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At 99, the Bummobile Rolls On
Nov 9, 2011
My family donned winter coats, hats, gloves, scarves, two blankets and downed a Thermos full of piping hot water (which became either tea or hot chocolate) to enjoy this year’s Hobo Day parade in Brookings Saturday morning. This year’s homecoming celebration happened noticeably late in the year, but everyone seemed adequately prepared and, in some cases, strategically located. Perhaps the smartest parade-attendees watched within a few steps of Cottonwood Coffee, a neat little shop downtown that had pots full of freshly brewed coffee placed on tables outside.
Floats change every year to reflect the Hobo Days theme. This year it was Night of the Living Hobos, and students seemed to relish the idea of dressing as zombies and unintentionally frightening children along the parade route. But it is also a parade of constants. You know the Pride of the Dakotas marching band will lead the way. Politicians will shake hands and kiss babies, resulting in gaps between floats. You’ll see former university presidents, faculty members and alumni. And you’ll always see the Bummobile.
The Bummobile is a 1912 Model T Ford that has been running ever since it first left Henry Ford’s factory. It belonged to Frank Weigel, a Flandreau farmer and SDSU supporter, who donated it to the Students’ Association in 1939 under the condition that it appear in the Hobo Day parade every year. And it has.
Sure, it has sustained its share of bumps and bruises. The Bummobile has been backed into campus buildings, caught on fire, and even lost a wheel on Medary Avenue as a Grand Pooba (SDSU’s student homecoming leader) learned to drive it. But it has performed admirably on parade day every year.
In October 1952, while campaigning for the presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower stopped in Brookings to speak at the Coolidge Sylvan Theatre. His visit came two weeks before Hobo Day, so after his speech locals asked Eisenhower to hop in the Bummobile. He agreed, and his picture was taken with that year’s Grand Pooba in the passenger seat. The Collegian, SDSU’s student newspaper, chided the candidate when it ran the photo under a headline that read, “Ike Reaches Peak in Career.”
In 2009 the Bummobile was fully restored. Harold Hohbach, a 1943 electrical engineering graduate, hauled the car to his home in California and gave it new life. Today, when it's not chugging down the streets of Brookings, it resides in a glass case in the Hobo Day Gallery, found in the University Student Union.
I’ve never gotten the chance to ride in the venerable vehicle, but hopefully that will change. Then I’ll have at least one thing in common with Ike.