February 11, 2004 by

Rambling Rudy Phillips


Categories: Misc.

Rudolph Washington Phillips, one of the best-known hobos to ride the rails during the Great Depression, caught ”the westbound to heaven” on Jan. 9. He was 91.

Phillips was only 14 years old in 1925 when he left his home in East Prairie, Mo., and started traveling around the country. Over the next seven years, Rambling Rudy visited 48 states, and spent time in 27 different jails.

When he finally disembarked in 1932, Phillips opened Rudy’s BBQ restaurant and Rudy’s Hobo Museum in Shawneetown, Ill. The following year, the chamber of commerce in Britt, Iowa, began sponsoring the National Hobo Convention, an annual event that was launched in 1900 by a group of hobos from Chicago who called themselves Tourists Union No. 63. Phillips was heralded as the King of the Hobos at the convention in 1986, and crowned with an empty coffee can.

Rambling Rudy Phillips was married seven times, experiences he once described as “shipwrecks on the Sea of Matrimony.” His last marriage to his wife Hazel, endured for more than 30 years, until her recent death.

5 Responses to Rambling Rudy Phillips

  1. kendall

    My Dad speaks fondly of Rudy’s. He would go there as a special treat on his father’s rounds as a Wpa road inspector. The sandwiches cost a quarter and Rudy would talk and tell stories while you ate.

  2. Rod Wiethop

    Rudy was a dear friend of mine in the last years of his life. My wife & I would drive the 2 & half hours down to Shawneetown every couple months & spend hours sitting in his front room listening to his tales of adventure. We would write back in forth & stayed in contact by phone weekly. I wrote several stories on Rudy for our paper & collected all of his books. He even talked us into driving to Britt,Iowa to the National Hobo Festival to see a display in honor of him & to visit with his old friends. We wanted Rudy to go with us but was physically unable at the time. I miss Rudy dearly, but I’m glad he finally caught the Westbound home to join his friends. It was a pleasure to have had him call me his friend.

  3. Joseph Cade

    I knew Rudy for several years when I was a little kid, but my grandparent’s knew him very well, having lived in and around Shawneetown for many years. My mom even worked for him for a while, which I can only assume is how I ended up with his BBQ sauce recipe. Still the best sauce that I’ve ever put on a piece of pork and a secret that I gaurd as if it were my own. I’m also fortunate enough to have the books that he sent to my grandparents as they were published, all with a handwritten inscription.

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