The Bindlestiff Who Hopped a Train North

Jun 15, 2018

This week on A Northwoods Moment in History, local historian Gary Entz takes us back to 1905 and tells us the story of a bindlestiff named Frank Lamperer, who benefitted from the kindness of the people in Rhinelander.

Before President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s established the first social safety net, people down on their luck often had no option but to roam the countryside, usually under dangerous conditions, in search of work wherever it might be available.  For people with no money, the only way to get from one place to the next was either walk or hop a train.  In the early part of the twentieth century, such migrant workers were known as Bindlestiffs, or more commonly as hobos, and their individual stories can sometimes be quite interesting.

In the late fall of 1905 Frank Lamperer of Green Bay was an out-of-work young man who thought he would try his luck as a Bindlestiff.  Like many others, he hopped a train and traveled to the Northwoods in search of work in one of the logging camps.  He found employment, but it was early December and he was obliged to work knee deep in freezing water.  Finding that he wasn’t suited to the conditions, Lamperer quit and sought other work, but finding none decided to hop a Soo Line train back to Green Bay.  As he was riding in the direction of Rhinelander, the train picked up speed, and a sudden jerk dislodged Lamperer from his perch between two cars.  He lost his grip and fell between the cars and down to the tracks.  Lamperer was doubled up and struck repeatedly by the beams of rail cars passing over him but miraculously did not get crushed under any of the wheels.

Severely injured and knocked unconscious, Lamperer lay unnoticed on the tracks for much of the night.  When he regained consciousness, Lamperer dragged himself into the nearby town of Rhinelander.  When he appeared on the downtown streets, the severity of his injuries caught the attention of people who were out and about on their daily business.  He was taken in hand by charitable individuals, put up in a downtown hotel, and provided with medical care.  By early January 1906, Lamperer had sufficiently recovered from his injuries to travel back to Green Bay, this time, thanks to the charity of local citizens, by means of passenger rail.                                

This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear. Some sound effects for this commentary came from Freesound.

A Northwoods Moment in History is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.