Hobo Nickels

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 27, 2017

Coin collectors today consider the hobo nickel a numismatic treasure, a tribute to long- forgotten folk artists who often literally carved for their supper. The Buffalo nickel debuted in 1913, but it wasn’t until the Great Depression struck that hobo nickel carving reached its peak. During this period, buffalo nickels were the most common nickels in circulation.

The sudden scarcity of jobs in the early 1930s forced a huge number of men to hit the road. Certainly some coins were carved to fill the idle hours. More importantly, a ‘knight of the road,’ with no regular source of income, could take one of these plentiful coins and turn it into a folk art piece, which could in turn be sold or traded for small favors such as a meal or shelter for a night.

The nickel was an ideal coin from which to fashion such a token. The large profile of the Indian on one side and the classic image of the very wide American bison that complemented it on the reverse side provided an adequately sized canvas for the wandering hobo artist to use. It was portable, and the nickel (a copper-nickel alloy) is the hardest U.S. coin in circulation, ideal for carving.

hobo nickelsIn a community of generally anonymous drifters, two carvers rose to prominence among hobo nickel creators. Bertram ‘Bert’ Wiegand was born in 1880 and carved from 1913 to 1949. He signed his coins by removing L I and Y from L I B E R T Y, leaving only B E R T. He tutored the man coin collectors consider the giant of hobo nickel carving: George Washington ‘Bo’ Hughes (born between 1895 and 1900 in Theo, Mississippi). Bert met the young teenager in a jungle, or hobo camp, along the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio railroad line, and Bo’s first nickels appeared two years later, in 1915. Bo carved till about 1980, when he was last seen by his friend of 40 years, Williard Chisolm, in a Florida camp.

Life as a hobo took its toll: the rigorous manual labor Bo undertook to survive during the money-tight, poverty-ridden 30s rendered his hands stiff and permanently damaged. Frequent beatings by ruthless detectives prowling railroads (where many hobos resided) in search of freeloaders and thieves compounded his dexterity impairment.

Nevertheless, devoted to his craft, Bo worked through the pain and frustrating impediments throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s, but in 1957, while he was working on a nickel, his chisel suddenly slipped and struck his hand. The injury forced the once-great hobo nickel engraver to resort to a haphazard punching method. Bo continued his work, but with less frequency and diminished quality, and as America moved into the post-war era genuine hobo nickels became a thing of the past.

The U.S. Mint ceased striking Buffalo nickels in 1938.

Related posts: Riding the Rails

sources: http://www.hobonickels.org/scraps19.htm

appalachia appalachian+mountains appalachian+mountains+history Bert+and+Bo Bert+Wiegand Bo+Hughes Hobo+Nickels

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But the nights belonged to youth

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 26, 2017

“[After the end of the Spanish American War] Mt. Savage resumed its gay pleasures, which led to many courtships. There was nothing better to further this cause than a long bicycle ride.

Oh Dem Golden Slippers sheet music“The Sunday afternoon ride up to Allegany, pushing up Moss Cottage Hill; stopping at Paul’s Store to buy peppermints and licorice candy; resting in the shade of the big oak trees along the straight; sometimes watching the gypsies in their bright costumes camped there; sometimes having their fortunes told; speeding homeward before supper.

“The swift wind carrying a marriage proposal over his shoulder, but her keen ears caught it despite the noise.

“… But the nights belonged to youth. The day’s events were only to warm up for the square dance at night. How we helped big sister pull the corset strings tighter and tighter. One would die if one’s waist was over 18 inches. Mother helping to button up the blouse in the back and sister fluffing out the ruffled front and all the girl friends collecting at our house and admiring each others’ clothes.

“This evening of fun was only equaled by the Saturday night dance at Locust Grove. The fiddlers tuning up and the figure caller strutting around and announcing ‘the first dance is free Ladies and Gentlemen.’ How disgusted the young ladies and men were to see all those kids crowding on the floor taking advantage of the free dance.

Climbing up de Golden Stairs sheet music “The daring young man who swings his girl completely off her feet and she didn’t mind too much because she had on her new ruffled petticoat. The Saturday night fights over the best looking girl. The insects danced just as merrily around the torches stuck on poles and nailed to the locust trees. And the music! Has there ever been anything written to better dance to than Oh Dem Golden Slippers or Climbing Up De Golden Stairs?

From a speech written and presented to the Homemakers Club by Mary (Miller) Bowen, wife of William Anthony Bowen of Mt. Savage, Allegany County, Maryland. April 29, 1953

source: http://files.usgwarchives.net/md/allegany/history/local/mtsavage.txt

In 1994, square danc
ing was designated the Maryland State Folk Dance. This dance integrates the Morris and Maypole dances of
 England, ballroom dances of France, Church
 dances of Spain, and folk dances of Australia, Ire
land, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Poland, Russia. Square dancing has been a popular 
Maryland folk tradition since 1651.


