1912 interview with "A No. 1"
A No. 1. 40 Years Old. Tramped 33 Years. Travelled 505,722 Miles.
We are not accustomed to congratulating ourselves at being afforded an opportunity of entertaining a tramp, but the editor will say modestly that he esteemed it a pleasure to entertain for a few hours last Sunday, A. No. 1, the world famous tramp.
It was about 4 P.M., when our door bell rang and upon answering it we found a good looking well dressed, pleasant appearing man of 40, who introduced himself as A No. 1, who had walked all the way from Rumford just to seek a short interview. He carried a small bundle, but assured us that he was not begging and had nothing to sell, but politely asked for a few moments in which to tell of his purpose in calling.
The introduction was agreeably received as we had heard more or less of A No. 1, and were glad for a personal interview.
A No. 1 is a tramp from necessity rather than from choice. Like many another he acquired the habit while a mere lad and the habit once acquired, like the liquor and many another habit sticks. He has, however, combined duty with necessity, and is spending his tramp life in a persistent effort to keep boys off the road. The story of his travels, his experiences and his work told in a peculiarly instructive and entertaining way, with ever a thread of sadness running through it, was indeed interesting.
He leaves his sign, A No. 1, where ever he goes. It will be seen in Bethel on a birch tree near the Swan’s Corner schoolhouse.
He has autograph endorsements from President Taft, Ex-President Roosevelt, Thomas A. Edison, Luther Burbank, the plant wizard, and other prominent Americans. He has hoboed since 1883 and had travelled on trains and on foot when here 505,722 miles and has spent $7.61 for railroad fare.
He has been around the world three times. He has prevented more than twenty wrecks, wears a $40 suit of clothes and a good watch, keeps his name a secret and does not chew, smoke, drink or gamble.
A tramp gave him his name in 1883.
“Kid, you are all right,” declared the elder one, at the end of a particularly hard journey. “You are A No. 1.” The title has stuck and the wanderer has more than lived up to it, for if ever a hobo’s life could be said to be a success, it is that of this man. He travels in overalls and jumper, but after arriving a town divests himself of these and appears in a neat suit; is always clean shaved and has a very prosperous appearance.
He has a memorandum book full of cards and letters given him by railroad officials. Many of these state that he has prevented the possible loss of human life and property by telling train operators when beating his way of broken car wheels or other disarrangements and thus has prevented serious wrecks and disasters. He has been in five wrecks, but luckily, has never been hurt.
He also showed us an autograph letter from Jack London, the author, telling of their companionship on the road together in 1894.
During his travels “A No. 1” has learned four languages – English, German, French and Spanish. His parents were of the French and German nationalities, but he was born in San Francisco.
His toilet is complete, though it takes little room to carry it. It consists of a toothbrush, soap, comb, and a few other necessities. Blackening and shining rags occupy a part of his pockets, also a pocket edition of Webster’s dictionary, a rather strange book for a tramp to carry.
There is something about the man aside from the distinction which his remarkable career carries, that is strangely appealing. It is perhaps the humanity of the man, or the pathos that lies mutely concealed in his life that makes him so strangely attractive. Endowed with all necessary qualities for success in life, he is yet homeless, friendless, nameless by an element in his make up which has gained mastery over all other impulses and motives namely, the “Wanderlust.”
Gripped in its subtle powers, impressed by its restless influence, he is forced to lead a life, the barrenness of which he realizes, and is condemned to roam ceaseless all over the world without a destination in view, to be a nomad of civilization. He knows the yearnings of other men for home and friends, but the master yearning of all is to move on and by this he must be governed.
He left us Sunday night with the intention of catching the first train for Paris, but we received a letter from him Monday morning from Berlin. The first opportunity to move was west instead of east, hence the change in plans.
Whenever “A No. 1” meets a runaway boy upon his journeys he give him a talking to that is almost certain to make the lad home sick, and glad when “A No. 1” purchases a ticket sending him home to his parents.
If the boy is already a confirmed wander “A No. 1” teaches him his own Motto: “Never associate with anyone in whose company you would be ashamed in broad open daylight to pass your mother’s home.”
“About 350,000 minors run away from home annually, said “A No. 1,” of this number 35.000 become confirmed hoboes, 7,000 are crippled, 3,500 are killed and the rest can only stand the hardships of tramp life about 10 years, until they are in a poor house. Ninety per cent of all tramps, clean as well as dirtiest, started their wanderings when young boys who ran away from good homes. By keeping runaway boys off the road it will not be necessary to send old hoboes to penitentiaries and poor houses. So many mothers, if they only knew it, are the cause of many young men living the hobo life. If a regular grown up tramp comes to the house and asks for a meal she turns him away and tells him to work for it, but when the young fellow comes along just starting out to be a tramp she takes him in, feeds him on the best she has, not realizing that within a few short years the same youngster will be an exact prototype of the burly tramp she has just turned away.”
“Now if she would only get his name from him and his address, and talk to him in a nice way about his home and mother, and explain to him the terrible shame of trying to finish his days a worthless and homeless hobo, shunned and hounded by all humanity, there would be a good chance that he would go back and it would be a help towards reforming a large number of the boys.”
A No. 1 makes his transient expenses by the sale of two books the first being “Life and Adventures of A No. 1” tells of his travels among tramps all over the world. The second, “Hobo Camp Fire Tales,” is a true story of the pitiful hardships of the road. Both show the dark side of tramp life so that any restless boy will get a good idea of its disgusting features. They can be purchased in any bookstore and on every train for 25 cents and are worth every cent of it in keeping boys at home.
A third book is being printed which he considers his best one. He said he would send us the three on condition that we promise to read the third one aloud in our home when all were present and let him know if we were able to do it without shedding tears.
“A No 1” has proofs in shape of many letters of gratitude and numerous newspaper clippings mentioning names of men in all walks of life whom he has sent home in the past. He devotes nearly every cent of his revenue in sending boys back to their homes and future usefulness.
He was asked why he had not written his books sooner as they are illustrated and highly interesting stories, and he stated, that lately, after twenty-nine years of rovings he had come to the conclusion that the dangerous, senseless and pitiful life he had led all these years had been wasted, and perhaps by telling his own pitiful experience he might possibly prevent others from following his footsteps. He said that to force a boy to stay at home after he has once started to wander is almost impossible, as the maxim, “once a tramp, always a tramp,” has been many times proven to him by actual experience, as he has met many a boy of fine family and home who never knew of the filth, misery and danger a tramp comes constantly in contact with, yet cannot resist that call to wander.
In 1894 he received $1,000 cash and a beautiful medal from the Police Gazette for tramping from New York to San Francisco in eleven days and six hours, and with $750 of the prize he bought a tomb in a cemetery in Cambridge Springs, Pa. The epitaph will be a silent everlasting warning to others who seem afflicted with this strange longing to roam, very aptly called “Wanderlust” and is simply:
“A No. l”
At Rest at Last.