Saturday, March 31, 2018

Don B. Snyder. Part 3 - Civilian Conservation Corps

Climbing My Family Tree: Don B Snyder
Don B Snyder

This is Part 3 of a 13-part blog series sharing my Grand-uncle Don’s life story, in his own words, via an autobiography sent to me by Don’s grandson, Ron Oldfield, after Ron stumbled across one of my prior posts about his grandfather. It is shared with the permission of both of Don’s children and Ron Oldfield. [Note – Anything in brackets with green type is my added explanation of something in Don’s text.]

Don’s story: 


[In this entry he speaks of three different CCC Camps he worked at: Camp Indian Springs in the Nevadan desert, Camp Tulelake at the then-newly-opened Lava Beds National Park in California, and Camp Prairie Creek at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Orick, California. He intertwines talking about them quite a bit but I tried to make it clear which Camp he was talking about when I could.] 

Rudolph Wendelin CCC Art,
 Library and Archives, Forest History Society, Durham, NC, USA
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There are probably just a few people alive today that knew what the Civilian Conservation Corps was. Thousands of men couldn’t find jobs, so FDR [President Franklin Delano Roosevelt] came up with the PWA, Public Works Administration [in 1933]. The government sponsored it and the men got enough work to live on. It was a life saver. They worked fixing up parks, building roads, and in Findlay [Ohio] they straightened out the river that always overflowed. Now! If the men couldn’t find jobs, what about the older kids? He put thousands of them in camps all over the country. They worked in parks, built roads, etc. The main camp I went to was in Nevada about 40 miles west of Ely. There was a big barren valley about one hundred miles north and south, and about 30 miles east and west with mountains on both sides. The Lincoln Highway crossed it east and west. Our camp, Indian Springs, was seven miles off the highway, as that was the only place they could drill for water.

Climbing My Family Tree: Map 1 of site of Camp Indian Springs CCC Camp in Nevada
Map 1 of site of Camp Indian Springs CCC Camp in Nevada
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Climbing My Family Tree: Map 2 of site of Camp Indian Springs CCC Camp in Nevada
Map 2 of site of Camp Indian Springs CCC Camp in Nevada
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          This was mostly desert-like. No trees, just sand, sagebrush, lizards, horned toads, etc. I don’t remember seeing coyotes, but I did come across a dead one in a trap. I did come across some rattlesnakes. A couple of guys went with me into some hills back of our camp. There you could look miles out with nothing but barren ground, alkali, and some sagebrush. Going back to camp we took a shortcut down a cliff. There were outcroppings of rock, so it wasn’t so bad. Some broken rocks were in a small crevice. I started to put my foot on a rock and I heard a buzzing kind of like a bee or rattle. Then I saw two rattlesnakes. I pulled a rock loose and hit both of them, killing them. As I reached down and threw them out I heard another rattler about a foot from my hand. It hadn’t been touched. I threw another rock and killed it too. I don’t know why it didn’t bite me. If it had, I’d have had a rough walk to camp.

Johnny Allen was a kid who lived down the street [in Findlay, Ohio]. He lived with his father, an alcoholic, and his mother, a nice lady, and three sisters. He wasn’t cocky, but easy going. A tough kid, I saw him fall off a railroad car on a rail and barely whimpered. Anyways, I’m sorry to say he grew up and really didn’t amount to much. He’d get off work on Saturday night, get real drunk and often spent the night in jail. During WWII he was drafted and was put in our battalion which was composed of a lot of local Findlay men inducted into the United States Army. Some months later I was transferred into the 38th Infantry Division from Indiana, where I was the platoon sergeant of an anti-tank platoon that was new in each battalion. I never heard of him till WWII was over. I had heard that he volunteered to be with the noted Merrill's Marauders in Burma. They had fought all the way to China. Some years passed by and I met him in Findlay, still in uniform, a master sergeant. I said, “what are you doing in uniform?” He replied that he had stayed in the service. I said,“were you in Korea?” He said yes. I said, “you aren’t going back, are you? You don’t have to.” He said yes, so I said, “Johnny, you might get killed this time.” He replied, “so.” Well, he went back and he got killed. I saw in the paper he was the highest serviceman in Findlay that they ever had. The Distinguished Service Cross, that’s next to the Congressional Medal of Honor, plus two Silver Stars, and several Bronze Stars, plus several Purple Hearts. Now that’s a real hero. He is buried in Findlay and each time I’m there, I stop and pay my respects.

