Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Workday Wednesday: Who's minding the store?


Workday Wednesday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that encourages family historians to document their ancestors’ occupations (they weren’t all farmers) through photos and stories of ancestors at work.


Twenty-nine men and one woman in my family tree could sing “I’ve been working on the railroad” and mean it. 

Most of their jobs are what you’d expect:  conductor, engineer, brakeman, mechanic.  But storekeeper?

My maternal grandfather’s brother Millard Davis was an assistant storekeeper for Norfolk & Western Railroad and later THE storekeeper for N&W in Shenandoah, Virginia. I amused myself imagining that my great-uncle Millard was selling toy train whistles, beer koozies and “I heart trains” t-shirts in a company store.  Then I got serious.

N&W Railroad Yards and Main Street
photo of a photo in Shenandoah: A History of Our Town
and Its People
The Shenandoah Division was one of the longest divisions on the N&W railroad, considered quite important as the midway point between Hagerstown, Maryland to the north and Roanoke, Virginia to the south.  Shenandoah averaged 18,000 - 20,000 freight cars per month with significant tonnage. 

Besides the car and engine repair shops, the Shenandoah yard had a 30’ coal tipple, a 253’ concrete stack, power house, storehouse, a 50-thousand gallon water tank, and office building.  Over 400 employees would “rise up so early in the morn” to clock in at the railroad yards off Main Street.  Another 100 worked at points along the line.

The coal tipple and water tank
photo of a photo in Shenandoah: A History of Our Town
and Its People

Then during World War II train traffic more than tripled as materials were shipped between Roanoke and Hagerstown.  By 1943, the volume of freight was six times that of pre-war years.  Four freights a day plus four passenger runs plus troop trains made Shenandoah a busy place to live and work and visit.


Millard Davis
And Millard was in the middle of that busy-ness as storekeeper.  He likely performed a number of duties including issuing parts and tools to other workers, receiving materials from carriers, unloading and inspecting shipments. He probably prepared materials for shipment along with the required documentation. Inventory control probably was also part of his job description.

In pictures I’ve seen of Millard, he was always a sharp dresser. This makes me think his job did not require him to get very dirty at the railroad working “all the live-long day.” 




12 comments:

  1. It is so nice to have the history of your family so well recorded and just think your great uncle had to do his job without the help of a computer!! A young man these days probably wouldn't know where to start.

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    1. I wish I had thought to mention the lack of computer. That thought ran through my head when I was writing Millard's story.

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  2. Really interesting because I never really thought about what he did for a living. I like the idea of I heart trains tee shirts and beer koozies HAHAHAHAHAAHA! Craft night?

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    1. Yeah, I don't think I ever thought much about his job either. When I saw "storekeeper" in the census, I began to wonder what that meant exactly. I couldn't find a job description for his time period, but I think the modern one is rather close.

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  3. Hi Wendy, this is really neat. It would have been fun to visit him at work, wouldn't it?

    Kathy M.

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    1. I'm sure it was an adventure every day.

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  4. You are inspiring me to do the same. We have a wagon master in the family along with several who worked on the railroad...and I have photos too. I love your stories!
    Happy Wednesday!

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    1. Wow -- wagon master! Did he take pioneers across the country? Meet any bandits?

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  5. I was just thinking what Sally wrote: it must be wonderful that your family history has been documented so well. I come from a family of loggers and have been working on finding out their history. It's fascinating stuff! Thanks for the inspiration. :)

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    1. I follow Kathy (Oregon Grandmother -- she did the A to Z Challenge) whose family had a lot of loggers. She posted pictures of them at work on the biggest trees I've ever seen in my life - they look like something out of science fiction. Dangerous and HARD work!

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  6. Wendy, this is a great post! I love the "I heart trains" tee shirt idea! You are so creative!

    I have a couple ancestors who worked on the railroads too, one of whom was my traveling dentist great-grandfather.

    Like Dana said, thanks for the inspiration. I'll have to post about my ancestors' railroad jobs now too. :)

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