Wanderin’: About the Song

Historical Background

It is estimated that in the last decade of the 19th century approximately 60,000 hoboes, tramps, and bums were stealing rides around the country on railroad cars without paying the fare. Their ranks steadily increased, peaking during the Depression in the twentieth century when they numbered approximately one million. The fortunate ones traveled in empty boxcars, but often hoboes could be found on the catwalk on top of a freight car or on the narrow steel ledge between cars. Sometimes they even hung precariously below the cars, only inches above the track.

Many people hopped trains because they couldn't find a job, were broke, and wanted to start anew in another location. For some, however, riding the rails became a way of life.

Song History

"Wanderin'" grew out of an Irish melody and the experiences of these wayfaring Americans at the turn of the 20th century.

Lyrics

I've been wanderin' early and late
From New York City to the Golden Gate
And it looks like I'm never gonna cease my wanderin'

My daddy is an engineer, my brother drives a hack
My sister takes in washing and the baby balls the jack
And it looks like I'm never gonna cease my wanderin'

Been a-workin' in the city, been a-workin' on the farm
And all I've got to show for it is the muscle in my arm
And it looks like I'm never gonna cease my wanderin'

Snakes in the ocean, eels in the sea
A redheaded woman made a fool out of me
And it looks like I'm never gonna cease my wanderin'

I've been wanderin' far and wide
I come with the wind, and I drift with the tide
And it looks like I'm never gonna cease my wanderin'

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