I wanted to relate to Johnny going into the 3-C’s. This was his second time as it was with me, but we didn’t want to wait a year as was required so we had to change our names. He kept his name and when we were waiting in line, I said “Johnny, I don’t know what name to use.” He said “Walter Leroy Snyder.” I did and made it. A major that had been in a previous camp recognized him and cheerfully said “hello Johnny,” then looked at the sheet and said, “this isn’t you.” Well, Walter Leroy Snyder went to the Lava Beds National Park [in California] and Johnny had to stay home.

Climbing My Family Tree: CCC new recruits at Camp Tulelake, Lava Beds National Park (in public domain)
CCC new recruits at Camp Tulelake, Lava Beds National Park (in public domain)
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My name change gave me some problems. Someone would say “hey Walt.” I wouldn’t reply and when they yelled it again I’d wake up and reply. Our first sergeant was a little older, bigger, and a nice quiet guy. One time at mail call he called out “Don Snyder” with a surprised look, and said, “we don’t have a Don Snyder here.” I reached up and said, “give me that,” and I pulled it out of his hand. He gave me a long questionable look but didn’t say anything. I figured he had an idea about me, but we were from all over, and from all walks of life. Sometimes things are better left unsaid. I read years later that one can change their last name, but shouldn’t change the first. That made a believer out of me. We had a number of men from the hills. Several couldn’t read or write, but when it came to playing dice they were really sharp on the odds of betting. All in all, it was really good on us teenagers. As to the CCC life, it was good. We worked hard, got three meals a day, WWI army clothes, and $5 a month for you, and $25 sent home which most people saved for us.

We had guys from the cities, the farms, and a lot from Kentucky. You learned how to get along. I remember a guy from the city got caught trying to cheat at cards. They ran him upstairs between two beds and he pulled a knife out. I saw it, but don’t think there was any violence. One time at night some guys were in front of the barracks playing cards. They heard some moaning and went back to the stove and a guy 6’ 7” tall was moaning on the floor. His scalp was ripped open back a ways. No one knew what happened. Well, they took him to the infirmary and the doctor kept giving him a lot of shots kill the pain. Eventually, the truth came out. He and another kid, not big, were playing cards on the floor by the stove. The smaller guy accused him of cheating. He hit the kid and almost knocked him out. They were both from the hills. Maybe they settled things that way. The kid got up, grabbed a stove poker, and let him have it. I think there is a lesson to be had from that. They sent them both home. One time in Nevada, riding a truck to work, a guy (bigger) hit the smaller kid beside me. I said, “cut it out.” He turned at hit me on the shoulder. I hauled off and almost kicked him off his seat. I never saw him do anything to anybody after that. These guys are bullies. Stand up to them and they won’t fight.

Just a few things of no importance. Once, we had a short skinny guy named Pappy Dejernot. He would drink anything alcoholic, including vanilla and lemon extract. Once, I was looking out our barracks door and the door slammed open and he was standing in the door. He stepped down two steps, made a circle, banged up against the outside wall, fell down and passed out. Lemon extract. Another time a kid in the front end of the barracks had been drinking this cheap muscatel wine. He passed out in his bed and vomited all over himself. Guys were playing cards close by, couldn’t stand the smell, so a couple picked up his bed, blankets, and him. Took it out of the barracks and set it down in the rain. When it rains in the redwoods it pours and he never moved.