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Lucy Furman lobbies against steel trap hunting in KY

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 25, 2017

Excerpt from “Ninety Pounds of Fight,’ by Tom Wallace, Nature Magazine, Feb. 1942

Because of politics Kentucky’s anti-steel-trap law, passed nearly four years ago, hangs in the balance. The Legislature meets in January. Between the law, which has not been fully enforced, and repeal, sought by conservatives who want to continue using steel traps, stands Lucy Furman. She weighs, maybe, ninety pounds, but is as full of fight—her kind of fight—as anybody in the Cumberland Mountains.

Miss Furman was educated at fashionable Sayre Institute, Lexington, and took a literature course at the University of Cincinnati. Early in life she began writing fiction. Soon after publishing ‘Stories of A Sanctified Town,’ in 1897, she became a worker in Hindman Settlement School, in the Kentucky Mountains.

There she wrote ‘Mothering on Perilous,’ ‘The Quare Women,’ ‘The Lonesome Road’ and other novels. These established her as an interpreter of mountain life. She became interested in conservation of wildlife when in contact with mountain trappers.

In 1928, she wrote an article, published by ‘The Atlantic Monthly,’ on cruelty of trapping. The late Commander Edward Breck, who had founded the Anti-Steel-Trap League three years before, read the article and made its author Vice-president of the League.

In 1933 Vernon Bailey, chief naturalist of the United States Biological Survey, invented the humane leg-hold animal trap, not for profit, but in behalf of animals caught—at the rate of many millions every year—in traps that caused many of them to gnaw off the leg between the vice-like jaws of the steel trap and brought slow death in the trap to others. Foxes caught in steel traps sometimes die of burst ventricles of the heart, so great is their fear and suffering.

steel trap 1881Steel trap, 1881, from Camp Life in the Woods and the Tricks of Trapping and Trap Making.

The less nervous animals manage to chew the flesh of the trapped leg, sometimes tearing the flesh from the bone and breaking the bone, leaving a paw in the trap when they hobble off, to die of starvation because they no longer have the physical equipment they must have to find their food. Not until the leg-hold trap was invented, and made available to manufactures by the inventor, was there hope of outlawing the steel trap.

There seemed to be little ground for hope that it would be outlawed in Kentucky when Miss Furman came to Frankfort and set up headquarters there. In 1934 her bill was beaten. She then began the work of an evangelist. By 1936 the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs and many other organizations were her supporters.

She had only to call upon daily newspapers for editorial support and news column space, because all of them knew and valued her.

Foxhunters were her champions because steel traps catch and mutilate many fox hounds that have considerable money value and the deep affections of owners.

The bill failed in 1936.

In 1938 the Animal Trap Company of America, which had been the world’s largest maker of steel traps, began making leg-hold traps as a result of the intervention of R.E. Hinman, of the Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company, of Louisville. Mr. Hinman was a Nature lover and Miss Furman took her story of the new trap and the tortured animals to him, after 1936.
In 1938 Miss Furman, who had been known at two earlier sessions as ‘the trap woman,’ got her bill passed, to take effect in 1940.

Lucy S. FurmanOther traps designed to take furbearers without torture are now in the market. Several of them, for the smaller animals, have won annual prizes offered by the American Humane Association. An argument in behalf of such traps is that pelts are not injured by animals gnawing off legs, and that annual production of furbearers is not diminished by starvation of injured animals that escape, three-legged, from steel traps.

But trappers are ruralists. Ruralists do not like change under statutory compulsion. So, Miss Furman is on guard at Frankfort to prevent, if possible, repeal of the anti-steel-trap law.

If this stalwart crusader is able to keep the Kentucky Legislature under her influence until the trappers become used to the new-style traps nothing, presumably, would ever repeal her law.

Miss Furman accomplished, between 1934 and 1938, a task that seemed at first impossible of accomplishment.

Moneyless people as lobbyists for moneyless enterprises—people who have nothing to barter in the trades of politicians—are at a disadvantage at sessions of legislatures, and Lucy Furman pleads only a cause.

When, single-handed, she began asking law-makers to consider the situation of wild furbearers—“varmints” to ninety-nine of one hundred Kentucky legislators—her project seemed, to most observers, a more hopeless one than the education of Huckleberry Finn.

Will she now be able to persuade the legislature not to repeal her law when steel trap users, fearing its better enforcement, and utterly unconcerned about humaneness to wild animals, exert pressure?

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I had never been in a community that was so remote

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 24, 2017


I think we’re talking about when you were in Pulaski County [KY], and you were talking about how it was the year that you learned the most in your life. Did you take notes at the time, some notes?


No, I took no notes. I did, to practice writing, write some descriptions of scenes and things. You see, this was a remote place, a log house, and many of the things they used were much like those of the pioneers. For example, I had never seen a watering trough made of the hollowed-out trunk of a poplar tree.


