Adam and Eve on a raft – Two fried eggs on toast. “Wreck ’em” if they are scrambled. “With their eyes open,” if not.
Adventure – The encountering of danger, exciting and deangerious undertaking
Alley – A clear track in a railroad yard.
Alligator bait – Fried or stewed liver. Too costly now for hobos.
American nomad – A hobo who has been across the nation many times.
Anchor – A pick. Companion tool of the shovel or banjo. See: Banjo.
Angel – A person who gives more than you expect. One who takes an interest without trying to reform you.
Angel food – A mission house sermon. A mission preaching about the Bread of Life.
Apple knockers – Apple pickers.
Babe – A woman.
Back door bumming – To seek food at the back door to limit embarrassment.
Backslider – A weak person.
Bad actor – A dangerous person.
Balloon – A bedroll. A roll of bedding carried on the back, a bindle.
Banjo – A short-handled shovel.
Batter – To beg.
Beanery – A railroad eating house. Beanery queen is a waitress.
Beggar -“Beg” is one of those words which isn’t derived from anything; it has always meant exactly what it means. Any person who won’t work, and who lives by asking complete strangers for aid, is either lazy, mentally ill, or a saint. Don’t assume you can tell the difference.
Behind the eight ball – In a difficult position, in a tight spot.
Bicycle tramp – A tramp who travels by bicycle. Sometimes they put lawn mower motors on the bicyle so they don’t always have to peddle. They carry their belongs on the bicycle.
Big house – Jail.
Big Rock Candy Mountains – Hobo’s paradise, as described in song by Harry K. McClintock.
Big house – The state penitentiary.
Bim – A woman.
Bindle – A bedroll that contains all of the hobo’s belongs.
Bindle stick – A walking stick, used by hobos, sometimes hand carved, and used to carry a bindle. The stick is also used to clear paths through dense brush or for protection. Oftentimes it is autographed as hobos meet one another during their travels.
Bitch – A tin-can lamp with a shirt-tail wick.
Black bottle – Deadly poison allegedly given hobos in hospitals. Many hobos believe this bottle exists. It was used to kill the sick and the poor. The last place a tramp would want to go when he got sick was a hosiptal. There the doctors and the nurses would force him to drink from a mysterious “black bottle” which would kill them.
Black hole -A tunnel.
Black snake – A solid train of loaded coal cars.
Blind baggage (1) – To ride the train out of sight, not to be seen.
Bo, boes – A slang term used to describe an experienced hobo. A term for a pal, “Hey, bo” Originally meant a natural exclamiation intended to surprise or frighten.
Bogyman or bogeyman – A goblin, bug bear, a hobgoblin. A real or imaginary object of dread. The bogeyman comes in the middle of the night with his sack and steals bad children out of their beds and they are never seen alive again. Mothers said this rhyme to scare bad children at night that ended, “The bogeyman will get you if you don’t watch out.”
Boneyard – Any graveyard. Also refers to a hospital, or to a medical college where they practice on the bodies of departed hobos.
Boob, boobs, or bobo – A simpleton.
Book of rules – A rule book which governs all facets of railroad activity. Each railroad has its own book, which must conform to minimum Federal Railroad Administration safety standards.
Bootlegger – A train that runs over more than one railroad.
Boomer – A drifter who went from one railroad job to another, staying but a short time on each job or each road. This term dates back to pioneer days when men followed boom camps.
Boston bum – One of those superior fellows, a high brow poser. Many of them do come from Boston or thereabouts.
Bottle wagon – An iron coal-car.
Box – A boxcar.
Boxcar art – Hobo inscriptions of their monikers around handholds, and on inside walls of a boxcar.
Boxcar tourist – A hobo.
Bracelets – Handcuffs.
Brakeman – The person who tends brakes on a rail car and assists in the operation of a train.
Branch line – A secondary line of a railroad, not the main line.
Bread line – A line of persons waiting for food to be given out as a charity.
Bread wagon – A horse drawn bakery cart or wagon.
Broad or brod – A woman, generally young and oppoosite of bat or blister, which means an old woman.
Buggy – A caboose; rarely applied to other cars.
Bull – Special agent (railroad security person usually driving white American cars and trucks) in around railroad yard charged with security and with catching hoboes. A railroad policeman. Also called flatfoot or gumshoe, but the distinctive railroad terms are cinder dick and ‘bo chaser
Bum – A non-migratory non-worker. A worthless or dissolute loafer who would rather beg than work for goods or services. Lowest in the “hobo hierarchy.” It is a term of many meanings, but in its most authoritative uses it refers to the lowest of vagrants.
Bump gums – To talk about nothing worthwhile.
Bunkhouse – A hobo term for a refrigerator car’s end or ice compartment, which when empty provided a safe place to ride the train.
Bunkie – A tent mate.
Busting a gut – Your gut is your stomach area. To bust a gut is to engage in very hard physical labor so hard that you ache all over, even in your gut.
Butts – Cigarettes. The stem of a cigar picked up on the street.
Buy a drink – To pour a drink.
Cab – The crew compartment of a locomotive.
Cabbage head – A person who has used so many drugs in a lifetime that physical recovery is impossible.
Cabin car – A caboose.
Caboose – The end of train, a non revenue car.
Cacklers – White collar workers.
Cajun hobo – A hobo from Louisiana. A hobo who rides boxcars but prefers to be bare foot and eat food with a knife.
Cake eater – The nice boy of the town. Not used much by hobos.
Calaboose – The police station or the town lock-up. The jail (from “calaboose,” which derives from calabozo, the Spanish word for “jail”).
Call boy – A messenger who ran messages from the depot to the train crew and back.
Candy – Candy kid is the fellow who gets the good breaks. Candy job is the pleasant job. Candy team is the favorite span of mules in the outfit.
Canned heat – The use of intoxicants to fend off cold weather riding on freight trains. Also called tokay blanket and hump.
Cannon – a six-shooter.
Catching or Caught the west bound – One who is dying or has died.
Catch out – Hop or jump on a freight train.
Cat house – A brothel, which is sometimes called a notch house.
Catter – A hobo who rides on platforms of cars, tenders of engines, and similar places.
Cat wagon – A brothel on wheels visiting the chaste villages of the middle west or following the harvest crews. .
Chow – Now a common word meaning food.
City bum – a tramp who hangs out only in the city and never leaves it.
Clown wagon – A caboose.
Coal heaver – A fireman, sometimes called stoker.
Code of the Road – It demands that each hobo or tramp hide his identity under a road name, a moniker. The code of the Road is the unwritten laws by which hobo life is governed by.
C.O.F.C. – T.O.F.C – Container On Flat Car – Trailer On Flat Car.
Coffin nail – A term for cigarettes.
Collar and shoulder style – Everything is put on the table and the hobo guest helps himself.
Con – A con is a tubercular person. The con is the conductor on a train. An ex-con is a former convict.
Con game – This refers to any kind of graft involving trickery.
Con man – A grafter or trickster. It may mean ex-convict.
Cradle – A gondola or other open-top car.
