Errol Lincoln Uys
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Riding the Rails
Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression
Errol Lincoln Uys
RIDING THE RAILS
a film by Michael Uys
and Lexy Lovell
Directors Guild of America
Los Angeles Film Critics
19 national/international awards
Also by Errol Lincoln Uys
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A spellbinding saga on a truly epic scale
that brings to life Brazil and its history.
"A Masterpiece" - L'Express, Paris
"We thought it was the magic carpet...
"The end of the rainbow was always
"Most of all I remember the loneliness.
During the Great Depression, more than a quarter of a million teenagers left their homes and hopped freight trains looking for work or adventure. This is their story.
I first became interested in the boxcar boys and girls when I read Boy and Girl Tramps of America by Thomas Minehan, who rode the rails with the young nomads in summer 1932. I suggested to my son, Michael, a film maker, that the subject would make a powerful documentary. The suggestion led to the award-winning PBS "American Experience" film, Riding the Rails, made by Michael and his wife, Lexy Lovell.
In the book, I draw on 3,000 letters from former boxcar boys and girls sent to the documentary makers. I had access to 40 hours of filmed interviews with 20 men and women chosen as potential candidates for the film.
Many letters are handwritten, as from old friends sharing honest-to-God stories. Time and again, I held a letter in my hand and felt a connection to a lonely boy or girl standing beside the railroad tracks 60 years ago. It left me with a deep sense of the inner strength and faith of ordinary Americans and their belief in this land.
We learn of their struggle to survive on the streets of America and know their bitter disappointments, their sense of loss of childhood, their frustrations at the lack of opportunity. “When I think of all this traveling across the land, searching for the things we had lost, there is a place inside my chest that still hurts,” recalls one rider.
When they left the rails and got a hold on their lives, they never let go. Many tell of keeping the jobs they found for 30 or 40 years. And the girls they met, too: many write joyously of their enduring devotion to the sweethearts they married when they settled down. Their stories told in their own words resonate with the pluck and courage they showed in going to seek a better life.
Illustrated with rare archival photos and drawing primarily on letters and oral histories of three thousand men and women who hopped freight trains, Riding the Rails brings to life a neglected saga of America in the 1930s. Self-reliance, compassion, frugality, and a love of freedom and country are at the heart of the lessons these teens learned.
This unforgettable narrative of a daring generation of America's children who rode the rails in search of a better life is a powerful reminder of what might turn up around the next curve. They are an inspiration to all who share a nostalgia for the road and the freedoms sought there.
THE LIBRARY JOURNAL
Whether you're a "gaycat" (novice rider) or a "dingbat" (seasoned hobo), Riding the Rails is entertaining and inspiring, recapturing a time when the country was "dying by inches." -- Sunny Delaney, History Editor
KANSAS CITY STAR
A remarkable story
One of the most poignant memories of the wandering youth of the Great Depression
As gripping as it is well researched...
Riding the Rails sets out to tell about a few of the 250,000 teenagers who hopped freights and lived the hobo life in the wake of the 1929 Stock Market crash... paints a brisk, colorful, fast-paced portrait of lean times and high hopes.
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A WALK WITH THE GHOSTS OF
THE DEVIL'S RAILROAD
Errol Lincoln Uys