A railroad traveler, who whistled while he worked for food, inspired the name of this handmade musical instrument.
Since Ben "Gitty" Baker wrote the book, The Legend of the Hobo Fiddle, friends of Gitty have been sharing their own regional railrider tales and personal hobo encounters.These stories show the rich history of people who crossed the United States of America by railcar, searching for work, for food, and for a better life. Here is one such story, shared by friend of C. B. Gitty Crafter Supply, Jimmy C.
When I was a little kid, my family was living in a little western Pennsylvania river town called Beaver Falls. One of the main lines of the P&LE (Pennsylvania and Lake Erie railroad) ran right behind our house. Across the tracks were the banks of the Beaver River, hence the name of the town. Funny how the railroads followed the rivers path of least resistance, huh?
Any how, once or twice every summer we would have an unannounced visitor at our house. There’d be a sharp rap at our kitchen door and this unmistakable voice would sing out, “Women of the house”! My mother would answer the door with me in tow and there he’d be: a real live hobo.
Now there was always talk amongst us kids about a hobo camp down by the river and we all had a tale or two (completely made up) about our own personal encounters with hobos, but here was one right at my kitchen door! “Madam”, he’d say, “a little honest work for breakfast”? My mother, taskmaster that she was always had something for him to do. Move a pile of bricks, pull some weeds, something.
When she thought his labor equaled food she’d call him to the kitchen door with a couple eggs, a couple pieces of toast and a cup of black coffee. He’d sit down on the porch steps and eat that breakfast like he was never going to eat again. Who knows? Meals were probably few and far between.
Those dishes, when he handed them back looked as tho they had been washed already. He didn’t waste a crumb. My mother had a special set of dishes she gave him to eat from and she kept them on a shelf in the cellar way. I thought he had his own dishes because he was a special visitor but I’m sure my mother was convinced she could never get those dishes clean enough for us to ever eat off of again.
This hobo was the dirtiest and skinniest fellow I had ever set eyes on. He wore a suit and vest; what at one time passed for a white shirt and a hat. He’d stand and tip that hat and thank my mother and this old scarecrow of a man would saunter off in the direction of the railroad tracks. We might see him again that summer and we might not, we never knew.
One summer he didn’t show up at all and I never saw him again. I remember thinking that maybe he got a job, or maybe he was traveling in another part of the country, or maybe he just went home. We never knew. But I did know that there was something that was just a little off that long ago summer when Ike was still our President.
More from Jimmy...
"Ben’s excitement over the Hobo Fiddles was contagious and inspired me to build one of my own. I’m calling mine ‘The Whistler’ because when the ol' hobo was working in our yard I was right at his heels.
I’m sure my mom was keeping a close eye on me; I was just a little guy. I remember talking to him nonstop and not getting much more than a grunt as a reply but the whole time he was working, he was whistling. No tune that I recognized, but he whistled while he was working. So I am dedicating this pretty little instrument to the memory of the whistling hobo.Thanks for letting me tell my story guys." - Jimmy C.
Stories such as Jimmy's give life to the instruments we build, filling the vast emptiness that otherwise surrounds mass-produced conventional instruments. And we love reading every one of those stories you share with us!
If you have a story about your hobo fiddle and the events that inspired its creation, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps we can share your story here, too!
For more hobo fiddle fun, check out Chuck K.'s tale, The Bean Hill Hobo Fiddle: A True Story.
Haven't yet built your own hobo fiddle? No worries. We've got the parts you need to get crackin'!
Check out Jimmy's hobo fiddle above. The Whistler was made with...
And the book that lit the hobo fiddle fire that burns throughout the cigar box guitar community...
What's does your hobo fiddle legend look like?