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I just got a phone call from Stretch, who tells me that former King of Hobos Iowa Blackie has died. Blackie has been a well-known figure in the Midwest trainhopping and tramp scene at least since the late 1970's. He was born and lived in New Hampton, Iowa and made his living as a self-published poet and writer. Every time I saw Blackie he was carrying a large pack, a banjo in a case and assorted other gear and lugging around a box of his books of poetry, hawking the books to anyone whom he met.


It is a pretty much foregone conclusion that Blackie was mentally ill, but he was an interesting and talented character (and actually a pretty good poet as well.) He kept detailed and minute-by-minute diaries of everything that happened around him in extremely small script written in small, leather-bound notebooks. He made an entry every fifteen minutes, all day, every day, while he was awake, for the better part of forty years.\


Back in the late 1960's, Blackie fell in love with a trainhopping woman who became a Queen of Hobos, Minneapolis Jewell. So far as I know, Jewell never returned his affections. She just wasn't interested in Blackie. But Blackie persisted, and the story goes that Blackie wrote Jewell a letter every day for twenty years, and then finally gave up. (Jewell, of course, has been married to Tuck for a long time--I'm not sure how long--and was a caregiver for several profoundly mentally retarded men for about twenty years. Several of these guys died in the last few years of old age, including Gus and Charmin' Harmon.)


I don't know where Blackie will be buried, but by all rights it should be in the National Hobo Cemetary in Britt, Iowa. I don't know if Blackie ever missed the National Hobo Convention, but he was there every year that I went.


There is a famous photograph of Blackie as a young man, cavorting at the Convention in 1984. He is lean and trim and has long, curly black hair, which is where he got his nickname. In later years both is beard and hair were turning gray.


Here's a link to North Bank Fred's site, which has photos of the 1984 Convention that were published in the Britt News-Tribune newspaper. Blackie's photo is fifth down from the top.




RIP Iowa Blackie. Another tramp brother is riding the Westbound.

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Sighhhhhhhhhhhhh Iowa Blackie is gone........ I will miss him this year, next year I won't miss him, then the following year I will miss him again. You never did now what kind of mood Blackie would be in until you got to the convention. Blackie is qualified to be buried in King;'s Row at Britt. It will be up to his brother who lives in Clear lake to make the decision.

My thought would be at the Memorial service we would do a "Speed Memorial" for Blackie. Similar to "Speed Dating", everyone would have 1 minute to tell an Iowa Blackie story in remberance. There are so many out there.

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I just got a letter from him a little over two months ago, and had dinner with him a month before that. Wow, this is so strange that this came on so fast... such a bummer... being an outcast kid and growing up and living in Iowa, Iowa Black was ("was", wow) and is a huge influence in what I do and what I create. God, this is going to be strange knowing that he's gone now...


Is there any word on a memorial service? I'd like to get to it to pay my final respects...

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I didn't know the man sounds like a legit guy though..

i did my time in the streets in vegas but compared to him it's probably nothing lol..

well RIP King Iowa Blackie...

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I have a picture (somewhere) of one of his streaks. I seem to recall he drew a picture of the state of Iowa along with it. If my memory serves correctly it was on the end of a hopper of sorts. I'll have to hunt up the flick. Then again, maybe I'm mixing him up with somebody else?


RIP regardless.

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Blackie was also one of those people who didn't like doctors. So I'm guessing omething that was easily cured could hae been his cause of death.

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Ok, I hunted up the pic (I'm surprised I managed to find it)... I took this shot about 10 years ago I figure..


RIP Iowa Blackie.


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Hobo 'king' was regular visitor to Duluth

By John Lundy

Duluth News Tribune

Updated: 03/02/2011 11:14:24 AM CST


The hobo known as Iowa Blackie died last week, leaving two brothers, many friends in Northland railroading circles and a collection of rough-hewn poetry.

Blackie, whose real name was Richard Gage, was a credit to hobo culture, said Ken Buehler, executive director of the North Shore Scenic Railroad and the Historic Depot, where Blackie was a regular summer visitor.

"He was very good at being a hobo," Buehler said.

Gage was found dead Thursday at his home in New Hampton, Iowa, the New Hampton Tribune reported. He was 62.

Dave Borgeson, a museum assistant at the Lake Superior Railway Museum, said that when Blackie came to Duluth, he would sit on a bench outside the Depot, selling his books of poetry.

"He used to come and wait for a ride to the Cities, or he'd take a train ride up to Two Harbors and back and spend the summer with us, or the early summer, then make his rounds and move on," Borgeson said.

Blackie became a familiar figure, said David Lukkonen, advertising manager for the Lake County News-Chronicle. When he was in town, Blackie would drop off a book of his poems at the newspaper office.

In a 2002 News Tribune interview, Blackie said his train-riding days went back to a 34-mile ride between two Iowa towns when he was 14. He hitched rides on trains the rest of his life, and at least once was named Hobo King at the annual Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa. Fellow hoboes gave him the name Iowa Blackie, and he later referred to himself as Iowa

Poet Blackie.

Blackie traveled less in recent years, Buehler said. But he still always came to Duluth for the Fourth of July. "We do a Fourth of July fireworks train for our employees, our volunteers and our families," he said. "And he'd always come for that."

Blackie started chronicling his travels in poems. In 1989, a volunteer at an Iowa City shelter took him to a University of Iowa computer lab and helped him typeset his first collection of poetry and prose, according to the Des Moines Register's story about Blackie's death.

In addition to homemade books of poetry, Blackie made a railroad history calendar with a historical event listed for each day of the year, Buehler said.

Blackie looked the part of a hobo, with a bushy, unkempt beard and long hair emerging from a greasy engineer's cap. To people who didn't know him, Blackie's appearance could be a turnoff, Buehler said.

"He was a scruffy guy and sometimes a little on the gamey side, and a lot of places didn't let him come anymore," Buehler said.

Richard Bergsrud, assistant operations manager for the North Shore Scenic Railroad, said Blackie was likable, talkative and opinionated. "I remember he had no great love for Minneapolis and referred to it in a number of derogatory ways. His biggest thing was he could be a little bit contrary at times. But he always loved to talk to people."

Blackie was always respectful and never panhandled, Buehler said. When Blackie came to the Depot, he'd sleep outside, but the staff would leave the vestibule of one of the railroad cars open for him. He'd get leftover pizza from the pizza train.

Buehler was saddened and surprised by Blackie's death, he said. He appeared to be in good health when he was in Duluth last summer, and he planned to be back for another Fourth of July.

"I always said the North Shore Scenic Railroad is a small railroad, and we could only afford one hobo," Buehler said. "And (Blackie) was it."



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That's the best quote yet for Blackie. You never knew from year to year if Iowa Blackie was going to be mean and nasty or cordial.

At the memorial service this year, everyone who has an Iowa Blackie card will toss it in the air.

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sad to hear, was a fan of his poetry albeit I only had 1 book, signed by him from the year he was king..."the fall of the CGW," but we frequented the same places often.



south saint paul


was always a fan of a ballsy street spot to write that long of a moniker and a date across highway 2 from UP's superior WI yard. can't find the photo offhand, but it's still there for all I know.


ride in peace.

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