Creep joint – A whorehouse where the girls are pickpockets.
Crew Car – Another term for a caboose.
Crib – A caboose.
Crook, crooks – A thief.
Crowbar hotel – A jail. Also known as a blue bar hotel or pokey.
Dead head – Heading straight for home with out stopping or making any side trips.
Dead head (verb) To move a new crew ahead of their train by auto and another train.
Dead one – A drunken hobo. Also a hobo who has just spent all his money.
Dead picker – A yegg who robs a drunk or dead one. He kicks him first to see if he is dead to the world and then robs him.
Dead soldier – An empty whiskey bottle lying beside the road.
Departure yard – The freight yard from which a newly-assembled train leaves. Usually a special yard in a large railroad freight yard.
Derelict – A social outcast.
Dick – A policeman. An older term for a railroad bull.
Dingbat – An old hobo who mooches off of other hoboes.
Ditch a train – To get off a train.
Ditched – To be thrown off the train, to be caught without the money to pay the fare.
Dodger – A person who shirks his duties and evades his responsibilities neither for purposes of graft, nor out of fear, but simply out of a overwhelming distaste for labor.
Doghouse – A caboose or its cupola.
Doggin’ it – Traveling by bus.
Double up – To travel in pairs, to move with a boy.
Doughnut Christians – Men who fake being saved only to get coffee and doughnuts sooner.
Drifter – One who travels in no certain direction or path of travel.
Drummer – A yard conductor.
Drunkard – A late Saturday-night passenger train.
Dry mission – A Mission which allows no one who has been drinking. Oftentimes, one must consent to a breath test to be admitted. If the test shows any alcohol whatsoever, the person is not admitted.
Dummies – A tramp who pretends to be mute.
Dump or joint – Hobo hangout or gathering place. It also applies to a restaurant or flophouse.
Dutch – As in “in dutch” – trouble.
Dutch act – To committed suicide.
Easy mark – A hobo sign or mark that identifies a person or place where you can get food, money, or a place to stay overnight.
Eat snowballs – To stay up North during the winter.
Economic argument – Soap-box talk about economics. Generally opposed to the religious argument called angel food.
End bunker – The compartment at each end of an obsolete ice refrigerator car where blocks of ice were placed to cool the perishable freight.
Engineer – The person or pilot who operates a train or locomotive.
Extra – A regular freight train which runs as an extra train when sufficient overload business stakes up.
Extra gang – A crew that works on the railroad track.
Eye doctor – A panhandler who can catch the eye of his client and hold it without quailing. Also a pederast.
Eye opener – An early morning drink, often begged from the bartender when he opens up in the morning.
Faded bogey – A negro acting as an informer.
Fagot or fag – A road kid with homosexual tendencies.
Fall guy – The goat. The fellow who gets caught. In the world of crime he is one who takes the rap without squealing.
Fink – A scab. One who takes a striker’s job. Good hobos frown upon this practice.
Flag, flagman – A railroad worker who manually signals presence and movement of trains.
Flatfoot – A cop.
Flat busted – Completely broke; without any money.
Flicker – To faint or simulate fainting.
Flimflam – To swindle, hoax or to trick.
Flimflam man – A person who practices petty trickery or deception. They use nonsense and silly talk to con others out of their money or goods.
Flintstone Kids – The latest generation of hobos. More likely to have orange hair, skateboards, and fleece than scraggly beards and long wool coats. Also known as the nose ring nation.
Flip – To board a moving train. The word accurately suggests the motion used.
Flipped, flipping frights – Hoboes who jumped aboard without paying.
Flipping a rattler – To boarding a moving box-car.
Floating fraternity – Transients.
Fog – Steam.
Flop – To sleep or a place to sleep. To prone the body.
Flop house – A cheap lodging house or any hobo hotel.
Flunkey – Camp waiter. Always male. A woman is a hasher.
Fly-away – A deserter from the army or navy.
Foot board – The metal catwalk on locomotives and freight cars provided for walking, standing on and riding along with equipment.
F.R.E.D. – E.O.T. – Fucking Rear End Device, End Of Train device. A small blinking red light on the back of the last car of a train.
Freeloader – A hobo.
Free lance passenger – Hoboes or train riders.
Freight, freights – A freight train. .
Frisk or shakedown – To search. It usually means search by the police. But train crews also go through the hobos.
Fruit tramps – A migratory (itinerant) who usually follows seasonal harvests by freight train.
Frog or frog eater – A Frenchman. A Canadian Frenchman is a pea soup.
Frog – The static portion of a switch which allows the wheel tread of a railroad car to cross from one track to the next.
Galvinizer – A car inspector.
Gandy gumbo – A hobo dish.
Gentlemen of the road – Hoboes that show signs of having been once white-collar workers.
Gentry – The leading natives of a place, the socially elect.
Get into the world quick – A child possessed of Wanderlust takes the first chance they can get to jump on a freight train.
Get the bell (verb) – A familiar term for orders or signal to depart. Get the bell, let’s get outta here.
Ghosts – A tramp who pretends to be tubercular.
Ghost story – A plausible tale told to the housewife.
Give her the grit – A locomotive to usse sand on the rails.
Give him the works – To be given a job by a social agency, or sent to the rock pile by the judge.
Glims – Spectacles, or a light.
Go broke – To arrive somewhere. Also known as to blow in.
Go with the birds – To go south for the winter.
Going by hand – To walk. Hiking to the next water tank.
Going on the farm – When a train goes on the sidetrack. Also a railroad term.
Gondola – A short-sided, open-topped car used to hold scrap or garbage.
Gonger – An opium pipe. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Good-dead – When applied to a criminal, much as the old frontiersman declared: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Graveyard shift – Night work, usually in the small or late hours.
Graveyard stew – Hot milk and toast.
Grease balls – A low life who lives off of things left behind by others.
Grease the track – Place grease on both rails so the wheels of the locomotive with spin and slow down the train on an uphill grade thus giving the hoboes chance to hop the train.
Greasy spoon – A railroad eating house. Bill of fare is colloquially known as switch list, fork is hook, butter is grease pot, hotcakes are blind gaskets, and beans are torpedoes.
Geese – Hoboes who prowl the night, these Waandering Willie most often steal from clothes lines.
Grifter – A petty swindler or confidence man. They may be one who operates a dishonest game of chance at a carnival or circus. They often drive a vehicle a stolen, unregistered, without insurance, not inspected and without a drivers license. When they become established to one place they may become squatters, often illegally connecting to utilities and other services. They take advantage of other people and that has become second nature to them in everything they do.
Grinder, grinders – Your teeth.
Grips – The bags trainman bring their personal belongs in for over-the-road work. Often black in color.
Guard rail – An extra section of rail placed inside the rail opposite a switch frog which prevents wheel flanges from taking the wrong path at the frog point.
Gummy – A hanger-on. A bum who goes along with the crowd but never contributes. A sort of dead head.
Gump – A chicken or a piece of meat.
Gunnells or guts – The truss rods or trucks of the train where hobos ride.
Gunsel – A young boy.
