Hobo Art

Hobo Art
This first is a picture of a tapestry made by The Texas Madman and was
displayed at the 1998 Pennsburg Gathering.  Madman raffled it off there and I
was the lucky winner, to the dismay of many who would have liked to have been
able to take it home.  It's now hanging on my office wall and every visitor, to
my house, is hustled in to admire it.  I apologize for the quality of the
picture which doesn't do it justice.  The tapestry is made up of various sized
pieces of denim and the stitching is a short history of The Texas Madman's 25
years of life on the road and shows the symbols of some of the roads he's

Art Comes In All Forms

Here's a picture of a door handle, made by Oops, out of old railrod

Who sez Hoboes don't know how to recycle?


A Hobo Cup

    Simple cups like this are sometimes made by Hoboes to use or to sell
for a bit of spare change.  This particular cup, made from a tin can, some
copper wire and a hollow stick was made by "Tuck" at the 1998 Pennsburg Hobo

Trains by Larry Penn

aka  Cream City

To see more of Larry's train art check out his web
site at:  http://my.execpc.com/~cookeman/


Great Art by Quiet Mike

    The following is a
wonderful example of the artistic skills of Quiet Mike.  Each year Mike takes
time from his busy schedule to design posters and T-Shirt designs for The Annual
East Coast Hobo Gathering. This particular drawing was on the 1999 T-Shirts and


Another fine drawing by another Hobo Artist, Hobo King
Liberty Justice.

Liberty is also an expert
wood carver and I hope, some day, to have a picture of one of his carvings to
show here.


    Next is a nice piece of simple Hobo Art made, and
given to me, by oops at the 2002 Pennsburg Gathering.  Simple but nice.  Just a
few pieces of scrap wood and some bristles from a road sweeper brush.  A good
way to pick a few bucks for beer oops.  Thank you oops.


Train Whistle

    Art comes in various forms and the following picture not only shows
artistic talent but also the versatility of today's Hobo Craftsmen.  Anybody can
make a wooden whistle but Ohio Tom made these train whistles from actual
railroad spikes and gets a fine quality sound.  


Door Knocker

    The following item is also made by that "poor midwestern boy". Ohio
Tom.  It's made from a slice of old railroad track and a spike.  Decorative, as
well as useful, both this, and the whistle above, show the talent that many
Hoboes have.  Just goes to prove that you can be artistic and creative even if
you've never had no formal book larnin.


"Nuts and Fruit Pits"


   The following pictures of carved nuts and fruit
pit buttons was sent to me by Joss (Jocelyn Howells).  There's no proof that
these, that she has, were actually carved by a Hobo but it's a craft that quite
a few old time Hoboes engaged in.  Anything to make a buck.


Here's a handy, and decorative,

Deadeye Kate sent the following history of these

   The box is called Tramp art and originated in Germany in the 1800's
then carried over to America. It is not exclusively made by tramps or hobos and
can have value from $80-500.- depending on condition and paint.  The American
pieces are more valuable then the German, my sister has one she found for a buck
in SC.  I think they are beautiful.  This particular box was made from wood, not
cigarette packs.  They also used wood from cigar boxes but, really, anything
could be used.

Deadeye Kate


    The pictures of this pillow, and the
explanation following, were sent to me by Robert Corman.  Anyone wishing to
contact Mr. Corman can email him at;         npse@aol.com      If anyone has any further
information about pillows, like this, I would appreciate hearing.

   This is a rare example of tramp art in that I have found no references
in tramp art books to this wonderful pillow form.  Its rarity is further
exemplified by the materials used: cloth, heavy carpet-like fabric and a
stuffing of sawdust.  A great deal of time, skill and passion produced this
sturdy object.  It has the classic pyramidic shape repeated with precision in
row after row of a deep red heavy fabric on the top.  The edges where the top
meets the bottom are notched similar to tramp art woodcarvings. The bottom
exposes a smooth fabric that probably covers the entire object and displays a
light rust color.  The dimensions are 9" x 9" square and 4.5" high, in the
middle. The pillow weighs just under two pounds - 1lb. 15 oz.

    I purchased it in 1974 from the Yesterday Shop, a quite reputable
antique retailer in Mendham, New Jersey that is long gone.   Unfortunately, the
owner knew very little about it.  She only said that it was called an example of
tramp art and that it supposedly was filled with sawdust.  I stored it away from
all the elements, like a fine bottle of wine, for nearly 30 years. It remains
protected and in its excellent condition.  My current interest in it was piqued
when it occurred to me to find out more about it on the Internet.  That led me
to the Hobo Grapevine.  While I currently have no plans for the pillow, I would
like to learn more about it from someone more knowledgeable than myself.  
Someday I would be interested in contributing it to a folk art museum or sell it
to a serious collector.

