22-year-old woman rode with husband…
I was five feet tall and weighed 80 pounds.
My first time grabbing steps on the move with my husband pulling me up, I cried like a baby. I soon got over that and could get on with the best of them.
“We carried cardboard suitcase with one blanket, two potatoes, one onion, and two slices bacon, an army fry pan.”
I was so impressed by the fact that well-educated people were also on the road and looking for work.
A woman traveling alone with three children. She had a few sandwiches and offered to share. We thanked her but refused. We couldn’t take food from the children even though we were starving.
Two bad railroad bulls: Bill Moore of Hosington, Kansas and Texas Slim.
I was one of those who ran into Mr. Moore at Lawrence, Kansas. We came into town on a train that had no empties so we rode the oil cars on the platform that runs along the side of the car. It was a dangerous ride. We could not afford to fall asleep.
Mr. Moore and his men were waiting and corralled about fifty of us and herded us down the highway to the next town about ten miles away. He drove behind us and made us walk all the way. Some people were walking in their sleep, but they wouldn’t let anyone stray off the road to lay down to sleep. Bill Moore was a very mean man.
Hopped a Greyhound bus at a crossing, by jumping on back ladder and climbing on top to luggage tarp.
16 and 17
1932 and 1933
“I saved a young Jew’s life. Sharing the boxcar with us were a seaman just back from Argentina and a Spokane construction worker. I had to discourage them from rolling the Jew and tossing him over the side on the western slope of the Continental divide in Montana."
“I had to pass up a ride at Aberdeen in South Dakota because every spot on the train was taken – by my count 320 plus many I was unable to count.”
All drifters were invited to a talk in an area of the railroad yard at Sioux City, Iowa. The speaker turned out to be a white-haired woman, a motherly sort. She lectured on the Communist doctrine and was an excellent and very convincing speaker. But in fielding questions from her audience, one answer turned me against communism for life:
The question: How are we going to fight this revolution without guns?
Her reply: We have ammunition caches throughout the country. We’ll blow up factories and bridges so that supplies and transportation are disrupted. We’ll execute the leaders of the country, including mayors and police chiefs. We’ll hit the entire nation simultaneously causing such disruption they will never be able to recover.”
The next question: Who will take their place?
Her reply: We have people trained to take over these duties but they’ll be working for the people and not the big bankers.”
The meanest employer of my life was in Montana. This fellow came to the railyards and chose me over about 25 others. He was impossible to work for and I quit at the end of the fourth day. He begged me to stay until morning and milk the cows.
The next morning he told me I was fired. I figured he owed me $4.00 for four days of work but by the time he subtracted this and that he owed me 79c
I suspect he used that scam every year during harvest.
“I learned more about human nature and life in those two summers than all my previous 16 years combined. It was equivalent to getting my masters and doctorate degrees, and more useful."
I was 16. Arriving in Little Rock, Ark., in a light rain and with 50 cents in my pocket earned by fixing a flat tire for a lady who had given me a lift, I looked for a 25 cent room. The room I rented turned out to be in a house of ill repute. The madam had a son my age. He and I hit it off right away, and his mother offered to let me move into and share her son’s room while I looked for a job in Little Rock. So I lived for a month in a whorehouse and left, so help me, still a virgin.
We as children would watch the freight train pull into Cottonwood, Idaho. As far as the eye could see men were riding on top. At first in the distance it looked more like sacks of grain only you could see a person’s head slumped down. The train pulled to a stop near the stockyards and these people would slowly get down the ladders and walk to the jungle
We left Minnesota on a freight train going west trying to find work. There were between 150 to 200 people on these cars. Some families with babies. They had to beg for milk to feed the young.
One night we came into Butte, Montana. There were men with guns in the yards so we wouldn’t get off the cars. There was a strike in the mines and they were afraid we would take their jobs.
We got to Cheyenne, WYO where we were put off by the railroad police. We were walked off the railroad property and turned over to the local police. They walked us one block and said that if we ran like hell we could catch the train as it pulled out of the yards…
Arriving in Sacramento we decided to check into the police station to get a good night's sleep. We were sent to a building that had a large dormitory showers and a place to wash and dry our clothes. After breakfast we were loaded into two trucks and taken out as a road-building crew with armed guards. After two or three hours a guard approached me and said that my friend I were damn good workers, should pick up our packs and get on our way.
Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan asylum 1932-1935
Released to father and stepmother in 1935. Things didn’t worked out so I ran away to make my fortune in California. Hitched to Chicago and then rode freights to California.
