November 28, 2006 by

Steam Train Maury


Categories: Extraordinary People

Steam Train Maury, the Grand Patriarch of the Hobos, caught the westbound home on Nov. 18 after suffering complications from a stroke. He was 89.
Maurice W. Graham was born in Atchison, Kan., in 1917. He was just 14 years old when he first hopped a freight to freedom. Although he served as a medical technician during World War II, Graham continuously returned to the vagabond lifestyle as a professional hobo. He stayed in hobo camps on and off from the late 1960s until 1980, and took on the nickname “Steam Train Maury.” When he wasn’t riding the rails, Graham worked as a cement mason in Toledo, Ohio.
Men have been sneaking onto freight trains since the Civil War. Known as hobos, they made a living doing odd jobs or working as field hands and miners. During the Great Depression, more than a million people rode the rails across the United States while searching for work. John Steinbeck, author of “The Grapes of Wrath,” called hobos “the last free men.” Graham described them as guys “who went camping and never came home.”
An informal group of hobos formed their own constabulary — Tourist Union Local 63 — in 1899. Officials in Britt, Iowa thought the idea of a hobo union was great fun and invited Local 63 to use their town for its annual convention. The union officers took the town up on its offer, and in 1900 held the first National Hobo Convention. By 1933, Britt had become known as “the hobo town,” where hobos were crowned as royalty and served free mulligan stew.
A founding member of the Hobo Foundation, an organization that preserves hobo history, Graham was crowned King of the Hobos five times (1973, 1975, 1976, 1978 and 1981), and helped establish the Hobo Museum in Britt. In 2004, he was dubbed the first “Grand Patriarch of the Hobos,” and bestowed the title: “Life King of the Hobos East of the Mississippi.”
Today, boxcars are sealed for security purposes and trespassers are prosecuted by the authorities. As such, few people continue to ride the rails free of charge. But fans of the hobo lifestyle flock to Britt each year to listen to stories about “the iron road.” Many of these tales were collected by Graham in the 1990 book, “Tales of the Iron Road: My Life as King of the Hobos.”
In his spare time, Graham cheered up patients at veterans’ hospitals, taught a wrestling class at the YMCA and played Santa Claus for 30 years at the Franklin Park Mall. He is survived by Wanda, his wife of 69 years, and his two daughters.

6 Responses to Steam Train Maury

  1. Jim Grosteffon

    Steam train Maury worked with my Dad as a cement mason. HE was a very educated man. I honor him as a man who respected all. He was a HOBO not a BUM.
    He also attended my Dads funeral to pay respects.
    We talked for quite a while.
    I with most kids now days had Steam Trains Knowledge and commitment to life. Respect for others.

  2. Chuck Spitler

    I have lived in Southern California since the Fall of 1983, but was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio. Before moving west, I was the Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 185 in Toledo for many years. One weekend in the late 1970’s, the Scouts and I were camping out at Oak Openings Park. We were sitting around the campfire on a Saturday evening when along came Steamtrain Maury followed by a film crew from WGTE TV. That special time was captured in the WGTE documentary, “King of the Hobos.” That night, Steamtrain Maury became an honorary member of our Scout Troop, and he became my friend. Several times in the years that followed, Steamtrain would be an honored guest and speaker at our Troop’s award ceremonies and family nights. He was a wonderful and decent man, and I was honored to call him friend. On my computer tonight, I was looking up things about Toledo history, and was saddened to learn of Mr. Maury’s passing, “catching the westbound,” in 2006. Godspeed to you, Steamtrain, King of the Hobos and prince among men. I hope we meet again someday, maybe around some celestial campfire alongside the Heavenly Central railroad tracks. Friends always, Chuck

  3. sarah

    I met Maury once when i was around 7years old. In the 1960’s during his travels he met my Grandmother and had twins with her. A boy and a girl. From my understanding he spent several years aaway from his wife (wanda) and illegaly married my grandmother. Anyway he went back to his wife and daughters…and my grandma (being the bullheaded woman she is:) never let him see the twins. So anyway he is my Grandpa I met once when i was seven and i’m 24 now. I found out about his death on T.V! I plan to read his book and ask my grandma for more info befor she dies. OH and he did look like Santa….. but kinda a scary!lol I don’t remeber much of it.

  4. Catherine Right

    At school I heard about mr. Steam train Maury. I thought hobos were homeless lazy bums. But, I was wrong. I truly respect mr. Maury. He helped the depression become a better place! Rest In Peace, mr. Maury! May all good come to you on your next train of life!

  5. Gooding CR

    I met Steam Train many years ago when I was Just a Boy, my Father, (Hood River Blackie), Feather River John were working with Steam Train to Incorporate the Hobo Foundation which did come to pass.
    I have a Library in my home of all the names, stories, travels of the old Hoboes my Father knew and I never tire of reading them, many that were never known to the Hobo foundation but still missed as Steam Train will be missed. God’s Speed.

  6. Morris Starkey

    I saw Steamtrain Maury in Logansport, Indiana many years ago. They had restored an old depot and he was there for the Iron Horse Festival, I believe. He really seemed like a nice person and talked to everyone about anything. He talked with my children who were quite young and seemed geniune in his comments to those of us who came to see him.

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