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

By Errol Lincoln Uys | Go to book overview

Jim Mitchell 1933

When his father lost his job in 1931, Jim Mitchell saw his family slide to rock bottom in the “undeclared war of the Dirty Thirties” as he calls the Great Depression. The Mitchells lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jim remembered pulling a little red wagon through the streets to collect the family's relief food. In his sophomore year at high school, humiliated and taunted by classmates who derided his circumstances, Mitchell persuaded his buddy Peter Lijinski-“Poke”-to run away with him in winter 1933. The pair set their sights on Texas, where they wanted to work as cowboys. From the moment they hopped their first train in the Kenosha yards, the runaways experienced the best and worst of life on the bum in America.

Dad worked ten hours a day for six days a week before the Depression, and things were fine. I remember the morning it happened. I was in the basement fooling around with my crystal set before school when Dad came home. “I lost my job. I'm out of work, ” he told Mother. It was the first time I saw my father cry.

Dad had to stand in unemployment lines. He'd get a job for a day or two and earn a buck or so. You could see his suffering. Dad wasn't a banker, he wasn't a machinist, he was a common laborer like hundreds of thousands of others. He put pieces of metal in a machine that went clunk. That's what my dad did but he had his pride. Take away a man's pride and he's skin and bones. He is nothing.

-255-

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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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