Gypsy – A wandering dark-skinned Caucasian people believed to have migrated to Europe from India, and known to be fortunetellers, musicians, etc. Also called Romany. To live or wander like a gypsy. A person who lives on the road, constantly traveling.
Hack – A caboose.
Haint – A ghost.
Hand car – An old-fashioned railroad pushcart used to inspect track or travel over it by pumping up and down on a see-saw hand lever. The older pushcart was moved by pushing a long pole against the ground, much like a keel boat.
Hand out – A parcel of food given out by the housewife. A lump.
Happy Hooligan – The hero – antihero of a hobo comic strip of the dame name, popular at the turn of the century and drawn by Zim and Opper.
Harness bull – A policeman who wears a uniform.
Hash house – A railroad restaurant or lunch stand. A cheap restaurant.
Haywire – When everything is balled up. A haywire outfit is something that is all tied and patched together.
Head end – The front of the train. In front of or near the engine.
Header – A freight yard worker who aligns track for arriving and departing trains.
Head lamp – One or more high intensity white lights on the head end of a train, engine or locomotive.
Hearse – A caboose.
Hermit – A hobo that travels by himself or sticks to himself.
Hide and seek – A hobo game practiced by traveling hoboes, now you see them, now you don’t.
High-ball – A signal to start moving
High diver – A yegg who picks pockets.
High iron – The mainline track, so named because mainline track is made of heavier poundage and train stands higher off the ties than on yard track or spur lines.
High jacker – Yegg who robs hobos with a gun or by brute strength.
Hijack – A robbery.
Hillbilly, hillbillies – A person living in the backwoods or mountains of the Southern United States.
Hitch – Prison term or army term. Same as bit.
Hitting the grit – To be forced off a fast moving train.
Hitting the road – Getting back to riding the trains.
Hobby Hobo – A part-time hobo. A person who engages in hobo-like behavior (hopping freight trains, spending the night in hobo jungles) while on vacation from their full-time job and life. Also called: Weekend hobo.
Hobo – A migratory (itinerant) usually unskilled worker. Most respected in the “hobo hierarchy.” The hobo is “independent.” Unlike tramps or bums, the hoboes are usually very resourceful, self reliant and appreciative people. They avoid long term work commitments, preferring to be free to follow the call of the open road when it comes.
Hobo, hoboes, hobos, hoboing – One who wanders randomly from place to place looking for temporary homes and jobs.
Hobo alarm clock – A hobo term for a remote controlled switch which when activated awakens a sleeping hobo and alerts him to the approach of a train.
Hobo apple – Hobo apple is not a hobo expression or a food, it is an apple with the core removed and filled with peanut butter.
Hobo belt – These are areas in which you tend to find hoboes, or where they hang out. Such as, along railroad likes, streams and waterways close to the railroad lines, etc.
Hobo bill of fare – Messages left often on water tanks telling newcomers information about the local area.
Hobo canteen – Made out of big gallon jugs, milk jugs and pop bottles used, but anything glass is an accident waiting to happen, and everything around a freightyard is metal.
Hobo clan – These are members of the fraternity who share the common situation on life, that of having a career of being a hobo. They are the Brethren and Sisters of the Road. .
Hobo cocktail – Hobo cocktail is not a hobo expression but is Black-American slang for a glass of water.
Hobo code or rules – These are a set of unspoken rules that govern hobo gatherings. One, all pots lets should be clean for the next user. Two, no hobo was to rob or steal from a fellow hobo inside of the camp. Three, avoid angering the town’s people who are a source of odd jobs and handouts. Four, Thievery is to be avoided, or at least kept to a minimum. Only an occasional pie, vegetables gathered from the garden, fruit from the orchard, a clean shirt from the clothesline. Five, breaking in to a house or threatening local people is a serious offense amongst hoboes, and can be punishable by death. Etc, etc. Other rules may be share work in camp, like volunteering to get water, gather firewood, share food for communal meals, etc. See: The outside world.
Hobo culture – Fundamentally the story of a hobo’s life. The hobo’s life on the rails by riding the rails embodies for him a distinct culture, a way of life. Riding the rails was and is certainly a dirtier more dangerous, uncomfortable way of getting around than hitching, and it was this culture than kept it popular. The day of the hobo is gone, perhaps forever. The hobo was essentially a wanderer. A free spirited human, who put his personal freedom ahead of hs desire for worldly gain. He was neither greedy nor competitive. The real hobo is purely and simply a wanderer at heart and enjoys this way of life. To work a few days and get a few bucks in his pocket to pay his way, then move on, is a hobo’s idea of living in style. In the 1920’s someone said, “the hobo works and wanders, the tramp dreams and wanders, the bum drinks and wanders.” The hobo was keen to work and earn his way, the tramps move around, but the bums staying put.
Hoboett – A female hobo.
Hobo graveyard – The track side burial site of a deceased wayfarer, usually at or near the site of his or her demise.
Hobo heart – People who share the same core beliefs and views that of the hobo or tramp. It is where your heart is, on the road or riding the rails. They all share the same share our stew and fellowship.
Hobohemia – The universe of the hobo.
Hobo identity – Part of American culture and mythology, which romanticized the frontier and rugged individualism, as well as technological developments such as the railroad. As hobo culture developed an enormous amount of literature began to be published about hoboes by self-proclaimed hoboes.
Hoboland – A term used to describe life or living in the world of the hobo.
Hobo language – Hobos drew the symbols of this new language with chalk on sidewalks, or carved them into trees, walls or doors to help their fellow travelers. See: Hobo signs.
Hobo lifestyle – The philosophy and personal experience with riding the rails. A free spirit traveler.
Hobo luck – When a hobo hits a new town, he believes that if he is turned down at the first
place he goes to, his luck will be poor in that town, and vice versa.
Hobo marks – Graffiti inscribed on train cars, buildings and railroad stuctures by hoboes placing their nicknames in chalk. In Germany this is now almost extinct. See: A-No.1 and J.B. King.
Hobo News – A newpaper started by James Eads How with articls on social and politica issues along with puns and jokes.
Hobo nickel – Originally carved nickels made out of wood, then later hoboes used actual US Minted nickels or 5 cent pieces.
Hobo night hawks – Police who disguise themselves as hoboes and search the trains at night for hoboes. The dead give-a-way is a lantern or flash light as they open boxcar doors searching for hoboes.
Hobo proof – A railroad line that offers a reward to any hobo who can successfully ride their hobo proof railroad.
Hobo Road – Hoboes that are currently on the road at the present time. Some hoboes have done it in the past, but the time line has moved on and they are no longer on the Hobo Road at the present time.
Hobo signs (1) – Beginning in the 1880’s up until World War Two, hoboes placed markings on fences, posts, sidewalks, buildings, trestles, bridge abutments, and railroad line side equipment to aid them and others of their kind in finding help or steering them clear of trouble. Usually, these signs would be written in chalk or coal letting others know what they could expect in the area of the symbol. The classic American hobo of the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries communicated through a basic system of markings, a code though which they gave information and warnings to their fellow Knights of the Road. Today hoboes communicate with cellular phones, and e-mail.
