARON SMITH: Yeah, yeah, it
was the second time today. Morale was low. Chris decided to set off on
his own to Denver, and we hopped a gambling bus
to Reno, Nevada. JACKSON FAGER: Now we’re in
Reno, Nevada, feeling a little better about our situation, and
hoping a train comes in the next couple hours. AARON SMITH: In the yard,
avoiding bulls and workers is one concern. Finding a rideable
car is another. Some of the wells on these
double-stacked cars have a cubby hole you can
ride in, but we weren’t seeing anything. The locomotive at the back of
the train, called the rear unit, seemed like
our best bet. But it’s risky. Workers periodically
check the cars. Lucky for us, the train
aired up, and we finally got on our way. We’re indoors, Amtrak style, and
we’ve got these big plushy seats, continuing along. We’re in the middle
of nowhere. For the first 100 miles,
there were no roads, no highways, no nothing. It was just desert as far
as the eye could see. It was beautiful. It was amazing to kind of get
that, see what that was like, vast expanses of nature. MEDICINE MAN: Now, everybody
thinks that the real hobo life is great, and it’s part of
wanderlust, but it’s not. The hobo life is a very,
very dangerous life. ADMAN: Sometimes painful, when
everything is all fucked up. You’re looking around, and
the bulls are out there. BEN: It felt like something out
of a special operations combat mission. We spotted a grain train. We knew that this was our
ticket out of Elko. Go go go go go! ADMAN: Riding on a flat car with
a full moon, and watching the [CLICKING NOISE] It’s a game that gives you
a fucking hard-on, I can tell you that. MINNESOTA JIM: Once you
do it, it’s with you the rest your life. You want to keep on the move. ADMAN: We see the world
in a different light. FROG: Always total, absolute
freedom, every day of my life. HOBO SPIKE: I don’t think
there’s any better way to see this great world of ours,
especially our nation, than from a freight train. AARON SMITH: We were crossing
the Great Salt Lake. The air was cool, and
the smell of sulfur rose from the water. It was the most undisturbed
stretch of natural beauty any of us had ever seen. The train forces you to slow
down and take it all in. All the frustrations and
anxieties of life back in civilization seemed
to disappear. HOBO SPIKE: When you’re on the
rails, if you don’t get caught, there’s no one to tell
you what to do, when to go to bed, when to get up,
what to eat. You’re on your own for 100%. AARON SMITH: Although we were
loving the ride, we were running out of water fast. After close to 24 hours on the
train, we were hungry, tired, dirty, and dehydrated. Well, our train stopped here
in Green River, Wyoming. It’s just a little railroad town
here in southern Wyoming. Just kind of roamed around and
got the vibe of the town. HOBO SPIKE: Then when you get
into a community, of course you have to fit into society,
so you have to abide by laws at that time. But if you’re by yourself,
you don’t have to pay attention to any law. AARON SMITH: So we walked over
this bridge that we’re sitting under now, probably about
110 degrees, dry heat. BEN: Just took a dip
in the Green River. After four or five days not
showering, it felt amazing. AARON SMITH: I’m gonna go
get in there right now. BEN: Our days have
been very full. We haven’t gotten
a lot of sleep. It’s been a few hours here, a
few hours there, trying to hop on trains successfully,
which we sometimes have, sometimes haven’t. We’re always on the move trying
to get to our end goal, which is Britt. AARON SMITH: No eastbound trains
were coming through. The sun went down, and we
enjoyed the solitude of the Wyoming landscape. Up to this point, we hadn’t seen
any other travelers on the trains. At the turn of the century,
there were around a million hobos on the rails. After the Depression,
that number doubled. Hobos had organized their own
union, and there were over 60 hobo colleges all across
the country. Boxcars were crowded
with riders. But something happened midway
through the century. Maybe it was American
prosperity. Where there were once millions
on the road, today, there’s probably a couple thousand. In my experience, you hardly
ever see anyone on the rails. The next morning, we decided to
try our luck in the Green River yard. -Hey, man. -How about yourself? -We’re hitchhiking. -Sorry, man. -Oh, really? -All right, thank you. -OK, man. -Thank you. AARON SMITH: After getting
warned by the cops to leave, we went back to our original
