This is the latest installment of our weekly series The Language of the Blues, in which author and rock musician Debra Devi explores the meaning of a word or phrase found in the blues.

Grab a signed copy of Devi’s entertaining & award-winning glossary The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu (Foreword by Dr. John) at Also available as an eBook.

Hobo riding the blinds
Hobo riding the blinds

Riding the blinds refers to the dangerous hobo practice of riding between cars on a moving freight train, so as to be out of sight of the train crew or police. On a passenger train, this spot was the walkway between the cars. It was typically covered with canvas or leather folded like an accordion’s bellows or window blinds.

On freight cars, hobos sometimes rode holding onto the ladder running up to the top of the car. That was a lot more dangerous and was also called riding the blinds, or “decking.” Hobos also rode in the spaces between the baggage or mail cars near the coal tender.

Hiding in the space under the rail cars was called “riding the rods.” Not surprisingly, thousands of people were killed or maimed as they rode the rails in search of work in the early 1900s. Many were African Americans “hoe-boys”, or itinerant farm workers, will to risk their lives to support their families back home by traveling from one regional harvest to the next.

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“Chickasaw Train Blues”- Memphis Minnie (Lizzie Douglas)
“Walkin’ Blues”- Robert Johnson
“Cool Drink of Water Blues”- Tommy Johnson

Memphis Minnie – “Chickasaw Train Blues”


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