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4.8 out of 5 stars
Riding the Rails
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
Riding the Rails is an extraordinary video documentary that recounts how hundreds of thousands of teenagers during the Great Depression left their homes and hopped freight trains back and forth across America. Most came from families that could no longer support them, but some were just kids in search of adventure. The documentary is built around interviews with about a dozen survivors from that time, now in their seventies and eighties. Their moving stories are augmented by pictures, newsreel footage, and excerpts gleaned from thousands of letters contributed to the project by other survivors. The reminiscences are by turns grim and humorous, hopeful and bitter, tragic and filled with wonder. By the end of the film you'll feel as if you're close friends with these former hobo kids. The music is likewise outstanding, mixing vintage railroad songs and social anthems with original tracks. The overall effect is a kind of bracing nostalgia that is not cloying but consciousness-raising in the best sense. "Riding the Rails" is the winner of 18 major film awards, including Best Documentary of 1997 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Directors Guild, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. If you have any interest in either railroad lore or 20th century U.S. history, you owe it to yourself not to miss this video. ...
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
If you're interested in what it was like for real people during the Great Depression, buy this video. It's content is excellent, including stills and films of the era and interviews with old-timers who were there and lived it, both men and women. It's story sequence is great, telling how and why young people came to ride the rails: from poverty to adventure and everywhere between, then talking about what it was really like to live that way: good/bad big town/small town, and closing with the various reasons or ways various youth rejoined society or went on in life. Very significant is the soundtrack, which includes high quality recordings of music of the period and/or the situation, often recordings by the original artists. Purchasers of the video may want to consider also getting the book, IRON MEMORIES: RIDING THE RAILS IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION, by the video director's father, Errol Lincoln Uys. The video is great by itself, but with the book they're really a superior pairing.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Sure, the Great Depression is a part of history that has been studied, examined, exposed and studied some more, but until now the story of 250,000 teen hobos who spent years "Riding the Rails" went largely untold.

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?

This DVD examines the lives of over a dozen Depression-era, freight-train stowaways who spent many of their teen years on the bum, traveling by rail throughout America looking for something better. But what and why? A very diverse group of former rail riders were interviewed including men and women, white and black, but all were teens at the time. This documentary delves into what motivated them and what it was like to be a teenager "riding the rails". In looking at this small group we do see a pattern and reasons which motivated this relatively large group of underaged runaways to choose such a difficult and risky lifestyle.

There are some photographs and archival photos and movietone-news-style film excerpts from the Depression era shown to give perspective. We also see an excerpt of a feature film "Riding The Rails - Teenagers On The Move" made to dissuade youngsters from taking up the lifestyle. Of course it only encouraged more rail runaways despite the tragic depictions of the film. It seems incomprehensible that so many children would take to riding the rails, but they did. This is their story.

All in all, this is a very worthwhile documentary about an almost forgotten piece of American history.

ABOUT THE DVD:

This DVD is part of the "AMERICAN EXPERIENCE" series produced by WGBH - BOSTON. An interview with the filmmakers is included as well as a "slide-show" featuring Depression-era photos. Web sites of interest are also included. It has the scene selection feature and closed captions available.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2008
Format: DVD
I am a history teacher and showed this movie to my students and they really enjoyed it. It talked about childern their age (15).
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2005
Format: DVD
Words in the book, by the same name, don't create the same images as the DVD does. Here are the real stories of the real people who lived on the rails and survived to tell about it. Spell binding tales of leaving home and being asked to leave... because there was something better, someplace else... because the family could't afford to feed / support another child. Children setting out on their own to seek... who knows what. My teenage son 'got-it' when my Father and he sat down to watch it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
This documentary tells the heartrending story of how young men and even some young women began hopping freight trains to find work, excitement, adventure and a better life in general during the Great Depression. We get outstanding archival footage as well as quite a bit of recent interview footage with the now elderly people who rode the freight trains back then; and this film taught me quite a lot about their lives at this point in history.

