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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Carl Thompson is stranded while hitchhiking

During the Great Depression, steady employment was hard to find, so Carl Thompson and some of his other friends hitchhiked around the country, visiting other places and searching for jobs.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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During the Depression, I rambled lots. I reckon I covered about fifteen or twenty of the states, mostly hitchhiking. And I did hobo a few times …
Oh, you did?
In a way, just experiences. It wasn't because I just really wanted to, but I had heard of and seen so many hobos back when we was living there at Fort Mill, and also at Rock Hill. Why, we've had them to come up to our back door of a morning, sometimes before breakfast. Been sleeping off somewheres all night, and just got up and come on up to some of the houses, and wanted something to eat. Well, my stepmother never would turn them down. Never would over one or two come, and she'd fix two or three sandwiches and give them to them. What started me to hoboing, though, during the Depression you couldn't get no work much, and so about four or five of us boys there decided to go to Charleston, South Carolina, and see if we could go on merchant marine boats and go out, because we knowed they paid pretty good on them trips. Whenever you come back, you'd get five or six hundred dollars, maybe, for one trip, just according to where you would go and how long you would be gone and all. And some of them boys would get four and five, and some of them as much as six hundred dollars on one trip thataway. They'd just sign up right for another one, just go right back again. And I knowed some of them to stay in that merchant marine for four or five years thataway, some of them longer, because they was making good money. It was dangerous in a way, and it was hard work, but still they made good money, and they didn't mind it. And so none of us didn't have no money because it was during the Depression, and we was out of work, and so some of them said, "How are you going?" Some of them said, "Let's hobo." And I said, "Well, "I ain't never hoboed none( )," and none of them had. Had one of them a preacher's son. And he said, "Well, I never hoboed none either, but I'm a-going with you." And so we did. We caught a freight down there. It was about eleven o'clock that night, and we caught a freight and rode that freight to Charleston, South Carolina. After we got down there we bummed around there a while and couldn't find just exactly where to go to apply or anything. And in a way, after we got down there, we got to where we didn't care whether we did or not. We almost decided we didn't want it. Because none of us hadn't been away from home over just maybe a week or two at a time, and got to studying about it, and maybe we'd have to be away from home for three or four months. And so we all said, "Well, let's go back home." So we just caught another freight and just went on back to Rock Hill. And so I started hitchhiking a good bit. I'd take a notion to go anywhere, and I'd just get out on the highway by myself and just go to thumbing. And sometimes I'd go three and four hundred miles in one day's time. Sometimes I wouldn't have no special place to go, just going. And I'd look for work wherever I'd stop in a town thataway. I'd go around different places. But in every place, it looked like it was just like Rock Hill. No jobs. Go in and apply, said, "I'm sorry. Such-and-such a place is shut down now, and we're trying to take care of their help." And we'd go on back home. And so I'd stay at home a few days, then I'd strike out somewheres else. And I went from Rock Hill to New York, and from New York back to Rock Hill, and from Rock Hill down to Florida, and from Florida back home, and all around. And finally, there was a fellow there who was running a store in Texas, and he had come home to visit, and he was going back. And so he asked me and one of my boy friends if we wanted to go back with him. Said, "It won't cost you nothing, but just help pay for the gas." I had an uncle and aunt out there at Tyler, Texas, and I said, "Well, if I can get to Tyler, Texas, I won't have to worry because I've got an uncle and aunt out there, and it won't cost me nothing." He said, "Well, I'm going right through Tyler. I'm going about 150 miles on the other side of Tyler, and I'm going right through Tyler." I said, "Well, good, then." And so my stepmother gave me twenty-five dollars, and this other boy's brother give him twenty-five, and so we went on out there. And we got out there at Tyler, Texas, and we went to looking for work. We went to the oil fields and everywheres we thought would hire help. And we even had other people that we met and made