To a large extent hobo life has been romanticized, but these people living on society's fringe had to have a thick hide and be exceedingly resourceful.
World renowned novelist Kazuo Ishiguro's life briefly intersected with the American hobo lifestyle in the early seventies when he came to America as a young man. Ishiguro, author of the novel Remains of the Day (among other significant works), reflected on this period of his life in an interview which appeared in The Paris Review in Spring 2008.
"I rode a freight train from Washington state across Idaho to Montana. I was with a guy from Minnesota, and we’d spent the night in a mission. It was a pretty sleazy place. You had to strip at the door and enter a shower with all these winos. You tiptoed your way through black puddles, and at the other end they gave you laundered nightclothes and you slept in bunks. The next morning, we went to the freight yard with these old-fashioned hobo types. They had nothing to do with the hitchhiking culture, which mostly consisted of middle-class student types and runaways. These guys traveled by freight, and they went from skid row to skid row in different cities. They lived by donating blood. They were alcoholics. They were poor and sick, and they looked awful. There was nothing romantic about them at all. But they gave us a lot of good advice. They told us, Don’t try to jump the train when it’s moving, because you’ll die. If anyone tries to get on your boxcar, just throw them off. It doesn’t matter if you think it might kill them. They’ll want to steal something and you’re stuck with them until the train stops. If you go to sleep, you’ll be flung out just because you’ve got fifty dollars."
Source: The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 196, Issue 184, Spring 2008