"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

30 Aug 2020

Who is Bozo Texino? — review of a film by Bill Daniel

I’m indebted to Bill Daniel for posting me a copy of his film to the UK, as his website states ‘No international shipping’. I had recently published a book on the lives and adventures of 15 tramp writers born between 1841 and 1917, and had assumed that the culture of hobos ‘beating’ trains (a term used for ‘free’ travel on the inside or outside of rolling stock) had long since died out, along with the heroes of my book.

Daniel’s film, a project 16 years in the making, shot in black and white on a Bolex 16mm camera, and involving Daniel himself travelling thousands of miles across North America interviewing dozens of old time hobos and railroad workers, as well as a new generation of train hoppers, proved just how wrong my assumption was.

The opening rattle and rhythm of wheels on rail announces the seductive soundtrack of the entire film, complemented throughout by great blues and bluegrass recordings. The scenery, glimpsed as it would be from the various vantage points occupied by those who choose free rail travel over a steady job and domestic life, is enthralling. Whether mountains, open farmland, forest or industrial and urban wasteland, you really get the sense that these vagabond nomads are encountering something essential that the paying holiday traveller will never truly experience, insulated as they are by comfort and a full belly.

But at the centre of the film, are the hobos themselves and the graffiti they leave behind as an assertion of their presence, whether historical or current—see review of The City Beneath: a century of Los Angeles graffiti. The motivation for perpetual wanderlust and self-exile from mainstream society is no different now, than that described by tramp writers a century ago. True, the great depressions of the late 19th and early 20th century produced thousands of migratory workers who beat trains in search of work, but neither my book or Daniel’s film are concerned with the tramp of circumstance. The heroes of this film are principally those who choose to beat trains as a way of life, an alternative to the tyranny of civilisation; even if some of the artists interviewed towards the end of the film are ex-railroad employees rather than hobos. But regardless of the artist's provenance, the genre remains a legacy of hobo graffiti. A paradoxical tribute to the hobo from their traditional enemy the railroad employee. 

One of the film’s main achievements is to give these remarkable characters a voice, and so let three of the unnamed hobos interviewed in Daniel’s film speak here for themselves. The conversations below about what drives them to live in the margins of society, are no different to that expressed by their late 19th and early 20th predecessors:

Guess you could say there’s a mystery to it ‘cause maybe you want it to be a mystery … I wonder where all these freedoms are these people talk about. I tell you, I don’t see them. You got all these rules and regulations. … My history goes way back. Being a misfit, an outcast, if you want to call it that. … I started on the road pretty early. Fifteen years old the first freight train, hitchhiking before that. A lot of misconceptions. Most people think hoboing is like the depression years, but it went on and on.”


I’ve got a philosophy, maybe I got it wrong, or maybe my philosophy’s fucked up. OK. But there’s two things I do not like. These make me a bum. And that’s responsibility and authority. I’m serious. I’ll give you anything I got if you ask me for it. Or I’ll do anything you want me to do if you ask me to. You tell me I gotta do it, I don’t know what it is, but there’s something inside of me that says, ‘Fuck this motherfucker, I ain’t gonna do it.’ And I been that way all my life, even when I was a kid.”


Ain’t this nice out here, man. Why can’t a guy have a couple of acres of it? You can’t really tell anybody about it. You can’t really describe it in words. There’s all this land laying out there doin’ nothing. They want you to work for 35 years and then pay a price for it and you only got 10 more years to live.

     They say this Country is based on hard work, integrity and worshiping God. That’s a lie. There’s been all murder, man, mayhem, slavery, oppression, lies, stealing and killing, and you can’t change it after it started. So stay away from it. Gotta get away from it. Be independent of it. If you try and deal in it you become part of it. Stay away from it and you’ve diminished it by one.”

The characters of the film discuss the origins of their own monikers and other hobo’s monikers. Accompanied by shots of hobo artwork and text, they bemoan the fact that some of the newer recruits to the hobo lifestyle steal and replicate the monikers of their more infamous predecessors. As for Bozo Texino himself (we assume he’s a he), there are several claims throughout the film by those who knew him, or had heard about him, and it seems the first sightings of his iconic logo date back to the late 1970’s. But those who wish to know more about the film’s mystery character should watch it to find out. 

A distinction is made in the film by one of those interviewed: between the hobo—those who are prepared to take paid work and share what they have with their fellows; the tramp—who refuses to work relying principally on begging; and bums—who don’t work or ride trains but hang around bars often inebriated. Such categorisations may be important to some within hobo culture, but they are tenuous at best. At any one time, the same individual may resort to paid work, begging, or becoming too intoxicated to do either, as the need or mood presents.

There is also an acknowledgement in the film that beating trains is becoming increasingly harder and that the lifestyle may not survive into the future. One reason given is that the boxcars, which used to have wooded floors and sides, are being replaced by steel which can make it intolerable in both freezing and hot weather conditions. There is also the factor that modern rolling stock is less accessible and moves at greater speed. And so the film is an important archive of a culture that may soon be lost, but it also a unique artwork in its own right. The combination of imagery, sounds, music and dialogue are skilfully edited in a way that demands more than one viewing.

See more about the film and obtain a copy HERE

Final Word

Many monikers simply identified a place with which the hobo had some association. An example being Frisco Jack (even though he came from 'someplace in Pennsylvania'). He is referred to in the film although not seen, even though he did not 'catch the westbound' until 2009 at the age of 99. Below left is a photo of Frisco Jack taken in 1976 alongside the hero of the book, Jim Christy: A Vagabond Life. And at bottom a copy of the 'calling card' Frisco Jack would hand out on his travels.

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