The financial depression that ensued after the stock market crash of 1929 was almost unprecedented; grown men who had never been without a job suddenly found themselves out of work, sometimes with little hope of ever being the family breadwinner again. The burden of making money to support the family often went to the young teenagers, usually just boys but sometimes teenage girls, who had to look literally all over the country to find work and send as much money as they could back home. One African-American man recalls vividly the day when his father told him that they could not afford to feed him anymore and that he would have to strike out on his own despite his still being a teenager. Indeed, the average person hopping freight trains was a hungry, financially desperate teenager who wanted to try their luck in other parts of the country. Yes, a few of the young people wanted adventure and the thrill of being a rebel; but I still had the distinct impression that they also needed the money no matter what they said in that archival footage. They all looked hungry and most of them were quite thin at that time.

Believe it or not, I'm not giving it all away (I don't want to spoil this for you); there's plenty more to learn from this insightful film. Just trying to jump up and onto a moving train often meant risking your life if you fell! We see the long term psychological effects of riding the rails as well as society's varying reactions to the people scrounging for a living as they rode trains from one town to another. Fortunately, there are distinctly bright spots in this story.

The DVD comes with extras. In particular, I liked the interview with writers/directors Michael Uys and Lexy Lovell; and there's a printed excerpt from a book by Errol Lincoln Uys entitled Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression. We get a slideshow of photos with music; and there are a couple of links to websites on the Internet that explore the topic of this film.

I highly recommend this fine documentary that tells the incredibly poignant tale of the teenagers and others who were so down on their luck that they had to ride freight trains all over the nation looking for work often just barely avoiding starvation even when they made their very best efforts. This is particularly useful for anyone studying American history and people who are interested in the Great Depression in particular would do well to add this to their collections.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2014
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
that adults did. This documentary interviews people from different backgrounds who hoboed in the 1930's while they were still in their teens. It tells of the tough times families were enduring, often causing young people to try to provide for themselves. It seemed as if the elusive jobs were always someplace else and the rails were an accessible means of travel. The story uses original film, not movies or staging. The people involved tell their own stories and emotions, kids who had to become toughened and wary at too early an age. As hard as it was for the white kids, it was even harder and more dangerous to be black and on the rails.

Our father was one of those hoboes then. Maybe that's why this story caught my eye. Dad didn't talk about his experiences. Maybe this film explains some of what he didn't tell.

The story is presented clearly and caught my attention quickly. The stories of every-day people makes history real to me. Politics may make headlines, but people live what politics make.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2013
Format: DVD
I saw this documentary years ago and bought it when I was prepping to teach Of Mice and Men to my English classes. It is a great video for contextualizing the era in which the novella is set, and fleshing out the lifestyle of the great American "bindle bum," which migrant workers like George and Lennie basically are. The video focuses especially on teenage itinerant workers and hoboes who left their hometowns in the bleakness of the depression and/or Dust Bowl, though the particularity of the Dust Bowl isn't a primary focus. The students are intrigued that many of these wayfarers were around their age. Good music, too. This video is well done and help my students understand the historic and socioeconomic origins of the American hobo archetype.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2013
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
My husband, who is 83, can relate to this documentary very well. As a 14 year old, he, too, was on his own to save his family from having to support him. He worked enough along the way, but not as long as some of these boys. But he rode the rails awhile until he managed to finagle his way into the Army by lying about his age at 15 years old. It was at the end and he didn't see action, which is probably a good thing. This is a very good film and well made with the narrative given by the actual people who did the riding as children. They are now in their 80s or older.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2009
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This DVD shares the stories of adults who survived the depression and for various reasons, rode the trains as teenagers during that time. Insightful to the realities of the depression for this age group in particular and the whole country in general. Relevant to economic concerns today. It brings a sense of the human side to economic struggles with the potential for inspiring one to understand how people come to find themselves in desperate situations. One can walk away with hope that this too shall pass and become aware that a little compassion goes a long way.
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Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes
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