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

By Errol Lincoln Uys | Go to book overview

Arvel Pearson 1930-42

Arvel “Sunshine” Pearson's grandfather had living quarters behind the railroad station at Spadra, an Ozarks village five miles from Clarksville, Arkansas. Arvel's father died before he was born and his mother moved into the depot, where she gave birth to her son in 1915. The first sounds the boy beard were the whistles of freight trains rolling down into Spadra.

Arvel's mother had remarried a coal miner. Working as a water-boy in a strip mine at the age of nine, Arvel had been nicknamed “Sunshine” by the miners. By 1929, he had already been working underground for eighteen months. Then the Great Depression hit and the mine closed. He first rode the rails in 1930 and would continue to hop trains until 1942 as a migrant farm worker in summer and as an itinerant coal miner in winter. In 1939, when he was twenty-four, Arvel attended the National Hobo Convention, still held annually at Britt, Iowa. There he became the youngest hobo to be elected “King of the Hoboes.”

His reign ended with the onset of World War II. After serving in the Pacific, he returned to civilian life and worked in the construction trades for the next forty years. When Arvel finally retired as a pipefitter in 1987, he was making $18.75anhour-as much as he earned in a week in a good season on the road during the 1930s.

The closing of the mines left twelve hundred miners out of work. In six months to a year, people who didn't have a place to raise

-82-

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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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