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Hobo Joe and The History of The Statue

Monroe Avenue in Downtown Buckeye has a Hobo.

Hobo Joe Smiling

This Hobo was once famous for its association with a string of restaurants called Hobo Joe Restaurants. They were best known for good hearty food at a very fair price.

From the Buckeye Main Street Coalition website:

An e-mail from Kevin Casey, whose father Jim Casey built the original Hobo Joe Statues.

“My dad, Jim Casey, was the sculptor who modeled the original Hobo Joe (all three sizes: the small souvenir-sized one, the life-sized one, and the huge roadside one). All were modeled in clay. Molds were made from the originals, which were then discarded. His company (Image Makers) did all of the casting and painting of the reproductions made from the molds. The smallest version was cast in plaster: the two others were cast in fiberglass. His assistant, Elaine Polley, painted most if not all of the reproductions in the two larger sizes. I believe the small ones were cast and painted in Tijuana and were sold at the cash registers of the restaurants.”

More history came to use in another e-mail from Mr. Casey:
“I’m pretty sure the first large Hobo Joe was cast, assembled, and painted in Scottsdale in the summer of 1967 … my brother and I visited him from California for a week or two and helped with some of the work. I vaguely recall there being two large ones (one in Scottsdale and one in Las Vegas), but I’m not sure about that and about whether they would have been made consecutively.

“My brother recalls doing casts of the five-foot tall figure into the late 1970’s. The molds for that figure were given to friend’s company, which may have done some others after that.”

So now you’re asking, “How did Hobo Joe get to Buckeye and where he stands today?”

Buckeye Hobo Joe


We go to another e-mail from Mr. Casey:

“I spoke with Marilyn Woolard who is the daughter of Max Gillum who owned the Buckeye Slaughter House and the statue. She said that their “hobo” was a third casting that was never erected for the restaurant chain. Apparently, Marvin Ransdell worked with my father on the casting and assembly of the large hoboes.”

Hobo Joe in downtown Buckeye is a man of mystery and, by one account, an impostor.

The origins of the 25-foot-tall, 1,200-pound statue and popular roadside attraction are unknown.

Hobo Joe was a “World Traveler, Philosopher and Connoisseur of Good Food,” according to a slogan for the fictional character, created in the 1960s.

But, according to May Applegate, the Buckeye Hobo Joe is a fraud, and she gets upset when he is tied to the slogan, as he frequently is in news stories and on travel websites.

Applegate’s late husband, Herb, founded the Hobo Joe’s Coffee Shops. The chain no longer exists.

Hobo Joe Restaurant

“That Hobo Joe (The on in Buckeye Arizona,) has nothing to do with the original Hobo Joe,” Applegate said.

May and Herb Applegate moved to Phoenix from Detroit in 1964. Her husband and two partners started the Hobo Joe’s Coffee Shops in 1965.

“We went through a tremendous amount of drawings before my husband accepted the hobo,” Applegate said. “He said he didn’t want him to be like a tramp. His feeling was to be more like a man who had gotten into his 50s, threw all his responsibilities to the wind and decided to start traveling and tasting food.”Hobo Joe smaller statues

David Stevens, who was the interior and exterior designer of the Hobo Joe’s restaurants, agrees with Applegate that it was the only officially built statue for Hobo Joe’s restaurants. The statue had stood for only two months before angry union members tried to burn it down. No one knows what happened to it from there.

Stories written about the Buckeye statue are contradictory.

Casey’s niece, Patricia Opincar is writing Casey’s biography, and in her research, she has found no proof of more than one big statue being built by Casey.

Underneath, Hobo Joe’s (the restaurant chain) 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.

Marvin Ransdell built the fiberglass statue that stands near 1045 E. Monroe Ave. in Buckeye.

When Ransdell was on his deathbed, he told his wife to give Hobo Joe to Buckeye meatpacker Gillum, who built a pedestal, had the statue painted and put it up at his plant.Buckeye Hobo Joe Plaque


The Buckeye statue has much in common with the official Hobo Joe and appears to have been cast from the same molds.

Details that are identical to the original Hobo statue include a hat, a bandana, a rope for a belt, the “Wall Street Journal” — stuffed in a pocket with a glove, a banana and candy cane in his other pocket, a glove on his left hand, a shoe with a flapping sole and, even his Phi Beta Kappa key hanging from the rope belt.hobo joe pocket


The original Hobo Joe had blue- and white-striped pants and a black jacket, and the Buckeye Hobo Joe was off-white but repainted with a blue shirt, gray pants and a black jacket and hat by Gillum’s relatives.

“It had to come from the original mold because it’s too specific,” said Opincar, artist Casey’s niece. “So there’s an original mold that’s either sitting out there someplace or that somebody has.”

The Arizona roadside attraction in Buckeye, Arizona is no fraud. More than likely he is the little brother of the original.

Recently Buckeye Hobo Joe has been taken down to be refurbished.

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