Robert Corman

    The following is a beautiful example of bottle art
done by Carl Worner at some time in the early 1900s.

see more at  http://sdjones.net/FolkArt/worner.html

  The following are some examples of beautiful old
time wood carving.  Notice the intricate detail and the skillful carving of the
balls in cages and chain links.


   Next are some great carvings by our modern day
artist "The Tanner City Kid".  Note that the chain links are fully functioning
links as in a steel chain and the balls in the cages are loose movable objects
that are carved from the interior wood during the hollowing out process.  I
think you'll agree with me that Tanner's work is as skillful as any of the old


    Here is a figure by another great Hobo wood
carver.  Big Skip carved this figure while at the 2003 Pennsburg gathering.  I
hope, soon, to have more examples of his fine work to show here.

   Next are some fine examples of the carved nickels
that many Hoboes used to produce by hand.  The Boes would carve these, in their
spare time, and sell, or trade them off, for necessities.  Many Boes while
serving time in prison, or on chain gangs, used to carve them in their cells and
give them to guards to gain some favors.  The guards, in turn, would sell them
and pocket the money.  These carved coins are collectors items today but there
are many modern imitations being produced that are merely stamped out imitations
so be careful if you want to buy one.


   The skill of carving these Hobo Nickels is
definitely not a lost art.  Pictured below are two very fine examples of the
work that Mike Pezak of Las Vegas, NV is producing.  Each of Mike's coins are
individually produced, by hand, and they are beautiful works of art.


Monkey's Fist

    This is a fine example of the Monkey's Fist knot that many Hoboes wear
around their necks.  This particular neck piece is one that was made, and given
to me, by Lady Marie and Hobo Spike.

    The metal ring mounted above the knot is made of several strands of
wire and appears to be seamless.   These "Knight of the Road" rings are woven by
Hobo King Frisco Jack and are presented, by him, at a brief ceremony where he
declares the recipient an "Official Knight of the Road".  It was a great honor,
for me, to receive this one from Frisco Jack at the 2001 East Coast Hobo
Gathering in Pennsburg, PA.

Below is a short history of the knot
sent by Hobo Spike.

    In the days of piracy, when there was only wind
power, the sailors had to somehow get the ships together in times of distress. 
This is almost impossible on the high seas.  Someone got the idea to throw a
rope to the other ship to pull them together. This didn't work.  Then it was
decided to tie a rope around a cannonball and sling it to the other ship.  The
problem was that they needed a knot that would stay secure on a round object so
this "Monkey's Fist knot was devised.  It is the only knot that will stay secure
on a round object.

    This knot became
known as a "Monkey's Fist" knot because, as with a monkey, it won't turn loose
of an object.  A monkey will put it's fist inside a jar, grab hold of an object
and won't turn loose.  Therefore anyone can use this plan to catch a

    Since this knot has long
leads, it can be thrown to another ship and became known as a life line.  It was
used to rescue people when ships were in distress.

    The "Monkey's Fist" knot has been adopted by the Hobo
Community as a symbol of sorority and fraternity.  A life line between


"A Brief Bit More Monkey Fist Lore"
following was sent to me by
Ken Cook

    Apart from any fraternal symbolism attached to it, the Monkey's Fist was
also a preferred self defense  weapon among the poor and transient people of the
late 1800s and early 1900s. If you care to research the matter further, check
your local laws. If you do a search of your state's laws, you will find
reference to an illegal weapon called a "Slung Shot." While an improvised

Slung Shot can be made by placing a padlock inside a sock (for one example)
the traditional Slung Shot has always been a Monkey's Fist with a heavy lead
shot loaded inside the knot of the fist and often worn around the neck.

    This line throwing tool turned weapon was first used widely by Sailors,
in agreement with your comments on your page, and slowly spread out from the
Docks and Wharf areas into Depression Era America. The passage of laws against
"Slung Shots" and "Monkey's Fists" was a clear case of Law Enforcement
specifically targeting the transient population. Any "Bo" found to be in
possession of one of these items could be guaranteed a protracted stay on the
County Farm.

Date Nails Neck Wear

Made and sold by The Baloney

If you're ever hoofing it along the rails, look down and you'll see date
nails embedded in the ties.

The date on the nail head is when the tie
was laid.


These paintings were done by an unknown
Hobo about 1940