The story of 250,000 teenagers on the road in the Great Depression is one of the vital sagas of America in the 1930s. These archives derive from 3,000 letters written by men and women who rode the rails between 1929 and 1941; follow-up questionnaires and interviews complete a rare first-hand account of Americans living through one of this nation’s bleakest eras.

INDEX to letters from Americans who rode the rails during the Great Depression

"Almost no one ever mouthed the threat of anarchy."' | Knights of the Road | How to catch desert rattlesnakes. | Hobo signs: Tell-tale markers for fellow travelers | "Roosevelt was in  the White House and all was well with the world."

Hobo Life in the Great Depression | "Extra! Extra! Stock market collapses!" | Hard  Times: "Have you seen grown men cry?" | What 15 cents bought you in the Great Depression

Begging for food in the Great Depression | Yermo Red, railroad bull of terror at Barstow | "Mexican people were very kind to us." | A child's education during the Great Depression

"The world was coming to an end." | Dancing in the heart of the Ozarks | "If you don't want to be a hobo, you'll need schoolin' " | Big Jim Foss died under the open sky |

CALIFORNIA -  Part Three
"A terrible heinous time in American history." | Hard Traveling: Transients in the Great Depression | Wild Boys of the Road | Harassed by railroad cops and Kangaroo courts 

The girl with a heart of gold | A millionaire's son who was 'de-princed' | No safe way to hope a speeding train | Lessons learned from hoboing in the Great Depression

Dangerous LIves: Children in the Great Depression | "Hoover blew the whistle, Mellon rang the bell, Wall Street gave the signal, and the Country went to hell." 

Riding freight trains in the Great Depression | "Sixty days on a chain gang in Texas."

"WPA and CCC saved America from a revolution." | A sure way to get a handout from the lady of the house.

Florida - Part One
Living a "Grapes of Wrath" Life | Top hat and tails on a boxcar | Thirty days on a chain gang in North Carolina | Runaway boy's seven summers on the rails in the 1930s | A mother and three children, 5, 7, 9 follow the crop harvests in California

Florida - Part Two
Looking for a job during the Great Depression | How lesson from the road shaped the lives of young hobos | "Our home was a regular stopover for the 'Knights of the Road' - hobos, tramps and vagabundos " | "When was the last time you wrote to your mother?" | "How lonely and mournful a train whistle sounds..."

Georgia - Iowa
Lumps, set-downs, hitting the stem - How the hungry got a meal on the road | Hobo Jungle - Learning the ropes from old-timers | "I was one of Hoover's prodigal children." | Al Capone's soup was the best."

Idaho - Illinois
Wild Boys of the Road | "Kitty! Kitty! Kitty!" - The meanest, fattest woman in Phoenix, Arizona | How Hobo King Rambling Rudy escaped the rage of Texas Slim

Indiana - Kansas - Kentucky
Child migrants: American youth in the 1930s | "Go West!" A Nebraska farm boy follows the harvests | "Poverty, love, and a fervent trust in God." |"I was a John Dillinger look-alike." | "I became a hobo because of the life that was in me, the wanderlust that would not let me rest."

Louisiana - Massachusetts - Maryland - Maine
Riding the rails was a rite of passage for a generation | "Act, Scene and Line" - A Hobo Shakespearean | Nickels from the old lady in the Rolls-Royce | Flying Fish: Hitching a ride in Buckminister Fuller's Dymaxion. | Riding a Deadheader: Kings of the cinder trail

Michigan - Minnesota
Hooverville - A Place to stay in the Great Depression | "Put your pride in your pocket and your hat in your hand." | 1930s: America's Restless Years  | "Franklin Delano Roosevelt was my all-time hero when he introduced the CCC." | Migrant boys and girls as young as twelve all had this in common: no jobs, no money, no hope. | "We buckled our belt to the catwalk to avoid falling off when we slept."

