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Steam & Excursion > Question about Engineer Clothing


Date: 06/08/09 18:40
Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: Trainphotog

Okay, one my my students asked last week when they were doing a portfolio review on some of my photos.
Why is that that engineers, and I am sure other train personnel, always seem to be wearing overalls and striped hats, back in the steam era. Was this a railroad type uniform, was it easier to have the overalls versus regular pants?
This student is very serious about his question and I told him I would put it forth to the experts!
Thanks in advance!!!



Date: 06/08/09 18:50
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: 1stcajon

Given that engineers & fireman in the steam days worked around so much grease, oil & sometimes coal, it was a sure bet they would be wearing bib overalls vs wearing street clothes much less their Sunday best!



Date: 06/08/09 19:11
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: Trainphotog

My grandfather was a CB&Q engineer, his overalls were always pretty baggy, so protecting street clothes seems like the totally logical answer.



Date: 06/08/09 19:39
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: gra2472

There are several reasons for bib overalls and striped hats, along with heavy sole boots, gloves, goggles, and the signature bandana. All of these items are protective clothing to shield the crew from the heat, cinders, grease, and all around pestilence associated with steam. The most important of these items in the days of steam that is commonly overlooked today is the bandana. Yes it is signature "railroad" when it is wrapped around the back of you neck, but its the only chance you have of keeping red hot cinders from sliding down under your shirt. It is also you gas mask in tunnels, just dip in water and its better than nothing, but not much better. You will also notice in period photos, that crews are often wearing ties and have their collars buttoned up tight around their neck. Again, cinders.

Bibs, long shirts, hats and such are for burn prevention more than preservation of your street clothes. A decent drop steam oil will soak through bibs and ruin trousers so matter what you do. I wear long trousers under my bibs to prevent burns and help (believe it or not) to insulate my legs from the back head. That little cushion of air between the trousers and bibs will help keep your legs from getting heat rash. The long and short of it is that it is all protective equipment.



Date: 06/08/09 21:59
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: Spotfire

Aside from offering added protection (especially when worn over a pair of jeans, as I and others I know do), you can also thank overalls for sparing your eyes the trauma of seeing a lot of plumbers' cracks. They're also great for changing out of fast if you value the upholstery of the vehicle you're driving home in.



Date: 06/08/09 23:12
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: Harlock

In the Victorian era, it started out very prim and proper, with rarified engineers running engines in dress clothes of the day, in the cabless engines. In the late 1880s, the standard fare seemed to be a bowler hat, dark jeans or work pants, dark jacket or vest and a white shirt, then the overalls crept in and stayed until the end of steam.

I personally like the late 1800s costume the best. It is similar to working clothes of many professions in the American West.

Mike Massee
Tehachapi, CA
Photography, Railroading and more..



Date: 06/09/09 04:52
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: johnacraft

Trainphotog Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Why is that that engineers, and I am sure other
> train personnel, always seem to be wearing
> overalls and striped hats, back in the steam era.


Overalls were as common then as jeans are today. In fact, my father (who was born in 1921) had such negative memories of growing up wearing overalls that he not only wouldn't wear jeans or overalls as an adult, he didn't like it when his kids did.

I remember an old railroader being surprised when I showed up for duty one day: "Where did you find four-button overalls?" Apparently, two-button overalls (the number of buttons on the sides) were viewed as inferior by older workers.

As others have said, railroading is dirty, and layers of clothes protected you from hot cinders down your neck, or when you brushed up against a hot pipe, or if a valve leaked steam. Also, there wasn't as much dirt to scrub off when you got home.

Depending on the era, a railroader's worker or laundress probably starched his overalls - not for appearance, but because it made it less likely the grease and dirt would "set" in the clothes.

One variation on the bandana was to pin it over the entire collar area. (You can see this in two of O. Winston Link's crew portraits, and I knew one person who figured out the intricate steps to doing it.) It's a very distinctive look - almost like a cravat - and it seems to have fallen out of favor in the 1930s or 1940s.


http://www.shorpy.com/node/624 - note the garters around the cuffs, to prevent the overalls from snagging on equipment as he dismounted from the caboose.

http://www.shorpy.com/node/701

http://www.shorpy.com/node/1833

http://www.shorpy.com/node/2057

http://www.shorpy.com/node/5649



Date: 06/09/09 10:32
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: wabash2800

I wonder if any railroaders showed up to work one day during the transition era dressed for a diesel (casual clothes) and unexpetedly found out they were going to be running steam? LOL



Date: 06/09/09 10:55
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: monogram

If possible,find a copy of the August 1993 copy of TRAINS and look for the story LAST CHANCE by John R. Crosby (RIP), you will find it very amusing.
Chuck



Date: 06/09/09 18:51
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: PCCRNSEngr

The stripped engr cap came from the Kromer Cap Co. Last time I looked they did have a web site with the history of the cap. Designed by Engineer Kromer made by his wife using mattress ticking which was stripped.
One story about dressing for the job occurred with the introduction of the Metroliners between Washington, DC and NYC. After the "Old Timers" discovered how nice those new trains were they started to bump the younger guys off. At this time officials allowed the passengers to come forward and show off the engineer's operating compartment. One day ready for departure the officers saw this older engineer showing up to work in bibs as if he was ready to run a GG-1. They politely asked him to dress up for the public. Next trip he arrived in a sport coat and slacks. During the run a father brought his young daughter up front to see the engineer. First thing she said that he wasn't the engineer, where was his bibs and kerchief. The officials wished they could have hide and from that point on didn't tell the engineers how to dress.