friends with. They said, "Well, we're going to help you all we can." And so they would go to different places, different ones, and ask about jobs for us. And it was there just like it was everywheres else, just about. And we stayed out there three weeks, till I told my uncle, "Well, we was thinking about going on to California, but my daddy's wanting us to come back home, and his mother's uneasy and wants him to come back." And so we started hitchhiking back, and we got back to Durden, Arkansas, and we kind of had a hard time getting out of there. And so we finally caught a freight train out of Durden and rode it on into Little Rock. And when we got into Little Rock we walked out on the highway. About five dollars and a half was all I had, and the other boy didn't have but about two dollars. And there we were, about eight or nine hundred miles still alway from home. [END OF TAPE 3, SIDE B] [TAPE 4, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 4, SIDE A]
And so we were standing out there on the highway, and it was almost dark, and a fellow come over there to us. He said, "Boys, I'm sorry to tell you, you all ain't going to get no rides out of here." I said, "Why? What's wrong?" He said, "Nobody won't pick you up. There's just been too much robbery going on. There have been I don't know how many picked up boys, and they would go on up the road a little piece and maybe put a gun into their back and take what money they had and take their automobile, and put them out. People have just got to where they won't pick you up. They're afraid of you. Now you boys may be as honest as the day is long; you may not hurt nobody. But they're just scared of you. They don't know." And I said, "Well, I don't know what we're going to do then." And so we went over there, and we both spent the night in the depot. And whenever we went in the depot, it started raining, and about nine o'clock it was just pouring down rain. And the police come in there. And he said, "I'm sorry, boys, you can't stay in here all night. You'll have to go somewheres else and stay. You can't stay in here." I said, "Well, we ain't got nowheres else to stay. We're trying to get home, and we live at Rock Hill, South Carolina, and we ain't got nowheres else to stay." He said, "Well, I'm sorry. You can't stay in here. I'm going to make my round now, and if you're in here whenever I come back, I'm going to take you in and lock you up." And I said, "Well, I don't know what we'll do." And I reckon he had been gone a minute or two. There was a fellow setting in there, and he heared it, so he come on over there to us. I don't know who the fellow was, but he said, "You boys got any money?" I said, "Yes, I've got about five dollars." And he said, "That's enough. I can get you both a room up here for a dollar tonight, where I stay. It's a nice place. If you want your breakfast in the morning, you can get your breakfast for a quarter." And I said, "Okay, let's go. How far is it? It's raining out there." He said, "Oh, it's just a little piece around here." So we went on around there. It wasn't but just a short piece, about five minutes' walk. And he called the woman to the door and told her. She said, "Yes, I can give you boys a bed. You want a bed to sleep together?" I said, "Yes." And she said, "Okay, come on in." And we went on in, and she showed us the room and all, and then went ahead and showed us the bathroom and where we could take a shower and everything. And she got clean linen on the bed and said, "If you all want your breakfast in the morning, you ring the bell and let me know, and you can get your breakfast for a quarter. And I said, "We don't want no breakfast. We'll go on and try to see if we can't get a way to get home." So whenever we got up the next morning, we just went right on out, didn't take the time to eat no breakfast. But we went on down there and did go in a cafe and eat, because we seen how it was going to be. And so I told this boy, "Well, let's wire home for money." He said, "There ain't no use for me to wire home for money. They ain't going to send it to me." I said, "Yes, they will. Your mother'll send you the money. And I know I can get it. I've never done this before, but this is one time I'm going to do it." And so we went down there to the Western Union office and wired in for twenty-five dollars apiece. And so it wasn't but about two hours till we went back up there and the money was there. And we went on down to the railroad station first and asked what a ticket was to Rock Hill, and it was twenty-nine dollars. I had about twenty-six or twenty-seven, was all I had. And I said, "Let's go to the bus terminal." So we went on down to the bus terminal, and it was $19.50, so we just caught the bus and went on home. So whenever we got home, that was the last big trip that we ever taken. From then on it was just short trips.