Hobo stew – A stew cooked in a large pot made of small pieces of meat, potatoes, onions, carrots or other vegetables and herbs found in the area. Also see Mulligan stew.
Hobo stove (1)- They are made out of discarded 5 gal. buckets that were used to carry railroad spikes. With a good knife and a pair of pliers, you make a row of openings around the bottom like a can opener would, and flip it upside down and cut out a small door. Then you can scratch out a little ditch and set this over it and build a fire inside. Gets hot enough to cook on and at night you can’t see the fire over about 20 foot.
Hobo symbols – The symbols or signs were usually used one at a time. Each of these symbols
represents a particular direction or warning, such as “Beware of dangerous dog”, “A kind lady lives here”, “People here will give you food for work”, “this is a safe place to camp”, etc. While these crude symbols were almost humorous appearance, they served a deadly serious purpose. They helped travelers to find work, food, and safe shelter in a difficult, often dangerous world. See: Hobo signs.
Hobo tent – Most ‘bo’s got a tent or tarp. You can lose your equipment most any time out there, due either to misjudgement of a train, or of people you’re around, so knowing how to make a tent or at least get a good ground cloth is good stuff to know.
Hobo ticket – To hop or ride a freight train that is the price of the ticket.
Hobo Times – A publication that was published by the National Hobo Association.
Hobo union – A group of hoboes that have been crippled and disfigured hopping freight trains. Some tramps who had lost limbs or fingers had such monikers as sticks, fingers, lefty, or mitts.
Hobos versus Tramps – Some say hobos originally traveled to work, and tramps traveled for the sake of travel. Others say a tramp is a hobo west of the Mississippi and a hobo is a tramp east of the Mississippi. Others use the terms interchangeably.
Hobo walking stick – A hobo’s is afraid of a big dog, dogstory, the carry a staff, walking stick. Many were carved and made into hobo art.
Hog – A locomotive.
Hogger – A term for an engineer.
Hoghead or hogger – The engineer. This is also a railroad term.
Hold down – To ride a great distance across the country without getting off to hunt for food, etc.
Home guard – Local tramps who don’t ride.
Honey dipping – Working as a shovel stiff in a sewer, or any kind of unpleasant shovel work.
Honor of old age – A recognition of the Patriarch as a leader.
Hooch – Liquor. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Hooker – A drink of strong liquor, as in “It took a stiff hooker of whiskey.”
Hooks – Getting caught by the hands of John Law. As in, they will get their hooks in you if you go into that town.
Hookshop – A brothel.
Hooligan – A young hoodlum, a petty gangster.
Hoosier – The natives, generally simple fellows. Also called yaps, hicks or rubes.
Hoodwink – To trick or deceive.
Hopins – Potatoes and vegetables.
Hopper – Covered grain car, also called a grainier.
Hopping – Riding the rails.
Horse-style – Any unfriendly hostile town to hoboes. Their way of saying: hostile style.
Host – The railroad line on which a hobo is riding.
Hot box – An overheated journal box which is not detected in time that can cause fires and derailments.
Hot freight yard – A freight yard which employs one or more gung-ho bulls. Also see bull and gung-ho bull.
Hotel-de-Tramp – A “register” of tramp monikers on a railroad structure such as a water tank. A hobo or tramp must climb the water tank to register his moniker to be considered allowed to stay in the Hotel-de-Tramp. See: Name-de-road.
Hotbox – Overheated journal or bearing. Also called hub. This was a frequent cause of delay in the old days but is virtually nonexistent on trains that are completely equipped with ball-bearings. Trainmen are sometimes called hotbox detectors.
Hot squat – American tramp slang for the electric chair.
Hotshot – A train with high priority over other traffic. Fast train; frequently a freight made up of merchandise and perishables. Often called a manifest or redball run. A fast freight or passenger train.
Hot stuff – Stolen goods. Something that must be dropped.
Hotel de Gink – A charitable or a municipal lodging house. A series of residences where hoboes could eat, sleep, shave, and bath when times were tough. They were started by hobo Jeff Davis.
Hot train – Train with a high priority, usually heavily loaded with goods going to market. Other trains must often pull over at sidings to allow hot trains to pass.
Hot yard – Rail yard actively patrolled by unfriendly bulls.
House dog – A fellow who goes about hunting jobs, cleaning windows, beating carpets, etc.
Hump – Low hill in a switching yard used for sorting cars by gravity. In the hole – Waiting at a rail siding, usually for a train with higher priority to pass.
Hunkydory – Everything is fine.
Hut – a brakeman’s shelter just back of the coal bunkers on the tender tank of engines operating through a tunnel. May also refer to caboose, locomotive cab, switchman’s shanty, or crossing watchman’s shelter.
Ice (verb) – To place blocks of ice into the end or ice bunker of an old reefer car.
Ice-boxes – A refrigerated box
Idler – A lazy person.
In heat – For a female animal (in this case, a dog), to be in heat is to be in a state of sexual excitement when she will accept mating from a male.
In hot water -To be in hot water is to be in trouble.
In the clear – A train is in the clear when it has passed over a switch and frog so far that another train can pass without damage.
In the hole – a train on a siding.
In the hole, into the hole – A term for a train which is standing on a siding waiting for another train to pass, conduct business or repair an equipment failure. A train is in the hole.
Itineracy – Traveling, journeys. Following a planned route of travel. A detailed or record account of a journey.
In transit – Riding the trains. In the summer the entire tramp fraternity may be said to be “in transit.”
I-Wobble-Wobble – The I.W.W. whose nickname is “wobbles.” I go after “slave wages.” They take the lowest, most miserable labor that industrialism produces.
Jack roll – To rob.
Jack roller – A thief.
Jack Wanderlust – The evil spirit of unrest.that makes boys copy the ways of the hobo.
Jail bait – A girl below the legal age of consent for sex; an underage girl who tempts a man to sexual intimacy which is punishable by imprisonment
Jail bird – A fellow who brags about his vag record.
Jailhouse spuds – Waffled potatoes.
Jam nuts – Doughnuts.
Java – Coffee.
Jazz – Sexual intercourse.
Jigger – A strong solution of lye (paint acid) used by hoboes on sores.
Jerry gang – See gandy dancer.
Jerusalem Slim – Slang name for Christian god-man.
Jiggers – A common name given to tramps that others should “watch out!” for.
Jimtown – Jamestown, New York.
Jocker – An experienced hobo, usually in a kind of master-apprentice relationship with a breshun.
John Family – A term is sometimes applied to the farmers, sometimes to the police and again to the yeggs.
John Law – A name for the police or the legal system.
Joint – The point in bolted-rail track or joint end where two rails meet and are bolted together. Joints cause the railroad’s clickity-clack.
Joint rail – A hobo term for bolted rail track.
Jolt – A jail sentence.
Journal box – The point of contact between freight car tracks and axles where internal lubricants reduce friction heat and provide for a smooth ride. A source for grease used in hobo first aid.
Jugs – Banks.
