Home Open Account Help 299 users online

Railroaders' Nostalgia > Child Labor and a tragic event.


Date: 07/21/20 09:21
Child Labor and a tragic event.
Author: eminence_grise

Back in the days of steam, the career path to become a locomotive engineers was long and complex.

On the railway I worked for, it involved being hired by a shop foreman at a roundhouse as a general labourer, sometimes on a part time basis . Many boys were only 16 when this took place. Two avenues of promotion presented themselves, to start the process to become an engineer or similarly to become a skilled mechanic.

Those who chose to become engineers would become wipers, then inside hostlers who operated engines within the confines of the roundhouse, outside hostlers who operated engines outside the shop to the ready track, and finally "passed" locomotive firemen. However, they would not start to accrue engine service seniority until they made a first road trip (as part of an engine crew). All of these positions had to be learned on the employees own time.  Rarely did the minimum age of 18 to become a locomotive fireman come into play, most were into their twenties before they became qualified firemen.

There was a notable exception however.

At some locations with minimal or no roundhouse facilities, locomotive watchmen were employed. There was no minimum age for this position, and at some remote locations, boys were hired as young as 12 years old to keep steam locomotives hot while the regular crews were off duty.

However, this practice lead to at least two boiler explosions in the seniority district where I was employed (much later in diesel days).

One took place at a three stall roundhouse deep in the Cascade Mountains. It was a busy place during the day, with pusher (helper) engines being added to westbound trains, and a branch line train which went to work in the morning. There was a several hour lull overnight with no scheduled movements. An engine watchmen was hired to keep the steam engines warm over that period, in this case a 14 year old boy. His brother was 15 and worked at a nearby mining town to keep the steam engine warm for a mine branch.

There was a couple of rules to being an engine watchman. Keep the fire going in the firebox and keep water visible in the sight glass which indicated the depth of water covering the "crown sheet" over the firebox. The second rule was crucial, because letting the crown sheet go dry could result in a boiler explosion if water was injected into the boiler while the crownsheet was overheated.

It was never determined exactly what happened, but just before the crew of the branch line freight came on duty, there was a tremendous explosion which demolished the wooden roundhouse and the locomotive inside it. A crewmember was knocked over by the blast but was shielded from the debris by a nearby boxcar. The engine watchman survived the explosion but was severely burned and not expected to live.  The engine that was based at the mining town and kept warm by his brother was quickly put in service to run a rescue train for the injured watchman. The older brother got to talk to his younger brother before he died.

In the same time period, another watchman was keeping a work train locomotive warm beside a lake. He caused a boiler explosion but was thrown far out into the lake and had to swim back to shore.

The engine watchmen that survived enjoyed a seniority advantage over other engineers who served in large centers because the watchman seniority led to engine service seniority. A few served over 50 years.



Date: 07/21/20 12:15
Re: Child Labor and a tragic event.
Author: tomstp

I remember and old railroader telling me he hired out on the Pennsy at age 17 and was to be the 2nd fireman on a passenger train.  Through limiteds ran without stops except for water and it would work a fireman almost to death in the summer, so they used two on those trains.  This was during WWII and men were scarce.  If the new man "proved his worth" he would join the regular list of fireman.  

He told me he lasted only about 2 months into the summer season and decided there had to be a better way of making a living and quit.



Date: 07/22/20 07:41
Re: Child Labor and a tragic event.
Author: retcsxcfm

eminence_grise Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Back in the days of steam, the career path to
> become a locomotive engineers was long and
> complex.
>
> On the railway I worked for, it involved being
> hired by a shop foreman at a roundhouse as a
> general labourer, sometimes on a part time basis .
> Many boys were only 16 when this took place. Two
> avenues of promotion presented themselves, to
> start the process to become an engineer or
> similarly to become a skilled mechanic.
>
> Those who chose to become engineers would become
> wipers, then inside hostlers who operated engines
> within the confines of the roundhouse, outside
> hostlers who operated engines outside the shop to
> the ready track, and finally "passed" locomotive
> firemen. However, they would not start to accrue
> engine service seniority until they made a first
> road trip (as part of an engine crew). All of
> these positions had to be learned on the employees
> own time.  Rarely did the minimum age of 18 to
> become a locomotive fireman come into play, most
> were into their twenties before they became
> qualified firemen.
Along those same lines.The first problem I ran into.
I was told that I had to weigh 150 pounds.Me at 19
weighed 125 pounds.Therefore,I did end up working
for the railroad as a carman.In the long run,I might
have been better off.Who knows?

Uncle Joe
Seffner,Fl.
"All boys want to grow up and be an engineer"



Date: 07/22/20 09:27
Re: Child Labor and a tragic event.
Author: Trainhand

Joe, in Savannah, there was an engineer (former SAL Road), that the Seaboard said was too small to fire. His statement was I'm man enough to take 6 years in the USMC(pre WWII)I can take anything this outfit has. Just give me a chance. 40+years later he retired, and was a good engineer.

Sam



Date: 07/24/20 07:19
Re: Child Labor and a tragic event.
Author: fritzrr

Semper Fi!
Fritz in MD



Date: 07/24/20 08:47
Re: Child Labor and a tragic event.
Author: eminence_grise

In the town where I worked, for decades there was a jeweler who was also the railway watch inspector. His son wanted nothing more than to join the Canadian Navy, however at 14 he was too young. During WW2, there was a recruiting office in the Armoury, but the officer there knew the boy was too young to enlist in any branch of the Armed Services.

Somehow, the boy learned that the British Navy accepted "Ships Boys" as young as 12.  Somehow, the jewelers son got himself across Canada and the Atlantic Ocean by himself.
He wrote his worried parents about that adventure and the fact that he had signed on as a "Ships Boy" in the Royal Navy.  He was assigned to be a server in the officers mess of the brand new battleship HMS Hood.

The Hood was sunk by the German battleship "Bismark". Only 7 of the ships crew on the "Hood" survived and the "Ships Boy" was not one of them.

 



Date: 07/26/20 09:48
Re: Child Labor and a tragic event.
Author: TAW

retcsxcfm Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> "All boys want to grow up and be an engineer"

I did until I was introduced to the world of a train dispatcher.

TAW



Date: 07/29/20 15:49
Re: Child Labor and a tragic event.
Author: wabash2800

A late railroader friend who worked for the New York Central Police Dept. at Toledo had a grandfather who, as a boy, was an "engine wiper". He would wipe down Fort Wayne, Jackson & Saginaw steam locomotives at Jackson, Michigan. The boy would not only wipe the engines down (also the responsibilty of the fireman) but load wood on the engines. This was unpaid " Gofor" work, in hopes of getting hired on some day. In those days these locomotive were decked out with brass and elaborate, hand-painted paint schemes. The engineers would make their underlings pay the dues, just as they had.

Victor A. Baird
http://www.erstwhilepublications.com

 



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 07/30/20 20:26 by wabash2800.



[ Share Thread on Facebook ] [ Search ] [ Start a New Thread ] [ Back to Thread List ] [ <Newer ] [ Older> ] 
Page created in 0.0684 seconds