During the Great Depression of the 1930s and 1940’s many people had to work hundreds of miles away from home if they could find work at all. One of the ways to get to, or even look, for these jobs was by hopping freight trains. It was estimated that more than two million men and 8,000 women took to the rails as hobos traveling from place to place taking whatever work they could get.
Riding the rails were (and still are) very dangerous. In addition to the obvious danger of falling off or under the train, the railroads hired guards called “bulls” to make sure only paying passengers rode the trains. Even with the bulls clubbing and shooting them, they still hit the rails. They would run along side the train as it left the yard, grab hold and jump into empty boxcars. If they missed, it could mean the loss of a leg, arm or worse, the loss of their life. Records show that at least 6,800 hobos were killed, either by accidents or by the bulls in one year. Even those statistics didn’t keep the hobos off the trains. If they made it on, when the train got close to their destination and slowed, they would try to jump off before the bulls could arrest or beat them. (typically a horrific beating with clubs)
It was reported that in some areas of the country there were so many hobos the brakeman just gave up and hollered “All aboard” just like it was a passenger train.
Finding food was also a problem. The hobos would often beg for food at houses located along the track. If the person was generous they would mark the house () so others coming along would know where to stop. Hobo jungles along the tracks were also a good place to find a bit of food. If anyone had anything they would all share it.
Today, there are not as many hobos as in the past, and the bulls are gone but its every bit as dangerous. Just a few weeks ago (Sept 5, 2011) a group of four students from Colorado State University tried to jump a northbound BNSF freight train just outside of Longmont, Colo.
One of the three males was briefly dragged by the train but got off with minor injuries. A 17-year-old girl with the group wasn’t as lucky; she lost both legs as she slipped underneath the moving train. It is not know the exact speed of the train at the time but the speed limit through the area is 25 mph. The male who was dragged and another male were cited for trespassing. The third male disappeared in the confusion. As for the young lady, the police have not decided on her fate as of yet saying “she has enough to worry about right now.”
Be safe — don’t try to jump on the trains; you could be taking you life in you hands.