Special Reports

Dinner with hobos in 1963

Hollywood has put a great spin on hobos, the closest many of us have ever been to the wandering souls. This story, published not that far back, makes the reality a little grittier.

Christmas dinner shared in Pasco hobo jungles

By Charles Lamb

Tri-City Herald reporter

Published on December 24, 1963

Santa Claus won’t be there, but the spirit of Christmas will not be altogether lacking tonight and tomorrow in the Pasco hobo jungles.

There will be the usual good fellowship among the “knights in sooty armor.” And there will be a more unselfish sharing of substance and practicing of the Golden rule than in many societies.

“We’ll put what meat, vegetables and other groceries we have in a big can of water, and make some stew,” said Everett Reynolds, whose temporary address today was a campfire near the old Northern Pacific icehouse.

He said the “help-a-buddy” system is not only the transient’s way of life, but often enables him to keep on living. Reynolds has seen lean days in his 17 years on the road, but his friends have never let him starve.

“A working tramp will always split a blanket, share his grub, or lend a friend an extra pair of shoes,” declared Reynolds. He said “somewhere down the line,” the recipient of the favor always has a chance to pay his benefactor back.

Many transients will eat Christmas dinner at the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission -- known in the jungles as the best facility of its kind in the state. The men around Reynolds’ fire were unanimous in their gratitude for help they have received both at the Mission and St. Vincent De Paul Society store in Pasco.

Although no hobo jungle inhabitants hang up Christmas stockings or listen for sleigh bells, there are “gifts” that all dream about. “We could all stand a little more public understanding and tolerance,” Reynolds explained.

He pointed out that only a small share of the men who ride freight trains and sleep in jungles are real hoboes -- the kind of person who has given up, won’t accept employment and lives from one mission to the next.

“We call them mission stiffs,” he said.

“The rest of us are migrant farm laborers temporarily out of work,” he explained. Reynolds said two factors -- automation and importation of Mexican nationals -- are making the transient’s lot “rougher to hoe” each year.

He said fruit growers in the Okanogan and Yakima Valleys guarantee wages and living conditions for the so-called “wetback,” who takes his money back to Mexico at the end of the season.

“Lots of guys, including Americans of Mexican origin, are burned up about this,” the transient spokesman said, adding, “We figure we should receive at least equal treatment.” He said some predict the nationals will eventually take over all the country’s farm labor.

Another “hard row” for transients is being frequently “rousted” by police. “When a crime is committed, they round the tramps up right away,” the veteran transient complained.

He added, philosophically, “I suppose they have to pinch someone to impress their superiors, while they’re looking for the one who really did it.” He said some of his friends have accumulated big police “rapsheets” over the years,” without committing anything worse than vagrancy.

Partly because of this, many transients prefer to be known only by “nicknames.” Other prefer the sobriquets to avoid being identified in the roles they formerly pursued.

Reynolds said he’s met ex-servicemen from colonels on down, a few ex-lawyers and one former physician during his travels.

“I know one bearded former college professor who can sit around a fire and recite Shakespeare and Greek mythology by the hour,” he declared.

Nicknames of men who are well known in Pacific Northwest transient circles include Popeye, T-Bone, Shorty, Ironhead, Mulehead, and Christmas Tree.

The story of how Christmas Tree got his name will probably be retold today over cans of stew in more than one hobo jungle in Washington. Reynolds said probably a toast or two will be offered in the man’s honor.