Kenneth Allsops 1967 book "Hard Travellin': The History of the Migrant Worker" has sadly been out of print for over a dozen years. It is a lyrical account of the American migrant worker from the early years of American independence to the period when the author put pen to paper.
Allsop weaves his way between the idealised myth of the Hobo and the shadowy depictions of him as a threat to the established order to get at the real man or woman, or not infrequently the boy or girl, and the reality of their lives. Main Street U.S.A. has always had a love/hate relationship with the Migrant worker or Hobo, it has envied them their "freedom" and required them for seasonal labour at harvest time, or for heavy and temporary labour such as the laying of the railroads. But when the work is finished the response is to drive them elsewhere, often with the threat of or indeed actual violence. One article that exemplifies the brutal attitude towards the Hobo that the author quotes from at length includes the advice - "The simplest plan, probably, where one is not a member of the Humane Society, is to put a little strychnine [rat poison] or arsenic in the meat and other supplies furnished the tramp. This produces death in a comparatively short period of time, is a warning to other tramps to keep out of the neighbourhood. . ." Such are the ways of civilization, and this sage advice is not in some anonymous pamphlet but the Chicago Tribune.
The book captures the precarious existence of the Hobo, from the excitement and danger of "riding the rods" (climbing onto the support beams under a railroad wagon of which there is a photograph in the book and frankly it doesn't look either comfortable or safe- one slip and you are under the wheels) to the more mundane such as sitting through a three hour sermon at a mission in order to get some grub.
Other subjects the author goes into are the music, poetry and the writing that originated from the hobo culture - from Woody Guthrie to the Blues, the autobiographies of tramps to the apologetics of Carnegie and Pinkerton. Each chapter is generally prefaced by an account of a modern (1960's) migrant worker in their own words before the author delves into the past. Amongst the most fascinating parts of book is that on the Wobblies (members of the International Workers of the World); they organised the migrant workers in the period prior to World War One. They had considerable success in improving pay and conditions for the harvest hands, particularly when the surplus of man-power was curtailed during World War One; but were eventually broken, during the "red-scare" that followed on the footsteps of the war. Broken by the extreme violence that was a feature of American labour relations until recent times. Being shot, beaten up, judicially executed or being dropped off in the Nevada desert are some of the methods of the forces of law and order.
There is much more to the book than I can cover in a short review and though out of print it can still be picked up 2nd hand and I wouldn't hesitate for a second to recommend this lyrical account of the Migrant Worker which will fire your imagination and indignation for many a long hour.