I’m getting a little ahead of my story. In the Nevada desert there was little to do, so if you had a few bucks you would go to town. I’d go to a movie, have some ice cream, and gamble a few nickels in the nickel slot machines. They paid off a little. You could play a bit, course you would lose in the end. This was cattle and mining country and I’d see some ranchers with big stacks of money there. Later I’d go up to High street and talk to the friendly ladies. They each had a room with a door window. They were all alike. About the only thing in it was a bed and a chair. The rooms were all connected down the street. They would sit by the open window and try to coax you in. One older woman tried to pull a couple guys through. They wanted three bucks and no one would pay that. I guess in the evenings they were busy with the cowboys and miners. I wondered why these pretty girls would work there. Someone said it was because they went to Hollywood and didn’t make it. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s possible.

We would occasionally have a movie in the mess hall. Occasionally a few cowboys would come in, stand in the back and watch. These were not your drug store movie well-dressed cowboys. I’ve seen them each heading a herd of steers to lord knows where and bring them back in the evening. They were polite, didn’t talk and looked as they say, “one tough hombre.”

Climbing My Family Tree: A mattock [By Stemonitis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons]
A heavy mattock has a long handle ending in an ax blade opposite a chopping blade.
By Stemonitis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
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Our camps were run by the army. A captain in charge and a first lieutenant executive officer, plus an army doctor second lieutenant. We had army barracks, army clothes, etc. Also had a first sergeant (not army). The man in charge of each platoon was called a leader. We worked for the Division of Grazing building roads. In building our road across the desert [at Indian Spring Camp in Nevada], a survey crew would stake out the road with markers, then in ‘crews’ we peons would grub up the sagebrush with heavy mattocks; we would hit the sand just ahead of the sagebrush with a heavy mattock, then we would lift it up, snapping the root. Others would pile and burn it. Then trucks would bring in and drop gravel, and a grader would level it. The road headed south from Route 50, Lincoln Highway. No one knew where it went, but we were told it would go between two peaks you could see 90 miles away. Some years ago I saw a detailed map and saw a little red line going south and figured that might be it.

In the lava beds of California, we did the same. The Modoc Indians had lived there and there was a Modoc Indian war. I don’t know who won, but I assume we did. However, there is a monument for General or Colonel Canby, who was burned at the stake. [Gen. ED. R.S. Canby was assassinated during peace talks with the tribe (but was not burned at the stake). One of the principal military encampments of the Modoc War of 1872-73 became the center of Camp Tulelake, the base for the CCC crews who worked on the Lava Beds National Park.]

Climbing My Family Tree: CCC work to control the Malibu fire near Angeles National Forest, California, in 1935
CCC work to control the Malibu fire near Angeles National Forest, California, in 1935
(US Forest Service, in the public domain)
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Later we transferred to Camp Prairie Creek in the Redwoods of California on Highway 101. We were in the mountains just south of Crescent City. We went out fighting the fires as soon as we got there. I might add we mostly controlled the fires, but it took the fall rains to put the fires out. After that we split rails, posts, etc., to better the place. [HERE is a 1-minute video of CCC clearing debris and making signs at Camp Prairie Redwoods State Park. ]

The ocean was only about a mile away [from Camp Prairie Creek] and I liked to go there. The water was cold and few of us got in it. I had a very bad experience there. At lunch-time three of us went down to the water. Going back, one of us mentioned going up this steep grade. One didn’t go, but a guy from Ashtabula and I did. It got steeper and steeper. Then it was too late. We couldn’t see down. We would take hold of little rocks sticking out. Often they would crumble. Some didn’t, but if it did and you had weight on you would probably go crashing down. We were nearing the top, hoping we wouldn’t go crashing down on the big rocks below. An outcropping of rock separated us and I couldn’t see him. Well, real slow we made it. I saw his head coming out at the same time as me. His face was red and he was breathing heavy. I suppose I was, too. He looked at me, hesitated, and said, “I prayed.” I said, “me too.” Since then I’ve thought “what if the top curved out?” That probably would have been the end of us. Funny thing I’ve had several close calls besides that some years later. I liked it there but my time was up after six months and [I] went home.

