"Hoe boy" sent on "westbound to heaven" in NY Times

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Mon Jan 26 12:25:29 UTC 2004

(Photo caption--ed.)
Rudy Phillips, in 1999, who spent his teenage years riding the rails, has, in
the time-honored hobo saying, caught "the westbound to heaven.

Rambling Rudy Phillips, 92, Onetime King of Hobos, Dies


Published: January 25, 2004

Rambling Rudy Phillips, who spent his teenage years hopping freight trains to
everywhere and nowhere and lived to become one of America's last and
best-known Depression-era hobos, died on Jan. 9 in Harrisburg, Ill.

He was 92 when he caught "the westbound to heaven," in the time-honored hobo
saying, his son Rudy said. He lived in a nursing home in Eldorado, Ill.

In 1986, Mr. Phillips was crowned King of the Hobos at the National Hobo
Convention in Britt, Iowa, an event that began in 1900 when a group of hobos from
Chicago who called themselves Tourists Union No. 63 began convening there.

Since 1933, the Britt Chamber of Commerce has sponsored what became an almost
annual event as an allure to tourists. Rambling Rudy, like 44 kings before
him and 17 after, was crowned with an empty coffee can.

"It was a great life," Mr. Phillips told the crowd in a speech that told of
his confinement in 27 jails as he traveled the rails in 48 states for seven
years, beginning when he was 14. "I'd do it all over again."

Mr. Phillips seems to have convinced many that he was the last of the
Depression-era hobos, but that was probably something of a stretch. When a third of
America was out of work, historians have estimated, about four million people
crisscrossed the country on freight trains in search of food, work or
adventure. Some 250,000 of them were teenagers, a number of whom are undoubtedly still

When Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys started making their 1997 documentary film,
"Riding the Rails," they solicited responses from the former "road kids," and
said they received 3,000 answers from across the United States.

But Mr. Phillips sought and received exceptional attention for his long-ago
exploits by maintaining a free hobo museum in a shed in the backyard of his
home in Shawneetown, Ill., and by making speeches and giving interviews. He was
good at telling stories, for example his account of arriving at one of the
country's largest hobo encampments, or jungles.

"I got there about sundown, half-starved, and, before my eyes on the American
River, I could see thousands of campfires," he said in an interview with The
Evansville Courier and Press in 1999. "I went to the nearest hobo jungle and
smelled something cooking."

In his later life, he passed out cards defining a hobo as a man who travels
to work; a tramp as a man who travels and won't work, and a bum as a man who
won't work. Those are definitions that most hobos accept, but the derivation of
the word hobo is murkier. Many etymologists trace it back to the days after
the Civil War when traveling men carried hoes with them, and hence were called
"hoe boys."

   "Days" after the Civil War?  Sam Clements has traced "hobo" to the late
1880s.  Sam--write in.
   "Many etymologists" trace it to "hoe boy"?  Who are they?  Is there one?
   A hobo from Illinois gets about 22 paragraphs in the New York Times?

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