Thursday, October 26, 2006

Immigrant railroad worker

From: "Ashley Peter"

What was it like as an immigrant railroad worker in the 1900s?


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"

"Immigrant" is a term that covers an awful lot of territory. That being said, my father, born in 1903, went to work for the UPRR in Wyoming in 1920, at age 17. He and his older brother, Ellis, traveled by wagon from Iowa to Wyoming, this to try their hand at what was called "mans work."

Dad said many times that he was "green as grass" when he and Ellis hit the road for Wyoming.

They found the work hard, the weather hot, the water warm, the food unpalatible, dirt dusty, the hours long and tedious. Both were hired as 'gandy dancers,' a term of the day for spike drivers. As they were both young (Ellis was 18) and not too bright in the manner of the world, their life was difficult. Ellis was head over heels in love with a gal that eventually became his wife, but he being in Wyoming at end of track, he had no way to communicate with her.

So, poor food, long hours, heat, wind, no Mom to help with the laundry and cooking, no friends to commiserate with, they were two miserable guys.

I imagine that "immigrants," whether from Ireland, Germany, Tennessee or Iowa were all in the same boat. My father, prior to leaving the farm in Iowa, bought a 'railroad watch,' being perhaps a tad too idealistic as to what he was getting in to. Needless to say, he didn't need a watch when pounding spikes.

My dad lived to celebrate his 95th birthday, and in all of those years I NEVER heard he nor Ellis ever say that working for the railroad, in the Summer of 1920, was anything other than misery.

Boys being boys, Ellis decided that his Iowa girlfriend was more important than the money he was earning, and my father, not being enchanted with spikes, hammers, rails, ballast, heat, wind, dirt, blisters and food that was not home cooked, both returned to Iowa in the Fall of 1920. Neither ever worked for a railroad in the years after that experience.

The railroad watch rests, unwound and run down, in a drawer here in NewCastle. I suppose if it could tell what it witnessed in the first quarter of the 20th Century, you would really have a story to listen to.

Hope this answers a part of your question!

—G J Chris Graves, NewCastle,Calif.

10/26/2006 12:53 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman"

Hard, long physical work. I've done some hard work in my life, but I imagine entry level work on the railroad was harder than anything I've ever done. At least it lasted longer into the day. On the other hand, there were likely worse jobs. My grandfather worked one day in a coal mine and went home and said the family could starve to death before he went down that hole again. And then he spent the rest of his life swinging a hammer on the Santa Fe, so maybe working on the railroad wasn't the bottom. Chances are the immigrant worker would have been with other workers from the same culture. How fast he advanced probably depended upon how fast he learned English (I presume we are talking about a male). And it was probably a whole lot better than what he left behind, too.


10/26/2006 4:04 PM  

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