After I got back [home to Findlay, Ohio] I caddied at the country club. The river had a big bend with two holes that crossed it. That meant they had to cross the river four times. You couldn’t hardly get a job then so another friend and I swan the river at the country club for golf balls. The water got to eight feet deep in the middle. The club gave us two cents per ball we turned in. Lots of members had their names on them. We knew them and would give them the balls with their names. Then they would usually give us ten cents or 25 cents per ball. Then women usually had floaters. For that, we got a nickel each. Once, some women were crossing the river and one ball splashed in. I didn’t move. A guy there said, “Aren’t you going to get in?” I still didn’t move. Why? I knew she would hit two or three in the water and I’d get them all at once. The pay was not much but was better than caddying. Besides, the club wanted us to keep the other kids out, which we did.

One day my brother-in-law came out and took me out to the Cooper Tire where he worked. The waiting room was usually full of men hoping someone might quit or get fired. In a depression like that you get desperate for a job. I was interviewed, first told no, then yes. In the two previous days, they had worked two men one day each and fired both of them. I worked like a dog and was surprised when the foremen told me to come back the next day. I did and stayed with them thirteen years including the five years I spent in the army. I later became secretary, chief steward, and president of the local union. I liked negotiating contracts, wages, etc. with the president of the company and his staff.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Don B Snyder: Part 2 – Athletic Show in the Great Depression

Climbing My Family Tree: Don B. Snyder
Don B Snyder

This is Part 2  of a 13-part blog series sharing my Grand-uncle Don’s life story, in his own words, via an autobiography sent to me by Don’s grandson, Ron Oldfield, after Ron stumbled across one of my prior posts about his grandfather. It is shared with the permission of both of Don’s children and Ron Oldfield. [Note – Anything in brackets with green type is my added explanation of something in Don’s text.]

Don’s story:

Part 2 – Athletic Show

Climbing My Family Tree: Athletic Show Boxing Poster
Athletic Show Boxing Poster (in public domain)
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          On the athletic show we traveled with a truck and a car. The Greek that owned the show had a wife and a young daughter that traveled with him. We had a tent with the ring inside. Our dressing room was a canvass in one corner. The Greek was 52 years old and he would wrestle anyone in the crowd. He was short and stocky, but he knew wrestling. He had once trained Joe Savoldy, a heavyweight world champion when wrestling was real. Next was ‘Speedy’ Martin, about six feet tall and about 180-190 pounds. The ‘boxers’ (I prefer the word ‘fighter’) were Paul Reese, about 145-150 pounds, and I, at 135 pounds. Paul would take on anyone. I’d take on anyone up to 150 pounds, with no scales. To familiarize it, we had the tent, ring, and ‘bally’ stand. This stand was in front of the tent on the midway. It was about three feet by 12 feet and stood about three feet high. When it was show time we would get on the bally stand. [The bally stand is a platform in front of a fair or carnival sideshow tent on which sample of the show may be performed in order to lure spectators inside.] 

