Hobo Harvest Hands

Traveling harvest crews have long been part of Nebraska’s agricultural scene. But the ways of

these itinerant workers change with the times, as this 1925 account reports:

“There is a peculiarly lonely and deserted atmosphere this year about the best known “Hotels de

Hobo,” otherwise known in the lingo of the knights of the bumpers as the ‘Jungles.’ In other

years (but not this one) these popular havens of rest have fairly teemed with the odors of boiling

coffee, roasted chicken and steaming pots of pork and beans.

“Today only a straggling old timer drops in for the night and then, disgusted, hops on the

earliest morning freight for other parts. But still no happiness–no more swapping of yarns–for

even the box car pullmans, which once creaked under the burden of numerous passengers are

sharing the similar fate of the ‘jungles.’

“The harvest season is not the same as it ‘uster be.’ A startling revolution has taken place.

Something of the aristocratic tendency has gained a foothold. Reports of the field agents of the

United States employment service show that approximately 50% of the traveling harvest hands

are now making use of automobiles. The others are either paying full railroad fare or are taking

advantage of the reduced rates offered in some states.

“In other years these followers of the harvest helped themselves to free transportation at the

expense of the railroads, riding the box cars and bumpers, and confiscating the hobo jungles for

the nights.

“The use of the automobile by harvest hands began last season, but only a few had come to

favor the idea. This year, five or six men put in a few dollars together and purchased a used car

at small cost. This car carries them from the Texas fields on north into Canada. When the

season is over they are able to sell the car for little less than the original output.

“Another rather important change which has a considerable influence in this evolution is that of

the character of the men who follow the harvest. A few years ago these traveling harvest hands

were for the most part the confirmed class of hoboes. Today they are made up chiefly of factory

workers from eastern cities who follow the harvest as a sort of summer outing. Many have

families back home whom they are supporting. Another large class is made up of college men,

mostly from eastern and east central states.”

Of course, this change was not permanent. All too soon the hard times of the 1930s would

force many to again “ride the rails.”

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