Jungle – Hobo’s camp site. A hobo’s summer home.
Jungle buzzard – A bum who loafs about the jungle begging from the hobos. .
Jungle-out – To wait or sleep in a jungle., I was jungled out when the border patrol rousted me.
Jungle up – Many wanderers (hoboes and tramps) would settle for the night in groups. These areas would be known as hobo jungles. To jungle-up is to camp out for the evening in the company of other like companions of the road.
Junker or junky – A fellow who uses drugs, called junk.
Junkie – A drug user. A heroin addict.
Jumping a train car – Meaning to never go home again, like the life of a wander or a rover.
Kangaroo court – A mock court held in jail for the purpose of forcing new prisoners to divide their money. A thief was stripped of all his clothing except his underwear and shoes. If the theif was on a train, he was told to “jump.”
Keister – A suit case. Not often carried by hobos.
Kick – A pocket in the trousers.
Kick it apart – To lay out the details. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Kicks – Shoes. Also called slides.
Kid simple – A nickname for a silly, stupid, foolish young kid with no experience of the road.
Kid tramp – Another name for a young kid on the Road.
Killing time – Having nothing to do or no place to go.
King of the Hoboes – An unofficial title awarded by fellow hoboes to a hobo on the road.
King of the Road – A title given to celebrate the hobo experience on the open road, one who is best schooled and educated in the lifestyle of the hobo. The National Hobo Convention awards the title each year and crowns a new King of the Road. In the golden age of the hobo (1880 until World War 1) it was an honor given by an unofficial vote of the hoboes on the road, to someone who survived, the most experienced and respected hobo of them all. “King of the Road,” is also the title of a song by Roger Miller’s greastest hit. “Third boxcar midnight train, destination Bangor, Maine. Old worn out suit and shoes, I don’t pay no union dues. I smoke old stogies I have found, short but not too big around. I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.”
Knight – A soldier of the “Road.”
Knights of the Road or Knights of the Rail – Another name for a hobo.
Knock about – See: Bum.
Knowledge box – Country school house where hobos sometimes sleep.
Lamb – A boy tramp or road kid. Boy companion of the wolf.
Lambs– An inexperienced young men or road kids.
Lambing – To herd sheep, a job avoided by respectablehobos.
Layabout – A person who is an idler.
Leather poke – A wallet.
Lee of a reefer – The ice-box in a refrigerator car.
Library – A cupola of caboose. Trainman occupying it was sometimes known as a librarian.
Library birds – Down and outers who loaf or roost in libraries.
Lighthouse – Stingy person. A procurer for a house of sin. Also one who is placed to watch for the bulls.
Limpy – A cripple. If he has a wooden leg he is peg.
Little Red Card – The membership card of the I.W.W. union. See Wobblies.
Little red wagon – A dump wagon.
Little school – A reformatory or house of correction.
Live off the fat of the land – The fat of the land is an expression that refers to having the best of everything. A place where the land is so “fat” you will need nothing else to be happy. A place where you can survive and prosper with out having to earn it, you just take what you need.
Lizzie tramps – The hitch-hikers and again to wandering families traveling in automobiles.
Loafer – From the German word for “land-runner,” one who wanders around the countryside.” Loaf, as a verb, is a back-formation from “loafer,” and ought to be used to described someone who
travels around aimlessly.
Local – A trains that moves freight and materials on a short line.
Long haul trains – A long distance train, usually a minimum of 500 miles.
Looloo – A sexy woman.
Louse – A fellow who will steal the shoes of a hobo who befriends him.
Louse cage – a caboose.
Lowball – An old signal positioning of a ball on a mast. When the ball dropped down the mast this signified sow down or stop. Also see highball.
Lusher – A drunkard.
Lump – Food received at the back door; a handout.
Main guy – Same as captain. Refers to the person in charge.
Main stem – The chief hobo street in town.
Man-catcher – The shark’s assistant who urges a job on the hobo – usually to fill a shipment of men.
Manifest – What the train is carrying. Fast freight carrying fruit or cattle.
Mark – A mark is a person or place good for food, clothes or money, but not advice.
Master of the Road – A hobo or tramp who knows the ways of the Road. He is an insider.
Milk wagon – A horse drawin milk cart or wagon. They drip water from melting ice.
Mission stiff – Tramp who stays in a mission or homeless shelter most of the year. Man who gets “saved” for food and a flop. A “retired” hobo or tramp who “gives up the road” for various reasons. Often, one will be forced to become a “stiff” due to health or age, but for some, this is the first step toward self-sufficiency and these persons become a vital part of society.
Moll – A woman who pals with hobos. This term is not used much by the hobos themselves.
Mooch – To beg, usually at back doors, or to steal.
Moocher – One who steals or takes without paying.
Mooching – A low form of begging.
Moper – A bum who is even lower than a moocher.
Mouthpiece – A lawyer.
Mud – Strong coffee mixed with weak milk.
Mug – A person’s face.
Mulligan stew – Stew made from the combined contributions of everyone who wants some. A group of hoboes gathered around the jungle fire can keep a pot of stew perpetually refreshed by each contributing one thing- a scrap of bacon, a half-biscuit, a withered carrot stolen from someone’s garden. No matter how small or mean the contributions are, as long as they are freely given the stew will be rich, warming, and nutritious, and the pot will stay full until everyone who contributes has had his fill.
Munie – A term for a municipal lodging house.
Mushfaker – A go-about itinerant repair man. He may solder pots or mend umbrellas. Sometimes hobos follow the art.
Nail – To hop a train.
Nailed – To successfully have hopped a train.
Newcomer – A hobo who has only recently arrived.
Newspaper beds – Sleeping on a bed and covered with newpapers.
Nickel note – A five-dollar bill.
Night walkers – These are people who police believed do not belong to the area and have no means of supporting themselves. They were often whipped and banished from town or sent to a workhouse
Nose bag – A lunch handed out in a paper sack.
Number 10 gunboat can – A number 10 can used for brewing coffee, cooking, urinating of defecating in.
Nuttery – A hospital for the insane. Also a nut factory.
O. B. U. – One Big Union. The ideal of the soap boxers.
Obeys – Post offices.
Ocean tramp – A type of tramp that travel from place to place by ocean travel. Often they get jobs working on commercial vessels, working as part of the crew. When they land in port they shortly get the urge to travel once again. It may not be for the love of salt air on their faces because often they have hard working jobs below deck. Perhaps being on land makes them feel connected or tied down and they may simply love the feeling of open water below their feet.
Odd fellows – A fraternal symbol meaning three doughnuts and coffee.
Often just “bull”– A security agent hired by the rail companies to keep the yards clear of tramps and hobo’s.
Off-shift – A locomotive which is not in service.
Oilcan train – A train made up of mainly or exclusively of tank cars.
Old timers – These are experienced hoboes, who have been on the Road, and know the ways of the road.
Organ grinder – A profitable begging device, a barrel organ, that uses a trained monkey.
Old airedale – An old hobo who’s spent his whole life on the road. Airedales seldom ride the trains at that age, instead walking wherever they go.
