From the 1870s until the Second World War, millions of Americans left their homes to board freight trains that would carry them vast distances, sometimes to waiting work, often to points unknown. Congregating in skid rows, socializing around campfires, and bringing in the nation’s crops, these drifters were set apart from conformist America by a lifestyle possessing its own haunts, vocabulary, and cultural, sexual, and ethical standards. Alternately derided and lionized for their footloose ways and nonconformity, hoboes played a crucial and largely neglected role in the creation of not only America’s infrastructure, industry, and agriculture but also its culture, politics, and music.
The first anthology of its kind, On the Fly! brings forth the lost voices of Hobohemia. Dozens of stories, poems, songs, stories, and articles produced by hoboes are brought together to create an insider history of the subculture’s rise and fall. Adrenaline-charged tales of train hopping, scams, and political agitation are combined with humorous and satirical songs, razor sharp reportage and unique insights into the lives of the women and men who crisscrossed America in search of survival and adventure.
From iconic figures such as labor martyr Joe Hill and socialist novelist Jack London through to pioneering blues and country musicians, and little known correspondents for the likes of the Hobo News, the authors and songwriters contained in On the Fly! run the full gamut of Hobohemia’s wide cultural and geographical embrace. With little of the original memoirs, literature, and verse remaining in print, this collection, aided by a glossary of hobo vernacular and numerous illustrations and photos, provides a comprehensive and entertaining guide to the life and times of a uniquely American icon. Read on to enter a world where hoboes, tramps, radicals, and bums gather in jungles, flop houses, and boxcars; where gandy dancers, bindlestiffs, and timber beasts roam the rails once more.
- “This book is a tantalizing boxcar ride back through the history of the hobo, all told from the hobo’s point of view. What more could anyone ask?” —Paul Garon, coeditor of What’s the Use of Walking If There’s a Freight Train Going Your Way? Black Hoboes & Their Songs and author of Blues and the Poetic Spirit
- “On the Fly! gathers and reassembles forgotten fragments of a lost counterculture that was once so vast it practically defined the working-class experience in the United States. Its call was so alluring to young men of all classes that the hobo became the most commonly depicted character in American popular culture between 1900 and 1920. This collection represents the view from within, the stories and perspectives of those who lived the life of The Road, carrying its burdens and glorying in its freedoms. On the Fly! is indispensable for understanding not only the hobo life but also the on-the-ground history of our urban industrial order.” —Todd DePastino, author of Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America
- “A wonderful and definitive collection of hobo prose, poetry, and song. Iain McIntyre has painstakingly collected a rich array of hobo writing that together speaks to the rich and varied lives these itinerant travellers inhabited along the iron highway.” —John Lennon, author of Boxcar Politics: The Hobo in U.S. Culture and Literature, 1869–1956
- “On the Fly! is a brilliant introduction to the subject, and more than that, a moving tribute to the creativity of men and women at the margins of society.” —Paul Buhle, coeditor of Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World
- “On the Fly! is a wide-ranging, fascinating collection of primary sources about homelessness from the era that defined the rise and, in the 1930s, the crisis of industrial society in the U.S. Well-known writers like Jack London, Jim Tully, and Tom Kromer are represented, but what sets this volume apart from many studies is its emphasis on first-person views of the experiences of the homeless themselves. This is social history at its best.” —Kenneth L. Kusmer, professor of history at Temple University, author of Down and Out, on the Road: The Homeless in American History
About the Editor:
- Iain McIntyre is a Melbourne-based author, musician, and community radio broadcaster who has written a variety of books on activism, history, and music. Previous publications include Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture from the 1950 to 1980 (PM Press, 2017), How to Make Trouble and Influence People: Pranks, Protest, Graffiti and Political Mischief-Making from Across Australia (PM Press, 2013), Wild About You: The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand (Verse Chorus Press, 2010), and Tomorrow Is Today: Australia in the Psychedelic Era, 1966–70 (Wakefield Press, 2006).
Editor: Iain McIntyre
Publisher: PM Press
Page count: 544
Subjects: Literature/U.S. History-20th Century
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