Question: "What was it like riding the rails?"
     "I loved it. And I tell you, you don't recommend that to any young kid because it'll get in your blood. You're not agoing anywhere. You don't care. You just ride. And I wasn't married. I didn't care. It'll sure get in your blood because you don't have no worries about how you're going to get around. It's paid for. You're going to eat [in the hobo 'jungles']. That was more than you was doing at home, probably.
     "Now we'd stop. I never mooched [begged] a meal in my life on that. Never did. We'd stop and work in town anywhere we could get a job. Well, we'd work and get our money and catch that freight on again. Yeah, it'll get in your blood. I still like it. That old whistle will take off there.
     "I've been hijacked in the yards by the railroad bulls [guards], and, boy, they'd get rough with you, too. Me and my brother-in-law, we was going down through the yards, the railroad yards. Well, everybody catching the train, why, they'd be down in there prowling around. Well, this old boy – he was one of them wops, too, big guard, mean as he could be – he stepped out between the cars, and he said, 'Where you guys going?'
     "'Oh, we was going up to North Dakota for the harvest.'
     "He said, 'You just came from that away, didn't you?'
     "'No, we're from Texas.'
     "'Well, just get your hands up!' Boy, I'll tell you! He said, 'Now, you see that elevator down yonder?'
     "'You get your so-and-so down there, and you catch this train whenever it gets down there.'
     "Why, that train would be making 50 mile an hour when it got down there. [Laughs.] So, we seen the guard go away. We run back up and caught it in the yard and left out. He knew we couldn't catch that train agoing that fast. But he meant it. He meant stay out of that yard. And then, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, one time, they run us all out. They was on horses. Boy, them pistols was shooting around there. Now, I'll say this much – "
     Question: "Were they shooting at you?"
     "Nah, I don't think they ever did shoot at us. I think they were shooting straight up. But, me and my brother-in-law, we just got over behind the railroad track in the weeds and hid there. When the train started up, we just went up and caught it and took it along. I never have thought they was shooting at anybody. They just – See, there was so many [hobos]. They just couldn't let you congregate in one town.
     "So, we'd been working in the laboratory there in Chadron, Nebraska. We seen a freight asitting over there, and there was so many people on it it looked like blackbirds all over it. We was scared to death to ride one, afraid we'd get throwed off or beat up. And believe it or not, when we got ready to go, that old brakeman hollered, 'All aboard!' [Laughs.] 'All aboard.' Just like it was a passenger train. Well, then we felt at ease."

Walter Ballard on Riding the Rails


Other Excerpts from Dust Bowl Descent Interviews:

Darrel Coble & Lois Houle
Florence Thompson Migrant Mother
Nettie Featherston, "If You Die…"
Lois Houle on "Relief"
William Huravitch & Chewing Tobacco
Vern Evans, Oregon or Bust
Walter Ballard, Tractored Out
Fritz Fredrick Growing Wheat
Madge May on the FSA
Harvey Taft, FSA Farmsteads
May Ross Lincoln, School Programs
Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land"