Charles Velsek discusses life as a hobo

Shot for Communications for Change's "Documenting Social History: Chicago's Elderly Speak" oral history series. In this video, Charles Velsek talks about his experiences living as a hobo in the 1920s.

0:01Copy video clip URL Charles Velsek talks about his hobo experiences throughout the country. Velsek began begging for food and train-hopping to travel through the country. He eventually returned to Chicago and worked a string of short-term jobs before he and several others decided to embark on another hobo trip. Some of them decided to join the navy, which Velsek had absolutely no interest in, so the group split and Velsek began begging again.

8:01Copy video clip URL The interviewer asks Velsek if he can provide insight into the difference between a bum, a hobo, and a wino. He defines a hobo as a migratory worker who works when he can, moves when he cannot, and keeps moving until he can find another job. He defines a bum as someone who generally stays in one place, and are often winos, who drink excessively. Hobos generally despise winos because they make it more difficult to beg. Velsek says winos are excluded from “jungles,” which are camps where hobos can cook food and clean their clothes.

11:37Copy video clip URL Velsek says that, in his experience, black hobos could make more money than white hobos because people often felt sorry for them, realizing that it was much more difficult for a black man to find a job. He also says that life as a hobo was easier in the west than in the east, because a lot of the work in that region was migratory, so work was easier to find, people were more sympathetic, and he was rarely hassled by police.

14:32Copy video clip URL Velsek talks about the times in the early 1920s when hobos would stop by Palm Springs, CA to bathe in the hot springs, back before the area was built up into an expensive resort city. He goes on to describe belonging to a group which was stopped and searched by detectives on a train car when leaving Sheridan, WY. They discovered that their IWW cards had been taken by the detectives.

19:18Copy video clip URL Velsek returned to Chicago and then decided to travel east. He was arrested in Massachusetts in 1925 for sleeping in a boxcar, receiving a suspended sentence, but he was arrested again a year later in the same area. He went to prison, but an officer at the jail found him a decent jail cell and a good job after seeing Velsek’s IWW card. The man turned out to be an ex-policeman who lost out during the police strike of 1919 in Boston.

24:55Copy video clip URL Velsek talks about his experience being stopped by immigration officers at the US-Mexico border. He also describes his later experiences traveling through California.

31:26Copy video clip URL End of recording.

32:07Copy video clip URL End of tape.

 

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