Bummobile continues to represent hobo spirit


One of the Bummobile’s most well-known passengers is President Dwight Eisenhower. He attended the 1952 Hobo Day during his election campaign.

PHU NGUYEN Photo Chief

Through the chaotic and busy week that is Hobo Week, there is one thing that is there through it all — the Bummobile. The iconic mode of transportation for Weary Wil and Dirty Lil is celebrated for its tradition and place in the school’s history.

77 years of the Bummobile

The Bummobile will celebrate its 77th year of serving South Dakota State this Hobo Day. Frank Weigel, a supporter of SDSU, donated the 1912 Ford Model T to the university in 1938 and the vehicle has since represented the spirit of Hobo Day and its tradition.

Since then, the vehicle has gone through ups and downs including various events threatening the car’s life, including an accident that damaged the rear fender. It also broke down and required immediate attention during the 2006 Hobo Day when it needed to be pushed through the parade. 

The car went through a complete overhaul project in 2009 by Harold Hohbach, a 1943 SDSU electrical engineer graduate, and was given a fresh new look. The car was restored to the factory condition. This included a new rear end in place of the damaged one, along with original exterior parts and a new wooden frame. A new, midnight blue finish was applied to the vehicle, just like its original color.

 In addition to the old crank handle, an electric start button was added on the floor under the driver’s seat for the convenience and safety of starting the car. Ed Bain, senior building maintenance worker and a caretaker of the vehicle, said there was numerous accidents that happened when the crank handle bounced back to the hand of the driver. However, the handle is still fully functional for those who like to take the risk.

Keeping it alive

Today, the Bummobile sits in a glass case as the centerpiece of the Hobo Day Gallery. That does not mean the vehicle has stopped serving SDSU; it is still taken out occasionally for a ride around campus to showcase the tradition of Hobo Day. 

Bain and Greg Markus are responsible for keeping this piece of history in good shape.

“Being 103-years old, it has its own personality,” Bain said. “Somedays it will light, start and run very well, some days it’s…not wanting to do that.”

Bain said the workers perform routine maintenance work to the vehicle such as changing the oil, greasing the joints and tightening the suspension. Bain and Markus also did some tune up with the spark plugs to help the car run better. Both of them enjoy keeping the Bummobile in good shape.

“It’s interesting. It has been challenging sometimes, but it is one of the more enjoyable parts of the job,” Markus said. 

The Bummobile is different from modern cars, from changing gears to adjust the timing and throttle according to Bain. In contrast to the modern layout, the throttle and timing adjuster levers are mounted on the steering column and the gears are pedals on the floor. 

Before the Bummobile is ready for duty on Hobo Day, Bain and Markus check again to make sure the car is suited up with gas, oil and antifreeze. 

“Then we cross our fingers,” Bain said.

The amount of students that know how to drive the Bummobile is limited as well, possible a half a dozen, Bain said. They often find a parking lot when school is out to experience the feeling of driving an antique car.

The tradition lives on

Being chosen to represent Weary Wil and Dirty Lil to ride in the Bummobile is also a lifetime experience for alumni. The duo is chosen by the Hobo Day committee and their identities are kept secret until the halftime of the Hobo Day football game.

“It is a huge honor representing such a wonderful tradition,” Weary Wil said. His real name will not be identified until Saturday.

Weary Wil and Dirty Lil are keys in keeping the hobo traditions alive according to this year’s Dirty Lil. She still remembers the late nights she spent in the Hobo Day Committee in order to make sure the events go smoothly and made best friends there. They still try to come back every year and celebrate the pride.

“Once a bum,” she said, “always a bum.”