Maurice Graham, 89; 'King of the Hobos' began his rambling as a teenager riding the rails

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Maurice Graham, who began hitching rides on trains as a teenager and was known as the "King of the Hobos," died Saturday at a nursing home in Napoleon, Ohio, his family said. He was 89 and had recently suffered a stroke.

Nicknamed "Steam Train Maury," Graham was a founding member of the National Hobo Foundation and helped establish the Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa.

"What gets you hooked is the outdoors," Graham told a Times reporter in 1989. "A hobo is just a guy who went camping and never came home."

In 1990, Graham wrote "Tales of the Iron Road: My Life as King of the Hobos," telling his stories of hopping trains beginning at age 14 and living in hobo camps from the late 1960s until 1980.

"It used to be that a hobo had to be a good naturalist -- he had to know all the roots, berries, grasses and weeds that are edible, and how to catch small game without weapons and how to be a good fisherman," Graham said in 1983, describing how the ramblers' carefree world had changed.

"But to survive as a hobo today, you practically have to be a pharmacist," Graham said. "They're hauling things in freight trains, like chemicals and pesticides, that weren't even invented five years ago."

Graham also made a distinction between hobos, who did odd jobs to support their vagabond lifestyle, and tramps and bums, who he said were only looking for handouts.

Graham was named National Hobo King five times at the annual hobo convention in Britt and was crowned Grand Patriarch of Hobos in 2004.

Graham, a Santa Claus look-alike with a flowing, white beard, was "a true hobo hero," foundation President Linda Hughes said.

"He was a classy and respected man," she said. "No one can live up to Steam Train. He's irreplaceable."

When he wasn't riding the rails, Graham spent most of his settled-down life in Toledo, Ohio, working as a cement mason.

A native of Atchison, Kan., he was a medical technician during World War II.

His survivors include his wife of 69 years, Wanda, and two daughters.

A service will be held today in Toledo for Graham, who has caught the westbound train, as hobos say of their departed friends.

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