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Lessons from the Hobo Express

A Literary Poem by Linda (Miner) Bryan

See "The Raspberry Patch" and "The Springhouse"

Born in Ohio, G. Wilbur Miner, also known as "William G. Miner," was a longtime railroader in Altoona, Cambria County, PA, home of the famed "horseshoe curve."  He retired in 1942 as a conductor with the Pittsburgh Division of the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad and was a member of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, a union organization founded in 1883.  He most decidedly was not a "hobo" as the word is understood in today's American culture.

William's great-granddaughter Linda (Miner) Bryan is a writer of literary poetry. She uses her family experiences as source material, with her work based on "many kernels of truth and fact but poetic license is used," she says. Linda remembers as a young girl, sitting at William's farm house and hearing about him talk of riding the rails to pick apples or whatever else he could do to make money. "It was always fascinating to hear him talk," she says. "He gave me a silver dollar with his birthdate on it and of course she still has that treasured coin and his stories to remember him by.

Great Grandpap Miner was a railroad hobo.
Not a bum – a hobo – and there is a difference.
A bum looks for handouts – a hobo looks for work –
Weeding gardens, washing windows, sweeping walks.

Hoisting his wiry, slim body into fast-moving box cars,
Grandpap traveled by rail from Altoona to Seattle earning
Money to send to his mother, brothers and sisters.

Grandpap was a professional apple picker
Which made him more of a man than those rich
Wall Street wimps who couldn’t face the prospect of poverty.
They took the easy way out – spring boarding to a premature
Death by diving out of twentieth story windows leaving
Wives and children to pay for their funerals and
Fend for themselves.

Grandpap spoke a foreign language –
The language of hobos –
Signs left along the side of the road to warn of danger and
Tell of kind ladies who might be willing to feed a poor hobo:

Bypass this place - risk of being arrested.

The police here are not friendly to hobos.

Speak religiously and they'll give.

This water is dangerous to drink.

You can camp here.

I dream I am running along side a box car and
Grandpap sweeps his muscular, strong arm down
Pulling me up into his world.  We ride the rails together –
A little country girl in denim jeans, a buffalo plaid shirt and
Pig tails tied up in red gingham bows and

My hero, now old, his thick coal black hair turned the
Color of silver dollars, his aging cerulean blue eyes,
Pale and translucent.  His tall straight back now
Bent forward.  His long, slim fingers, knarled and stiff.

We’re off to lands unknown –
Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Portland, Seattle.
The cinder dicks – railroad police – call our kind “box car tourists.”
They don’t really mind us but when they pass by we
Hide in the corner just to be sure they aren’t in the mood to
“rustle for bums” that day.

Tonight we’ll make coffee in hobo jungle under the railroad bridge
Using a huge blue granite pot left behind by others.
We’ll fry eggs we found in a basket near a nice lady’s mailbox.
If work is good, we’ll buy a can of pork and beans to share.

Grandpap was a gentleman and much more interesting than
Most of the erudite PhDs I’ve stumbled upon.  He died 
More than forty years ago.  I would love to sit on his porch and
Talk with him once more. But my dreams are only dreams and
I am left to ponder a life well spent – a husband, father,
Grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher and box car tourist
On the Hobo Express.

 

Copyright © 2008 Linda (Miner) Bryan. Republished with permission of the author.