Background of the 1930s• Recovering from Wall Street crash in 1929• Led to the beginning of the Great Depression – Unemployment hits a high of 4 million in 1930 and up to 12 million by 1932• More people using automobiles• Our nation preparing for War• The Dust Bowl struck
Impact on Railroad Industry• More automobiles means less people riding the train – For the first time since the debut of railroads, rail mileage declined during the 1930s• Due to economic problems in the country, less investments being made in railroads• Railroad employment decreased by 42% by 1932• Railroad income drastically declined from $977 million in 1929 to $122 million in 1932 – Industry would not have a profit again until 1937
People’s Actions and the Railroads• Unemployed workers (mostly farmhands) heard about jobs hundreds of miles away – Only way to get there was illegally “hopping” on trains because they could not afford tickets – Similar to Boy Charles from “The Piano Lesson” sneaking on the train after stealing the piano from Sutter• Many hoboes (at least 6,500) killed by guards or railroad accidents during these times• Mirrored in “The Piano Lesson” by Boy Charles and the three hoboes’ rail car being set on fire and killing them
How Railroad Industry Responded• To attract new and returning passengers, the industry developed the luxury Streamliner in the 1930s – Built in a way to reduce air resistance so it offered high speed travel to passengers• Switched from steam to diesel-powered locomotives – First passenger diesel locomotive used in 1934 – Could carry more passengers and cargo, thus saving money for industry
How Railroad Impacted Nation• As World War II heated up, trains became more necessary in order to transport troops• Railroad industry workers began developing and joining unions• Many positive results for employees: – Better pay for railroad workers • Evidenced by Doaker in “The Piano Lesson” making decent money as a railroad cook – Safer working conditions – Retirement benefits – Unions admitted African Americans
Symbolism of Railroads as Seen in “The Piano Lesson”• They get you where you need to go with minimal stops along the way – Similar to African American view of their lives in the 1930s that they can’t control things; they just have to go along for the ride wherever it leads them • Now what I done learned after 27 years of railroading is this... if the train stays on the track... its going to get where its going. It might not be where you going. If it aint, then all you got to do is sit and wait cause the trains coming back to get you. The train dont never stop (p. 19) – Doaker.