Saturday, April 10, 2010


Some time ago I heard in a genealogy talk a passing comment about the impact of the railroads on the lives of our ancestors. Later I began to think about the many little incidents I had uncovered in my own research about railroads and relatives. Just off the top of my head here's what I came up with. All of these people are in my family lines, but I spared you from hearing just how I'm related. Trust me, they are all mine!

1860s: General Stephen Hurlbut, one of General Grant’s officers in the civil war, served first in militias in Illinois and then in Missouri guarding the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad.

1864: Serena and Sophronia, both elderly ladies, were riding in the last car of the morning mail train heading east out of Belvidere, Illinois. The flange on one of the wheels broke and the car “was precipitated down an embankment 20 or 25 feet high without a moment’s warning. The car in its descent turned completely over, smashing the top and sides but landing right side up.” Luckily all the passengers survived, but were badly bruised. The newspaper article says the new car was very new, with many new amenities. It added “It is hoped the builders don’t always furnish that style of wheels.”

1873: John G. Davis and his neighbors in Schuyler county, Missouri filed lawsuits against the St. Louis, Kansas City and Northern Railway Company because they didn’t fence their tracks properly, allowing “property” to be killed. That property was probably a “cow” and Davis was awarded $30.00.

1873: Frank Stevens’ first job at age 15 was learning telegraphy in the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad office in Raymond, Kansas. In 1874 he was given charge of that station and remained with them until 1891.

1880s: Jim & Nannie Dobbins lost their ranch in Colorado. They no sooner got their house and corrals built than they learned the Santa Fe railroad tracks would come directly through their property.

1887: The first picture of my Grandma Jessie was taken in Pueblo, Colorado in a Railroad photo car.

1893: Aunt Lillie was widowed when her husband, an engineer on the Midland Railroad in Colorado, was killed in a head-on crash in the Rocky Mountain foothills. As Ben McCammon lay dying he willed his house to his widow, as attested by three of his co-workers. This oral will was discovered during a 1977 title search.

1898: In the late 1890s Scott Dobbins played cornet in the Midland Railway Band. In weekly concerts in Colorado Springs he met – and began wooing - the lady who later became his wife.

1903: Frank Stevens’ son, Roland, was killed in a train accident in 1903 in Cimarron, Kansas

1906: In 1906 Byron Hall, aged 30, took the railroad home from a business trip. The conductor, sensing that apparently the passenger was having some kind of a mental problem, notified the next station of his odd behavior. At the station Byron got off and walked to a nearby hotel, where he shot and killed two policemen before he himself was killed.

1916: Bruce Kirkpatrick, a 16-year old in Tennessee, went with a buddy one evening to try to jump aboard a moving freight train, the type of unsafe things young men often do. When Bruce jumped, he bumped into his buddy. This caused Bruce to fall to his death beneath the wheels. Bruce’s parents, while acknowledging that there was no malicious intent in the death, nevertheless inscribed “Murdered” on his tombstone.

1939: I had my first train ride in Long Beach California, accompanied by my little sister.

1940s: In the 30s and 40s, many homeless men “rode the rails” to California looking for a job. Julius was the head of the Transit Committee for the local Elks club and as such his job was to give to hobos jumping off the train in Pomona a bus ticket to either Los Angeles or San Bernardino, “where jobs were more plentiful.”

1948 and 1950: I spent the summers with an Aunt and Uncle in El Paso, Texas, going to and from Los Angeles via the Southern Pacific Railroad.

2005-2010: It seems I spend about half my time waiting in my car for a freight train to pass. It is just not possible in Mira Loma to go directly from "here" to "there" without being stopped by either the world's longest freight train or, if it is my lucky day, a Metrolink train! Ah well, we all are still affected by railroads.

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