          The Greek was a master showman. We would hit a brake drum with an iron bar that you could hear all over the midway and the people would all come to see what was happening. I remember a girlie (dancing) show across from us. They drew a lot of people but not as many as we did. One time there was not too many people around. He got on the bally stand in his tights. Seen about four or five girls coming. He raised his arm limp, shoulder high and looked at it, pretending he had muscle. They stopped, looked and laughed and said “you haven’t got any muscle.” He would look serious and pretend to show that he did. First thing you know people would stop to see what was going on. The more they stopped the bigger the crowd. Then we would get on the bally stand with him and challenge the crowd. Sometimes we couldn’t get anyone to come up. Then he would apply some heat, get them a little mad and finally someone would come up and we would start. It cost those who came in to see it 10 cents. They would have to stand and of course the ring was about three or four feet high. If nobody came up he would try some more heat. He might look at a young couple and say, “what’s the matter, are you afraid?” They might be, but in front of their girlfriends they would often come up. I think when the people saw they didn’t hurt bad, others would get on the bally stand. You had to remember not to apply too much heat, like saying they were yellow or farmers. These shows were at county fairs, homecomings, etc., so you had to be careful. I’ve heard more than once that the crowd got mad and tore the tent down. These smaller towns usually didn’t have any boxers or wrestlers, maybe one. They didn’t want to get shown up so often fighters would come around when people were not there. They would hint or come right out and say that they wanted to work. By that I mean take it easy, pull your punches and make it look good. If he would draw or maybe even maybe win, he’d be popular and later could tell his grandkids. It saved us a lot as we might have to fight two to six times a day. Sometimes in the dressing room I’d ask him, “Do you want to work or shoot?” If I thought he was a nice guy I’d explain it to him. If not a nice guy I’d say never mind and go in and fight. Once in Napolean, Ohio a kid seemed nice so I explained it to him. He said yes. I left openings and WHAM! I got a hard one. I thought it was a mistake, but he did it again so I let him have a few. I went to the dressing room and he was in there crying. I felt bad and said “you tried to take me.” He said “no.” I felt bad and said “let’s do it again and do it right.” He said “O.K.” and we did it twice more. He was happy and the people liked it. When I told him he tried to take me, he said “no.” I told him “don’t try to kid me buddy, I do this every day and I know.” Anyways, it came out all right.

Climbing My Family Tree: Midway Boxing Bally Stand (England, off copyright)
Midway Boxing Bally Stand (England, off copyright)
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          Sometimes things happened that were really funny. One time we were at a town that had a good heavyweight wrestler. He came and ‘worked’ with Speedy Martin. His name was ‘Killer Briner’. Speedy thought that he was working too stiff (rough). The Killer would just laugh. One day the crowd had thinned down so the Greek, being the showman he was, said, “I’ll put both boxers along with Speedy against the Killer.” The crowd piled in. I heard Speedy tell Paul “now is the time we can get him.” I wanted no part of that, as I liked him. They started and Speedy got a half-Nelson on him with his head sticking out. Paul took aim, and WHAM hit him hard on the nose. I saw a little blood come out. He let out a roar like a wounded bull. Paul got out of the ring fast. I couldn’t as he had a hold of Speedy and his big legs around my neck and quivering. I couldn’t breathe. I think he saw that and felt I was not in on it and let me loose. I didn’t waste any time getting out of the ring. Then he worked Speedy over. Speedy got a good lesson and the crowd got their money’s worth.

          One other thing was funny. The Greek’s wife took in the money. Paul told me to watch her counting the money for the days take. He said occasionally she would raise her dress and shove some bills in her pocket and to let her notice I was watching and it would pay off. I did watch her and sure enough, she did that and saw me looking. I noticed a few extra dollars in my pay then.  

          At that time some men worked for a dollar a day. Trouble was we had to eat out and that took most of our money. After fighting, we would take a bucket bath in our dressing room. Then we would gather in the front of the ring and shoot the breeze with each other or with fighters or wrestlers from the area. At the Bucyrus, Ohio, fair Speedy had kinfolk from nearby Galion, Ohio. They brought hogs to the fair. Usually, we would crawl under the ring, drag out our blankets and sleep in the ring that we had fought in that day. Believe you me, it was a pretty rough life. Especially as I was only seventeen. Back to Speedy. He wanted me to go the barn where his kinfolk had their hogs. I said O.K. and when it came to sleeping we laid on the top of a bunch of straw about 10 or 15 feet high. Did I say sleep? Hardly. Them darn hogs squealed and snorted all night. Then in the morning, I was embarrassed as the farmers came in early to see the hogs. And there we were in our underclothes and I thought “boy! Never again.” But how many people can say they slept with the hogs, yeah! And who would want to?

