chapter  17
9 Pages

How tramp life was transformed

The men with whom I traveled were part of a way of life that began in the United States after the Civil War. In 1923 Nels Anderson, who had been a hobo and became a University of Chicago sociologist, wrote that the hobo should be understood as part of the settling of the American frontier. The settlement took place in an entrepreneurial, capitalistic framework. When new regions were exploited for their natural resources, or as technological change altered labor needs in extractive or agricultural economies, workers went to the job voluntarily and alone, without intending to settle down. The work was intermittent, corresponding to seasonal agricultural cycles or to the demands of large, one-time building projects. Tramp work was hard and often required skill. Job sites were primitive and isolated.