Riding the Rails dwells upon the times of the Great Depression when thousands of young people were living on a road. The video tells the story of several people who had such experience. These people share their memories revealing hopes, fears and hardships of young people who were riding the rails in search of better lives in the 1930s.
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During the 1930s 250 thousand teenagers (males as well as females) were riding the rails. Teenagers had different reasons to leave their homes. The majority of young people were trying to help their parents to provide for family. They were trying to find the way to earn money and send it home. Some were distressed and simply wanted to get out of their homes not to see their parents’ despair. Sometimes there was no serious reason. For example, a girl left her home because of a quarrel with her father (Riding the Rails).
Some teenagers had to leave because their parents told them to do so. Besides, many young people just wished to try a new life full of adventure. Teenagers thought they could become glorious cowboys in the west, others were dreaming of various opportunities they could find in big cities in the east. They thought they could see a lot of interesting things or even travel abroad.
However, the ‘adventure’ was not that pleasant and exciting as many thought. In the first place, it was extremely dangerous as teenagers risked falling down all the time. There was also a risk of suffocating by smoke in tunnels. More so, armed rail road detectives were trying to put them off. There were many dangers in cities as people were really desperate then. Those were times when a man could be killed for a pair of shoes.
Nonetheless, teenager continued their journey since when they came to one more city and saw there was nothing good for them, they could not stay there. They had to get out of there and continue their search of better lives. It goes without saying that it was the Great Depression which was the primary reason for riding the rails. People tried to solve their financial problems in different ways. Riding the rails was a kind of a chance to change the life for better: teenagers were trying to find new opportunities in new places.
Unfortunately, many teenagers failed to find better conditions, they were often starving. Fortunately, they could get some food in missions of salvation armies. Young people could also have some sleep there and have some rest. Apart from this, they could get some food from farmers and housewives.
Obviously, the years of the Great Depression were really hard (Chernin). People worked many hours a day, but received low wages. More so, they could lose their jobs and it was nearly impossible to find a new job. Landlords and shopkeepers could raise prices with no reason. People were absolutely insecure. Such people as Rose Chernin were trying to change things. Chernin was trying to organize people and this enabled them to change things. Chernin stated: “We got into control of our lives. We were no longer victims.” (Chernin 1).
These people organized meetings, they tried to resist. They wanted the Congress to listen to them. They wanted jobs or financial support. They used different ways to struggle. They monitored prices and let everyone know that some prices were too high in particular places. They tried to resist landlords.
Not each of their attempts was successful. However, on the whole, they managed to make the Congress consider the needs of Americans. Those people started the process which resulted in 8-hour working days. People became more secured. Therefore, people like Chernin put a start to reorganizing essential things in the society. People acknowledged that they could change their lives for better if they were organized.
Chernin, Rose. Organizing the Unemployed in the Bronx in the 1930s. 1949.
Riding the Rails. Uys, Michael and Lexy Lovell. American Experience. Web.