Most Distinguished Tramp
by Murray Montgomery
would imagine that we've all seen the graffiti that adorns many structures
in this country. Most of it is just the work of folks who evidently
have too much time on their hands and in my opinion; there isn't much
of it that could be considered a work of art.
However, back in 1910, there was a gentleman who was quite the artist
at making graffiti; he didn't use paint, he carved his. According
to the Hallettsville Herald, the tramp known simply as "A-No.
1" left his carvings on anything he could find along the railroad
right of ways, be it shanties or water tanks.
The Feb. 25, 1910, issue of the Herald had an interesting story
about old "A-No. 1" - the headline read, "The most distinguished tramp
in the world paid this city a visit Monday. Traveled 468,450 miles
at a cost of $7.61". The paper told its readers to look for the tramp's
work during their travels. The article said that "A No. 1" would always
carve that name under his work, along with the date and an arrow to
show what direction he was heading when he left.
The paper said that the artistic tramp made a living selling his book,
"The Life and Adventures of A-No. 1" written by himself. He also sold
postal cards with his picture on them. It was an illustrated book
which, according to the paper, "contains some wholesome advice to
boys who are not satisfied with their home."
The hobo was well known to railroad men and had ridden the trains
since 1883. He had traveled an astounding 465,230 miles and had only
paid $7.61 in train fares. In his interview, he told the Herald
that he was a linguist and could speak and write in four languages.
He said that he had prevented 20 wrecks but didn't elaborate as to
how. He told the paper that he wore a $40 suit of clothes and carried
a gold watch. "I keep my name a secret and do not chew, smoke, drink,
swear or gamble," he said.
When asked how he acquired his strange name, he told a story of how
he was befriended by an old hobo. The aged man was taken with the
talent of his young companion and how he so quickly adapted to riding
the rails in a boxcar. After one particularly hard journey the old
man said, "Kid you are alright. You're A-No. 1." The title stuck and
the paper said that he had lived up to the name.
It seems that "A-No. 1" traveled wearing overalls and jumpers but
upon his arrival into town, he would change clothes and appear wearing
a neat suit. "He is always clean shaven and has a very prosperous
appearance," the Herald wrote, "he has a profession, which
is carving potatoes, and in this he has no equal. Hundreds of times
he has carved faces for persons in return for small favors. He is
also a wood carver of ability."
The clean-cut tramp said he had a memorandum book full of cards and
letters given him by railroad officials. He also carried an autographed
letter from the author, Jack London, telling of their companionship
on the road together. London was a famous author with his most remembered
work being "Call of the Wild" which was published in 1903 - London
did spend some time riding the rails as a hobo.
During his visit with the Hallettsville Herald, "A-No. 1" said
he hoped that his book, like London's, would prevent young men from
taking to hobo life. The tramp said that he had met many boys from
fine homes who had the urge to roam and would take to the rails. He
said the youngsters had no idea of the horrors they were embracing.
When asked why he didn't stop he replied: "Do you know the call to
wander is so irresistible that often on a dark and rainy night I find
myself walking about a railroad yard looking for a chance to move
on? You would not believe me, yet it is a fact that I realize that
my end will be the same as that of 90 percent of all tramps - an accident.
This is why I have at least provided for a decent burial."
The hobo said that he received $1,000 cash and a beautiful medal in
1894 from the Police Gazette for tramping from New York to
San Francisco in eleven days and six hours. With $750 of that money
he bought a tombstone in a cemetery at Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania.
"Seems strange that almost every night that silent white monument
seems to beckon from yonder green hill side in my dreams entreating
me to stop my roving," he said.
The man said that he had tried many times to stop his wondering ways
but just could not get rid of his yearning to roam. He said the engraving
on his tombstone reads simply, "A-No. 1 - The Rambler - At Rest at
After a bit of research I found that "A-No. 1" was actually a fellow
named Leon Ray Livingston (1872-1944) who was born in San Francisco
and took to the rails when he was only eleven years old. He died a
wealthy man after publishing 13 books about hobo life. His best-selling
book was "From Coast to Coast" which was about his adventures as a
hobo and his travels with another hobo-writer, Jack London, who Livingston
mentioned in his interview with the Hallettsville Herald.
the movie "Emperor of the North," which was released in 1973, actor
Lee Marvin played the role of "A-No. 1" which was inspired by the
life of Leon Ray Livingston. Back in 1910 the Hallettsville Herald
had no way of knowing that it had indeed interviewed "the most distinguished
June 21, 2006Column