Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move during the Great Depression

By Errol Lincoln Uys | Go to book overview

Introduction

At the height of the Great Depression, 250,000 teenage hoboes were roaming America. Some left home because they felt they were a burden to their families; some fled homes shattered by the shame of unemployment and poverty. Some left because it seemed a great adventure. With the blessing of parents or as runaways, they hit the road and went in search of a better life.

A boy's or girl's decision to leave home was intensely personal, often spurred by naïveté and hope. Many held grand visions of finding work and sending money home. Like their parents, many sought jobs that simply did not exist.

Public perceptions of the road kids differed. There were people who saw the American pioneer spirit embodied in the young wanderers. There were others who feared them as the vanguard of an American rabble potentially as dangerous as the young Fascists then on the march in Germany and Italy.

What was indisputable, and what was highlighted by a series of government inquiries that addressed the “Youth Problem, ” was that crumbling family structures were not the only reason these children left home. Across the nation, school doors were locked or classrooms hours drastically reduced. Four out of ten youths of high school age were not in school. Many so-called vagrant boys had looked for work in their home town for two or three years before they hit the rails.

The young nomads of the Great Depression struggled to survive in a country “dying by inches, ” in the words of Franklin Delano

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Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move during the Great Depression
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Preface 9
  • Introduction 11
  • Catching Out 45
  • John Fawcett 1936 67
  • Arvel Pearson 1930-42 82
  • Phoebe Eaton Dehart 1938 90
  • Hard Travelin' 99
  • René Champion 1937-41 122
  • Clarence Lee 1929-31 131
  • Tiny Boland 1934 138
  • About the Photographs 144
  • Hitting the Stem 145
  • James San Jule 1930-32 185
  • Jan Van Heé 1937-38 191
  • Clydia Williams 1932-35 201
  • The Way Out 207
  • Charley Bull 1930 246
  • Jim Mitchell 1933 255
  • Robert Symmonds 1934-42 264
  • References 271
  • Acknowledgments 289
  • Index 291
  • About the Author 303
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