Friday, May 18, 2012

Philip and Toby Stories: Part 1: 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. With the exception of minor punctuation revisions, no changes were made to his written narrative.  

Part 1

During the Depression in 1930, a neighbor boy, the same age as myself, told me about a trip he had made to Texas on a freight train. It sounded like real fun and interesting. At the time, I never had anything to do and there were no jobs to be had, even if you worked for just room and board. I had always dreamed of being a Texas cowboy and thought this is a good chance to try.

George (that was the boy's name) was ready to go again. So was I. I went into the house and told my brother Phil and my Pop good-bye. I rolled up a pair of socks, undershirt, and pants, a pair of dungarees and a shirt, and was on my way thirty minutes after I decided to go.

We went to Long Beach [Mississippi] to catch a freight. There was a filling station across the depot. At one time it had been a blacksmith shop. It was a gathering place for the men and boys of Long Beach to meet and talk about Hoover, the unemployment situation, weather, crops, and whatever the local gossip was at the time. Well, George and I joined them, told them our plans, and the word spread, because when we did catch a freight out of Long Beach, I think all the male population was there to tell us good-bye and wish us well. We could see them waving to us as long as they were in sight.

George knew how to bum food and I soon learned. Almost anyone would give you a nickel for a cup of coffee and doughnuts. If you looked hungry and the owner was the cook and waiter at the restaurant, he may give you a hamburger with it.

We made it to San Antonio without too much trouble. Most of the time we had no idea where we were. We just caught anything going west. Out of San Antonio, we caught one going southwest. It seemed like a good one. As soon as we settled in a cattle car, we went to sleep. It was deep in straw. None too clean, nevertheless, sleep was one thing that was hard to get. When we awoke, we found that we were on a side track near a loading chute for cattle. We must have been there for at least eight hours. We were only about fifty miles out of San Antonio and it was night (it was morning when we left). Time meant nothing to us; we ate when we could, slept when we could, and rode freights when we could. 

We stayed in the car all night. The next morning we were starved and thirsty. We stayed there all day. We were hoping some cowboys would come with a herd as that would mean a freight would have to stop and pick up the cattle car.

None came, but that night a freight did stop and it picked up the empty car. We had been without food and water for at least thirty-six hours and the first town we came to, we got off. The train didn't stop, but it slowed up.

We had about $2.00 between us and ran to a restaurant and had bacon and eggs, coffee, and lots of water.  I believe it cost about a dollar. While there, we asked about work and were told there was none. The people were leaving there, going to California.

To be continued ...

Go here for Part 2.
Go here for Part 3. 

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