spot under the bridge. MEDICINE MAN: Today, you don’t
want to jump a train. It’s so dangerous, because the
old steam locomotives, it was chug, chug, chug, and pretty
soon, it was [ENGINE NOISE]. But today, in two minutes,
they’re flying. AARON SMITH: Our train stopped
in the middle of the yard, and we didn’t know why. AARON SMITH: An hour went by,
and it felt like an eternity. Each time you get on
the train, it’s a role of the die– a unique and unpredictable
experience. Perhaps that’s one
reason we do it– to gamble, to relinquish control
completely, and give ourselves to fate and luck. That was one of the faster
ones I’ve hopped on. You kind of had to run alongside
and kind of throw yourself up. But we all made it. Really grateful for that. The train out of Green River
had three units and looked like it would blaze across
Wyoming, but it puttered along the entire time at
35 miles an hour. It was time for a
change of plans. We arrived in Laramie, Wyoming
on Friday morning, with still 800 miles to go to
get to Britt. We were behind schedule,
and the convention had already started. We got off here in Laramie,
Wyoming because the train was so damn slow. Rent a cars were too expensive,
the Greyhound would take two days, so we ended
up getting this U-Haul. 12-hour drive ahead of us, and
we’ve gotta haul ass to Britt. In keeping with the spirit of
our trip, we picked up all the hitchhikers we saw
along the way. JOE YOUNG: Hey, what’s
up, guys? I’m Joe Young. I’ve been on the road for about
four or five years. The only way I get around
is on bicycle. AARON SMITH: We picked
up another guy. This is Alex. He’s coming from Colorado. ALEX: How’s it going? AARON SMITH: It didn’t take us
long to fill up the back of the U-Haul. After six grueling days
of traveling, we finally arrived in Brit. We were ready to hang out with
hundreds of hobos and swap stories about our travels
on the rails. -Hello! Happy Hobo Days! -Happy Hobo Days! -What we found instead was a
family-friendly event with a bunch of tourists. BEN: Just a number of
townspeople, big farm tractors, fancy or unusual cars,
and homemade floats. People– not hobos. -All aboard! -The hobo convention has gone
county fair mainstream. This wasn’t the wild, drunken,
turn of the century event that brought 1,800 hobos
here in the 1940s. -Well, we’re serving mulligan
stew, and it is what the traditional hobo
used to serve. Meat– we have pork in ours–
and then it has beef flavoring, and pork flavoring,
and then vegetables, barley, and rice in it, and
then water. -Every year for the past 112
years, the hobos have elected a hobo king and queen. -This year, our new
queen is Angel. And your new king is
Minnesota Jim. -It’s an important moment for
them, especially now that most of the hobos are senior
citizens. The hobo jungle in Britt is a
well maintained park on the edge of town. It used to be a pretty
This is not the same. They bring in like a family
affair, and a history thing, and people learning. Because the hobo, you wouldn’t
be finding no children in an old camp, you know
what I mean? People really was kind of
sleeping out, and across the tracks or in the bush. It was more like a jungle. AARON SMITH: Today, there’s
a lot of rules. No drinking, no drugs,
no unleashed dogs. It’s become the kind of place
that people used to become hobos to get away from. Most of the hobos we met were
retired from riding trains. Living an itinerant life for
decades takes its toll. MEDICINE MAN: A modern-day
hobo, probably in my estimation, is getting to the
point where it’s rubber tire hobos that come together
and perpetuate history. AARON SMITH: The convention
has become a shadow of its former self. The city’s turned it
into a parody. There are still plenty young
people out there riding the rails for adventure, but those
who call themselves hobos and travel around looking for
work are a dying breed. FROG: And it’s still there. Though I’m not riding freight
trains, it’s still there. I still want to ride. AARON SMITH: Out on the rails,
we slowed down and experienced an adventure that was
once a way of life for a lot of people. The train tracks persist on,
relics on the landscape, entry points into the hidden world. We felt a deep nostalgia for a
time that’s passed and sadness for the American hobo, fast
disappearing down the westbound track. FROG: I have one final ride, and
it’s my westbound journey. -For the moments of happiness,
for the love, for the moments of disappointments, for
everything, hobo is thankful to the railroad.