One-eyed bandit – A term for a boxcar with one door open and the other one shut.
On the hummer – Being on the bum but not down and out.
On the bum – Living the life of a vagrant.
On the fly – Getting on or off a freight train which has slowed down but not stopped. Also called “on the run.”
On the road – Pertaining to a lifestyle whose adherents are on an extended trip or have no permanent home.
On the uppers – Being on the bum and nearly down and out.
Open-air navigator – A hobo riding freight on top.
Open Road – The system of railroad rails that can take you any where you have a mind to go or travel. As in the call of the “Open Road.”
Opposing train – A train which approaches your train in the opposite direction.
Oscar – To walk away. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Ossified – To get arrested.
Outside world, The – Any one not living in the world of Trampdom. It has its rules and regulations or code of ethics involves relations with the outside world. See: Hobo code or rules.
Overland – A long distance train or a train used for traveling long distances.
Over the road – Any track outside of the yard limits.
Packing the mustard – Carrying the hod.
Padding the hoof – Going by foot. A practice good hobos avoid.
Paddy-sticks – Usually sledgehammer handles carried by shacks.
Palooka – A roving boxer who lives in the past.
Pan, panning – To beg on the street, some times with a J. B. Stetson felt hat.
Pariahs of Society – A social outcast.
Panhandle – To beg on the street.
Paul Bunyan – A chronic, but none the less interesting, liar.
Pay station – A social welfare agency that gives out money. Very rare.
Pay streak – To have a job that pays well.
Pearl diver – A dishwasher.
Peanut farm – A workhouse where the inmates crack stones.
Pea soup – A french Canadian or Canuck. Often a lumber jack.
Peddler or bob tail – A short local freight train.
Pedicant – A young haughty or nasty male bitch.
Peg – A one legged person.
Peg house – A place where, if the hobo wishes, he may meet Angelina.
Pennsylvania salve – Apple butter.
Petticoat hobo – A female hobo.
Peoria – A thin soup. Generally potato water with salt.
The philosophy of tramping – Is a Ttramp’s code of ethics.
Phoney man – A person who peddles cheap jewelry.
Picture frame – The gallows. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Pie card – One who hangs around and lives on a remittance man or some other person with money.
Pie in the sky – One’s reward in the hereafter. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Piggyback – A flat train car that holds trucks or containers.
Pig’s vest with buttons – Sow belly, or any fat bacon.
Pig train – A piggyback train, one composed of flat cars carrying truck trailers.
Piker – A hobo or tramp who walks.
Pile driver or Java – Coffee, but good strong coffee.
Pill peddler – The camp doctor. The label may fit any M. D.
Pin-money – An allowance of money or money to be able to pay for minor incidental expenses.
Pisshouse – A jail.
P. K. – The principal keeper of the little school.
Pimp stick – A cigarette. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Pinched – To be jailed.
Pin puller – A brakeman or switchman.
Playing the spoons – Some hoboes have learned how to read a man’s fortune in the rhythm of a pair of spoons. These spoon men are usually old Airedales who have left off riding the crates… they stay by the fires in the camps and jungles, tapping out the future against their knee in exchange for a half-can of beans or a strip of jerky.
Pogey – The workhouse. Sometimes the poor farm.
Points – The movable portion of a switch which allows the flanged wheel tread of a railroad car to cross from one track to the next.
Poison – A woman who is poison is one who can only mean trouble, especially to a man. Also can be your favorite drink.
Poke – A leather wallet. Also a gin mill.
Poorhouses – A public run establishment maintainedas a dwelling for paupers.
Poor roads of travel – These were the turnpikes of America after the Civil War. It was easier to walk the railroad tracks, and then these train men discovered it was easier to ride the train than walk the tracks.
Possum belly – To ride on top of a passenger train.
Possum drunk – Playing drunk to obtain information.
Potatoes and with it – A western jungle dish.
Potter’s Field – A burial ground for the destitute ans the unknown in unmarked graves.
Pound your ear – To sleep in a bed.
Private varnish – A privately-owned beautifully appointed passenger car which can be leased or rented to individuals or companies.
Prize Tramps – These are hoboes and tramps who have learned the stock and trade of the Road.
Prone the body – To lie down and rest.
Proper tramp – One who follows the code of the Road.
Punk – A road kid. Often used in derision.
Punk and Gut – Bread and cheese.
Punk and plaster route – Traveling among the Pennsylvania Dutch.
Pusher – The straw boss. One in charge of the job.
Pushes – A gang.
Pussyfooter – A railroad policeman.
Put the boots to – To have sexual intercourse. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Queer – Crooked, criminal. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Raggedly man – A person who wears torn or worn clothing into rags. Wearing worn, frayed, or shabby garments. A person of rough or uneven character or aspect.
Ragman, rag picker – One who gathers and sells rags, and other junk for a living. The rag man would go through the neighborhoods in his horse drawn wagon, singing, “Rags! Rags!, Got any rags today?……….”
Railroad bull – A railroad policeman. See Bull.
Railroad cop – A railrad policeman. See Bull.
Railroad dick – A railroad policeman. See Bull.
Railroad or road flare – Road signal torches or lights. Engineers will even give them to you. Made of phospherous They’ll start wet wood on campfire fire in the rain. They will keep man or beast out of stricking distance for about 10 minutes. They are hot enough a drop of it will go clear thru whatever it lands on. They can be used to bring water to a boil for coffee or soup, and they make a good firestarter
Rail rider – A person, most generally a hobo, who rides freight trains, usually illegally. Some know the engineers and are able to ride in the engine com-partment rather than in a box care or grainer.
Railroaded – Haven ridden or used to make reference to when some one rides a train.
Railroad fever – A malady for tramps call the victims of which there is no remedy. They are unable to settle down anywhere, and they must be constantly riding the trains. Only death ends their roaming of hopping the freight trains. A sickness that even A-No.1 had that he could never cure himself of but wanted to prevent others especially young kids. The only cure or rest was death.
Railroading – Not a railroad workers term but it means to take up riding the trains by hobos.
Railroad spike – Not a term but the actual object carried by many hoboes, to keep the railroad yardman from closing the door on them, which could result in him freezing to death or suffocating, as some freight cars were pushed into the rail yard and out of use for weeks at a time. Hoboes some times painted the tips or heads a color so they could identify as theirs.
Rail tramp – See: Tramp.
Ramble – To ramble (a Middle English for “roam”) means to wander for pleasure, without a fixed destination.
Rambler – A through freight train.
Rank cats – The lowest of the genus bum.
Rat crusher- A box-car burglar. See “eight-wheeler”. Probably from the “rattler” or fast freight train in which the “rat crusher” finds his loot. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Rattler – A fast train, same as cannonball. In the West a box-car. A train.
Rattlers – A hobo who ride freight trains.
Rattle the hocks off her – to drive a freight train at high speeds causing the freight cars to shake, rattle and to roll.
Rat workers – They are box car burglers.
Razor back – A circus roustabout. Also an Arkansas hog.
