One summer day in 1933 my friend Howard “Skinny” Moore and I set out for the United States with a package of makin’s, a dime in cash, and a bag of my mother’s cucumber sandwiches. We slept the first night on somebody’s lawn in Oakville, Ontario, and made it to Niagara Falls the following day, hitching rides. We split the dime between us to cross one of the bridges to Niagara Falls, New York; I made it past the US Immigration, Skinny didn’t. I went on to New York and Washington and ended up in California. And that’s how it was done.
And so begins a long and fascinating section of Hugh Garner’s One Damn Thing After Another!, his autobiography, describing his time from 1930 to 1939 hoboing all over the US and Canada - and naturally I was caught off-guard by the random coincidence of seeing the surname Moore mentioned in the opening sentence :-) Mr. Garner was one of Canada’s most famous writers, and one of my father’s favourites. Later in his career, Mr. Garner wrote a series of popular mystery novels set in Toronto featuring Detective Inspector Walter McDurmont. The first was The Sin Sniper, published in 1970. I have no idea if it’s a good read, but I’ve got a copy on the coffee table, and if it’s as taut and forthright as his recollections of life on the rails during the Depression, it should be fine.
I lived one summer in New York on 60 cents a day, and stooked wheat along the Soo Line and Assiniboine Line in southern Saskatchewan for a buck a day and board, which was the going wage that year. When I’m asked why I rode the freights and beat my way through much of Canada and the United States instead of working at the terrible little jobs I had in Toronto between trips, my best answer is that when I was home I was poor, but when I was on the road I was merely broke. And there’s a lot of difference between the two.