Railroad Stories: Hobos Abounded in Sweetwater, Tennessee

Hobos frequented Hobo Springs and my family's sheep farm.

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I'm sitting here at Hobo Springs, down by the railroad tracks, with memories and pictures in my mind of long ago. I can still see the old freight trains coming down the tracks, the hobos riding along under the old black smoke.

All through the night you could hear the rumble of the trains and their whistles blowing as they went by

Hobo Springs and the sheep farm of EA. McCosh, three miles south of Sweetwater, Tenn. The old Hobo Springs is where the hobos would get off the train to get a drink of spring water while the trains filled the old boiler up at the water tank.

There were freight trains, passenger trains, mail trains and troop trains carrying soldiers during World War II. They all ran by the old Hobo Springs, the sheep farm and the old farmhouse that stood nearby.

The hobos sometimes played cards and rolled dice while they waited for the train to fill up with water or switch tracks for another train to go by. Or sometimes it was because they had to wait until the brakeman was out of sight, so they could climb back on and ride. Sometimes they ended up staying overnight, sleeping in the old farm barn.

The hobos would sometimes go by the back door of the farmhouse and ask for food or a place to sleep.

Hobo Springs and the sheep farm will always be a memory for me. I was only 6 years old, but I still remember those days, because I was the lad who lived in that old farmhouse on the sheep farm. Hobo Springs is a legend now, just like Jimmy Rodgers, when he sang about the blues and hobos, and the trains he hoboed and rode.

Today, those songs and stories live on. Hobo Springs is still there, by the railroad tracks and the farm, but the hobos and sheep are gone. Only in the memories of yesteryear, from 1941-1949, do they live on.

Ralph W. Robinson
Sweetwater, Tenn.

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.