‘Flatcar Frank’ shows a different side of railroad history
By Sabrina Westfall
Visitors to the Rail Fest, centered around the Train Depot in Washington Friday and Saturday, were able to meet with a secret traveller of the rail.
Leonard Counsil spent the weekend portraying “Flatcar Frank”, who he explained was a hobo who would hop rails during the Great Depression.
“To give the kids a chance to see that many years ago there was a life a lot rougher and a lot different,” he explained.
Counsil carried around a stack of papers with the “Hobo Code” depicted on it. He explained hobos in the 1920s would carry around a piece of coal and mark the area with the code to signify things such as “beware of dogs” or “dangerous neighborhood”.
“The hoboism really got into full swing in the depression. The men would hop the freights and go elsewhere to find jobs. They weren’t bums or tramps, they were good family men. They were just trying to find food and clothing. They wanted to work. They’d hoe gardens. They’d split wood. They’d do anything like that,” Counsil said. “Of course, like society today, there are som rotten apples.
Counsil said at one time there was a “hobo jungle” by the tracks on 10th Street in Washington, which is where the homeless looking to find a way to find work.
“At one time there were some 100,000 men hobos and 15,000 women and children hobos. They’d lose their homes and lose there farms and the freight trains would be their only means of transportation,” he explained. “All your little trains that had a freight train go through them probably had a freight train go through there probably had a hobo jungle at one time or another.”
He said his visit to the Rail Fest has brought him some questions about the people most were unaware of living off the freight trains.
“People enjoy seeing the symbols and things like that because most people didn’t realize they left symbols and signs for the next ones coming in to help them out,” Counsil said.