Riding the Rails offers a visionary perspective on the presumed romanticism of the road and cautionary legacy of the Great Depression. From 'middle class gentility to scrabble-ass poor,' ... See full summary »



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Credited cast:
C.R. 'Tiny' Boland ...
Charley Bull ...
Rene Champion ...
Peggy De Hart ...
John Fawcett ...
Clarence Lee ...
Jim Mitchell ...
Arvel 'Sunshine' Pearson ...
James San Jule ...
Bob 'Guitar Whitey' Symmonds ...
Narrator (voice)


Riding the Rails offers a visionary perspective on the presumed romanticism of the road and cautionary legacy of the Great Depression. From 'middle class gentility to scrabble-ass poor,' the undiscriminating Great Depression forced 4,000,000 Americans away from their homes and onto the tracks in search of food and lodging. Of this number, a disturbing 250,000 of the transients were children. The filmmakers relay the experiences and painful recollections of these now-elderly survivors of the rails. Forced to travel more by economic necessity than the spirit of adventure, the film's subjects dispel romantic myths of a hobo existence and its corresponding veneer of freedom. Riding the Rails recounts the hoboes' trade secrets for survival and accounts of dank miseries, loneliness, imprisonment, death, and dispossession. Sixty years later, the filmmakers transport their subjects back to the tracks, where the surging impact of sound and movement resuscitates memories of a shattered ... Written by Rebecca Yeldham, Sundance Film Festival Programmer

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January 1997 (USA)  »

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A very touching documentary
10 July 2002 | by (Corvallis, Or) – See all my reviews

Riding the Rails is the story of the children the either ran away or were forced to leave home during the depression. In most movies the hobos riding the rails are shown as grown men and as bums. This movie debunks that myth and shows that most of the rail riders were teenage runaways.

The story is told very effectively in a series of interviews with the survivors from this era and shows footage from old movies and newsreel. Most of survivors are now in their late 70's or 80's but were as young as 13 when they first ran away. These are very personal stories about children who had no hope of a better life and how they hopped boxcars hoping to find something better.

I've seen this documentary a number of times now and it never fails to move me. I remember the first time it came on TV it was late at night, I had to work the next day but I couldn't stop watching it. The whole next week I couldn't get these people out of my mind. It all happened over 60 years ago when the world was a very different place and yet their stories are still very moving today. This documentary really captures the desperateness of the depression and shows the sincerity of the people that grew up in that time.

The film does have a happy ending but it may not be everyone's cup of tea. This is not a movie five star yuppies will enjoy, however if you have ever been a backpacker, a hitchhiker or a traveller you may find this is a documentary you can relate to.

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