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Train-hopping hobos were once needed for Iowa's ag industry

Talk of Iowa, hosted by Charity Nebbe

Before the mechanization of agriculture, so-called hobos, tramps, and bums played a large role in row crop production in Iowa and the Midwest.

Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe chats with historian Nathan Tye about the presence and passage of migratory workers across Iowa during the period of the 1870s and past the turn of the century.

While some legislators, law enforcement and others found their illicit train riding disruptive to the social order, Tye says the history of these transient lives raises questions about the treatment of the poor and homeless in the state, and the wider history of migrant labor in the region.

Tye is giving a free online presentation Thursday through the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

Later in the episode, University of Northern Iowa sophomore Olivia Chambers won two gold medals and a bronze at the United States Paralympic National Championships last December. A swimmer most of her life, Chambers is UNI's first-ever para-swimming national champion, after losing her eyesight three years ago to a mitochondrial disorder.

Nebbe talks with the Little Rock, Arkansas native about what it was like to lose her eyesight, and her goal to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Team for the 2024 games in Paris.


  • Nathan Tye, assistant professor of history, University of Nebraska Kearney
  • Olivia Chambers, University of Northern Iowa swimmer
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Samantha McIntosh is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio. Prior to IPR, Samantha worked as a reporter for radio stations in southeast and west central Iowa under M&H Broadcasting, and before that she was a weekend music host for GO 96.3 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.