National Hobo Convention
The National Hobo Convention is held on the second weekend of every August since 1900 in the town of Britt, Iowa, organized by the local Chamber of Commerce, and known throughout the town as the annual "Hobo Day" celebration. The National Hobo Convention is the largest gathering of hobos, rail-riders, and tramps, who gather to celebrate the American traveling worker.
Traditionally there has been a parade on the Saturday at 10:00 a.m., where everyone can let their hobo spirit soar as they participate in the parade. A phrase that describes the parade is, "Some in rags, some in tags, some in velvet gowns."
According to the Chamber of Commerce:
- "Whether you're part of this large grand parade, or a spectator, the spirit of the day is sure to capture your mood. Marching bands, queens, business floats, children, adults, and hobos all come down the streets in one long line and share the fun that only a Hobo Convention can provide."
From a Convention attendee:
Britt's "Hobo Days" celebration usually draws about 20,000 tourists over several days, and about 75 or 80 tramps. There is usually a carnival installed on the main drag, with a small Ferris wheel, Tilt-a-Whirl rides and so on. Most of the rides are more suitable for smaller children. There are various food service trucks selling barbecue, pork-chop-on-a-stick, cotton candy and so on. There are often people with sort of "flea market" tables, "farmer's market" tables selling local produce, etc. Of course, the Hobo Museum is open, and Ms. Castillo's portraits of the Hobo Kings and Queens are on display. During most conventions there is usually live music somewhere downtown in the late afternoon and at night. Saturday morning there is the "Hobo Days" parade. It's a lot like a small-town Fourth of July celebration. The parade includes fire trucks, local high school marching bands, ROTC units, antique cars, 4-H Club and FFA clubs on horseback, restored antique tractors and farm equipment and so forth. There is always a trailer float for the hobos to ride. Hobos who participate in the parade bring a supply of individually wrapped hard candy to throw to the children along the parade route.
A signature event every year is the selection of the King and Queen of Hobos. There are rules about who can run and the candidates' qualifications. Men must actually have been a tramp, but there are no qualification rules for the women running for Queen, and no requirement for them to ever have actually been a hobo, although many of the women who have been selected as Queen were actual rail riders with bona fide hoboing experience. The "election" is done at the town's gazebo, and is preceded by campaign speeches. A group of vetted hobo judges decides who wins by the applause of the crowd. Inevitably, drama ensues. It's very entertaining. All this happens as the town is serving up several thousand gallons of mulligan stew.
There is a difference between the town of Britt's "Hobo Days" celebration and the actual convention meeting itself, although visitors are more than welcome to come visit and/or camp in the "National Hobo Jungle" next to the railroad tracks. The actual convention is a convention of members of Tourist Union #63, founded in 1899 and still existing today. (There were sixty-three original members.) Much of the convention's activities take place in the Jungle, or in the National Hobo Cemetery (which is in a corner of Britt's Evergreen Cemetery.) There is a day dedicated to cleaning, re-painting and mowing the hobo graves, and a Memorial Service the following day. Generally, shortly after the memorial service, a Hobo Council is convened, and this is an activity limited to actual hobos and members of TU63. You can identify many members of TU63 by a small patch sewn to a cap or jacket that is a black-bordered white circle with the black numerals "63" inside.
The jungle operates more-or-less on the "honor system." People with the means to do so are asked to contribute an amount similar to what they would pay for a restaurant meal into the "Frisco Circle" kitty. Those without funds or with limited funds are welcome to eat for free, but encouraged to help with the kitchen chores. (Half the fun of the convention is being "part of the crew" that does the cooking, "pearl diving" and cleaning up. Newbies are encouraged to report to the "Crumb Boss" for an assignment somewhere on the kitchen crew.) Camping in the Jungle is free. No fireworks, firewater or firearms are permitted within the jungle. (There are several bars and excellent restaurants within easy walking distance.) There are no hotel or motels in Britt. If you need a room, you'll have to go to a nearby larger town. Dogs may not run free in the jungle, and should there be an unfortunate doggie accident, the owner is REQUIRED to pick up the doggie dukey and dispose of it in a trash can or dumpster. (Failing to do this can get you expelled from the jungle by order of TU63's "Grand Head Pipe.") Fighting, aggressive behavior, being intoxicated to the point of offensiveness, verbal aggression or harassment can all result in one being expelled. Grossly offensive or illegal behavior is not permitted. Behave like the decent human being you are, and enjoy the Convention.
Tent camping or "tarp camping" within the Jungle is free. In fact, all camping is free. Please refrain from trespassing on railroad property or local homeowners' property. Most years the Boxcar is open for sleeping as well, but there is only limited floor space. It's summer time in Iowa---BRING INSECT REPELLENT. Please do not touch other peoples' packs, sleeping bags or baggage. This is a big violation of The Rules of living on the road. Please do not pet other peoples' dogs or companion animals without permission. There is usually a "free table" in the Pavilion, and everyone is welcome to free stuff there, but do not assume that some item seemingly abandoned in the Jungle is "free." It belongs to somebody. If you scavenge cardboard for sleeping, put it in the dumpster when you are finished with it. Keep a Clean Camp.
Many older tramps travel by RV or camper van these days. There are limited parking spots and limited shore power hook-ups. There are no blackwater tank pump-out facilities available. There are usually at least two dumpsters available for trash disposal. The Pavilion has rough-built picnic tables and rest rooms with rudimentary showers and flush toilets. The Pavilion and kitchen shack were built by volunteer hobo labor and townspeople, so don't expect five star accommodations. The new kitchen building has refrigerators, home-built propane stoves and outdoor dish washing ("pearl diving"), but access to the kitchen is limited to the Crumb Boss and kitchen crew. People cannot use the kitchen facilities individually, but are welcome to eat at "chow time," when the Jungle's two-meals-a-day (breakfast and dinner) are served up. There is always a "free refrigerator" in the Pavilion from which everyone may eat, 24-7, to accommodate tramps arriving in the wee hours of the day or after chow time is finished. Britt's Food Center supermarket is within easy walking distance. The Jungle is not an RV park and is not designed to accommodate a large number of RVs or camper vans. You should be prepared for "boondocking" (self-contained off-road RV camping) if you bring an RV or camper van to the NHC.
Other events during Hobo weekend include a Hobo 5K & Hobo 10K Walk/Run, Hobo King & Hobo Queen coronation, Hobo Museum, Hobo Auction, Hobo Memorial Service, Hobo Sunday Outdoor Church Service, Hobo Classic Car Show, Hobo Arts and Crafts Show and various hobo musical entertainment. The Hobo Jungle is open to the public.
- Hobo Foundation
- Britt Chamber of Commerce
- WTOL news story
- Hobo Convention - Tired of the sedentary life? Hitch a train to Iowa (article)
- National Hobo Convention, Britt, IA, 1984
- Travel Site Feature
- Britt, Iowa Town Web site (official)
- Television News Story