My Hobo Dad

Hopping a Freight Train to Idaho

By Max Jenkins

Photos Courtesy of Max Jenkins

My dad, Wes Jenkins, loved farming. But to find his first paying job, he had to live through the Midwest Dust Bowl, overcome the Depression, and travel as a hobo on freight trains to Idaho. It was a story I never heard until I was in college.

Dad was born and raised in a little Missouri farm community called Ravanna, about seven miles from the Iowa border. He helped my grandfather farm their small acreage with a team of horses. Dad did much of the plowing, harrowing, and planting the crops. He also fed and milked the cows, plus managed the heaps of manure. 

Then the Depression arrived, which was grueling, but the drought and dust storms were even worse. The violent windstorms blew away the topsoil and left farms throughout the Midwest devastated. There were fourteen major Midwest dust storms just in 1932. Dad didn’t talk much about those years. He did mention that he saw his dad in tears once, in fear of losing their farm.

The farm was not producing enough food for Grandma and Granddad, let alone a grown son. There were no jobs in the area. Julian, Dad’s best friend, heard there were jobs in the silver/lead mines of Idaho. Julian’s uncle had found work on the Salmon River near Clayton.

In 1934, Dad and Julian hopped on a freight train heading west with all the other hobos. After nine or ten days on trains, they could see Salt Lake City on the horizon. But the train came to a screeching stop before they got to Salt Lake City’s rail yards and men in dark blue uniforms rushed the freight cars on both sides, and captured all the hobos, including Julian and Dad.

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