Oh, wow.


And other things around. I was especially intrigued by their language. They were as definite as Shakespeare. For example, the children never said “tree”; they named the tree: white oak, black oak, post oak, poplar, they knew them all.


Now this was in fact a place only fifteen miles from Burnside.


That is right.


Was it for you the first close contact you’d had with hill people?


Well, yes and no. My people were hill people, after a fashion, but I had never been in a community that was so remote. Though Burnside was only fifteen miles away, it was on the railway-this place was not-Burnside had also been served by steamboats since 1833. It was more or less in the world. Like at home, we had a daily newspaper and magazines and books and other things we could buy.

Harriette ArnowMC:

Right. And also you had doctors and dentists, isn’t that right?


In Burnside, yes, but not these people. Most of them had never been to a physician or a dentist.


Now when you went to teach in the school in Pulaski County, what was the name of the town or the actual place?


Well, they called it Possum Trot School. I’ve forgotten if it had a better name; I don’t know.


Was that also the name of the place, Possum Trot?


Was it Hargis? No. Perhaps it was Hargis; I’ve forgotten. I should know, because there was a post office there, where the mail came three times each week in saddlebags on a mule. And rarely did one see a wagon, and my schoolchildren, most of them, had never at that time seen an automobile, the road was so rough. Most of the men, however, had. They’d go to Somerset. And they did most of what they called the “trading”: they didn’t use the word “shopping”. They traded. This, I think, arose from the fact that they usually had something to sell. It was too far away for milk and butter, but they could, as I say, trade eggs at a small store across the river. Others dug ginseng-it was about all gone-dried it and sold it to a company in Burnside. Some dug yellow root and May apple root. There were few furbearing animals left, but several of the boys sold raccoon and opossum hides.


How did these people feel about you coming in? Do you know how they reacted to you? Were you as unusual in your education and in coming from Burnside as if you had come from four or five hundred miles, from outside the whole culture?


I think they thought I was peculiar. On the other hand, I tried very hard. I stayed over many weekends. When they went to church, I went to church with them. We had a bit of trouble with speech sometimes. Most of the younger children used the word “ungen” for “onion” and other words which I had never heard and didn’t have sense enough to know. I just thought, “Queer!” Like they’d say, “So-and-so carried his wagon to town to the railway,” and it seemed queer to me, and then later I found the word “carry”, meaning to go with or to take, in Shakespeare. Had I had an Oxford English Dictionary, unabridged, with me, I would have understood a great deal more and appreciated a great deal more.


Oral History Interview with Harriette Arnow, April, 1976. Interview G-0006.
Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection,
Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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  • Genevieve says:

    In our area of Christian County, KY, which was quite isolated and insular in earlier times, I have often heard people speak of “carrying” something or someone, in the sense of “taking” or “delivering.” This was an interesting interview. Glad I read it.

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America loves the yo-yo

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 21, 2017

West Virginia entrepreneur Donald F. Duncan (1892-1971) had never heard of the yo-yo until 1928, when he encountered Pedro Flores on a business trip to California.

Earlier that same decade, Flores had immigrated to America from the Philippines, and initially worked as a bellhop at a Santa Monica hotel. Carving and playing with wooden yo-yos was a traditional pastime in the Philippines, but Flores found that his lunch break yo-yo playing drew a crowd. He promptly started a company to make the toys, calling it the Flores Yo-Yo Company (“yo-yo” means “come-come” in the Tagalog language).

Young girl with yo-yoIn 1930 Duncan bought out Flores, who went to work for Duncan running promotions. The company teamed up with Hearst Newspapers to promote yo-yo contests. Hearst added a twist, requiring players to sell three newspaper subscriptions if they wished to compete in the contests. A single promotion in Philadelphia sold 3 million yo-yos in 30 days. Duncan introduced the looped slip-string, which allows the yo-yo to sleep – a necessity for advanced tricks.

The company imported a number of teenagers from the Philippines to demonstrate the toy and numerous tricks and stunts to the American public. This marketing worked and quickly the toy (which Duncan called the “O-Boy Yo-yo Top”) became a bestseller. Manufacturing shifted to Baurle Brothers in Chicago. The first ever World Yo-Yo Competition was held in London, in 1932. Harvey Lowe, age 13, won.

Also in 1932 Duncan filed for and was assigned a trademark for the word yo-yo, which the company held until challenged in 1965. In a landmark intellectual property case that year (Donald F. Duncan, Inc. v. Royal Tops Mfg. Co., 343 F.2d 655 (7th Cir. 1965), a federal court of appeals ruled in favor of the Royal Tops Company, asserting that the term had become a part of common speech.

The genuine Duncan yo-yo is a classic toy that has endured for 80 years. With more than 600 million sold, it is probably the most popular toy in history, and has been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.





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