Hobo Jungle

25 05 2011

“Take me back to Hobo Jungle, that’s where I wanna be.

Sittin’ round listenin’ to the old men talk about their dreams and their fantasies.

Listenin’ to them talk about the places they’ve been and the places they’re gonna go.

Through the shadows of my past to the valley of my memories, to Hobo Jungle once more.”

 That’s the chorus to a song I wrote a number of years ago and, to you younger readers yes, this was an actual place or should I say places.  Tracing their early development to before the Civil War, Hobo Jungles have etched out a place in American culture. Located generally near railroad tracks where the trains slow down or came to a stop, these little wooded areas were a temporary oasis to the infamous boxcar riders who knew of their existence.  It was a place where well-traveled vagabonds could go, get information about the town from others there; perhaps a little food and a little rest in make shift bungalows. Mostly it was some place to stay away from the general population of the local community since these travelers were not looked on very highly.  

 The Hobo Jungle I knew back inFremont,Ohiowas hidden along the west side of town with theSanduskyRiverbordering one side and the rail line on the other.  It laid about a quarter mile south ofStateStreetBridge, which was the dividing line for the town.  It was in approximately one acre of very thick woods and brush. The only entry into this secret sanctuary was a small well-worn path leading into its heart, but no outsiders dared to go in from fear of the stories that circulated over the ages.  Dreaded consequences awaited any outsider who dared to enter the realm call Hobo Jungle.   I had been warned, maybe even terrified into believing that this was no place that I should ever venture and I strongly believed it; well maybe for a while in my preteen days.  Truth was I had a knack for doing things that I was told not to, mostly out of curiosity.  Somewhere around fifteen, I acquired a taste for beer; and a couple of my buddies and I would indulge in drinking our new favorite beverage every chance we could.  One major problem, as I said, I was only fifteen, which doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that it was illegal for me, too, but usually we could get an older teen to buy it for us, at a price, since you could get what was called 3.2 beer at age eighteen back then.  When none of our older devotees to the fruit of the barley were available, we knew there was one place to go to find a willing recruit to make the purchase, Hobo Jungle.  

 After the sun went down, we would walk down the tracks to where the path led into the jungle and just stand there.  Even though we no longer believed many of the heinous tales that had been told, we still would not risk entering this domain, and we would never go alone. The hobos knew the routine well from years of catering to the wants of teens looking for a buyer.  They also knew to never approach us with more than one.  If we saw a couple coming, we would be out of there in a flash.  It generally didn’t take more than a few minutes before one of these raggedy travelers would appear.  We would give him a five and he would head to the store and get a $1.99 six-pack of beer.  The rest of the five would be spent on the best .99 cent bottle of wine money could buy.  These were the kinds of wine that still had the grape skins floating around in the bottle, but these old boys loved it.  Upon the return of our ragged courier, we would make our way back up river near the bridge, and sit there with our provider for an evening of drinking, talking and even laughing.  

 These men would have colorful names like Curly Bob and Split Eye.   They would have even more colorful stories of accomplishments and adventures they experienced over a lifetime.  The stories that unfolded of riding the rail and how it was the best way to observe this grand country were sometimes riveting.  They would talk about seeing splendid scenery such as mountains, lakes, rivers, oceans and picturesque terrains of wild flowers and natural vegetation.  They would tell of major cities likeNew YorkandChicago, knowing what festivals were going on at the time or where the best places were for the finest handouts of good food and drink. They would talk about having to be in certain regions of the country at different times of the year for employment such as helping farmers bring in the crops; but then it was back on the rail.  These Rembrandts of the “canvas of the mind” would paint such wonderful and vivid pictures of their lives in our brains that we wished we could go with them to see and witness all these unique places and be free spirits like them.  But as so often happens, the effects of the wine would start to take hold of our story teller and a somberness would come over them. I believe it was at those points the true reality of their situation would bear down on them.  Then the narrative would turn to telling how they didn’t have anything to show for their lives, or anyone to care for, or who cared for them. What was once  a moment of laughter and glee now evolved into anger for the condition in which they found themselves and the anger would turn to us with rebuking words for what we were doing, throwing our lives away drinking with a bum when we should be at home with the ones who loved and cared for us and wanted to see our lives turn out better than theirs had.  On this one occasion, we were told to leave with a strong warning never to come near the jungle again.  We left knowing that would all change the next time we showed up with another five.  

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:18  

My vagabond friends of yesterday made an attempt to make their life seem glamorous and more than what it was.  But in truth, they really had not gained anything from the direction they had taken in life.  As easy as it was to impress our young minds with thoughts of an existence that seemed fascinating, the true fact of the matter was that their direction was a dead end street with no gains to show.  No offense meant here, but through the years, I have seen others follow a same type of path, so to speak, but on higher planes–those who dedicated to a life of pleasure, money and personal gain.  But when all is said and done, they never achieved the happiness they had hoped and expected. Some have mirrored the sadness of the jungle dwellers; no one to care for or who care for them.  Again, as I always try to reiterate, I speak of myself.  I have found a truer picture of what lies in store not by what I have gained or done here on earth, which does have an importance when put into proper perspective, but what I am promised with Heaven by the sacrifice and love of my Savior, Jesus Christ.  When my focus is upon Him, the matters of what I have or have not accomplished seem so insignificant to what He has given and accomplished by His love for me.  No complaints, no disappointments, only a clear focus for where I’m going and what waits for me.

May your journey through life be a pleasant experience; may your failures and set backs be few.  May God implant in your heart that the best still lies ahead for all eternity.




One response

26 05 2011
Bob Salyer

Good to see you back in action again John. Throughly enjoyed the article and yes, I have seen many with the Hobo Jungle mentality who didn’t even live there. Keep it up and hope everything is going well with you and Cathy.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: