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Hobo Codes and Their Meaning

A hobo code etched on a fence post that depicts (a dishonest man lives here) from the TV show Madmen.
A hobo code etched on a fence post that depicts, "a dishonest man lives here," from the TV series Mad Men, Season 1, Episode 8.

What is a hobo and what are their codes? I read somewhere that a hobo is an itinerant worker basically. This is in contrast to the notion held by many that hobos are simply a bunch of aimless bums. The fact is, many great and even famous people have chosen the hobo lifestyle at one time or another. For many generations the hobo lifestyle has drawn people for various reasons, each with their own unique stories, backgrounds, and ambitions. But, when did it begin? The American Depression may have been the catalyst for propelling the popularized version of the hobo we think of today. But, the real origins date back to the first American railroads, the 1800's, and maybe even to the dawn of the new American frontier. Whatever the definition or origins, it's the hobo codes that interest me the most. These underworldly symbols are both mysterious and quite alluring. The hobo codes are basically a set of symbols that mark important locations typically done in ink, paint, chalk, or etched with a knife. They are meant to be read by other hobos in order to convey the disposition of key areas such as roads, towns, or houses. These symbols often represent the best places to eat or sleep, directions of travel, and warnings about ill tempered people or a police presence. The symbols typically go unnoticed by the untrained eye, blending into the scenery, or looking like random graffiti. You could almost say this is a secret code, but it's not typically regarded in this way.

Below I have gathered around 50 hobo codes that I find interesting.


Hobo Code Meanings


The following are translations of the hobo codes.

