Buckeye’s Hobo Joe statue in hiding

HOBO JOE IS MOVED from Main Street and Apache Road in Buckeye July 27 to an undisclosed location where he awaits some fiberglass repair and fresh paint. The 23-foot-tall statue was purchased from the Gillum family by the Buckeye Main Street Coalition, which has plans to donate it to the city after refurbishing it. Submitted photo
HOBO JOE IS MOVED from Main Street and Apache Road in Buckeye July 27 to an undisclosed location where he awaits some fiberglass repair and fresh paint. The 23-foot-tall statue was purchased from the Gillum family by the Buckeye Main Street Coalition, which has plans to donate it to the city after refurbishing it. Submitted photo

Iconic statue moved in advance of makeover, new posting

After acting as king of the road in the West Valley for decades, Buckeye’s iconic Hobo Joe statue has gone into hiding — and no one knows when or where the big guy will make his next appearance.

In July, the statue was removed from its perch in a dusty parking lot in front of a meat packing plant at East Monroe Avenue and North Apache Road.

Hobo Joe was moved after the statue was purchased by the Main Street Coalition, according to Tammy Noble, a member of the organization.

Ever since the statue disappeared, people have wondered what happened to it, Noble said.

People from all over Buckeye are asking where it went,” she said.

Hobo Joe apparently hasn’t jumped a box car or been run out of town, but Noble declined to reveal where the statue has been taken.

He’s in a secure location,” she said.

The secrecy isn’t out of concern of vandalism or theft — the statue weighs a ton — but to keep the lore surrounding the statue alive, Noble said.

Noble said the coalition developed a plan for the statue five years ago, and acted to purchase it fearing it might be lost after the land where it stood was recently sold.

The coalition is scheduled to discuss the vagabond’s future with the Buckeye City Council in January, she said.

The city’s public information officer, Bob Bushner, said the city can’t address the topic until plans have been submitted, which he said hasn’t happened yet.

Roy Dean, who operates Arid State Enterprises, a Buckeye-based company that specializes in relocating structures, said he led a four-man crew that moved Hobo Joe on July 27.

It was an honor to be the one that moved him,” said Dean, a lifelong Buckeye resident who said he’s fond of the statue.

A crane was used to lift the top of the statue as its feet were cut from its pedestal, then transferred onto a flatbed, where it was placed at an angle that made it a legal load during transport, Dean said.

The operation took about four hours, with another three hours for transporting the statue and moving it into storage, he said.

Dean said the fiberglass statue built over a steel interior frame is strong but fragile, which caused concern that it could crack or break during the move.

He’s in good shape, other than he needs some paint,” he said. “He’s faded out.”

Restoration plan

Hobo Joe may be a man of means by no means, but the Main Street Coalition’s project to clean up and relocate the statue will take some funds.

Purchasing and moving the statue cost the coalition $7,000, part of a project expected to total $30,000, Noble said.

The makeover will include some fiberglass work, repainting the statue and setting it on a new base, she said.

Laura Serben, a member of the Main Street Coalition board, said the group plans a “first-class restoration” of Hobo Joe.

We will get it right. That’s the important thing,” she said.

The statue hasn’t been painted since the 1980s and has weathered over the years with exposure to the Arizona sun, Serben said.

Dean said Hobo Joe is stored in a tight space, so he expects to get a call to move it again to a place with room to do the restoration work.

A campaign to raise funds for the work won’t start until after the coalition gets an idea from the city about where Hobo Joe could eventually be put on display, Noble said.

Placed in the right spot, Hobo Joe could be an “economic driver” for the area, she said.

Noble said she doesn’t know where Hobo Joe could end up. Speculation around town includes a park, a museum or the city’s aquatic center.

Serben said she hopes the statue is placed in Buckeye’s historic downtown.

Saving Hobo Joe fits with the mission that the Main Street Coalition states on its website of being part of an effort to enhance and preserve downtown Buckeye.

The organization was interested in the statue “because it’s kind of historical,” Noble said.

And Hobo Joe is popular, judging by reaction to a social media posting the coalition made after the statue was moved, which Noble said got 8,000 hits.

It’s been there a long time. A lot of people in the city have grown up with it,” she said.

Hobo Joe has also been something of a tourist attraction for fans of kitschy landmarks and a topic for the websites that promote them, such as roadtrippers.com and arizonaoddities.com.