100 thoughts on “Death of the American Hobo (Documentary)”

  1. “The most undisturbed stretch of natural beauty we had ever seen”, he says, riding a massive freight train along a rail track slammed down right thru the middle of it.

  2. Hi i'm la lovely loco the Hobo since we're using hobo names around here I might as well keep it formal

  3. Bum is a person that won’t work and begs for money. A tramp is a person that works and still begs for money. A hobo won’t ask for money and instead works cash paid day jobs or whatever.

  4. Sorry but a group of guys who have never experienced having to stay hidden from authorities, or just regular ppl who will report you just for looking like a homeless person in the wrong place. pretending to do something that nobody does anymore because of the shitty super surveillance police state we all live in. Just isn't the way to pay tribute to whatever they were trying to. They're carrying thousands of dollars of crap in probably 6 or $700 backpacks lucky they didn't get robbed and beat then left in a ditch. I've been homeless and train stations are super guarded by police and the trains own police anywhere I've been ive always avoided them like the plague. Ppl are just homeless now and they don't move around because it's not easy the second your out on an open road in a rural are your going to get stopped and harassed probably detained if you don't have ID which if your homeless you won't. If you want to know how seriously unfree we really are try being homeless and just moving around the country almost garaunteed you'll spend more than 1 night in a jail

  5. That's awsome and would be fun…to bad a lot of rail road workers n hobos raped a lot of youth… Maybe few gave many a bad name idk

  6. The Hobo life has been romanticized so much…. Yet even in this video, they explain that it started with men hopping trains to try to find work. In other words, people so poor and desperate, they had no home, no jobs and no hope. The only choice they had was to risk their lives hopping trains to travel to different towns, states or even regions to try to find enough work to SURVIVE!

  7. "this was pre iphone, now you can totally just gps the location" yeah, cause the average hobo totally has an iphone and internet..

  8. I wish you had given the camera to real Hobos.You are playing at it. Actual hobos would have got the shit kicked out of them by the Bull.You received politeness;they would have got a boot and a fist…..guaranteed.( My experience as a roadtrekker – to you: a leather tramp) is witness to this.

  9. My friends and I have rode the rails around America. It's been a few years since then but I can tell you that there are still people that live like this. The best part about it was seeing all the untouched wilderness. For instance, outside of San Bernardino in the middle of nowhere, there was a pack of wild dogs that had probably all once been domesticated but ran away and found each other. There was even a spray painted sign that said "beware dogs!" They actually saw or smelled my friend and I and chased us on the train for a little bit but the train was moving too fast.

  10. My aunt Bonnie was a hobo when she was younger. She had amazing stories. She bandaged her boobs and cut her hair short so nobody would know she was a girl.

  11. How pretentious to come into SOMEONE else's community and scrutinize their event for not being authentic to YOUR idea of hobo life. These people live in a small community and aren't real hobos, and of course REAL hobos wouldn't be at the event, they're out riding and trying to survive. Come on Vice…

  12. Wanna see a cooler document about hobos? Go back about 10+ years to when Vice was awesome, and watch "Thumbs Up" with David Choe.

  13. Hahahaha hahahaha hahahaha Vice reporters as train hobos…did you get raped, robbed, and beaten? Did you murder anybody? You’re not train hobo, but maybe get a dose of one, with your risky voyeurism. Dumbasses…..?, wait, look, squirrel ❣️

  14. Pretty cool story, here in ATL we call them train kidz. When I used to wrk in a restaurant at closing I would drop of food. They all had different stories of why they chose to travel this way, I used to assume the worst for them but most truly changed my opinion. Freedom was the one word They used 95% of the time.

  15. In the whole “doc” we never even got an explanation of what the word “hobo” means or where it comes from.

  16. Hobos are people too different journey for everyone..???✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️do what brings u joy…?

  17. currently traveling down and across america, hitchhiking and backpacking. documenting my trip in 5 parts. episode 1 and 2 are already up. ya'll should check it out if youre into this kinda stuff.

  18. I think I have actually met that guy called "wrong way" before? I am myself a very nomadic person, but don't do the train hopping, I walk! The longest I was ever in one place was 4 yrs, and moved on average around 12-15 times a year, but those trains must stay on tracks, and that is way too limited for me!

  19. One evening as the sun went down
    And the jungle fire was burning,
    Down the track came a hobo hiking,
    And he said, "Boys, I'm not turning
    I'm headed for a land that's far away
    Besides the crystal fountains
    So come with me, we'll go and see
    The Big Rock Candy Mountains

    In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
    There's a land that's fair and bright,
    Where the handouts grow on bushes
    And you sleep out every night
    Where the boxcars all are empty
    And the sun shines every day
    On the birds and the bees
    And the cigarette trees
    The lemonade springs
    Where the bluebird sings
    In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

    In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
    All the cops have wooden legs
    And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth
    And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
    The farmers' trees are full of fruit
    And the barns are full of hay
    Oh I'm bound to go
    Where there ain't no snow
    Where the rain don't fall
    The wind don't blow
    In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

    In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
    You never change your socks
    And the little streams of alcohol
    Come trickling down the rocks
    The brakemen have to tip their hats
    And the railroad bulls are blind
    There's a lake of stew
    And of whiskey, too
    You can paddle all around 'em
    In a big canoe
    In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

