Kawartha Lakes Public Library - Digital Collections
Looking Back: Remember when detectives checked rail cars for hoboes?

Hooper, John, Author
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Written: 6 June 2001
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.35012 Longitude: -78.73286
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Full Text

Back in the 1930's, terms such as welfare, dole, UIC or pogey were under heard of.

Railroad detectives were kept busy checking boxcars to ensure there was no one trying to get a free ride on a train to some destination where hoboes (sometimes referred to as "tramps") as they were then called, hoped to travel free in search of work.

Handouts were an embarrassment and those who had to ask for them usually did so with their faces looking down in shame.

There were children attending school whose father was unemployed and we who were fortunate enough not to be in the same boat wondered how they managed to get along.

I remember confronting my mother about a certain family whose father was never seen going to work and little did I understand what she meant when she told me it was because he could not find work and the family was on "relief."

Relief? I had no idea what that meant.

My memory was regressed to the time when I was a young boy living near the railroad tracks when early one night Mom called to me, "turn out the kitchen light, and look out into the garden."

There he was, a hobo, poorly dressed and carrying a small sack. He was pulling up a hill for our potatoes. He then picked a few carrots and a couple of other items from our garden. He then left and went up on Durham Street where, I assume; he may have repeated his action in someone else's garden.

Many were the occasions when some of these people would rap at doors and ask if the housekeeper could spare a sandwich, or maybe a meal for which they would offer to do some task around the yard. It might be raking leaves, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, or splitting wood. Those were the days when lazy people did not consider the word work a dirty, four-letter word.

Times were hard in what was known as the "dirty thirties" and from what I have heard and read, I for one am glad I was too young to realize just how tough it was to make a living.

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Looking Back: Remember when detectives checked rail cars for hoboes?