“Job-that was the magic word, ” says James Martin, who rode I freight trains for eight years from 1932 looking for a steady job that he never found. While one road kid in five was on a summer adventure, most teenagers riding the rails left home to seek work. Some were high school dropouts, but many had graduated only to find their local job prospects were nil. They joined the mass of migrant job seekers estimated in 1933 to be as many as four million. It was a desperate world of cut-throat competition, where a boy or girl had to hustle for the lowliest job.
Some found work in New Deal programs, especially the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and on National Youth Administration projects.
Many road kids followed the harvests in the West, as generations of hoboes had done before. Young migrants who were fortunate landed on farms where they were decently housed and paid a fair wage, though their employers might themselves be struggling to survive. Others not so lucky were cruelly exploited. Frustration and disappointment drove many back home without having found better lives.
The era of the boxcar boys and girls passed with the coming of World War II and the end of the Great Depression. Riding the rails had been a rite of passage for a generation of young people and profoundly shaped the rest of their lives. Self-reliance, compassion, frugality, and a love of freedom and country are at the heart of the lessons they learned. Their memories are a mixture of nostalgia and