Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

Photograph of a young man (Gordon McLean) riding on the top of a boxcar


Gordon, riding on top of a boxcar, in the goggles he wore to keep out coal dust and cinders. The "best-equipped hobo on the road", his essential hobo equipment included a strong canvas pack, warm sleeping bag, frying pan, tea pail, lighter and water

ARCHIVED - The Kid's Site of Canadian Trains

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

Famous Moments


During the Depression in the 1930s, many people were out of work. Without money to pay for tickets, men hopped onto trains and "rode the rails", looking for jobs. This was, and still is, illegal and very dangerous. Some hobos laid boards across the brake rods under passenger railway cars. They could ride on these boards and be hidden from view – a very dangerous, noisy and uncomfortable ride. Most hobos rode inside or on top of boxcars on freight trains. Many hobos were killed or seriously injured.

Retired high-school teacher Gordon McLean from Tribune, Saskatchewan was 15 when he became a hobo, riding the Canadian railroad in search of work and adventure. Like many others who couldn't find work, Gordon hitched free rides on freight and passenger trains in search of work on farms, harvesting and threshing.

Hobos were forced to beg for food or, as Gordon did, they knocked on back doors and asked for food in exchange for splitting firewood.

I Was There

"I still dream of riding freight trains. I can still smell trains, still feel the jouncing and swaying, still hear the thunderous rumbling from the wheels that penetrates an empty boxcar and the different types of rattling echoes..."

Riding on Top: Memoirs of a Modest Master Hobo, by Gordon MacLean. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford, ©1999, p. 1

Hobo songs

Listen to This

"Waiting for a Train", performed by Wilf Carter (running time: 2 min, 57 s)
[RM 5,928 KB] / Source

Download Freeware

Listen to This

"The Hobo's Blues", performed by Wilf Carter (running time: 3 min, 5 s)
[RM 6,198 KB] / Source

Download Freeware

Listen to This

"I Ain't Gonna Be a Hobo No More", performed by Wilf Carter (running time: 2 min, 47 s)
[RM 5,579 KB] / Source

Download Freeware

Listen to This

"The Hobo's Song to the Mounties", performed by Wilf Carter (running time: 3 min, 5 s)
[RM 6,198 KB] / Source

Download Freeware

Read More

Ellen: Hobo Jungle, by Dorothy Joan Harris. Toronto: Penguin Books, ©2002. 72 p. Ages 8 to 12


Visit the website ARCHIVED - Canada, by Train