of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc.
Volume XXIII Number 3 August 2006
Those Hobo Days
I liked to hear Johnny Cash sing
that song: "I've Been Everywhere." I always think of
Carl Calhoun of North Manchester and those hobo days in
the 1920s. Do you old timers remember Coonie? That's
what everyone called him. He hung around Blick
Barbershop, next to Brady's Men's Clothing Store on Main
Street. I was just a kid, but I remember Coonie. He was
a well built man, always wore a cap. His face was ruddy
and clean shaven, but when he opened his mouth -- that's
when this boy's eyes popped open.
solid gold-filled teeth. It was as if the front wall of
Fort Knox had fallen out. That was special enough, but
what he would do...
he would be at Blick's, then he would be gone for weeks
or months. Suddenly he would reappear and talk about
wheat fields in Kansas, picking oranges in California
and then apples in Washington state. All of these things
he would see and do by hopping a freight train in North
Manchester and heading out. You see Carl Calhoun had
that wanderlust. He was a true hobo at heart. Well, to
most people in the 1920s in town, Coonie was a world
in North Manchester was a block and a half from the Big
Four Railroad yards. We were in prime territory for hobo
handouts. He always knocked on the back door. Some
offered to mend umbrellas, sharpen knives, etc., but
most just looked pitiful when they looked at my mother.
No fancy grub at our house; bread and butter sandwiches
is what they got! They would sit on the back stoop and
eat, then cross the street to Maude Gill's house where
she was willing to hand out pie. Oh, yes the houses were
marked for handouts.
of North Manchester's size that had a railroad, and we
had two of them, had a hobo jungle as they called them.
A place where the "king of the road" could rest and
compare notes and experiences with others of that
brotherhood. Well, North Manchester had a fine jungle on
the south side of Eel River, just west of the Vandalia
railroad bridge. The Big Four railroad bridge and water
tank were just up the river above the dam.
a well-worn path to the jungle. The site had one other
plus - there was a spring of clear, cool water. There
was always a campfire and a pot of Mulligan stew over
the fire. A new caller was always welcome to the stew
but was expected to contribute vegetables and meat to
the pot, if he planned on an extended stay. All summer
long there were always hobos in that camp - sometimes
three or four and other times a dozen or so.
this 8 - or 9 -year - old boy know? Because Howard
Lindsay and Gail Grossnickle used to spy on them. Boy,
was that exciting, as it was rumored that they cut off
boys' ears if caught in the act of spying on them.
Relax, I am sure those "kings of the road" were well
aware of those d --- kids out there!
as we knew them back in the 1920s are gone. The main
blow came in the 1930s and the Great Depression when
every freight train through Wabash carried hundreds of
unemployed men, looking for work. Some would drop off in
Wabash where they could spend the night in jail,
breakfast in the morning and told to get out of town.
Detroit men headed for St. Louis as St. Louis men were
heading for Detroit for employment. Today the modern
railroad cars have no open door or rods under the cars
to ride on. The age of the hobo, as I remember them, is