Soup Can Coffee
In the 1950’s any town or city with good railroad connections had hobos. In Spokane there was a good size hobo camp (commonly called hobo jungle) adjacent to the stockyards. Unlike the bums and drunks on skid row or in the sleazy downtown areas, the hobos were generally people who preferred to live a migratory life riding the rails. Many of them had small incomes which they collected via general delivery mail as they went around the country. Most of them supported their needs by taking day jobs and odd jobs for cash. The hobo jungles were self ruled and self policed by the hobos. They looked out for and took care of each other. They were drop outs from society, but because of personal preference, not because they had to live a migratory life.The hobos shouldn’t be confused with the tramps, bums, drunks, and panhandlers who also existed in the city.
Our trips to the hobo jungle were always a great adventure. We would go with two or three of us kids and spend most of the day with them. Our day started around eight in the morning. We would pack shopping bags with sandwiches, fruit, canned food, and leftovers for the hobos. We never told anybody where we were going and our moms thought all the food was for us. We would ride the couple miles on our bikes and leave them leaning on the stockyard pens while visiting the hobos.
The hobo jungle was a hodge-podge of temporary shelters made from anything and everything. Cardboard was the most common building material. There were several areas with a campfire surrounded by a bunch of makeshift seats in a circle. We never visited the hobos when their wasn’t coffee being boiled over one of the fires. We were offered, and always accepted, a soup can half full of hot coffee. Most of the utensils and cooking containers were made from some type of tin can. The exception was coffee, which was always in a pot.
We always received a warm welcome from the hobos. They enjoyed being in contact with kids and our full bags of food contributed greatly to our popularity. We would sit around the fire, listen to their stories, and hear about all the places they had been. They provided a great insight into how they lived and how the grapevine along the rails kept everyone informed of conditions around the country. Little did we know their culture would no longer exist by the time we became adults.
The hobos were lacking material possessions………but they lived a lifestyle rich in freedom and choice which has been lost forever.