    In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
    The jails are made of tin
    And you can walk right out again,
    As soon as you are in
    There ain't no short-handled shovels,
    No axes, saws or picks,
    I'ma goin' to stay
    Where you sleep all day,
    Where they hung the jerk
    That invented work
    In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

    I'll see you all this coming Fall
    In the Big Rock Candy Mountains"

  20. Thats funny. I once caugbt a train from central berkeley by university ave to the old elmwood theatre in emeryville. I could have walked but the train was running slow, and dropped me off only a block from the theater (used to be by emeryville public market, off 60th st). The start of this video in oakland is at the corner of wood st amd 34th st, about a half mile away… I actually used to pass through the start of the video on a bike, since oakland has a beach but you have to cross the tracks and go through the port of oakland which is pure indistrial area with no homes except one very very very out of place homeless shelter. If you know tha Town then you know exactly what Im talking about

  21. Onky about 10 minute walk from the start if this video is a sick ass cliff you can jump off into the bay at the port of oaklnad. Down there off grand ave a couole blocks south on maritime and one block right. Bring some swimming shortsm they could have at least started the movie with jumoing off the cliff and climbing up the metal dock. I think the cliff is on buchannon

  22. Why does every generation want to recreate the past? It was a point in history that won’t ever be replicated. Get over it u fucking cuck millennials ?

  23. If you have a backpack on your back, you simply look like a traveler. No need to run. Just say you are traveling.

  24. Jesus this journalism piece is wayyy off. Train hopping is alive and well. The guys that keep getting caught and spotted dont know wtf they doing and arent about that life at all. This episode doesnt do the traveler community any justice. Some straight up oogle shit

  25. back in highschool id catch the train to get to and from school alot of the times or just go to a few lakes or rivers

  26. Ahhh, the people that give NOTHING to society. It’s good to know that most people aren’t looking for a “free ride” because there wouldn’t be any trains if we all acted this way…

  27. Really, I think about all the people that died to make the rail way; it wasn’t for freeloaders. Any one of them could have just gotten a job working for the RR, but they chose to just abuse the system.

  28. People hating on these people because they are "rich", but tell me would you do all this just to try to understand someone else? Stop being disgusting people.

  29. So a short hobo documentary with no gutter punk in the soundtrack, the backpack kids that see this will feel robbed of both culture and lifeblood.

  30. God bless the HOBOS. Traveling poor people. They live HARD lives and they deserve respect from the rest of us. They deserve BETTER. When you have no family, and your alone like a lost soul,…. nobody has any RIGHT2JUDGE! GOD BLESS THE HOBOS ♡ They ARE people to!

  31. I'm guessing something about the vibrations and sounds of riding the freight trains could've been soothing to some of them.

  32. The old Vice used to take risks, W.T.F happened to this channel and just some advice it's the fact that you guys used to risk shit and now you people are covering stories that have no risk, basically anybody can do the same shit you are doing and go home at night unscathed! And I know that I am not the only person who has noticed it, just some advice for VICE you guys are losing stocks and love that used to be untouchable for others in the journalism field but now you guys are so far left that I don't think you will ever recuperate from the obvious transformation that has impacted your ability to go head first into the trenches of killzone's, the places that people such as your viewers will not dare go. I would really like to see you guys come back with a uppercut to my comment and show us all that you guys are still great!! MAKE VICE GREAT AGAIN!!! & M.A.G.A TRUMP 2020…. ?‍♂️ ?????? ?‍♀️

  33. I respect these homeless folk satisfied with a simple life hopping trains feeding theseleves and total self reliance

  34. "Death of the American Hobo"???? What in the sam fuck are you talking about? They are everywhere and only increasing because of this braindead and cancerous society. You don't have to ride a damn train to be a hobo.

  35. For a great and informative read on hobo history, check out "Rolling Nowhere" by Ted Conover. An amazing story /history lesson and evolution of the hobo.

  36. I done 13 years in prison, you do that much time im sure u guys are smart enough to know, ive called a shot or 2, but you guys are my FUCKIN HERO'S, for real, takes a man to have a rough heart, not just strong,its more then that, Santisima blessed, its in a way all our ancestors did for us, made moves, and some..stayed! Love yall, are we close to the end! Be a pleasure to die next to yall, t. IM#67077

  37. I say walk a mile in my shoes or how many of you rode the train's its very dangerous not say the railroad dicks might beat you bad or you could go to jail or starve to death or get killed by criminals when your sleeping

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