While riding the rails I met a black fellow named Otto Bryant. He caught his left heel in the coupling of the freight. I ran across the freight train to the engine and told them what happened. By jerking the train he removed his foot with abrasions. We traveled to San Francisco where he had some people. I stayed 3-4 days and was treated very well.
To Hollywood: “Various jobs gave me extra parts at Warner Bros, including a part in Wild Boys of the Road."
A Minnesota boy
Going north in Mississippi I had a ride in a dump truck with no cab for the driver and me, when one of those quick heavy showers came up. I insisted that driver let me off at a small residence just off the road so that I could keep myself and suitcase dry. The driver told me that it was a "Negro" shack and that I was nuts to go there.
I went, stayed dry and had fun with all those African-American kids, who peaked around door posts and boxes, brothers and sisters giggling at that white boy on their porch.
With friend Cyril Leonard on the Illinois Central Railroad.
I was born on a farm in southern Indiana. My father started a greenhouse in 1925 then went broke when the Stock Market crashed in 1929. He obtained a job in 1930 and we moved to Champaign Illinois. This job failed within the next two years and we had nothing. I worked for a while at fifteen for nine dollars a week until the business failed and I lost my job.
I have many stories of the period of 1931 to 1932. One that I remember was the time that Cyril Leonard and I were downtown in Champaign and decided to hook a train going south on the Illinois Central railroad. We landed in Cairo, Illinois about sundown and having no place to stay spent the night in a corn field. We woke up in the morning and cooked some field corn in an old rusty can we found in the dump filled with creek water.
We caught a freight going on south that morning and hooked it. We spent a very pleasant day in the door of boxcar watching the beautiful scenery of Kentucky going by. We got off the train ïn some little town in Kentucky.
Cyril said "We had better go bum something to eat." I had about five dollars and I had never bummed any thing to eat in my life so I was a little hesitant. Any way I decided to try it so when Cyril went into the back door of a house I went across the alley to another house.
When the lady of the house opened the door I told her that I had been working in Illinois and had lost my job and was heading south to my parents house in Texas. She said 'Come on in. We've just finished supper. I feel so sorry for some of you young people today. I have two sons about your age.'
I sat down and there was a feast on the table, with roast beef and mashed potatoes. I finished off with a big piece of chocolate cake and a glass of butter milk. I had some change in my pocket and was worried to death that she would hear it rattling.
I left as soon as I could reasonably could. That was the first and only time that I ever bummed a meal.
I went outside and Cyril was leaning on a garage door in the alley. He asked, "How did you do ?" I replied, "Very well, how did you do?” He answered, “I only got two old dried up muffins.”
That made me realize from that time on that the ones who have get; the one’s that don’t have don’t.
1932, age 14
I got in an empty boxcar and rode to Hannibal, MO. In before dark, I looked around the bluff where the paths led. I climbed to a round hill and settled into a sleep. I woke to a blazing light…I had been blackjacked.
Stayed on in Deer Trail, Col. for a couple of days and nights, then on into Denver. I’d been told not to get picked up in the yards there. The train picks up speed going in. I bailed out. Tore a 3” long slit in my knee cap, light scars yet, I’ll swear I could see the bone.
Somewhere before Salt Lake City, while still in the steep mountains, brakes failed. Brakie came running. “Man the brakes” There was enough old bos to know to tighten the brakes on each car. This was a wheel up 2ft on end of each car. We all set to. It saved a train wreck. Some lines were glad to have the old hobos ride their trains in the mountains.
I met an old Indian at Reno. He would send me to get a pitcher of beer, 25c a trip. Big Money! A fast freight was coming. He ran like the wind, made a flying leap and stuck to the side of the car like he was part of it. Level track, the train hadn’t slowed down.
A man got under the wheels of a moving train. His head looked like a red varnished skull.
I crossed the Colorado river on the trestle back to where I’d seen some watermelons. They were on the wild side, small, hard and gourdy taste. Boy were they good!
"The biggest bunches of grapes I ever saw. Ten inches wide, 2 feet or better long. Like pictures of the Promised Land in the Bible."
I found a man that had some dates. I’d always liked the ones we had at Christmastime. He let me fill my pack. They were ripe but not completely dried. Inside was filled with fiber next to seed. I ate a bellyful. You could have beat hot iron on my belly! It was so hard. So much for a high fiber diet. Well, I lived and got to Phoenix AZ.
The train yard was in a valley, the town high on a bluff. I was really hungry by now. I gave the dates to other bos. I went up the bluff. Real nice houses. A lady comes to the door. I asked for a couple of pieces of bread, it would have been cake. She says, “Oh you’re hungry! I’ll fix you three or four big meat sandwiches, I says, 2 or 3 pieces of plain bread, be plenty.
