Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tramps, Hobos, Bohunks and Transients

Delmar being a combination of a railroad town and a border town has had and continues to have a large number of transient people. Up thru the 1970’s and to a lesser degree today, people have rode the rail illegally and jumped off in Delmar. In addition there are a number of people that want to slip across the state line in order to avoid “the law” from the opposite state.

At one time Delmar was a major switching station that assembled freight cars to form different trains. That function was moved to Harrington, Delaware sometime in the 1980’s. Because the trains stopped in Delmar and the cars were put off on sidings there was time for people riding the railcars illegally to jump off and hide out in the surrounding woods or jump on the railcars to go elsewhere. Delmar had two main encampments or Hobo Jungles. One was about two miles north of town on the Delaware side. The other was on the south side of town (Maryland) and was the larger of the two jungles. Both of these encampments continued thru the 1960’s and there is some indication there are still people (today referred to as “homeless”) that live in the woods on the North and South side of Town.

The Hobo Jungle on the North side of town was in the woods north of Old Racetrack road. It seem to have been made up of a combination of Gypsies and Hobos. My father, who lived on Old Racetrack Road when he was 8 or 9, use to refer to them as Bohunks. No doubt today this is a politically incorrect term but my father was never much for being politically correct. It is my understanding, both from him and other people, that Delmar had a few gypsies living outside of town. The Hobos, bohunks and gypsies were constantly stealing things.

The encampment on the south side of town had a population of twenty to forty hobos. My neighbor, Butch, has told me stories of him and CT Moore icing down produce on freight cars in the 1960’s and having Hobos threaten them with guns. For the most part he said they would speak to you and act friendly, unless you tried to enter their camp on the south side of town. It was in this South camp in 1939 that twenty tramps rioted and only after a fight were police able to drive them from the yard. The Railroad Police would police the Railroad property and run off or arrest anyone on the railroad property. The tramps would than travel into town where the Delmar Police would arrest them. In the 1940’s people caught riding the railroad illegally were give ten days in jail or a $5 fine. Today, in Maryland they are given 30 to 90 days and/or a $100 to $500 fine. In Delaware they could receive up to 30 days in Jail and/or a $575 fine. The charges are for trespassing on railroad property. The Delmar Police have said they have not had a problem with this in at least 10 years.

The Railroad Police are still active. The Norfolk Southern Railroad Police has a good discussion of their history at their website.

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