Spanger Things with Mike Paton

Mike Paton

Close your eyes. Imagine a train.  Which childhood image do you see? Musicals where fancy 1800’s travelers are saying goodbye on platform steps. Beautiful ladies with parasols wave to their beaus as the steam engine pulls out of the station.  Maybe you imagine a midnight boarding of two lovers dressed in enemy uniforms trying to escape Germany. Or perhaps you see masked riders on horseback boarding a speeding train in search of a giant safe.

I see something else. I see someone hiding, trying to become part of the train so as to not be noticed or found. America’s Stowaways. The Hobos. 

Do you remember Old hobo movies? They had wool overcoats, leather boots and old hats. Pleasant smiles and willing hands. A face that always looked eight hours past a shave.

 Who are they? Where are they going? Why are they going? 

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a man named Mike. He is living the lifestyle and has offered to be a window into this world for you the reader and me, the writer. 

First let’s take a look into some history of the Hobo lifestyle. Mike tends to lean into this lifestyle in an old school way, so let’s look at the legacy he’s been left to tend. 

Source: {Leon Ray Livingston, America’s Most Famous Hobo} (BY JASERAFINO)

Leon Ray Livingston

Leon Ray Livingston or better know as A-No#1 is probably the most famous Hobo. Before the distinction between a Hobo, a tramp, and a bum were being made He was known as a hobo or a tramp.  He claimed to travel five hundred thousand miles on $7.61 paid in fares. He was a writer, a lecturer and a hobo, not to mention a showman. He proclaimed himself to be the “King of the Hobos.”

Livingston self published a dozen books about his wild adventures on the road, rails, and waves. The most recognized would be Life and Adventures of A-No.1  1: America’s Most Celebrated Tramp. Published in 1910. 

Livingston claims his nickname came from a mentor named Frenchy that told him “Every tramp gives his kid a nickname” He also told him to carve his nickname into each mile post he passed to let people know who had passed this way. 

Although Leon Livingston led an adventurous life, towards the end of it he lectured against the lifestyle.  His warnings were not as well received as his books of hobo adventures.  He passed away after a long life, at home with his wife by his side. 



Hoboglyphs: Secret Transient Symbols & Modern Nomad Codes

Article by Delana, filed under Graphics & Branding in the Design category

Because of their willingness to take the jobs that no one else wanted – and the fact that they followed a strict moral code – hobos were tolerated by some. Regardless, life as a hobo was difficult and dangerous. To help each other out, these vagabonds developed their own secret language to direct other hobos to food, water, or work – or away from dangerous situations. The Hobo Code helped add a small element of safety when traveling to new places.

I don’t usually copy from a source for my blog, but I couldn’t have summed this up any better than this author did. 

I live close to the Mississippi river and part of me wants to take a tent and a field trip to camp close to the tracks and try and find some Hobo Glyphs. The more I research this, the more I find it desirable to do. 

 The (mostly) true story of hobo graffiti

 This list is from Mental Floss Magazine

15 rules from the Hobo Ethical code of 1889


“Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.”


“When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.”


“Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.”


“Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.”


“When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.”


“Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos.”


“When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as badly, if not worse than you.”


“Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.”


“If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.”


“Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.”


“When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.”


“Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.”


“Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.”


“Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.”


“If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!”

I’ve been given many resources to check Mike and his traveling buddy Eli out. They are honest and hardworking guys when they can get work, and just truly caring individuals. You can catch Mike’s channel Spanger Things (not a spelling error) on YouTube. I’ll post a link.  He’s been very generous with his time and getting to know me as well. 

Mike, like everyone else we know, can’t be defined by his lifestyle.  He’s much more. He fancies himself a comedian and an artist. After spending a little time with him I would have to agree.  When they have trouble getting work they have to do what they call spanging or flying.  


Spange is a word that basically means spare change.  Flying is short for flying a sign or holding up a sign by a road way to try and get some money so they can move on to the next town to look for work.  They would prefer to find work but if no one is hiring these are the methods they use.  With Mike’s artistry his signs always look top notch.  

They are under no illusions as to what the public thinks of them, so Mike tries to give them a little laugh for their help.  His signs are not disappointing in traffic.  Signs that say things like “Need $50 for a bikini wax” or “Will wrestle your mother in law for money”  

When I look at Facebook to see what people think of their signs, the reaction is mixed.  Most people laugh and pay compliments.  Some are very negative and question why they don’t just get a job. 

Well, that’s exactly what they are trying to do. My husband hired them on the spot when they were spanging. They accepted the work and even went another hundred miles to stay at a hotel for a night to work on a job we were doing out of town.  

I asked Mike if it was at all scary to get hired, taken to the person’s home and then drove another hundred miles the opposite direction they were heading? He said he pretty much leaves it in God’s hands. I don’t prescribe to that line of thinking but how great would that be to have that much faith in other human beings. Strangers at that.  

Mike and Eli

I have to admit I was taken aback When my husband hired them and then said they were staying at our home, but by the time they left I was wishing we could make them part of the crew. I am maintaining our friendship now in the hopes that they will visit again someday.  

I’m sure they are used to meeting new people and leaving them behind. I on the other hand am not used to people traveling in and out of my life. Now when I follow them on Facebook or Youtube I find myself checking the forecast for their area and the news in general. I have to remind myself that they are professional travelers and they’ve got this.  And then I check the weather again.  

I’m working on securing an interview style article with Mike. I really want for my readers to get to know them, perhaps follow them and give them some likes and support through viewing. Mike’s YouTube channel is called Spanger Things. This video clip is from his channel.

Fact: Merle Haggard was a Hobo for a while

Thanks for taking the time to visit my Blog. The summer work is almost done and blogging season is upon us. 
 Don’t forget to check out my Feelings children’s books on the Blog site as well.  We’re moving into Fall.  MY FAVORITE TIME OF YEAR!!!!!!!  

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