Reading the rails – By hunkering down and putting your hand on a rail that’s still warm from a train’s passage, you can sometimes divine something about the train that just passed, or about a specific person on it, or about the places the rails eventually lead to.
Red card – I.W.W. membership card. See Wobbly.
Red cross – Morphine. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Red lead – Ketchup. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Redline – To condemn or scrap an old freight car.
Reefer – A refrigerated box car. Like many another railroad term it also belongs to the hobo’s lingo.
Regional railroad – A smaller than a Class 1 line haul railroad which serves a specific region of the country.
Ride the cushions – To ride in a passenger train.
Ride the bumpers – Riding a freight car by straddling its coupler with one’s legs.
Ridin’ ’em high – Traveling on tops of boxcars.
Riding the cushions – Riding de luxe in a passenger train.
Riding the deck – Riding any railroad car on the roof. Not safe.
Ridin’ the rods – An old-time hobo practice, now virtually obsolete. The hobo would place a board across truss rods under a car and ride on it. This was very dangerous even in pleasant weather, and the possibility was ever present that you might doze, get careless, become too cramped, or lose your nerve-and roll under the wheels.
Riding the blinds -To ride a train by swinging onto the vestibule at the front end of the baggage car, usually just behind the engine tender. This practice was deceptively dangerous; if the train “slacked off” while you were trying to squeeze through to the vestibule, the cars would come together and crush you in an instant.
Riding the rods – To ride a train by lying on a board set across the truss rods underneath, or sometimes just hanging on for dear life. Not as common by the 1930’s, since train cars were no longer built with truss rods.
River rat – Someone who spends their life around the rivers and waterways. They would rather travel from place to place using inland waterways and rivers for travel. Also some one who lives in shacks, house boats, etc. along the rivers and waterways.
The Road – Living the life of a hobo.
Road bums – Another name for hoboes.
Road burn – A modern term, a state of mind one slips into after being “on the road” too long.
Road dog – Someone who hops trains. Someone who calls the road home, such as a hobo.
Road-kid – Young person who belongs to a gang.
Road kill – A dead animal found on the road. A dead animals in general.
Road news – This is information about what is happening on the Road. This is spread from the campfire, word of mouth, and by information left in hobo signs and monikers.
Roadsters – A name for hoboes or tramps (young and old) who travel the road.
Road wisdom – Having enough knowledge to survive on the Road.
Robbing the mail – Snatching food and milk delivered at the doorstep early in the morning.
Rock pile – A place, town or county lockup that puts prisons to work on the rock pile.
Rod – The metal struts underneath the floor of old freight cars, etc., which provided for structural integrity.
Rods – The underside structure of a freight car.
Roll – To roll means to rob a sleeping drunk.
Rolling a train – A hobo canvassing a train for prospective freight cars to ride, for a crew, inspecting a passing train for equipment or cargo problems
Roll out – To bed down for the night – by rolling out one’s blanket or sleeping bag.
Roofers – A hobo who lay stretched out full length upon the metal roof of a passenger coach.
Roof walks – Wooden catwalks down the center of old boxcar roofs, used by 19th century brakeman to run from boxcar to boxcar in set and release hand brakes.
Romany rye – A person not a gypsy but who associated with gypsies, speaks their language.
Round house – A round building with a turntable in the center for housing and switching locomotives.
Roughneck – A freight brakeman.
Rubber hobo – A hobo that travels across the country in a rubber tired automobile, usually an older vehicle.
Rubber tramp – A tramp who owns a car, usually rusted out and undependable. They spend a lot of energy begging for gas money, but also provide transportation to other cities to bums, hobos and tramps for a fee. In a sense, they become a nationwide “taxi” service for transients.
Rustling the bums – Searching a freight train for hobos. In bygone days it was common practice for trainmen to collect money from freight-riding ‘bos, often at the rate of a dollar a division.
Sagebrush philosopher – A gabby fellow from the West.
Sallies – Salvation Army hotels and industrial workshops.
Sap – The policeman’s persuader. To get sapped means to be clubbed by the bulls.
Saps – A blackjack used by railroad bulls to beat hoboes.
Saw-by – When two freight trains meet on a single track mainline and one too long for the siding has to go into the hole, the shorter train passes the near tend of the longer train which is clear on the siding. While the shorter train approaches the far siding the longer train snakes through the siding and clears that end for the shorter train.
Scalawag – A worthless person or scamp.
Scamp – A rogue, or a good-for-nothing.
Scenery bums – These are hoboes who had money, so they avoided begging, they did not stay around long amd so they got off the road well before the fridged winter.
Scrape the mug – To shave. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Scrape the pavement – To get a shave. Also to get tossed out of a building.
Scrappy – Aggressive; fond of fighting and arguing.
Screw your nut – To get wise to yourself.
Scoffing – To eat. To scoff regularly means to miss no meals.
Sea food – A sailor.
Second hand – An over-the-road railroad track repair worker.
Sell it to me – Trying to make me believe.
Set-down – To eat with your feet under the table. The reverse of the handout.
Sewer hogs – Ditch diggers.
Shack – A brakeman, occupant of caboose. Shacks master is a conductor. A railroad term.
Shacks – The brakemen.
Shackles – Soup. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Shakedown – The same as frisk.
Shanty – A hastily built shack or cabin, a ramshackle dwelling.
Shark – A man who sells jobs to the hobos.
Sheets – Newspapers for a bed.
Shiner – A brakeman’s or switchman’s lantern.
Shop master – A railroad employee who oversees the work of shop workers. Also see shop worker.
Shop worker– A “non-railroad” freight yard worker who builds, rebuilds or repairs rolling stock, such a machinist, electricians, sheet metal workers, boiler workers, blacksmiths, painters, pipe fitters, and their apprentices.
Shoo fly – A railroad detour, when a track is built around some obstacle. Also means to avoid passing through a town if the police are hostile.
Short line railroad – A very small railroad with track from 1 to 150 miles in total length. Many are owned by a mine or manufacturing company.
Shuttle bum – A hobo that uses a transportation system to get from one point to another. May have originally applied to an out of work, itinerant textile worker.
Side-door Pullman – A box-car, a closed car. A boxcar used by hobos in stealing rides. Hobo’s home en route.
Sitdown – An invitation to the kitchen table.
Slum – A derisive term for an uninviting stew or slumgullion.
Smell from the barrel, bottle or bag – To have a drink.
Smoke – A strong liquor. Denatured alcohol.
Smoky hole – A tunnel.
Snag – This is anything (metal straps, loads, wood or wire, etc.) hanging off the sides of a freight car which could hit and injure someone walking or standing nearby. A brakeman’s and hobo’s headache.
Snake – A railroad switchman. Hobo and railroad term for switchman. A snake is more friendly than a shack to the hobos.
Snipes – Other people’s cigarette butts
Soapboxers – One who always has a story to tell.
Song and dance – To give the madam at the backdoor an interesting and entertaining argument.
Spotter – A late 19th century and early 20th century railroad employed bull whose job it was to infiltrate railroad unionization efforts and identify the perpetrators for blackballing. Also see bull.
