Railroad Stories: Hobos Shared Code

Marking trees was the code for hobos to know which houses would feed them.

| Good Old Days

When I was a little girl, we lived on a farm where the railroad ran behind our grove and apple orchard. As a result of living so close to town, and to the railroad, we had a lot of hobos come to our door.

My mother always gave them something to eat. I asked her one day why there were always so many hobos around our house. She told me they put some sort of marks on the trees, telling other hobos that they could get a meal at the house. We also had a lot of gypsies come to our farm wanting to bargain for chickens or whatever they could get.

There was a beet dump on the train line, just across the road from the county school I went to. One of the students' mother worked in the office, so at recess and lunch, we would run over there. If we were late getting back, however, there were consequences, not to our liking. I guess we never learned because we kept right on sneaking over there.

One day during World War I, my mother told us to go outside and watch for the train to go by. She said her brother was supposed to be on it, headed for his Army camp. I was fascinated by trains, and still am.

Lenora Kiewiet
Buffalo Center, Iowa

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. 

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