Hobo history

If Buckeye's Hobo Joe's future is a mystery, well so is the statue's past. It's been around so long that it’s difficult to find people who can speak with authority about the statue’s history, but some insights come from the tourist websites.

Just like anything iconic, there are real stories and made-up stories,” Noble said.

Even the statue’s height is the subject of tall tales placing it from 25 to 36 feet high. Serben said it stands at 23 feet.

She said artifacts acquired by the Main Street Coalition with the statue’s purchase don’t answer all the questions about Hobo Joe.

Hobos are known for picking up jobs between riding the rails and have been the subject of songs and Halloween costumes, but Hobo Joe’s roots are based in the restaurant business.

The story goes that a chain of diners called Hobo Joe’s opened in the 1960s in the Southwest and the restaurant’s owners developed the character by the same name as a mascot.

Hobo Joe, who wears a rope belt around a waist that looks like he’s never missed a meal or turned down a handout, was billed as a “world traveler, philosopher and connoisseur of good food.”

Striking a jaunty stance, Hobo Joe’s glad rags include a hat, bandana, boutonniere, jacket stuffed with a newspaper and tattered shoes.

His laid-back nature was depicted in different poses on coffee mugs, matchbooks and postcards that were available at the restaurants, Serben said.

Dean said he admires the statue’s detail.

The man who built him did an awesome job of portraying a hobo,” he said. “You look at him close and it’s really impressive.”

Sculptor Jim Casey, who had previously worked for Disney and had a studio in California, modeled the statue’s image from clay, according to information on the Main Street Coalition’s website provided by Casey’s son, Kevin.

The statues were produced in three sizes: a small one cast in plaster that was sold as a souvenir at the restaurants’ cash registers, a life-sized statue that was placed in front of the restaurants and the roadside version.

Depictions of some of the smaller statues show Hobo Joe holding a stogie and carrying a bindle stick, but if those details were ever part of the local statue, they were gone by the time it was erected in Buckeye. Serben said photos from the time don’t show the appendages.

According to Kevin Casey’s account, a jumbo statue was made in 1967 in Scottsdale.

Some reports indicate that as many as three of the large statues might have been made.

A large Hobo Joe stood in front of a Phoenix restaurant before the statue was damaged by fire, according to several accounts.

Some stories say one was also in Las Vegas.

Buckeye’s statue

Even though a Hobo Joe’s restaurant was never in the West Valley, a Hobo Joe statue found a home here.

Buckeye’s Hobo Joe apparently never was erected for the restaurant chain, perhaps because it was never paid for as the business hit hard times and served its last Hoboburger.

The statue was reportedly retained by Marvin Ransdell, who had a fiberglass pool operation in Phoenix, after he fabricated the statue.

Ransdell is said to have installed the statue on the roof of his business, which was forced to close because of financial troubles.

According to another account, the statue was kept in Ransdell’s yard in Phoenix until the city made him move it.

Ransdell reportedly asked his friends, Ramon and Helen Gillum, to store the statue and other equipment next to their slaughterhouse in Buckeye.

When Ransdell died in 1988, the statue was willed to Ramon Gillum, who one report says asked the city to place it in downtown Buckeye, a suggestion that didn’t go over well among some officials at the time.

Dean said he remembered some controversy about the issue among people who didn’t want a hobo as the city’s symbol.

But Dean suggested Hobo Joe shouldn’t be thought of as a bum.

He’s a work of art. He has a lot of character,” Dean said. “For us country people, we enjoyed him.”

Serben indicated the issue also may have involved the city’s height limits for signs, and whether the statue was classified as a sign.

In 1989, Gillum put Hobo Joe in front of his business, which is now West Valley Processing.

As a tribute to his friend, Gillum installed a plaque at Hobo Joe’s feet dedicating the statue to Ransdell.

Gillum has since died and the Main Street Coalition purchased the statue from his heirs.

Dean said he’s hopeful Hobo Joe will stand again, but he remembered that in 2008, his company moved Buckeye’s historic Benson/Raney House, which deteriorated before it could be restored. He doesn’t want Hobo Joe to meet a similar fate.

I have high hopes the city of Buckeye will allow him to go back up,” Dean said. “It’s part of our cultural heritage.”


Glenn Gullickson can be reached at ggullickson@westvalleyview.com.

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