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Hobo Joe

The biggest bum you could ever meet lives in Buckeye, just a few miles west of Phoenix. He hangs around in front of a 50-year-old meat-packing plant where East Monroe Avenue joins North Apache Road, a quiet little corner that sees few more visitors than those looking specifically for the drifter they've heard so much about. "Drifter," though, might not be the most appropriate word, seeing as he never drifts any further than the concrete platform he's bolted to.

Once characterized as a "World Traveler, Philosopher and Connoisseur of Good Food," Hobo Joe was the frontman for a chain of regional coffee shops that formerly bore his name. All the eateries are gone now, save for a recreation in Cottonwood, so these days Joe is a derelict in both image and occupation. That's partly why he's here now. Just exactly how he got to Buckeye, though, is a bit more complicated.

The Hobo Joe's restaurants were a chain of popular diners that were opened in the 1960s, each of which featured a statue of Hobo Joe, much like Big Boy does with their lovable, burger-wielding cherubim. Most of the statues were only about 5 feet tall, though for three locations, larger versions towering about 25 feet were commissioned. Each location shared the same decor and served the same menu, which included items like the Hoboburger. Overall, it was a fun, family dining experience. At least on the surface.

Underneath, Hobo Joe's was, in part, a scheme to filch money from a sizable bank loan. According to Michael Wendland's The Arizona Project, which details the exhaustive investigations following the infamous 1976 car-bomb murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles, the chain's owners brought an investment firm into the Hobo Joe's business, making the firm a partner in the company in exchange for its guaranteeing a $3 million bank loan. The loan was supposed to be paid off using restaurant profits, but at least one of the partners embezzled the money instead, leaving the investment firm stuck with the debt while the swindler built himself a pricey Phoenix home, as well as a posh duplex in Mesa intended for mafia sex parties.

Due presumably to the ensuing financial trouble, at least one of the aforementioned giant Joes was never paid for, and therefore never installed, before the chain went out of business. So, Marvin Ransdell, fiberglass expert and the man chosen to fabricate the larger statues, kept Joe for himself and installed the big man atop his swimming-pool business.

Unfortunately, Ransdell later had financial trouble himself and lost his property. So, he asked his friends Ramon and Helen Gillum to store his equipment temporarily next to their Buckeye slaughterhouse. Ransdell didn't have the money to save Joe, but Ramon liked the statue so much, he insisted on paying for the transportation costs himself.

Joe, split into three pieces, sat on the Gillums' property for several years. And although Ransdell eventually got his business back up, he succumbed to lung cancer before he was able to retrieve Joe. Before he died, according to Helen Gillum, Ransdell said to his wife, "Give Ray Hobo Joe." So, as a tribute to Joe's engineer, Ramon reassembled the giant vagabond there on his property and installed a plaque at his feet:

Built by and
Stands in Memory of
His Good Friend
July, 1989

Weird Arizona


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