She was gone a long time. I didn’t like it one bit. Sure enough, came a patrol car, two officers. They asked if I begged. I said, yes, just wanted a couple pieces bread. They said, you’ll have to come with us.
As I was getting in the police car, she came to the door. “Oh (sad-like, no one to eat my nice sandwiches. Kitty! Kitty! Kitty!" 4 or 5 big fat cats that matched her size, came running. As we drove away, she was feeding the cats.
Usual questions, look forward, heading home. They took me to yard. Said, don’t go up there again, we’ll have to lock you up. I thanked them. I was still hungry. The transient camp was miles the other side of town.
This had once been big farm country. The city was moving in, a large three story farm house set in middle 10-20 acres. All the way around were piles of early tractor machinery from bankrupt farms. 50' around, 15'-20' or more feet high. Paths led toward the house. They called it the wagon wheel as from the yards, that's what it looked like. A Coke sign hung at one front door. No one came all day to or from the house. I presumed it was an apartment house with a mom & pop store in it. This was always a good place to get bread, moldy meat & cheese or stale rolls 8 donuts.
Some "in-the-know" hobo said "good place for hand-out." It had been so long since I'd eaten I was beginning to think food was a fairy tale. Half an hour or so before the train was to head for Albuquerque, I weakened. I arrived at the house and it was a monster!
Knocked on one back door. A small, young blonde girl came to door. Said I'd like a couple pieces of bread, if she could spare it. She left the door open a crack. Woman with loud voice, "What you doing?" Answer low.
Lady opened the door, then I knew where I was. I'd read enough cowboy stories. Two books for a nickel at candy 'corner' in Versailles after front came off. The stereo-type, huge, big, all muscle, quilt-block robe, house slippers, the works.
WHAT DO YOU WANT? Loud, rough. I said I just wanted a couple pieces bread. Do you have a home? Yes, Mam! I'm trying to get home, been to Cali looking for work. Have a mother? Yes, Mam! The best in the world (no lie). Stay there! I stayed ! I could see police cars coming, then the lock up! I swore I'd never tell my true name or address, no way!
The little blonde opened the door. She had a nice china plate with 4 big sandwiches cut in half, which was new for this ole country boy, wrapped in wax paper. I opened one, took half 2 pieces of meat,2 cheese, fresh bread. Real good! I ate it and thanked her. She said they are all for you. The lady said to fix them.
The Madame was more of a lady than that the rich woman on the hill will ever be.
We talked for quite while. The girl said, I work here. I’m 13 today. My folks are bringing a birthday cake. I see them every night. They come to get what I make.
I often wonder what happened to her. I’ve seen something like this happen over and over again in my travels.
born 1920 x 15 in 1935
"Fatboy" in gang of six black teenage kids
"I forgot to warn the five kids with me that when riding the catwalk on top of the boxcars, the 60 mph wind will pick your pockets clean"
"Our first frightening encounter came at the UP roundhouse in Kansas City, where some of the kids drank from a white's-only water fountain. We were run out of the UP railyard by the bulls.
"Few black or colored hobos riding the rails simply because poor white and poor blacks do not get along well."
When we got to Marysville, California one morning I was sleeping on a flat car of lumber that projected over me. The train stopped and a railyard worker came over to ask me where I wanted to go. The workers in California were very helpful as many migrant farm workers traveled by freight train. The railroads hauled the produce to market so the railroad people tried to be helpful.
heading for the harvest fields in west from Waukasha, S. Wisconsin:
A man, a woman, a baby and a goat riding the freights. The goat was a good rider and provided milk for the baby.
I saw entire families living in an abandoned brickyard in Cheyenne, WYO. Some had been there as long as two years.
Canyon City, Colorado had a beautiful park in the business district with a large pool in the center filled with trout. One night all the trout disappeared from the pool, and the next morning the remains were found in the hobo jungle.
Robert F. O’Donoghue
I was a boy of eight, riding with my mother of 27.
There were times when the dicks opened the door of our car, saw my mother and I, asked if we were OK, where we were going. They would tell us to be careful, and re-close the door.
I remember being out in the desert, we had no water. A couple of people said we might try to get into one of the refrigerator cars. I was only eight years old and pretty small. It was suggested that I could be lowered into a car through the roof. I went down and chipped ice with a pocket knife, put it in a bag which was hoisted up. I was thrown a rope and hauled myself up.
