Monday, October 17, 2011

Some Things Never Change

Sometimes it takes a grandchild to make me think.

Not about  campus parties, or academic achievements, or scholarship funds. Sometimes it is no morw than a book that Granddaughter Jill shared with me. A really thought provoking book entitled "Riding the Rails."

Shortly after I graduated from high school I got a job on a weekly newspaper. Early on my primatry task was editing gossip columns from small communities surrounding the home town of the newspaper.
As time passed I graduated to photographer, and sports editor, and eventually to writing feature articles.
One of my assignments had to do; with a hobo from the 1920's and '30's. Because the town I worked in was a major raailroad center at the time, it was an ideal location for hobos to congregate or switch trains. We had the Rutland Railroad to the north, Boston and Albany east and west, and the Harlem Division of the new York Central System south to New York City. Along with the migration of hobos were souvenirs they left behind. For instance, my news paper assignment was to photograph the unique initils on one particular hobo that had left his 'mark' on a grade crossing shack of the Rutland down the street from the paper. It turned out that his mark had been found in thirty-some states.

But there were other marks left by hobos. We've included a picture of some of these which indicated conditions other hobos might find in a town they stopped at. Some of the signs offered hope fo the wanderer - other reflected warnings. It all went together to remind us that hoboism was not an individual life - it was very much a community efoort where, in many cases, they helped one another in whatever ways they could.

The book I'm reading looks at transient life in a different way. I remember seeing adult hobos hirtching rides on trains when I was young. I remember my mother and grandmother warning me of "tramps" that might come to the back door. There was a fear that hobos would take off with young people, much like fear of gypsies.

However, I never syopped to think that young kids - even pre-teens - left homes to go on their own. Sometimes it was because families "couldn't afford' the children. Other times children and gteens escaped abusive home environments.It wasn't just a few - It was estimted, in 1935, that there were as many as 250,000 so-called 'wild boys' either hitch-hiking on the highways, or riding the rails, in, on, and on top, of railway boxcars. Some just followed wanderlust - other sought any kind of work in the desperate Great Depression years.  It was estimated by the Interstate Commerce Commission that, in the single year of 1932, almost six thousand  so-called trespassers were killed when riding, or trying to ride, on railroads. Of these well over 1,500 were youth under 21.

Things have changed a lot since he Great Depression. But the tragedy of the homesless continues ever today.Their modes of transporation may have changed, but the tragedy of poverty or homelessness continues. Our to picture reflects the concerns of an organization in Florida. The fact of the matter is, homelessness and 21st Century hoboism, if I can call it that, continues and probably always will be there, perhaps amplified by the challenges of today's economy. It's tragic to say the least..

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