“I’m looking for Minneapolis Jewel,” I said to the man standing near where I had been told I could find her. My husband David and I were attending a Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa, and I wanted to say hello to a previous year’s Hobo Queen I had heard about.
“She just left but she’s around here somewhere,” the man said, his grisly face full of warmth not necessarily from his full beard and moustache, but more from a sparkle in his eyes. “I’m Tuck,” he said, holding out his hand in welcome.
“You’re Minneapolis Jewel’s husband,” I said, realizing immediately what a silly thing to say. He knew who he was.
He only smiled and asked, “Where you folks from?” We talked for quite a while, me asking questions about living as a hobo – he answering gracefully. As we began to wander away to visit with other hobos Tuck called after us, “Be sure to join us for supper tonight.” We stopped and turned back to him. “Everybody in camp is welcome to join us for all our meals. We take turns cooking and cleaning. We eat about six o’clock. Just come as you are.”
We had arrived earlier in the day and set up our pickup camper at the edge of the camp where our small unit seemed luxurious in comparison to the many tents and pockets of people sitting beneath shelters of various kinds. We had used up much of the day researching the hobo way of life for my next book, “A Hobo’s Wish.” We spent hours in the hobo museum on the main street of Britt and wandered through the town and back into the hobo jungle encampment, talking with people as we went along. I had copious notes and photographs and needed a rest before the supper hour.
We were pleased with the meal that evening served cafeteria style at a makeshift kitchen. A large covered pavilion accommodated most of us at long tables, while some took their plates to a spot on the ground where they sat cross-legged to eat. We sat next to an elderly man who was sitting alone and was soon joined by a young woman and a tall curly-haired man.
The elderly man was obviously a loner. He said he had been ridin’ the rails for as long as he could remember. He had no wife, no children, and no siblings. He said he can’t work anymore but he’s on social security now, so he takes the bus or hitchhikes his way around the country. He has no home. He still lived a wanderer’s life even though he no longer traveled to find work.
The young woman was a professor at a college and liked to ride the rails for fun and adventure, but admitted it wasn’t easy to get away with it anymore. The man with her, a psychologist, discussed the health benefits of dancing, and was interested in the hobo’s way of life.
That evening we met Minneapolis Jewel and were entertained with poetry readings, music-making, dancing, and a wedding, after which a new king and queen were crowned.
The campfire, that had been started at the beginning of the weekend, was never allowed to die out until the end of the convention. We had missed the first day of the convention and thus had missed the mulligan stew that had cooked over the fire. Mulligan Stew had historically been the fare in hobo jungles during the depression years.
One of the ways in which artistic hobos had earned money to survive during the depression was by carving different faces on buffalo nickels and selling or trading them for much more value than a nickel. One of the hobos at the camp did that and was selling them for a nice profit. Hobos that did a lot of walking and hitchhiking found it helpful to use a walking stick. Tuck made beautiful walking sticks and I purchased one from him, then gathered autographs from various hobos I met. Others at the convention sold hand-made jewelry, wooden items, or second-hand finds. The convention was a restful, peaceful time with people enjoying each other’s company.
The next year when we attended the hobo convention it felt a little like we were visiting with old friends. We were listed in the hobo directory and contributed to the meals. Last year, although I had already published my book, A Hobo’s Wish, I still wanted to attend the annual August hobo convention, but we were unable to attend because of a commitment conflict. I missed being there.
Last week I was saddened to read that Tuck had passed away. In the Star Tribune, journalist David Chanen wrote an article about Darrel “Tuck” Ray, King of the Hobos. He lived the hobo life for 25 years until in 2002 he married Julianna Porrazzo-Ray, better known as “Minneapolis Jewel.” In 2017 Tuck and Minneapolis Jewel were crowned King and Queen of the National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa.
I hope to be in attendance this year on August 9th when Tuck is laid to rest at the Evergreen Cemetery in Britt, a cemetery for hobos who “caught the westbound train” as they describe death. His remains will lie in peace along with many earlier Hobos. My sincere condolence, Minneapolis Jewel.
Rest in peace, Tuck.
- Unfinished Projects
- Murder Mysteries