Climbing My Family Tree: Sleeping pigs (
Sleeping pigs (
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          I hurt my leg hitting a sharp tent stake. With all the fighting it became badly infected and I left for home. It looked almost like gangrene had set in. Mom would put a tobacco poultice on it in the daytime as it was strong and would burn the flesh. At night she would put on a poultis (these were wet) of bread and milk. Well, that’s one old-fashioned remedy that done the trick and it healed good. [How to make a milk and bread poultice, HERE] I might add sometimes I’d step barefooted on a nail sticking up. This old remedy always did the trick.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Don B Snyder: Part 1 - Riding the Rails I, Growing Up

Climbing My Family Tree: Donald B Snyder
Donald B Snyder
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This is Part 1 of a 13-part blog series sharing my Grand-uncle Don’s life story, in his own words, via an autobiography sent to me by Don’s grandson, Ron Oldfield, after Ron stumbled across one of my prior posts about his grandfather. It is shared with the permission of both of Don’s children and Ron Oldfield. [Note – Anything in brackets with green type is my added explanation of something in Don’s text.]

Don’s story:

Some of my family members wanted me to write down some of my experiences. Two years went by and I thought, “Why not?” Everybody has had experiences but I doubt if they have experienced what I have. I was born in Findlay, Ohio in 1918. As a baby, I had a close call with double pneumonia, but I made it.


Climbing My Family Tree: Milk Delivery to City Homes (In the public domain; LOC)
Milk Delivery to City Homes (In the public domain; LOC)
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          Nothing of note growing up. I did get in trouble from skipping school and was put on probation. It was in the Big Depression and people would put change in the milk bottles [left out on the front porch], they had deliveries at home in those days. Kids all over town were swiping it. I hadn’t done any of that. A neighbor kid wanted me to do it with him and I said “O.K.”. The first and only bottle I picked up had six cents in it. There was snow on the ground and we got caught. I think they wanted to make an example of us as they took us to the city jail. There they read us off, handcuffed us, and walked us to the county jail. There they locked us up in a room that had a toilet. I heard they kept woman prisoners there. We were in solitaire. At each meal, they would shove a tray through a trap door. It was usually so hot you couldn’t eat it in a few minutes and they would take it back whether we had eaten it or not. Three days later my brother went to the sheriff to report me missing. He told him he had us upstairs. I was 15 years old and they hadn’t even notified our parents. After five days we went to court. The judge told off my parents and let me go. I never got in trouble again. I think this hard time is good for kids as it scares the daylights out of them. I’ve heard that juvenile places have TV and ping pong, etc. That doesn’t necessarily teach them a lesson.

Times were real bad in the Big Depression. If a man could work for a dollar a day, you got by ok. My dad had owned a number of houses. All were mortgaged. Times were so bad he lost them all except one large twelve room house with three lots, also an acre of ground where he raised black raspberries to sell, plus fruit trees. Also my uncle Howard, my mother’s brother. He lived alone in a small one-room house. He helped my dad some and dad looked after him. One day dad went to see how his chickens were. The whole dozen were dead. He asked Howard what happened. Howard said, “they looked like they had the croup.” He thought he should doctor them. Dad asked, “what with?” Howard replied “coal oil and cayenne pepper.” Those poor chicks.

Back to the depression. Dad couldn’t find work after being laid off. They would shut off our electric and we would use coal oil lamps. Finally, he would pay it and they would turn it on. Then the natural gas would be shut off and we had a big kitchen range. You could burn gas and on one side you could burn coal to cook on, plus it had a hot water tank. Often we would have froze but we did as a lot of our neighbors did, got coal from the railroad beside our house. We were blessed by having another railroad up ahead that crossed ours.

