Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day – Workers for C&O Railway

As stated at Labor Day Weekend, The History of Labor Day, Labor Day's true meaning is to honor the everyday working people.  The people whose sweat build and maintain the heart of United States.  

This article is dedicated to my great grandfather and my great-great grandfather, who both worked in the early days for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.
Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) Conductors Hat

Captain George B. Emmerson worked for the railroad for most of his adult life.  Employed in his earlier years as a laborer, by the time he was 28, he was holding the position of Conductor for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O).

Wearing his distinctive uniform and hat, Captain Emmerson had many responsibilities as a Conductor.  The job placed him for several hours each day in intimate contact with hundreds of people.  First and foremost, he had to be a good operating man, then a public relations specialist.  A few of his duties included punching tickets, selling passage to those who boarded the train without purchasing a ticket where there was no ticket agent, supervising the other trainmen, settling arguments, and admonishing misbehaving children or inebriated passengers. He had presided over the cars in the train with a fatherly dignity, answered passengers questions about many things, and performed a "public relations" function for the railroad company.

According to Rails West, as a Conductor, George was the railroad employee charged with the management of the freight or passenger train, and was also the direct supervisor of the train's "Train Crew".  He was required to carry an accurate watch, which was regularly inspected, and ensured that the train was running according to the timetable.  As the Conductor, George was responsible for signaling the engineer when to start moving and when and where to stop.

George’s son Frederick J. Emmerson followed his father in the railroad profession.  By 1901, the same year he marries Eva C. Miskell, Fred is working as a fireman on the C&O Railway.

This image from The Modern Railroad (1911), captures a railroad fireman shoveling coal into the firebox.
As a Fireman, Fred’s job was to feed the firebox with fuel while the engine was in use. During this time, the steam locomotives ran on coal, wood or oil.  Loading the fuel was typically hard work, where wood and coal were transferred or shoveled from the tender to the firebox by hand.  As a Fireman, Fred also monitored the water level in the boiler and kept the cylinders on the drive wheels oiled while the train was underway.

A Fireman learning the trade typically started as a Switch-engine Fireman, who worked in the yard.  Then, there were the more experienced Road Fireman, who traveled with the freight or passenger trains. On diesel locomotives, the firemen would monitor controls and assist the engineer.  Often Firemen served these duties as a form of apprenticeship, aspiring to be locomotive Engineers themselves.  The Fireman knew that if he did his job well, in about three years he would move up to Hostler, and then to Switch-engine Engineer before becoming a journeyman Engineer.

I’m not sure when the promotion occurred, but by 1917 at age 42, Fred was working as a locomotive Engineer for the C&O Railway.  According to Rails West, the locomotive Engineer was the most heroic and glamorous figure during the nineteenth century, for he was the one that was capable of making the steam locomotive come to life and pull the train on its journey.  If the locomotive needed to be repaired in a remote area, he was the one who fixed it.  

As an Engineer, Fred was the person in charge of the locomotives. He was responsible for preparing the equipment for service, checking paperwork and the condition of the locomotives.  He was also in charge of the mechanical operation of the train including controlling steam pressure, boiler water level, fire box temperature, acceleration, braking and handling of the train underway.  He needed to know the physical characteristics of the railroad, including passenger stations, the incline and decline of the right-of-way and speed limits.  As the train moved he watched for obstructions on the rails ahead.  Along with the conductor, Fred monitored the time so the train did not fall behind schedule or leave the stations early.  He made sure the train's speed was reduced when following other trains, approaching route diversions, or when regulating time over road to avoid arriving too early.

The Engineer and the Conductor, who was in charge of the train, compared watches to ensure they were both set to railroad standard time, reviewed any train orders received, and shared the responsibility for the safe operation of the train and application of the rules and procedures of the railway company.

I don’t know if George and Fred worked the same locomotive as Engineer and Conductor, but I’m sure they exchanged many stories at home of their shared labors and experiences as employees of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.

  ©2011 – Frank’s Daughter All Rights Reserved

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