In days gone by, tramps and hoboes came through the Hollister Ranch along the railroad tracks, sometimes wandering up to the big house. “I used to get the mail and could see them walking along the ravine,” the late Jane Hollister Wheelwright told us. “It was no problem unless they were off in the head, which was not uncommon. One of the duties of the ranch hands was to make sure the hoboes stayed on the track, but they came anyway. Most of the people on the ranch were accustomed to them. They usually fed them. That was the safe thing to do.”
“I would imagine this was during World War I,” she continued. “There were a lot of tramps at that time. They would come up for food, ask if they could do a job or something. I remember one time our parents went away somewhere and they left us in the house. They said if any hoboes turn up at the kitchen door, just don’t pay any attention to them. Well, a hobo did come and he wanted something to eat. We couldn’t give him any food — we didn’t know where it was. The hobo asked, ‘Where is your father?’ My brother said, ‘He’s upstairs in the attic cleaning the guns.’ The hobo turned around and left us quickly!”
Hoboes became even more common during the Depression and through the second World War. Our dear departed friend Ted Martinez, who used to work at Gaviota’s Vista de Las Cruces School, remembered watching them jump off the train in Santa Barbara during the 1940s to camp under the eucalyptus trees near Cabrillo Boulevard. “They had colorful names like Boxcar, Tin Can, and Bo,” he recalled. “I never heard their last names, and they didn’t seem to have families. They were not uneducated nor ignorant, and they harmed no one. They just lived a life of wandering.”
“One of the hoboes would tend the camp,” he told us, “and the others would disperse throughout the neighborhood doing yard work and odd jobs. They knew where all the bakeries were, and all the good Mexican places. And there were codes on the fences and things that showed who was friendly.”
“These guys could be from the Texas Panhandle or Upstate New York. Sometimes I’d hear them playing harmonica — blues mostly, or an old gospel song. I never once felt any fear around these men –as a kid, I thought there was a kind of mysticism and romance about their lives.”
And on freight trains lumbering along the Gaviota coast, the hobo drifters slept.
(Above photos dated 1935; original source unknown.)