Friday, December 2, 2011

700 Hoboes: Cholly The Yegg

[Note: This is the second of what may or may not eventually be seven hundred stories, tidbits and interesting facts about author (and professional writer) John Hodgman's 700 hoboes. The list comes from his hilarious, completely inaccurate almanac, "The Areas Of My Expertise," and I do not have his permission to use them. I'd like to think he'd be cool with the idea, but let's not tell him yet - I'd like to get through a few more names, first.]

Cholly the Yegg
cracked his first safe when he was nine years old. His father, the manager of the Topeka Bank and Trust, Textiles and Feed Company, locked Cholly with a basket of bread and a quart of bourbon in the bank's vault one Friday afternoon, closed up shop and disappeared forever. Young Cholly (given name: Chollendrical Abernathy Section) was discovered Monday morning by the bank's president and caricaturist, Howling Jim Steeb, but not in the vault. Cholly had managed to defeat the locking mechanism on the vault door, and he had passed out on a desk full of bread crumbs in his father's office. Mr. Steeb promptly adopted him.

The boy didn't know much, but he quickly realized that he could not live with Jim's howling, so after a month, off he went, riding the rails in the direction of Santa Fe. He lived by his wits, moving from town to town, ingratiating himself to suckers for free meals and the occasional real bed, and stealing. He took pride in his pilfering. He made sure he stole at least one thing in every town. By his sixteenth birthday, he had mastered defeating safes and vaults from the outside, and found himself in the employ of a band of train-robbers. He plied his trade with great skill, but unfortunately for him and his mates, it was the 1920s. Trains had become well-guarded fortresses. Train robbing was a thing of the past. Cholly was obsolete.

It took getting shot by a US Marshall, captured and spending seven years in Leavenworth Prison for him to accept that those days were gone. Three days after his release, he successfully emptied the vault of the largest bank in St. Louis, making off with nearly $100,000 in cash and bearer bonds. He hit the rails again, at first as a paying passenger, and later as a penniless hobo.

The hobo years were Cholly's happiest. He was revered by most members of Hobo Nation, not merely for his thieving past - most hoboes had thieving pasts - but for the fact that he had stolen from The Man. Like most hoboes, Cholly spent much of his time alone, but when they gathered in groups, he was King Hobo, and was given the large can of beans and extra moonshine. The only other significant skill Cholly ever picked up was only useful at Christmastime. He made the best hobo eggnog anyone on the Santa Fe Railroad had ever tasted. They called it Yeggnog.

He lived to be at least ninety - a rare feat for a hobo - but no one knows his final age. He walked off into the woods outside Kansas City one fall day, and was never heard from again.

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