After seeing the documentary "Riding the Rails" as an episode of The American Experience series on PBS, I read this companion book authored by the father / father-in-law of the couple who made the film. Using statistics, vignettes, first person narrative accounts, and 54 black and white photos, the book creates a vivid impression of the lives of hundreds of thousands of American teenagers who, looking for work, or seeking adventure, or in an effort to ease the burden on their families, left their homes during the Depression and hopped trains to travel the country, living as hobos in the 1930s.
Surprisingly, the tale contains many lessons that remain relevant today.
This is the story of a generation of Americans for whom growing up meant preparing themselves for the road rather than having the road prepared for them. It's a reminder of how important everything can be in one's youth, when everything is still recent enough to seem important and matter.
There are some heartbeakingly sad accounts of people who blamed themselves personally for the struggles and financial hardships which resulted from the collapse of an economic structure that they had no control over, that was beyond understanding, and which had failed them in so many ways. Those who succeeded were those who managed to cling to hope, or who encountered someone who took an interest at a critical time, or maybe were just lucky that at least a president like Roosevelt was in charge.
After seeing the film, I found this volume to be quite intense and well worth the read.
(Note: I read the 1999 hardcover edition published by TV Books which only had about half a dozen typos -- on pages 58, 60, 189, 199, 232, 243...)