Date: 06/09/09 19:48
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: I5464J3

Bibs were very common work clothes in all labor professions from the teens to the 50's. Dad always wore them on the weekends in the 50's when he was working on the house. Then Monday a suit and tie to the office.

In November 2008, I had a "Your Hand on the Throttle" session on the Valley Railroad. I went the whole 9 yards. Blue Bibs, Blue hat, Blue chore coat, leather gloves, work boots, red bandana 'round the neck, railroad watch.
It was a cool, damp November day. What impressed me about the outfit was that it was darn comfy!

In answer to someone's question, during the steam/diesel transition yes, indeed, many was the time a crew showed up in slacks and sport shirts expecting a diesel and being fried in a steamer. Some of the old timers always showed up in bibs for diesels and were thought hopeless old fossils by the younger guys.

In the first half of the 20th century, middle class folks, whenever they left the home, wore dresses and hats and suits and ties. Check out railfan excursion pictures from the 40's and 50's. This was to show respectability. Showing up in dungaree blue jeans was gauche behavior. It made you "common." I am sure that is one of the reasons the father above didn't like jeans on anyone.



Date: 06/10/09 06:21
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: grande473

When I worked at the Pueblo City Park management encouraged us to look like what the public thought engineers should look like. One of the other guys steadfastly refused. He was a retired hostler for the Rio Grande who wore bib overalls every day at work. He had enough of them and wouldn't wear them in retirement.
He also said that under no circumstances was I to show up in striped bib overalls.



Date: 06/10/09 06:58
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: Charliecaboose

It was not only Engineers clothing but of all RAILS and for different purposes. When I hired out as a Brakeman in 1955, Steamers were gone still crews showed up in bibs and jumpers. You could buy good ones anywhere. Some fellas had theirs cleaned every week thru a cleaning service that came by the engine house every week. Others were done at home, some were starched and pressed. Usually the ground crew wore straps or clips to keep the bottoms tight so not to get caught getting on and off moving equipment. If you worked on the Road Freights they kept your street clothes clean. When we had assigned cabooses the crew had lockers to keep overalls in, the head end crew usually had lockers in the engine house.

The bibs served many purposes all of which has been discussed above, several others; on all bibs there was the famous watch pocket to carry your RR 21+ jewel watch, so didn't have to dig around thru your clothes to find it, this was before wrist watches were accepted, also had pockets for pens, pencils and some paperwork. The jumpers always matched blue or pinstripes, very fashionable, old time RAILS were very proud of their jobs.

As time passed by clothing changed, word was if you had old bibs and jumpers, the more tattered they were you could take them over to the local colleges and sell them as it became a fad for the younger people.

History will have it, that all crafts dressed for the job, shirts and ties, bibs and jumpers etc..

Just my experiences, enjoy Thanks, I enjoyed 45 years and still miss the friends I made, Charlie Caboose



Date: 06/10/09 10:05
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: spnudge

Nobody mentioned sleeve protectors.

They saved the elbows and arms from getting grease ground in. Also, Woolrich vests. Then again, a passenger vest on Jivey, without a shirt in the summer, said it all.


Nudge



Date: 06/10/09 10:51
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: patd3985

When I hired out on the U.P. in 1969 as an engine wiper, the first thing I was given was a list of what to buy and wear for work clothes. It was as follows: Denim blue overalls, denim blue shirt, denim blue jacket and denim blue engineers cap. I asked the backshop foreman why denim blue and not striped and he quickly replied as follows: "Yer a mechanic in the backshop, lad, not in engine service! We dress like mechanics!" To this day I still wear denim blue while working on or around locomotives!



Date: 06/10/09 12:24
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: johnacraft

spnudge Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Also, Woolrich vests.
> Nudge


Woolrich still sells it:

http://www.woolrich.com/woolrich/browse/productDetail.jsp?icParent=subCategory&icProduct=12&icCategory=cat10021&icSort=



Date: 06/10/09 17:27
Re: Question about Engineer Clothing
Author: CarolVoss

I5464J3 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
>>
> In the first half of the 20th century, middle
> class folks, whenever they left the home, wore
> dresses and hats and suits and ties. Check out
> railfan excursion pictures from the 40's and 50's.
> This was to show respectability. Showing up in
> dungaree blue jeans was gauche behavior. It made
> you "common." I am sure that is one of the reasons
> the father above didn't like jeans on anyone.

My mother was born in San Francisco in 1910 and never owned or wore a pair of jeans in her life, unlike her only daughter, moi, who wears them to this day. We lived in San Jose but went shopping (on the DelMonte) to "the City" and NEVER, but NEVER, without hats, gloves, high heels etc. She would have turned up her toes had she seen me standing in front of her beloved Eiffel tower in Paris in jeans and tennies 6 years ago. Her photo in front of same is wearing skirt, cashmere sweater, blazer jacket, pearls, stacked heels etc. Other times, other traditions.
C.

Carol Voss
Salinas, CA



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