The Cross-Country "Hobo Fiddle" Cigar Box Guitar
Early in the summer of 2021, I embarked on a two-week 8,400-mile solo journey around America by train. This adventure was equal parts post-modern walkabout, mid-life crisis, and long-awaited escape after two years of COVID lockdowns.
My sole companion throughout this momentous journey was my trusty little Hobo Fiddle, a style of cigar box guitar I created a few years back. It’s a funky little thing, a cross between a ukulele and a guitar, envisioned with the goal of building the sort of instrument that an old hobo might have been able to piece together from cast-off materials found along the train tracks. The body of the instrument is an old wooden cigar box, and travel-size at only two feet in length. It has three nylon strings with a rich, warm and gentle tone that is a joy to sing along with. This little homemade instrument provided the accompaniment for my epic journey.
As the miles and days rolled by and the scenes of America’s vast beauty flashed past the windows of my sleeper car, I would pull my Hobo Fiddle out and pick a song or two. Sometimes I would set up my phone and record a video, but more often I would just strum and sing or hum as the tack-side scenes glided past. I always played and sang quietly so as not to disturb my fellow passengers, and the gentle sounds seemed to fit with the clatter of the wheels and the calling of the locomotive horns up at the front of the train.
This little Hobo Fiddle has certainly done some traveling since I built it back in 2017, riding along with me on various train journeys, jet flights and road trips. I have carried it through the streets of New Orleans, New York, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles, and strolled on the beaches of sunny Florida while strumming its strings. In a month we’ll embark once again, heading down to New Orleans once more on trains, by way of Chicago. There are more songs yet to sing and more stories to tell.
Speaking of stories, to read the full tale of my epic train journey around the country, check out my book “The Ramblin’ Railfan: A Trip Around America By Train”. In it I chronicle the highs and lows of my two weeks riding the rails, in a way that will appeal not just to railfans but anyone interested in history and American adventure. We also have a kit for building your own Hobo Fiddle... train tickets not included!
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