Saturday, March 1, 2008

Rudy Rides the Rails : A Depression Era Story

Rudy was just a teenager when he hopped his first train. He hoped to find work so he could send some money home. He also hoped to be one less mouth for his folks to feed.

Rudy Rides the Rails : A Depression Era Story tells a fictionalized account of real life hobo, Ramblin' Rudy's journey to California and back. The story follows the lad as he leaves his Ohio home and journeys across the country, meeting hobos, finding work where ever he can, and learning the hard lessons on how to survive riding the trains.

Author Dandi Daley Mackall does a good job detailing the perils Rudy faced, such as catching cinders from the trains' stack, out running rail yard 'bulls' and finding work.

What is particularly fascinating is the book's treatment of the hobo marking system. Hobo culture used a relatively simple set of 'marks' or signs as a way to leave messages to future hobos who happen to travel the same path. The sign of a cat's face meant the home or business was kind, while a rectangle with a dot in the center meant the place was hostile or dangerous. They used arrows to show directions, circles with X's to show where one could get a handout and an empty zero to indicate the house offered nothing. Mackall includes a grouping of the marks in her glossary.

Another unique aspect of her book is her use of jargon common among hobos. The 'Sally' was the Salvation Army, 'Cali' was California and 'Casey' was Kansas City, Missouri, just to name a few. The jargon is peppered throughout the book and gives the story an authentic flavor for the era it describes.

Chris Ellison's illustrations also lend authenticity to that by-gone era when at one moment a boy could be running in a field and riding in an empty rail car the next. His thick brush strokes accentuate the billowing steam from the engines and the starkness of wooden trains.
Despite the fact that Rudy Rides the Rails is laid out as a Picture Book, its rich detail and engaging illustrations will make it an interesting story for readers of all ages.

Watch for a wonderful account of the history of this story when I share a letter from Dandi Daley Mackall in my next post!


Dandi Daley Mackall website :

Chris Ellison website :

Book information :

1 comment:

Donna Jones Koppelman said...

Thanks. Great review. Did you ever read No Promises in the Wind by Irene Hunt? Great depression-era fiction. I used to use it when I taught. Kids loved the story because it was about a kid who ran away (and his little brother caught up with him) because he knew there wasn't enough food in the house. They traveled, of course, by riding the rails. Great site. Your hard work does not go unnoticed.