For 19th Century Hobos and 21st Century Executives
By Bo Keeley

An ethical code was created by Tourist Union #63 at its 1889 National Hobo Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. One century later at the Britt, Iowa, National Hobo Convention a hobo in paint-spattered overalls sided me and said I might like to join Tourist Union #63.

The story goes that in the mid-1800s several hobos found themselves in a jungle next to a mainline with something in common. They all had been repeatedly kicked out of RR yards, off trains, and out of towns because they had no visible means of support. It did no good to explain they were migratory hobos, and they had all seen the insides of the cross-bar hotel.

A nationwide organization was needed to protect the hobo migrant workers’ passage, and the grassroots Tourist Union #63 was formed on the spot. The articles stated that every hobo would not be prosecuted for vagrancy while riding to or in any town attempting to gain even a few hours of employment.

Sixty-three founding hobos were present that afternoon; hence the union name. It was registered in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in August of each year—in Britt starting from 1900—the Tourist Union #63 held a National Hobo Convention to renew friendships, collect annual dues, and sign up new members.

I gave him $5 and he handed me a booklet to sign after I’d studied and agreed to the Hobo Code of Ethics, and then turned on his heels and walked away.

The code reads this way and I show it to my executives for their amusement and edification:

  1. Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.
  2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
  3. Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation—locals or other hobos.
  4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
  5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
  6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos.
  7. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
  8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
  9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
  10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
  11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
  12. Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
  13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children; expose all molesters to authorities, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
  14. Help all runaway children and encourage them to return home.
  15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
  16. If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!