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Riding the Rails
Riding the Rails
Actor: James San Jule; Arvel 'Sunshine' Pearson; Rene Champion; Richard Thomas; Peggy De Hart; John Fawcett (II); Charley Bull; Clarence Lee; Jim Mitchell; Bob 'Guitar Whitey' Symmonds; C.R. 'Tiny' Boland
Director: Michael Uys; Lexy Lovell
Genres: Drama, Special Interests, Educational
NR     2003     1hr 12min

Don't miss this ride! Riding the Rails tells the unforgettable story of the 250,000 teenagers who left their homes and hopped freight trains during the Great Depression. Featuring a foot-stomping soundtrack of such folk gr...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: James San Jule; Arvel 'Sunshine' Pearson; Rene Champion; Richard Thomas; Peggy De Hart; John Fawcett (II); Charley Bull; Clarence Lee; Jim Mitchell; Bob 'Guitar Whitey' Symmonds; C.R. 'Tiny' Boland
Director: Michael Uys; Lexy Lovell
Genres: Drama, Special Interests, Educational
Sub-Genres: Drama, Transportation, Educational
Studio: WGBH Boston
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 02/25/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/1998
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1998
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 12min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Ride to Glory
Malvolio | Charlottesville, VA United States | 05/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Riding the Rails is an extraordinary video documentary that recounts how hundreds of thousands of teenagers during the Great Depression left their homes and hopped freight trains back and forth across America. Most came from families that could no longer support them, but some were just kids in search of adventure. The documentary is built around interviews with about a dozen survivors from that time, now in their seventies and eighties. Their moving stories are augmented by pictures, newsreel footage, and excerpts gleaned from thousands of letters contributed to the project by other survivors. The reminiscences are by turns grim and humorous, hopeful and bitter, tragic and filled with wonder. By the end of the film you'll feel as if you're close friends with these former hobo kids. The music is likewise outstanding, mixing vintage railroad songs and social anthems with original tracks. The overall effect is a kind of bracing nostalgia that is not cloying but consciousness-raising in the best sense. "Riding the Rails" is the winner of 18 major film awards, including Best Documentary of 1997 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Directors Guild, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. If you have any interest in either railroad lore or 20th century U.S. history, you owe it to yourself not to miss this video. ..."
First-rate overview of its time and place
Malvolio | 01/18/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If you're interested in what it was like for real people during the Great Depression, buy this video. It's content is excellent, including stills and films of the era and interviews with old-timers who were there and lived it, both men and women. It's story sequence is great, telling how and why young people came to ride the rails: from poverty to adventure and everywhere between, then talking about what it was really like to live that way: good/bad big town/small town, and closing with the various reasons or ways various youth rejoined society or went on in life. Very significant is the soundtrack, which includes high quality recordings of music of the period and/or the situation, often recordings by the original artists. Purchasers of the video may want to consider also getting the book, IRON MEMORIES: RIDING THE RAILS IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION, by the video director's father, Errol Lincoln Uys. The video is great by itself, but with the book they're really a superior pairing."
Heather L. Parisi | St. Augustine, FL USA | 11/09/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Sure, the Great Depression is a part of history that has been studied, examined, exposed and studied some more, but until now the story of 250,000 teen hobos who spent years "Riding the Rails" went largely untold.


This DVD examines the lives of over a dozen Depression-era, freight-train stowaways who spent many of their teen years on the bum, traveling by rail throughout America looking for something better. But what and why? A very diverse group of former rail riders were interviewed including men and women, white and black, but all were teens at the time. This documentary delves into what motivated them and what it was like to be a teenager "riding the rails". In looking at this small group we do see a pattern and reasons which motivated this relatively large group of underaged runaways to choose such a difficult and risky lifestyle.

There are some photographs and archival photos and movietone-news-style film excerpts from the Depression era shown to give perspective. We also see an excerpt of a feature film "Riding The Rails - Teenagers On The Move" made to dissuade youngsters from taking up the lifestyle. Of course it only encouraged more rail runaways despite the tragic depictions of the film. It seems incomprehensible that so many children would take to riding the rails, but they did. This is their story.

All in all, this is a very worthwhile documentary about an almost forgotten piece of American history.


This DVD is part of the "AMERICAN EXPERIENCE" series produced by WGBH - BOSTON. An interview with the filmmakers is included as well as a "slide-show" featuring Depression-era photos. Web sites of interest are also included. It has the scene selection feature and closed captions available."
Great of Teenagers
M. Hardrict | 04/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I am a history teacher and showed this movie to my students and they really enjoyed it. It talked about childern their age (15)."