off the Road
by Gertrude Springer
Photographs by Lewis Hine
HE had little time for me, that
was plain. As he answered my questions his eyes were on the men
across the field.
"There's nothin' 'bout me, ma'am. I'm jes'
one of these federal transients. My folks is what's called po'
white trash where I comes from. No ma'am, I ain't never worked
what you'd call reg'lar,not for money anyways. Seemed like
I might's well get out, so 'bout a yeah back I hit the road. Long's
I kep' movin' I got by. Then a fella was comin' to New York, so
I come. But say, that's a tough place. Then I heard about this
camp and so I went to a place where a lady talked to me and pretty
soon she said I could come. My folks? Oh, they don't care. They've
got it plenty hard without me. No ma'am, there's nothin' 'bout
me. I reckon I better be goin'. A fahmah down yondah give us some
tomata plants that's gotta get set out before it rains."
was telling the truth about himself, maybe not. It did not matter.
What mattered was that this sunbrowned, muscular, young American
citizen was no longer adrift in the dim world of the road, the
jungle and the flophouse and that he, grimly schooled in irresponsibility,
was actually concerned with getting tomato plants set out at the
Two months before, chiefly because New York
was tough, he had drifted into the Transient Bureau, and presently
found himself on the way to the camp deep in the hills of Putnam
County. He figured that it was probably just a new kind of a jail„he
knew all about jailsbut he'd take a chance. He could always
hit it out again, just go "over the hill,"any hill.
And so he came to the frame barracks sprawled
on the edge of a wood. Darkly suspicious of everything, he heard
the director's assurance that this was a place where everybody
played fair. He knew that line, and he knew where the catches
were. But the place looked good for " three squares" and he might
as well try it. That night he found himself hanging over the old
piano where a "bar-room professor""Yes'm, I've played my
way through every state in the Union and don't know one note from
another,"was pounding out anything anybody asked for. And
presently he was swapping tall stories of the road and getting
a big laugh for that fast one he and Big Red had pulled on the
bulls in Scranton. No one asked him any questionsjust took
him for granted. The next morning he was assigned to a worksquad.
This was probably the catch, but the other fellows said it was
OK, so he went on.
That day and the next he got
onto things a little, and decided to stay out the week and help
the gang finish the job it was on. The next week he stayed because
the camp ballteam had a game on. The week after thatwell,
he just stayed and to his own faint surprise heard himself counseling
a newcomer to "give this dump a chance. Take it from me, kid,
it beats the road.' Now he has risen to be a squad leader, has
hardened up and gained in weight. He has learned to box and aspires
to the camp championship. He has written to his folks and has
saved $4.25 from his cash allowance toward some decent clothes
for a "front" when he gets a chance at a job. Pretty soon now
he is going to brace the camp director and see what he thinks
he ought to do next. This dump's all right, but after all a fellow
likes to be on his own, and it seems like there ought to be a
regular job some place for him. Just look at that muscle!