Hitting the Rails: Hobo Life

By | May 8, 2019

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1st April 1939: Tramp, John Walpole, draws a chalk cross on the wall of a farmhouse where they gave him food. A mark to remind himself when he passes that way again that they treated him well. Source: (gettyimages.ie)

When the Great Depression hit, jobs dried up and families lost their houses and farms. In desperation, many hard-working, able-bodied men left home in search of any work they could get. Thousands upon thousands of predominantly young, white, single men hopped on board the hobo culture, riding the rails in search of odd jobs and seasonal work. Lest you think this group was just a bunch of lazy, free-loading, trouble-causing bums, let’s look at the ins and outs of the Great Depression’s hobo culture. 

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Hobos used the nation's railway system as their mode of transportation. Source: (vox.com)

A New Class of People

Never before in the history of the United States had so many of its citizens been unemployed. With no job and no home, men were forced to go to where the jobs were. Hitching rides in boxcars along the nation’s railways, these hobos, as they came to be known, carried their few possessions with them and lived a nomadic lifestyle. The transient nature of hobo life meant that the men were creating a new class of people. They weren’t bums who refused to work or tramps who survived on hand-outs. They want to work because accepting charity would hurt their pride.