Sunday, May 20, 2012

Philip and Toby Stories: Part 3: Ridin' the Rails

Philip and Toby were my esteemed great-uncles, known in the family for their story-telling and singing. They were young men during the Great Depression. They often took to the road in search of work or adventure ... not so different for those of us teaching English in Georgia today. 

This is one of Toby's adventures.

Part 3

Go here for Part 1.  
Go here for Part 2.

When we got to El Paso, we went to the jungle, got something to eat, shaved, cleaned up the best we could, slept for a couple of hours and then went to town to try to get a decent meal. We did manage to get some bread and bologna and went back to the jungle. We had a can of coffee (that's what they used for cups). We had talked to so many people about work and knew it was hopeless. The cattle ranchers were laying off there  hands and there was no work in the towns. 

Everyone was talking about going to California, so we decided that's where we would go. Mama was there, so at last I had a destination.

George and I picked a freight we thought was headed west and tried to hop aboard. George caught it. I did, too, but fell off. George didn't know I fell off and kept going. (I saw him six months later and he said he ended up in Mexico.)

I waited and caught a train later in the day. I felt awful alone without George, but soon made friends with some more 'bos and didn't miss him too much.

I finally was on the last leg to Los Angeles and was sound asleep when I was awakened by a railroad bull. He hit the bottom of my foot with his stick. A terrible blow, I felt it all the way to the top of my head. He told me to get up and out. I did. There were six or eight bulls out on the track. They had about forty men all lined up. They said, "Put your hands over your head." I did. They frisked me and said, "Put your hands down." I did. The next thing, we were led to a stake body truck and told to get aboard. We did.

Next we were finger-printed, had our picture taken, and name, etc. Then we were taken before a judge.  He tried us at once and sentenced us to three days for vagrancy. He said if anyone wanted to enter a plea to step forward. No one did. The jail was clean, the bunks clean, and the food good. I slept the whole three days, only getting up to eat. The jailer said it took three days to see if we were wanted in any other state.

I had rested up pretty good and bathed, washed my clothes and when I left, I headed for Oakland, where Mama had a motel.  I took the highway and caught rides and two days later was knocking on her door. ... 

... I saw Tom O* while there . He tried his best to get me to go to Hollywood and try for the movies. I thought he was crazy, and still do on that score, but sometimes I wish I had. I would have tried for Westerns. I could ride and shoot good, but nothing else.

After about a month of nothing to do there, and I had a girl at home, Olivia, I was ready to leave. Ceil [sister] had been ready ever since she got there .... the car was loaded down with things Mama wanted to send home. So with a happy heart, we were headed home.  


I extracted some non-travel-related family bits from the last three paragraphs of Toby's story. I also omitted Tom's surname. Other than that, the only changes I've made to Toby's narrative relate to punctuation.

Go here for an article on "ridin' the rails" during the Great Depression, including an audio from a former hobo

Go here to watch a PBS documentary on "riding the rails" during the Depression. It's part of the American Experience series.  


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