Photo credit: Doug Winter

Richard Dobbs shares captivating stories about his years of hardship and adventure traveling across the country as we walk under the large green archway of Friendship Park. 

He speaks of working odd jobs, hopping freight trains, cooking meals over a campfire, and seeing a rare glimpse of America through the broken braces of a Union Pacific boxcar. 

The day is bright and touched with the warmth of spring as a strong wind dusts up around us. Richard recounts a lifetime of events, most of them in transit and on the move. He speaks of overcoming, thugs, and pool hall hustlers and the medical difficulties that have plagued him since childhood. 

Richard talks of fighting his way through a wake of judgment and prejudice. “I lost my jobs and housing because of my medical condition; landlords said I was a liability, and my employers would fire me. Anyways I’m old now. I could never ride the rails or sleep in hobo jungles today,” Richard says. 

His shiny white medical helmet covered in stickers show years of use and protection guarding Richard against the medical condition he overcomes daily.  

Photo credit: Doug Winter

Richard is creative and artistic; he enjoys writing too. He started painting and drawing again because Friendship Park offers an Art Day on Fridays. It’s run by Ginny, a Friendship Park volunteer.  

Richard and I step into a patch of shade outside a bungalow at Friendship Park, and Richard shares more stories with me about other people he’d traveled with like “The Oklahoma Kid,” “Big Jim,” and “Steamboat Joe.” 

I told Richard, “These stories are fascinating. If you write up your stories and make some drawings about the hobo life, I’ll publish them into a book.” 

“Are you serious?” Richard said. 

“Heck yes,” I said. 

We shook hands, and a creative partnership was forged. 

Richard saw me a week later and said, “I finished my book. It’s called Hobo Junction.” He handed me three handwritten composition books wholly filled with hobo stories and drawings. I typed up and edited Richard’s handwritten book of stories and scanned his artwork. I uploaded all of it to an online self-publishing portal and printed 25 copies. Richard sold out of the first printing of books within a week. He is a natural salesman. 

Richard and I meet up regularly now. We are working on his third book, a romance story. We had planned to have an art and book show in May of his work. We had intended to sell books, original drawings, and a new set of postcards. Richard would have read selected stories and poems from his book too. 

Then the virus hit the state of California, and the country shut down and our plans have had to change.

I think about the support system of Friendship Park, the green hats, Program Director George, and all the volunteers helping those who live outside and how important it is to help, especially now. The Park remains open, and everyone continues to assist in the face of danger. 

I hope we can look at our community leaders to be kind and reach out to those who are having a difficult time. I believe through this awful and unprecedented historical time, it can bring out the best in us. I see it at Friendship Park, and it’s an excellent example of help, support, and kindness. It was a vital asset of help and refuge to our community long before the virus locked our doors.  

I checked in with Richard yesterday, and he said, “When everything is safe, and we can go outside and meet up again, the show will go on.” 

I agreed. The show will go on. 

You can read a preview and buy Richard’s books here:

https://www.blurb.com/user/DobbsBooks

You can read the original story I wrote about Richard on my blog: 

Read about Richard and others living outside caught up in the wretched time of the COVID-19 crisis.

https://calmatters.org/housing/2020/04/california-coronavirus-homeless-hotels-motels-newsom/

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