GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Contrary to popular belief, ''hobo," ''tramp," and ''bum" are not synonyms.
No, here at the National Railroad Museum, the three terms remain separated in their historical definitions.
Hobos were Depression-era migrant workers, often with families, en route to their next job. Tramps were similar, although more like Jack Kerouac in their love of the free, wandering life. Bums, according to our conductor-guide, were the lowest class of rail riders, often criminals on the lam or chronic freeloaders.
With as many railroad stories as actual miles of track, Green Bay serves as a nexus for train enthusiasts and nostalgia seekers alike. The museum has a 32-acre collection of engines, cabooses, and other cars.
The 25-minute train ride that circles the museum serves as a nice overview of the sprawling offerings. Our young conductor points out areas of interest and explains the intricacies of hobo culture, right down to the code they wrote on fence posts, trees, and buildings to communicate with other rail riders. (For example, a square with a dot in the middle, he says, means ''danger" while a squiggly line under the same symbol stands for ''bad water.")
The modern welcome center has a snazzy exhibit hall, gift shop, and theater that shows a cartoon about the history of railroading in the United States. A full-scale depot diorama opens the first part of the exhibit hall, and just a few steps away sit five-star dining cars, complete with napkins and embossed china.
The National Railroad Museum, 2285 South Broadway, Green Bay; 920-437-7623, www.nationalrrmuseum.org. Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 11-5. Adults $6, seniors $5, children $4.