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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

The Most Distinguished Tramp

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
I 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 Last."

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.
In 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 tramp."

Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary
June 21, 2006Column

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