Hobo Code: Go this way - A circle with a directional arrow.
Hobo Code: "Go this way"
A circle with a directional arrow.
Hobo Code: Move swiftly to the road -A circle with two arrows passing through.
Hobo Code: "Move swiftly to the road"
A circle with two arrows passing through.
Hobo Code: This is a good road - A circle with one line through it.
Hobo Code: "This is a good road"
A circle with one line through it.
Hobo Code: There's a good chance of food here - 
A circle with an X through it.
Hobo Code: "There's a good chance of food here"
A circle with an "X" through it.
Hobo Code: You may sleep here - A U shape
Hobo Code: "You may sleep here"
A "U" shape.
Hobo Code: Poor people here - A curved zig-zag line.
Hobo Code: "Poor people here"
A curved zig-zag line.
Hobo Code: There's nothing here - A single circle.
Hobo Code: "There's nothing here"
A single circle.
Hobo Code: They give money - Three small circles.
Hobo Code: "They give money"
Three small circles.
Hobo Code: There's a dog in the yard - Animal shape in a rectangle.
Hobo Code: "There's a dog in the yard"
Animal shape in a rectangle.
Hobo Code: A bad man lives here - A Christian cross shape with a solid circle at the intersection.
Hobo Code: "A bad man lives here"
A Christian cross shape with a solid circle at the intersection.
Hobo Code: People do not give - A Christian cross shape with a hollow circle at the intersection.
Hobo Code: "People do not give"
A Christian cross shape with a hollow circle at the intersection.
Hobo Code: A bad woman or bad dog
A solid circle (filled-in circle).
Hobo Code: "A bad woman or bad dog"
A solid circle (filled-in circle).
Hobo Code: Warning! Police are hostile - A face with open eyes and teeth, a "T" and "X" at the bottom.
Hobo Code: "Warning! Police are hostile"
A face with open eyes and teeth, a "T" and "X" at the bottom.
Hobo Code: Black neighborhood is okay - An empty rectangle with the letters "OK" at the bottom.
Hobo Code: "Black neighborhood is okay"
An empty rectangle with the letters "OK" at the bottom.
Hobo Code: Leaving the railroad for the highway - An X shape with a double arrow through middle.
Hobo Code: "Leaving the railroad for the highway"
An "X" shape with a double arrow through middle.
Hobo Code: Danger! - Christian cross shapes with double lines at the bottom.
Hobo Code: "Danger!"
Christian cross shapes with double lines at the bottom.
Hobo Code: Police are not hostile here - A Christian cross shape with closed eyes.
Hobo Code: "Police are not hostile here"
A Christian cross shape with closed eyes.
Hobo Code: Police here are in plain clothes - An empty circle with a Christian cross shape on the perimeter.
Hobo Code: "Police here are in plain clothes"
An empty circle with a Christian cross shape on the perimeter.
Hobo Code: Danger! Brutal man - A rectangle with a dot in the middle.
Hobo Code: "Danger! Brutal man"
A rectangle with a dot in the middle.
Hobo Code: Warning! Police are hostile - A Christian cross with open eyes and eyebrows.
Hobo Code: "Warning! Police are hostile"
A Christian cross with open eyes and eyebrows.
Hobo Code: good people live here - A separate line and circle shape. The line is above the circle.
Hobo Code: "good people live here"
A separate line and circle shape. The line is above the circle.
Hobo Code: Get out! The town is hostile - A T with an X at the bottom portion.
Hobo Code: "Get out! The town is hostile"
A "T" with an "X" at the bottom portion.
Hobo Code: I'm waiting for or looking for Mike - Horizontal joined arrows pointing outward with the person's name underneath.
Hobo Code: "I'm waiting for or looking for Mike"
Horizontal joined arrows pointing outward with the person's name underneath.
Hobo Code: Circle the town - A curved arrow pointing downward.
Hobo Code: "Circle the town"
A curved arrow pointing downward.
Hobo Code: Church or religious people 8 shape with a vertical line running through it
Hobo Code: "Church or religious people"
"8" shape with a vertical line running through it.
Hobo Code: Town adheres to prohibition Dry town - T with an empty mug at the top
Hobo Code: "Town adheres to prohibition" - "Dry town"
"T" with an empty mug at the top.
Hobo Code: Town has bars. Serves alcohol - T with a full mug at the top.
Hobo Code: "Town has bars. Serves alcohol"
"T" with a full mug at the top.
Hobo Code: Woman living alone
Hobo Code: "Woman living alone".
Hobo Code: A crime has been committed here - Four vertical lines that intersect 3 horizontal lines, as if jail bars.
Hobo Code: "A crime has been committed here"
Four vertical lines that intersect 3 horizontal lines, as if jail bars.
Hobo Code: Good clean jail - Jail bars with the letters O and K on each side.
Hobo Code: "Good clean jail"
Jail bars with the letters "O" and "K" on each side.
Hobo Code: The main street of the town is good for begging - Tic-tac-toe lines with the center column O, T, and K.
Hobo Code: "The main street of the town is good for begging"
Tic-tac-toe lines with the center column "O", "T", and "K".
Hobo Code: Tell a sad story - Hollow eye shape with multiple tears from corner of the eye.
Hobo Code: "Tell a sad story"
Hollow eye shape with multiple tears from corner of the eye.
Hobo Code: A dishonest man lives here - Crescent shape with a vertical line through the open end.
Hobo Code: "A dishonest man lives here"
Crescent shape with a vertical line through the open end.
Hobo Code: An aggressive dog lives here - Horizontal zig-zag line.
Hobo Code: "An aggressive dog lives here"
Horizontal zig-zag line.
Hobo Code: Religious talk can provide meal - A Christian cross.
Hobo Code: "Religious talk can provide meal"
A Christian cross shape.
Hobo Code: Wealthy man lives here - A high hat / top hat shape.
Hobo Code: "Wealthy man lives here"
A high hat / top hat shape.
Hobo Code: Food available for work - A T shape constructed with rectangles.
Hobo Code: "Food available for work"
A "T" shape constructed with rectangles.
Hobo Code: Dangerous roaming dog or animal - A rectangle with a dot in the middle. Below this there is an animal shape.
Hobo Code: "Dangerous roaming dog or animal"
A rectangle with a dot in the middle. Below this there is an animal shape.
Hobo Code: Alright - A plus sign.
Hobo Code: "Alright"
A plus sign.
Hobo Code: Keep quiet - Side-by-side diamond shapes.
Hobo Code: "Keep quiet"
Side-by-side diamond shapes.
Hobo Code: Doubtful - A single horizontal line.
Hobo Code: "Doubtful"
A single horizontal line.
Hobo Code: Area is spoiled by other hobos - Triangle with corner facing down.
Hobo Code: "Area is spoiled by other hobos"
Triangle with corner facing down.
Hobo Code: Be ready to defend yourself - A spear shape with spear head pointing up.
Hobo Code: "Be ready to defend yourself"
A spear shape with spear head pointing up.
Hobo Code: Dangerous man with a gun or gunfire was heard in this area - A rectangle with a dot in the middle. A shape of a gun underneath.
Hobo Code: "Dangerous man with a gun or gunfire was heard in this area"
A rectangle with a dot in the middle. A shape of a gun underneath.
Hobo Code: Very good - A circle with a small circle inside the center.
Hobo Code: "Very good"
A circle with a small circle inside the center.
Hobo Code: Warning. Woman has a gun - Stick figure depicting a woman with a dot inside her dress. A gun shape is below her.
Hobo Code: "Warning. Woman has a gun"
Stick figure depicting a woman with a dot inside her dress. A gun shape is below her.
Hobo Code: In - Vertical curved line with curve on right.
Hobo Code: "In"
Vertical curved line with curve on right.
Hobo Code: Out - Vertical curved line with curve on left.
Hobo Code: "Out"
Vertical curved line with curve on left.
Hobo Code: A kind lady lives here - A drawing of a cat.
Hobo Code: "A kind lady lives here"
A drawing of a cat.
Hobo Code: A temperamental man - A circle and a square side-by-side with one dot in the middle of each shape
Hobo Code: "A temperamental man"
A circle and a square side-by-side with one dot in the middle of each shape.
Hobo Code: Fake illness here - A letter V shape.
Hobo Code: "Fake illness here"
A letter "V" shape.
Hobo Code: Dangerous neighborhood - A rectangle with a dot in the middle. Above the rectangle is an inverted Y shape.
Hobo Code: "Dangerous neighborhood"
A rectangle with a dot in the middle. Above the rectangle is an inverted "Y" shape.
Hobo Code: Care for the sick - What looks like a lowercase letter r
Hobo Code: "Care for the sick"
What looks like a lowercase letter "r".
 

Related:

Police Signal Codes and Their Meaning

Police Ten Codes and Their Meaning

American Morse Code Letters & Numbers