Stake – Earned money or wages.
Stamp collectors – Tramps who travel from town to town collecting food stamps along a circuit.
Sterno – A dangerous alcoholic drink made by heating sterno can.
Sterno drunk – A transient who drinks steno, cheap wine, shoe polish or anything else he can get his hands on. Also see stern stove.
Stiff – A tramp.
Stir – A state prison. The big house or big school.
Stool pigeon – An informer, a rat, one who betrays to the police. See bull and spotter.
Straight and narrow – The way to eternal life and salvation. A term often used by A-No.1. Also to lead a clean life and stay off the tracks.
Stock pen – A yard office.
Stogy – An inexpensive cigar.
Summer hobo – Not really a hobo term, usually a college student that is homeward bound for vacation.
Surfing – Riding on the tops of rail cars while they are moving
Swamper – The person who cleans out the bar-room.
Sweet back – A hobo sheik who is only sampling hobo life.
Switch – A section of railroad track which allows a train to change tracks. A danger to anyone walking along the track in a line or freight yard which catches a foot by wedging or movement of remote switch tracking when a train suddenly comes along.
Switchman – A freight yard worker who assists in assembling of trains and alignments of tracks as ordered.
Switch stand – A manual (hand-thrown) or automatic (power-thrown) mechanism located at the points end of a switch. This mechanism throws switches from one track to another by means of the operating rod.
Tally – Meaning, “I understand,” or “Count me in on it.”
Tamp up – To assault or beat.
The big hook – A giant railroad crane used to clean up railroad wrecks.
The biscuits hang high – There’s a scarcity of food handouts in a locality.
Thin ones – Small coins; dimes, nickels and pennies.
Ticket – A board board about a foot or a foot and a half long, with a groove cut in it. The groove would fit down over the rod, and made a seat for riding the rods.
Tin cans – Used by hoboes as cookware and as drinking cups. Tin cans they use for fruits, you
know, the kind that are coated on the inside. They’re safe to cook out of, without fear of poisoning, and about 3 in different sizes can make up a whole cookin outfit.
Tin horn – A petty sport hanging around the main stem. He is sometimes called a rustler.
Tin roof – A free drink. So-called because it is “on the house.”
Tip the office – To warn a fellow hobo by giving some signal.
Toadskins – Paper money.
Toppings – The dessert. Something toothsome to touch off a meal.
Town clown – The village constable. The town policeman.
Train-hoppers – People who ride trains without paying.
Train-hopper’s kit – Such things include ear plugs, goggles, gloves, cardboard, a board, etc.
Trainman – Any member of an over-the-road train crew. See engine man.
Train time – The clock tramps live by, characterized by train schedules rather than a 24-hour day.
Tramp – A migratory non-worker.
Tramp art – Art work made by itinerants and hoboes. Generally made out of wood and is carved making use of simple tools, such as a pocketknife. hoboes making pieces in exchange for room or a meal became the romantic myth for tramp art.
Tramp essentials – They are: water is one of them, because if you’re out it’s the hardest thing to find. Every self-respecting tramp should carry a can opener, a knife, a spoon, tobacco, something to start a fire with. Candles are used to keep warm on wintertime trains. There’s an amazing amount of heat cast by one candle, if you huddle in blankets around it.
Tramp traveler – One whose main occupation is to travel, a tramp.
Transient – The word “transient” is basically a work used to describe individuals who do not fit into other categories. When one gets to know a bit more about the individual, it can be determined what kind of transient he might be.
Trapeze artist – A hobo who rides the gunnells or rods.
Traveler – These are persons who are very similar to a hobo or tramp, but do not relate to being a hobo or tramp. They are usually antiestablishment much like the “hippies” of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Traveler or traveller – A person who travels.
Turkey – A bundle, a suitcase or a canvas bag.
Turned down – Refused a mean or handout.
Twist a dream – To roll a cigarette.
Two-bit – Two-bit is American and Candian slang for worth next to nothing; cheap
Umbrella mushrooms – The itinerant umbrella fixers who travel around as hoboes or tramps.
Uncle Sam – A railway Post Office clerk.
Undercarriage – That portion of a freight car underneath the floor or chassis.
Uneducated – The act of confessing something you should not or did not do, having no smarts.
V – Five dollars. Source: American Tramp and Underworld Slang.
Vag or vag ’em – To be jailed or fanned out of town for being a vag.
Vagabond – One who wanders from place to place without any visible means of support. A tramp who wanders aimless.
Vagrant – A person without a settled home, vagabond or tramp. Many be one who wanders about or just has no place to go.
Vagrant (3)- From the Latin for “wander,” vagrant should be used as a romantic adjective for “undecided.”
Vampires of the road – These are gangs that often stick to one railroad line. They rob from hoboes. They wear black shirts and slouched hats.
Wander, wander, wandering – To move or travel about without destination or purpose, to roam or rove
Wanderlust – An impulse to travel. Comes from the German system of apprenticeship, where the apprentice has to leave his master midway in his apprenticeship and go off in search of a new master to complete his apprenticeship.
Westbound – A train a hobo dies on. Also see big hole of the sky.
Wet head – A person who has consumed so much alcohol in a lifetime that physical recovery is impossible.
Whistle up – A short cadence of whistle blasts which signaled brakeman on moving trains in the 19th century to manually release hand brakes. Also see whistle down.
White collar – A businessman.
White mule – Old-fashioned white corn whiskey.
Wind ’em up (verb) – To set hand brakes manually with a brake wheel and winding staff. The winding staff was also used to club hoboes over the head.
Wino – An alcoholic, a person who drinks cheap wine. A person who begs or only works for that next drink. Those who drink the dago red wine of California.
Wobblie – A member of the I.W.W. union. See I.W.W.
Wobblies – Hobos who belong to the I. W. W.
Wooden nickels – Carved wooden nickels was a common hobby among hoboes. Some of them were quite skilled at it and carried elaborate sets of carving tools with them, including tiny chisels, files, and clamps. They would trade these nickels for food, money, or a night’s shelter.
Working for God – The job of being a mission stiff. To be actively engaged around the fisheries or missions.
Yahoo – A hoosier who has no apologies for his ignorance.
Yard – An area where railroad trains are made up, stored or repaired.
Yard billy – See billy goat.
Yard dick – A private policeman of the railroads who makes it his business to keep hobos off the trains.
Yard foreman – A freight yard worker who supervises all aspects of yard operations within yard limits.
Yard limit – The two edges of a freight yard, delimited by yard limits boars or “Y’s.”
Yard man – A person or laborer who works in a rail yard.
Yard master – A railroad official having charge of a yard.
Yard office – The nerve center of a switching yard’s operation. Often a single depot, equally often a tower or communications center.
Yegg – A hobo criminal, usually one who made his living by stealing from working hoboes. Uncommon by the 1930’s.
Yuppie hoboes or recreational riders – They hop freights for the adventure, to seek inspiration, and as a respite from the tensions and stress of their everyday lives. The younger generation of riders includes artists, punks, and college students.