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Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West
by Mark Wyman
When the railroad stretched its steel rails across the American West in the 1870s, it opened up a vast expanse of territory. Agriculture quickly followed the railroads, making way for Kansas wheat and Colorado sugar beets and Washington apples. With this new agriculture came an unavoidable need for harvest workers. These were not the year-round hired hands but transients w ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by Hill and Wang
(first published April 22nd 2010)
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For a descendent of early immigrants to the West - and a huge fan of Steinbeck, London, Flagg, and Disney's The Journey of Natty Gann - Hoboes was a truly inspiring window into the lives of migrant workers during the building of the American Railroad. Some of the best non-fiction I have ever read.
The title of this book should be Railroads, Irrigation, Agriculture and the People Who Were Exploited in Developing the West. I have to admit I was expecting something more about the culture of the hobo when I picked up this book. What it turned out to be is a study of why and how agriculture was developed west of the Mississippi and how various groups of people met the needs for large numbers of seasonal agricultural workers. It's an interesting history but reads like a history book, just touch ...more
Dec 03, 2010 John rated it 2 of 5 stars · review of another edition
The first thing that needs to be cleared up about this book is that it's not really about Hoboes, Bindlestiffs and Fruit Tramps. It's about how farming transformed the West. The book could have been a decent history of trains, agriculture, diasporas of Japanese and Chinese immigrants, culturla history of the Northwest, Cultural history of California, sociology of temporary laborers, and settlements of towns along the West Coast, if the author had focused one one of the subject. After the initial ...more
I think the major problem with this book is that it is severely misrepresented. Based on the title and the dust-jacket blurb, I expected to read a narrative about the lives of hoboes. Instead, this book is really about how the expansion of railroads and (later) irrigation spurred the development of intensive, large scale agriculture and the labor issues that followed. The book honestly gives up just about any discussion on hoboes halfway through and instead focuses on immigrant and child labor s ...more
It's really not so much about hoboes as it is about the shifts in agriculture that came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sure there was a lot to learn about hoboes, but I learned about migrant labor and imported labor and felt a lot smarter for having read it.
This book felt very repetitive and was more focused on the labor markets of the developing west rather than the hoboes who were laborers themselves. Kind of a disappointment based on the size of font used for the word "Hoboes" on the cover.
Oct 05, 2010 Dennis Willingham rated it 5 of 5 stars · review of another edition
A great book on the history of migrant farm labor in the west. the same problems, attitudes, debates, etc we see today were occuring as long ago as the late 1800's. Seems like on over a century we could have figured it out.
This book seems only tangentially about hoboes, and is more about the rise of big agriculture. Too many details, which overwhelmed the basic storyline. Maybe I'll pick it up again, but right now it's just not that appealing.