Louis Muro was 15 when the effects of the Great Depression began to set in and spread outwards through the United States. As recorded in the 1930 Federal Census he was living with his parents and siblings in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania. He had completed his schooling just two years before and graduated from 8th grade.
WABCO, the main employer in his hometown, was still in operation but there were slowdowns. Employees worked shorter shifts or fewer days resulting in less wages. A tight and well-integrated network of family and paesani that originated from Agropoli and carried over to America is the key factor for the Muro family getting through those difficult years. There was no safety net as we know it today. There were charities and church related outreach but these were limited. Even though family ties were strong there were still limited resources and problems with food, shelter and clothing challenged everyone.
Our cousin told us that Louis took to riding the boxcars during the Great Depression since he could not find work in Wilmerding. This was a new discovery since we had not heard of it in our own family or during our visits to relatives in Wilmerding. We researched the lifestyle of young boys, and some young girls, that took to riding the boxcars during the Great Depression. What we learned opened up an entire sub-culture that is not often written about in American history. The phenomenon was so wide spread that some estimates say over 250,000 teenagers took to travel in search of work or escape through moving into what was known as the hobo lifestyle. The actual number, though, will never be accurately stated since no records exist from the time period that attempted to track the growth and decline of this sub-culture.
Louis Muro was the son of Nick and Letizia (nee Scotti) Muro. He was born on (date) in Wilmerding, PA.
Josie Muro Serrapede was Louis’ eldest sister. She was Sammy’s Mother and EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother.
Louis was Sammy’s maternal Uncle and EmilyAnn’s Great Uncle.
What did the term “Riding the Rails” mean?
In the early 20th century men, and a very small percentage of women, took to riding the boxcars as a means to find work or just keep moving from place to place. People who followed this lifestyle were called tramps and were usually older, in their 20s and upwards. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that teenagers took up the lifestyle. The appeal of escaping the problems at home caused by chronic unemployment and limited resources inspired the teenagers with hope. Often those hopes were not clearly defined nor any plans clearly envisioned. Yet they took their chances as only young people can with hope, confidence and a lack of fear.
In rural areas where a railroad line ran through or near a town or farm, hoboes waited in hiding for the boxcars to come. They were willing to take a chance to go anywhere. The common reason given by teenagers was that being on the move was better than being in the same hopeless, stagnant situation each day.
The teenagers, and older people, who took to riding the rails were called hoboes during the Great Depression. The word was meant as a derogatory term and the attitude taken was one of denigration. But hoboes when they could find work entered the agricultural workforce performing such work as picking fruit or helping at harvest. A more accurate term, which we use today, is migratory worker but to be consistent with the source material we are using the term hobo will be used.
In 1933 a movie “Wild Boys of the Road” was released as a means to deter the growing trend among teenagers to enter the hobo lifestyle. It was a very grim look into what could happen to young boys unprepared for exposure to a bigger world where sickness, accidents, and crime awaited. The film took a heavy handed approach to discourage teens from the idea that the lifestyle was romantic. The message was to stay safe and stay home. The movie was a big hit with teenagers, though, and the message intended did not sink in. The possibility of finding work while being on the move fired up the imaginations of young people who daily saw their parents, neighbors and relatives struggling with difficulties that they had no part in creating.