Railroad Stories: Railroad Job Opportunities Often Turned Into Rewarding Career

During Great Depression many took advantage of railroad job opportunities.

| Good Old Days

I was born in Valley Junction, Iowa, now West Des Moines. Valley Junction was a railroad town located at the junction of two railroads in the Raccoon River valley. My father, uncles and grandfather were among the many who took advantage of the railroad job opportunities.

My father worked in the switchyard as a clerk. His office was about six blocks from our house. Sometimes my brother and I took lunch to him, which entailed walking through the switchyards and the roundhouse. I was 6 or 7 years old at the time, and the walk was awesome and somewhat frightening.

Many of the steam engines would have their boiler fronts removed, being prepared, and I would view them as living beings, with their gaping mouths ready to devour two young boys. As the workers hollered at each other, my imagination ran wild. I envisioned them being devoured by the monster. My older brother gleefully encouraged my thoughts. Eventually I outgrew my fears and traversed the route alone.

Back then, they didn't have a 40-hour work week, no paid vacation, no paid sick leave and no overtime. Time off was rare. Dad worked from 4 o'clock in the afternoon until midnight every day. This was during the Great Depression, before there were electric lanterns. Dad did his records on a clipboard by the light of a kerosene lantern.

In 1942, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and served until November 1945. During the war, I was trained to be a radio operator, which encouraged me to follow the Morse Code venue into my civilian life. Eventually I became a telegrapher/train-order operator for the Rock Island Railroad.

My contact with other railroaders was enjoyable and rewarding. Many of the trainmen that I delivered orders to were men I had known as a child; they were neighbors and friends of my father. I was proud to be earning top wages, which enabled me to provide a living for my family.

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