Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Vicky Dorvee

The American Hobo caps off Niwot Historical Society’s 2017 lecture series


October 15, 2017

The final lecture of this year’s Niwot Historical Society (NHS) series will be 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the Left Hand Valley Grange Hall, 195 2nd Avenue in Niwot. Every other year NHS features a railroad-themed lecture. The upcoming train-related talk will be given by railroad historian and former curator of the Colorado Railroad Museum, Lauren Giebler. Giebler will present the captivating history of the American hobo experience.

The term “riding the rails” was used to describe those who jumped aboard freight trains without permission and commandeered their way from one place to another. Although stereotypes might conjure up this phenomenon as a Great Depression era-inspired occurrence, hobos have been around since the late 1800s.

Drifters who explored the country by way of free-loading on trains did so for many reasons. Thousands of people, from migrant workers to displaced war veterans, from American socialists to those simply in search of an adventure, felt compelled to surreptitiously journey along the rails. How their lives unfolded as they ambled from one place to another made for a hefty volume of fascinating stories.

Niwot resident Pat Murphy plans to attend the lecture. She fondly recalls her summers in the 1950s while working in her grandma’s Illinois restaurant on Route 66 and the annual summer influx of hobos. The family’s business was located close to the railroad tracks and provided an opportunity for seasonal workers to be employed in the historic restaurant and to maintain the grounds.

“They [hobos] were around all summer and sometimes the same guys would come back the next year. They were nice, and we really got to know them. They’d work for money and they would be fed too,” Murphy said. Murphy remembers that the hobos had a system marking the outside of businesses as being hobo friendly, so they felt welcome to approach and ask for work or food.

Patty Strecker, also a Niwotian, has wonderful memories of hobos whom she met while growing up on her family’s Minnesota farm. Her favorite gentleman was Elsie and to this day, Strecker wonders what became of him. Her memories of being around hobos are that it almost felt like experiencing an exotic culture.

Doors for The American Hobo lecture open at 6:30 p.m., for pre-lecture coffee and conversation. The presentation begins at 7 p.m. Admission is free to Niwot Historical Society members or $5 for non-members. The hall is handicap accessible.

Next year’s series will kick off on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Buffalo Bill Cody’s life will be the focus of the presentation given by Steve Friesen, director of Buffalo Bill Cody Museum and Grave.

The Niwot Historical Society’s mission is to preserve, collect, and protect the history of Niwot and the surrounding area. Their most current project is raising funds to restore the historic Niwot Fire House Museum on 2nd Avenue. To join the Niwot Historical Society, which is a 501 (c)3 non- profit organization, an individual membership is $15 and families are $25. All donations are tax deductible. For additional information, please visit http://www.NiwotHistoricalSociety.org.


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