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Hopping Trains

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Uncle Frank was the Daddy's younger brother by three years. Both left their home in the Philippines when they were in their early 20s. The Daddy left first in 1928, going to Hawaii as a contracted sugar plantation laborer. Uncle Frank left a year later. He sold his carabao to make his fare for a ship to the United States. After a 28-day trip in third class with 250 other young Filipino men, Uncle Frank landed in Seattle. 

During the late 1970s, I conducted and taped an oral history interview with Uncle Frank. The following is what he said about those first few years (1929-1931) in America. During those early Depression years, he traveled to different states to find work by hopping trains.

Uncle Frank in the 1970s
My ticket was from Philippines to California, but I got no more money so I find a job in Seattle. I saw an advertisement for thinning beets in Minnesota. I apply for the job. We went to a small town, Davenport. I got a little money.

About one month, finish thinning beets, then I went to work on the railroad in Fargo, North Dakota. Two months-and-a-half, I quit. There’s a hobo in the railroad told me go to Minneapolis to work in the meat-packing company. We ride the freight train. We arrive there (but) we got no chance to get a job. I stay two weeks; I spend all my money.

I ride the railroad again. I was traveling with a hobo. I asked him, “Where you gonna go?”

He said, “Butte, Montana.”

“Can I go with you?”

“Yeah. You just pack your blanket, some clothes.” We go on a freight train. It takes three days and two nights to Butte, Montana from Minneapolis.

Before we reach town, the guy jumped down. I’m alone there. I was scared. I just stay on the train till it reach Seattle. . . . I walk to a hotel and ask for a room. “What are you?” someone said.

“I’m Filipino.”

He said, “No. You can’t get room here. You’re too dirty.”

“Can I have a bath then?”

“O.K.” After I take a bath, he gave me a room.

. . .I kept walking the streets. Then I met a Filipino who was working in the mines in Butte, Montana. I asked him I could get a job there. He said, “Oh yes.”

I (work) there about two months. Every day there is an accident in the mine. I quit. I took the freight train from Butte, Montana to Seattle, Washington. I know the city already. I went to work on a farm, about six months. I didn’t like it again.

It (Seattle) was too cold. They say California, the weather’s good. I come to California in 1931. I didn’t know nobody.  Just take a chance. That time I had money; I ride on the bus. 


  1. How awesome you got the oral history like that. An interesting read. I love family stories, family genealogy. It fascinates me. Did your Uncle become a Citizen? Did he and your father unite?


    1. Yes, the Uncle became a U.S. citizen, sometime after WWII when Filipinos were finally allowed. The Daddy and the Uncle reunited after the war. The Daddy moved from Hawaii to the Uncle's adopted home town, where I eventually was born. :-)

  2. I've really been enjoying your A to Z Challenge posts, and I've nominated you for an award:


  3. Oral histories are so important ... thank you for sharing this snippet.

  4. Tough times. I was one of the lucky ones. My grandparents had a farm, paid for and they raised me and we always had fresh food. There were a lot of hired hands but they were not paid, they got room and board and that was worth a lot in those days. Everyone worked the farm for food. And if you had a farm, it was extremely dangerous to be alone.

    1. Even with all that is going on these days, I am very glad and fortunate that I did not live during the times of the Uncle and the Daddy.

  5. Very interesting. People's histories are so fascinating.

  6. I wish I had more info like that from my relatives. When I was in high school, I had to do a genealogy project, and I was supposed to collect stories and things, but, mostly, my relatives didn't want to talk much about WWII and the stuff that happened when they were young.

    1. It's only been in the last several years that the reticent Mama tells stories about her younger life in the Philippines, including the WWII years. Maybe it's just aging more that allows them to finally share.


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Thanks for the good cheer. :-)

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