Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A visit with author Dandi Daley Mackall

The illustration at right is my version of a hobo mark found in Dandi Daley Mackall's glossary in her book, Rudy Rides the Rails : A Depression Era Story. I've seen other versions of cats as marks and the common thread seems to be 'kindness" or "kindhearted".

I thought I'd include a mark with this entry because Ms. Mackall talks about this very topic as she shares how she came to meet Rudy and what inspired her interest in hobos. Enjoy!

Dandi Daley Mackall wrote:

"When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother telling me about the hoboes who hopped off the freights in our little town of Hamilton, Missouri. She said they’d walk up the tracks, past four houses, and head straight for her house. She’d always give them something—usually a piece of pie; but she wondered how they knew. Then a friend showed her that the big tree in front of her house had a carving on it, the face of a smiling cat.

Years later (and a couple of hundred books later), I thought about the symbol and started researching other hobo signs. Then I got hooked. I read and read about the Depression and the hoboes. I hopped onto Internet bulletin boards and joined discussions. I “met” groups of modern hoboes, lots of college and seminary professors, who spend summers hopping freights across the country. Several of them told me, “You have to talk to Rudy Phillips, perhaps the oldest living hobo who rode the rails in the Great Depression.”

So one Sunday, I called Rudy in Shawneetown, IL. We talked for over an hour that day, and Rudy delighted me with stories of hobo jungles and “catching the blue,” “riding the cowcatcher.” After that, I phoned him every Sunday, and we talked—he talked, and I listened. I sent him a tape recorder and tapes and a mailer, and he talked for hours, recalling the smell of the boxcar, the routes and changing stations, what people were wearing—all the great details. Finally, my husband and I journeyed to see Rudy. I spent a whole day with him, and he was even better in person. Rudy was 90 when I was working on this book (and my husband said as we drove home—“90 years old, and the guy was hitting on you!” Rudy gave me the dictionary of hobo signs that appears in the back of the book, along with definitions and terms, which I’ve defined in the glossary. He knew all about the book I was writing, although he died just before it came out. I dedicated the book to Rudy, who “caught the Westbound,” the term he used for his old friends passing on to a better life.

After the book came out this past year, I was invited to join in the International Hobo Convention in Britt, IA. It was wonderful to meet so many who knew and loved Rudy—what great people, and what a terrific heritage. Many of the hoboes—like Mama Jo and Hobo Santa--now have ministries to the homeless.

Dear Dandi,

Thank you so sharing this beautiful story! I've included a link to the Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa. Dandi will be among the celebrated guests at the next convention in July, 2008. Good luck, Dandi, and thank you, again!!


http://www.hobo.com/ Hobo Museum Britt, Iowa

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