Climbing My Family Tree: Nickel Plate Railroad Schedule Cover
Nickel Plate Railroad Schedule Cover (in public domain)
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We lived beside the Nickel Plate Railroad. Up ahead it crossed the New York Central Railroad. The trains would stop by our house until they got the ‘all clear’signal from the guy in the little shanty at the crossover. A few times he fell asleep and the fireman had to walk and wake him up. At times you could see at least a couple dozen or more people riding in empty boxcars or gondolas, empty coal cars that had a flat bottom and sides about six to seven feet high. All cars had rungs at each end that went to the top. There was a board walkway in the middle of the top about 16 inches wide and four inches high from one end to the other. It was possible to go car to car by jumping across the ends of the cars. It was enticing to me and I started to hop onto the trains. People were not working then and had no money to buy coal. These trains stopping there was a blessing to them. They would get on top of coal cars at night and throw the coal off. Lots of people did it. It kept many a family from freezing. The police seemed to look the other way. I remember a kid I went to school with. He told me he and his brother were throwing off coal from a coal car. He saw his brother standing there doing nothing. He spoke up and said, “come on, let’s get this coal in before a bull (detective) shows up”. Turned out he was talking to a bull. He took them downtown and then let them go. I suppose so they could pick up the coal and take it home as it wouldn’t look good laying around in the daylight.

          There wasn’t any work and nothing to do, so I started riding the freight trains. Mostly everyone rode in empty boxcars with the doors open. I got the wanderlust and started riding them. The boxcars were fine. The coal gondolas were about six feet high inside. Not so good, but you couldn’t be seen except from someone climbing up or looking down from an adjoining boxcar. Then the big tank cars had a big walk around them. It was O.K. to stand and hold onto a handrail around the car. If you sat on the walkway you didn’t have much to hold on to, especially when the train would jerk. Then there was the ‘hopper’ dump cars. They were higher than the gondolas. And the insides slanted down so the coal could discharge from the bottom. At the lake ports they would turn the car upside down, empty it onto the lake boats, turn it upright and down to the yards. There were not comfortable to ride in. As for the boxcars, you could sleep in them if you didn’t mind the clickety-click of the rails, the ding-ding-ding of the streetcars, etc. After a while, you got used to it. Also, the bulls couldn’t see you very well. On the ‘reefers’ (refrigerator cars) at each end, there was an ice compartment. It was about six feet wide and the width of the car with rails you could climb down in the car. On top of the compartment was a trap door about three by two feet on each side of the car. They were kind of heavy and you could throw one back and not have to worry about it slamming shut. It made a nice place to ride although you missed the scenery. Sometimes you would climb up to see if everything was ok. And get back down. Out west, most of the cars were meat runs to Chicago and were full. Then you would ride the top, between the cars hanging on, or whatever. These meat runs ran at 60 to 70 miles per hour.

Climbing My Family Tree: Boy Hopping Train, Great Depression (in public domain; LOC)
Boy Hopping Train, Great Depression (in public domain; LOC)
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          I have rode passenger cars also. Where the cars connected there was a folding part, about three feet wide and covered. They joined together so people could walk from car to car. The front car next to the engine was open and you could ride covered and standing up. Called the ‘blind baggage’. You had to know the railroads as some (Pennsylvania) had a track in the middle filled with water. The train would slow down, let down a chute and scoop up the water into the tender. It would throw a lot of water onto the front car. I read where a Toledo man was froze fast in the winter. They chiseled him out and he was O.K. Another time a man froze to death in the same way. One time I was hiking from Canton, Ohio to home. It was dark and snowing. I came to a railroad, the ‘Pennsy’ (Pennsylvania Railroad) passenger was at the station across the road from where I was standing. I got an idea. I knew it went to Lima, Ohio so I went to the blind baggage next to the engine. I knew after the next stop that it took water on the ‘fly’ so I went back a couple of cars, hanging on between cars. It was risky as I only seen a couple of guys hanging on between cars on passengers. Anyway, I did it and was o.k. When I went to the front again everything was wet as was the second car. Next stop I went backward and repeated it. After that, I rode the front and got to Lima o.k. Then to Findlay on the Nickel Plate. It was a good thing I knew the railroads. I might add that I was 15 to 16 years old then. I would often go to Lima and back later to Muncie, Indiana. There I’d sleep in the jail basement on the cement along with about 50 or more others. I knew how to go through the garage without checking in at the desk. One night I noticed a guard there. I asked him why and he said, “you know about that murderer that’s in the paper headlines?” I said “yes,” and he said, “we think he sleeps down here.” In the morning I went to a mission for doughnuts and coffee. Then I caught a freight to Lima. It was around 0º F and I had to ride the top and hanging on between the cars. I almost froze, but I made it. I got off the train in Lima, Ohio as it slowly rode into the yards. Then I walked around the yards onto a bridge. A man saw me and in a shocked way said, “do you know some idiot came in on that train?” I said, “yes, I’m the crazy idiot.” I left him mumbling something I didn’t hear. As I said it was 0º F plus the speed of the train made it worse.