Missouri - Mississippi - Montana
What it was like to be poor in America in the 1930s | "We lived in the Ozarks. There was no future for young people. | Century of Progress: Heading to the Chicago World's Fair

North Carolina - North Dakota - Nebraska - New Hampshire
"We saw America as a land of opportunities. The people were down, not out." | "My family was slowly starving to death." | Adventures of a happy-go-lucky boxcar kid. | The hobo who came back to say thank you 

New Jersey - New Mexico - Nevada
Why children left home during the Great Depression | "At fifteen, all I could remember was hard times." | An old hobo who lied to kids about Lemonade Springs and Rock Candy Mountains | "Hardy people, these Americans, especially in difficult times." | Long ride home hopping freights across America

New York - Ohio
Thousands of boxcar kids killed or injured riding the rails | "America was on the dole and millions of people weren't sure where their next meal was coming from." | "It was hard for us to get school paper money which was 35 cents a year. Teacher would embarrass you constantly asking when you would bring it in. You figured probably never." | "I dreaded to try the door on the box car. Had they locked it? Would we suffer the same fate as the people we were told about?" | The snakes could take care of themselves | “Saw hundreds of Okies and Arkies living in dry gulches in old Flivvers or under bridges, some naked, washing in puddles, all looking so miserable."

Oklahoma - Oregon
When America's heartland became a Dust Bowl |  "Preach it, Brother John! Preach it!" - Attending a City Mission during the Great Depression | "I would not take a million dollars for the experience I gained from being a road kid and hopping freight trains." |
Two young women hopping freight trains across America in 1935 |How to cook a mulligan stew in a hobo jungle 

Oregon - Pennsylvania 
Young hobos of the Great Depression: riding the rails with Big Jerk's gang | 
Hobo "volunteers:" fighting fires in the Cascades | “I was standin’ up on a freight car lookin’ the wrong way when the train went under an overpass. I didn’t duck in time.” |
"We began with thirteen dollars between us. Most of that went early -- it takes time to learn the tricks of such a haphazard trade as hoboing." | "Yes, sir, you could get a fast trip from Chicago going west but were you loaded with coal dust!" | "The tragedy is that once these boys start rolling they find it hard to stop, and although they are good, hard workers they cannot stand the monotony of regular employment." |
  "Hallelujah! I really enjoyed being a bum!"

Tennessee - Texas - Utah
Kindness of strangers in the Great Depression | Lyndon Johnson: "A tall skinny guy on the road, downtrodden and hungry." | "You have no idea how delicious a fresh loaf of bread can be until you have fasted a few days." |  “We didn’t leave a note to let them know we were leaving because we didn’t want to be stopped. What a cruel thing to do on Mother’s Day?” | "I couldn’t help wondering as I walked – what if a little black boy had showed up in a white cafe?" | “Go. You will find that the dogs walk barefooted out there like they do here.” 

Virginia - Washington
"Could you give a hungry man something to eat?" - Oral history of the Great Depression | When the lady came to the door I asked for work to get something to eat. She said she didn't feed tramps and I said, "Lady, I'm not a tramp. I am a hobo." | The Boy who Killed a Railroad Bull | "My experiences made me understand and view in a new light the injustices men and women of our country have faced." | The Portland Rose and the strange case of Mr. Hitler and Mr. Hard | "Talk about despair. I was about as low as a kid could get. As I walked over the Snake River Bridge I was thinking of suicide." 

Washington - Wisconsin
Experiencing the human tragedy of the Great Depression | "Mother gave me 72 cents - every penny she had.I gave her a big kiss and an extra long and tight hug. She said nothing but the tears streamed down her face. " | An 18-year-old bride riding the rails in a Nebraska winter | "Hoe Boys" and the origin of the word 'hobo." | She brought out a washbowl sized dish of rice and beef stew, a loaf of French bread, and a dipper of water. To this day I can remember watching the sun set over Lafayette, Louisiana as I ate my way through this banquet. | “By the time we got our bandannas over our noses, we needed no flashlight to tell us that hot cinders from the coals were setting our clothes on fire." | "Literally hundreds of men were in the cars and clinging to the tops of boxcars. It brought home to me how vast the number of men aimlessly wandering around looking for work."