We soon learned that churches were not the best places to go for a handout. Thank God we found the Salvation Army. They were truly great people. Oh, you had to listen to their songs and their spiel, but then they would sure feed you, and give you a nice place to sleep. I remember one time, the officer in charge had a young lady take me down to a local store, and bought me a new pair of tennis shoes. The ones I had were in shreds.
I can remember the hobo camps beside the road. Almost everyone was friendly, especially when there were women present, they would ask us if we had eaten, and they would ask us to share with them. I still get my horn out every once in a while for a plain old baloney sandwich with a pickle.
Hobo King Rambling Rudy (excerpt)
Ran away from home at age 14, hated school, hated work
Rode rails from 1924-1931
“Due process was for the more deserving. A hobo had to live by his wits, guts, and hopefully good fortune"
Rudy sat perched atop a boxcar of the slow freight as it wound its way through the mountains. The amazingly scenic “Royal Gorge Route” was enjoyable with its many tunnels and 1000 foot cliffs.
Rudy had to leave the train at Soldiers Summit, Utah.
His visit there was a brief one because the authorities and local citizenry advised him that his talents could possibly be plied better somewhere else; say St. Louis or Chicago.
Rudy went north to Port Arthur only to find the situation the same. Then he hitch-hiked for seven days from there to E1 Paso. He hung around there for a while then hopped the Texas and Pacific Railroad east to Shreveport, Louisiana.
He crossed the wide expanse of the state in a reasonable time; lingering along the line only to eat. However, as the train raced toward the eastern border, he remembered some of the stories passed around the jungle.
Rudy was headed for the jurisdiction of Texas Slim; the most notorious bull on the railroad. Texas Slim was stationed at Longview and sometimes rode the trains all the way to Gladewater looking for hobos to bust up. The more Rudy recalled the tales he had heard around the cook fires concerning Slim, the more nervous he got, so he soon decided it would be wise to get off the freight at Kilgore and walk on into Gladewater, which he did.
After a peaceful night in a lone boxcar, Rudy summoned up his nerve again and caught an eastbound freight to Longview. It was his intention to disembark from the train well before it pulled into the yard, but he miscalculated.
As it slowed down going into the freight yard he noticed a group of three hundred hobos herded tightly together and guarded by four harness bulls. Not one of the officers made a move toward him. Instead, they calmly watched the creaking car roll by.
He was looking back at them wondering why they had let him pass when suddenly someone snagged his coat and yanked him from the doorway. Rudy flew through the air and landed sprawling on the jagged pebbles.
"Git up boy" the earth quaked when his captor spoke "an git over there with the rest o' your bunch."
Rudy sat erect and stared up at the angry bull whose huge frame towered over him; his head stretching up to meet the rolling clouds. This was some man, soaring to six foot six inches.
"Go on, git!" The giant waved a tree trunk of a baseball bat for emphasis.
Texas Slim was about the biggest man Rudy had ever seen in his life. One massive hand could squash a man's head like a melon, but he reserved the scarred bat clenched in his right fist for that main purpose. His wicked face was frozen into a permanent scowl and a big black cowboy hat shaded his evil eyes. Strapped around his waist he wore two six-guns tied down to his bulging muscular thighs.
"Ya'll made a big mistake coming through here like ya did." Slim stuck out his chest arrogantly and eyed his captives. "Now we gonna hafta teach ya'll a lesson, So soon's the trucks get here to haul ya'll off to the labor camp we can start ya'lls schoolin' out in the cotton fields hoein' cotton."
"Hoeing cotton?" Rudy groaned inside. He figured that this time he had finally had it. "I've heard of people dying in those places" he thought.
At any rate, hope flickered in his breast as the sound of two long whistles signaled a train moving out of the yard. Quickly his eyes darted back and forth looking at the guards. Their eyes were fixed on the hobos. Slim was strutting back and forth harassing the prisoners on the fringe of the group.
"Now!" the voice screamed in Rudy's ear. He darted out from amidst the throng and hit top speed immediately. Gravel flew in all directions as he hurled himself toward the departing freight. It was picking up speed as he caught it on the fly.
A contented fugitive was smiling to himself when he looked back down the train to watch the bulls gradually shrink away from him.
Suddenly terror gripped the boy again as he saw Texas Slim's long legs effortlessly carry him across the yard and watched as a strong arm reached out and pulled the surprisingly agile man onto the ladder four boxcars away. The force and speed of the train would have ripped the arm off a normal man.