Climbing My Family Tree: Montreal Mission Soup Kitchen, 1931 (out of copyright in CA & USA)
Montreal Mission Soup Kitchen, 1931 (out of copyright in CA & USA)
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Lima, Ohio had a bull ‘detective’ named Lima Slim, and the word was he was mean and had killed a couple of riders. I went through Lima a lot of times but never had the pleasure of meeting him. This was because, as we entered the yards, I’d get off and walk around the yards and at the other end, I’d hide and catch it as it was leaving. One time I and a friend, Chuck Brown, wanted to go to South America. We thought we might hire on a freight ship in New Orleans, hence getting to South America. I didn’t even tell my folks I was leaving. I often did this, going to Lima, Muncie, Indiana, and Indianapolis. On this trip, we left Findlay, Ohio on a Nickel Plate Railroad freight train. We got to Indianapolis ok. Up ahead we saw a freight leaving the yards. I wondered as it was a short one. Anyways, we caught it and got in a boxcar. It went a ways and stopped, switched cars and went on. Then I realized it was what was called a ‘beltline’ that does switching from yard to yard. We got off and walked miles from where we started at 5º F. Well we gave up on that one and did the only sensible thing: went home.

I might add that I knew the railroads very well: where they went and which ones had the reputations that you should avoid them. About two years ago I saw in the newspaper a man [Errol Lincoln Uys] was writing a book about teenagers riding the rail and requesting them to write him. I did and he wrote the book Riding the Rails [you can find the book HERE ], which I understand was a best seller. He then sent me a copy of a paragraph that was about me.

“It was terrible way to live. It was rough and dangerous but there was also a mystical quality,” said Don Snyder, who rode the rails for three years from 1933, when he was 15. “The sound and moan of a whistle in the silent darkness echoing through the hills. The smell of the cars and the clicking of the rails. The ding, ding, ding at the crossings. The excitement of avoiding the bulls and the brakies. The open prairies, the mountains, the clear skies above you. For all the hardships, you feel a faint longing to hit the road again. I wouldn’t do it for anything.”

[The author has a longer quote from Don on his author website, in the Archive section for the book, Riding the Rails, it is the fifth entry in the OHIO section, below the New York section, THIS PAGE ]

Once we were fighting at an athletic show at a homecoming in Hicksville. Coming home, we hitched to Defiance, Ohio and I saw a passenger train at the station. I said, “let’s catch it.” Chuck said, “o.k.,” so we watched as the bull searched the train so we caught it on the run. At Deshler, Ohio it stopped for water and the fireman who came back on the tender to put the water in. He saw us, looked back and pointed his finger back. I said, “it’s the bull [detective], let’s get off.” Chuck said, “let’s go for the weeds.” I said, “no, let’s go on the station side, he won’t expect us to do that.” We did and got away. I said, “Chuck, I think we can still catch it.” On the opposite side of the station, we went to the front. The bull came running around the corner and bumped right into us. He swelled up like a toad, face red, and puffing. He looked at Chuck and said, “I see you have a black eye, I’d like to blacken the other one.” Then he looked at me and said, “you too.” I wanted to say “try it and you’ll wish you hadn’t.” There were a lot of people watching so he said “now you kids get out of here,” and we did, hitchhiking the rest of the way home. Another time I was younger and a pervert tried to grab me. I ran up a grade and he caught me. We wrestled down the grade turning over and his face ran into a bramble bush. He let go and I took off. Chuck stayed home, but I hitched and went to Wapakoneta, Ohio and joined the athletic show again.