We drive around small towns and old roads and we find bits of stories. Sometimes we never know what the story really was. Sometimes we do.
In Old Shawneetown, we found the word 'hotel' in stones, next to the levee. Where was the hotel? What happened to it? What did it look like?
I don't know.
In Shawneetown, which moved from the site of Old Shawneetown after the big flood of 1937, we drove by many closed up buildings. We paused in the rain to take a quick picture of a cafe window that said, "Rudy's Serving you Since '32." Late last night, when I couldn't sleep, I scrolled through my photos, and thought about putting it on my Instagram.
I lazily googled to see if I could get any info, and lo and behold, I found a little bit of the story.
From the New York Times, in 2004:
Rambling Rudy Phillips, who spent his teenage years hopping freight trains to everywhere and nowhere and lived to become one of America's last and best-known Depression-era hobos, died on Jan. 9 in Harrisburg, Ill.
He was 92 when he caught ''the westbound to heaven,'' in the time-honored hobo saying, his son Rudy said. He lived in a nursing home in Eldorado, Ill.
In 1986, Mr. Phillips was crowned King of the Hobos at the National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa, an event that began in 1900 when a group of hobos from Chicago who called themselves Tourists Union No. 63 began convening there.
Since 1933, the Britt Chamber of Commerce has sponsored what became an almost annual event as an allure to tourists. Rambling Rudy, like 44 kings before him and 17 after, was crowned with an empty coffee can.
''It was a great life,'' Mr. Phillips told the crowd in a speech that told of his confinement in 27 jails as he traveled the rails in 48 states for seven years, beginning when he was 14. ''I'd do it all over again.''
And from the Britt, Iowa News-Tribune:
Rambling Ruby Phillips, 92, of Shawneetown, Ill. has passed away.
Rambling Rudy's funeral was at the First Baptized Church in Shawneetown on Jan. 12, 2004.
Rudy is survived by five sons and their families. He is also survived by many hobos and hobos at heart and by his Hobo Queen Minneapolis Jewel.
Rambling Rudy rode the rails during the Great Depression, only to return home and open Rudy's Bar-B-Que. Rudy also opened Rudy's Hobo Museum in Shawneetown. He attended many Hobo Conventions, being elected King of the Hobos in 1986.
Rudy loved Britt, writing many poems and articles about the Hobo Capital of the World. In 1993, Rudy wrote: My hat is off and I salute Britt, for the compassion and love they show us old Hobos, like Jesus Christ said, "When you do it to the least of these, you are doing it for me." That just about says it all for Britt, Iowa.
I never could have imagined this as we drove by in the rain. Rudy's BBQ is now closed. The neon happy pig sign is gone. It makes me wonder how many other stories we drive by without pausing. I feel lucky to get these little glimpses.
I'm afraid his 1970 biography is out of print, although it's still listed on Amazon.