"Oh no!" Rudy cried aloud, "how could he?" The crazy man's wild eyes were fixed on the fleeting fugitive as he edged across the top of the boxcar. Rudy had no choice but to scramble on top of his boxcar and run for dear life; where to he did not know, but it was for sure that he would die if he stayed put.
Texas Slim exploded in fanatic rage as he saw Rudy widening the distance between them. His cowboy boots were not made to walk on lurching trains. Cursing insanely he whipped out one of his forty fives' and started shooting without taking careful aim.
Bullets whizzed all around Rudy. The zing of one tickled his ear. He stumbled and ran again, over the pitching train; panic stricken.
Then it happened. One of the slugs slammed into his right shoulder, tore through the muscle and ricocheted off the collar-bone, ripping the top of his shoulder open. It felt like an iron fist knocking him down. For a split second his vision blurred and then went dark as he fell forward.
Being only slightly conscious may have been the single factor which saved his life as his limp carcass hit the ground rolling and kicking up a cloud of dust.
Rudy fought to sit up. The world was spinning and undulating crazily underneath and around him. With a feeble burst of energy, he found himself upright only briefly and then he toppled over and crashed headlong, back into the grass.
"You've got to get out of here! now!" The voice resounded with an urgency. Rudy tried to rise again unsuccessfully. "Crawl! Find a place to hide quick."
Struggling to stay awake, he dragged himself up the line. It was a miracle that no bones had been broken in the fall. His bum shoulder hindered his progress though, but eventually he came to a large patch of weeds a short distance away and crawled well into it to conceal himself from the tracks. Satisfied that he was at last safe, Rudy relaxed and passed out.
By morning his shirt was stuck to him from the lost blood, but he was thinking more clearly and feeling much better; his body having recovered from the shock of a forty five caliber slug ripping a hole in his shoulder. However it still ached terribly and his fever persisted.
Through tear-filled eyes, Rudy looked back to the railyard. Long shadows of misty morning stretched out over the landscape, softening it. No Texas Slim. The sounds of a train being made up floated across to him on the wavy yellow sea.
"I gotta get out of here before he comes back and it's gotta be on that freight." Rudy was sure that he would not survive another day in Longview. There might be some pain, but anything was better than facing that wild man again. So he lay back down to rest while waiting for the signal. Then; two whistles.
Painfully, he edged up to track-side and collapsed, gasping for breath. Suppressing screams of agony he then sneaked back to a point where he could safely board the slow moving train. He looked around quickly. Still no Slim.
"This is my only chance now" he thought, realizing tha his eyes were blurring and his head swimming. "My only one."
Just as the engine passed, Rudy summoned up all hi remaining strength and every last ounce of courage an shot out running beside a side door Pullman. He reached out with his left hand and grabbed the side of the open door. Then he swung his right arm around with waning strength and, with both hands, lifted himself halfway into the doorway.
Rudy knew that his shoulder needed immediate attention. He had heard all about lead poisoning, so he jumped off at Marshall, Texas to find a drug store.
"Iodine? how come you need iodine son?" The inquisitive druggist asked.
Rudy gasped when he first saw the gaping hole in his shoulder reflected back at him in one of the station rest room's mirrors. The wound looked much bigger with all the dried blood caked around it.
"Well it don't look so bad" he thought looking at the small hole that was left. "Sure does hurt though." It hurt even more when he applied the iodine.
Rudy was feeling much better after something to eat and a clean shirt. Still it was a great relief to his soul when the train he was riding, left the state of Texas.
"This is no good" he mumbled. "I'm going to get a job somewhere and quit this awful hobo life."
"I got homesick so I headed east. I walked in and a strange woman said, 'Your folks moved two years ago. You must be that Rambling Rudy.' I went to township where they had moved and had a reunion with my parents."
I think rumors were the cause of it all. Some one would tell about jobs in New Jersey and everybody would go to New Jersey. When they got there it was a false alarm, so somebody would start rumor about California and everybody turned west. I always thought the government hired men to start these rumors just to keep men moving.
The most mournful sound I ever heard was sleeping under a bridge and hearing a train whistle and knowing you are a thousand miles from home.
Everybody was in the same boat. I met a black man. He wore a long black overcoat and the lining was loose. He was kind of a sad looking guy and when he went to town he came back loaded. I buddied with him. He kept me well fed every day. He was a man about 40. But I had a southern buddy that was prejudiced. He wouldn’t eat with the black man with the long coat.
Seeing wheat pulled up two stories high a quarter of a mile long turning into a green pyramid. While famines have happened when there was no food, there was something very wrong. Here food was rotting... People starved while food rotted.