Riding The Rails By Connor White


My name is Joe Smith, and I am 16 years of age. After the stock market crash, my family lost everything. All of my dad's shares value went down to almost nothing. He couldn't afford to pay for the rent and to feed four mouths, so I simply decided I couldn't stay any longer. In 1935, I decided to leave home and go to my local railroad, fifteen miles from home. Along with 30 other teenagers, we all bolted towards a train after the guards left and hoped on. We didn't care where it was going, but as a sixteen year old, it seemed like my only option. I brought with me only twenty dollars and a picture of my family.


New York turned from a glorious city where anything was possible, to a broken down beaten up mess. The streets were lined up with people waiting for any food possible. The streets were filled with homeless and protesters, trying to get back the luxurious life they once lived. For me, I would sit in the streets, listening to people talk about how their lives have changed. At supper time, I'd venture out to back doors of people's houses for food. Some would let me in or toss out a sandwich for me, others would say take a hike and threaten me.


After 2 months of New York City, I decided to move on with my life. Going back home wasn't possible, but riding the rails certainly was. I had traveled a great distance to get to a train station and hid behind a boulder until the guards went away and the train started moving. I would dash towards the train and find dozens of other teens aboard. But on our way to this unknown destination I saw many army like barracks. Men were holding saws and shovels, working on building what looked like to be a hiking trail. This I found out was the CCC, also known as the Civilian Conservation Corp. In Chicago, I saw Elanor Roosevelt, talking to the poor and needy for information, that she'd later bring back to the president.


From New York to Chicago, the rare family that would let me stay for a night or two would often listen to the radio. We'd listen to programs like The Lone Ranger and Shadow, listen to the news, and even the fireside chats with Franklin Roosevelt. For most families, this was how they'd forget all about their financial situation, and along with dancing and going to the movies, it was their only escape. Doing these things made families feel normal and safe again like they once were. I could escape the feeling of being homesick and not seeing my family for 6 months.


A year after my first train ride, I decided it was best to give it up. I missed my family, so I decided to come home for a few years. In 1938 I decided to join the army, which I spend 10 years at, eventually fighting in WW2 as a medic. Coming home was great, but I could tell my father could afford having me back. If I had the chance of riding the rails one last time, I would take it without hesitating, I miss the rush of getting to go at high speeds with the wind in my hair, I'll never forget it.

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