Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Workday Wednesday: Conductors and Engineers


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.



Of my 30 ancestors who worked for the railroad, 3 were conductors but only 1 was an engineer.  These are probably the most well-known and prestigious positions in the food chain of railroad jobs.  But what’s the difference?

My great-grandfather Joseph Calhoun Rucker and two distant cousins Decatur Breeden and John Wesley Breeden were conductors for the Norfolk & Western railway in the first half of the 20th century.  They would probably claim to have the most important job because they were in charge of everything and every member of the train crew, including the engineer. 



Joseph Calhoun Rucker, 4th from left - conductor on #685
scanned from Shenandoah: A History of Our Town and Its People


As conductors, Joe, Decatur, and Wesley had to coordinate with the engineer, dispatcher, and any other parties including the yardmasters and trainmasters who were involved in the operation of the train. They needed to be alert to wayside signals and the position of switches affecting the movement of the train as well as its safety. They assisted the engineer in testing the brakes and gave the signal when to start moving and when and where to stop.  Since they were the conductors, Joe, Decatur, and Wesley also kept records of the journey whether on a passenger train or freight train.


Seated: Johnny Coleman
However, my distant cousin John Coleman probably thought his job as an engineer was the most important.  After all, the train didn’t move without him.  He was in charge of driving the train, not just controlling the speed and braking but also all mechanical operation of the train. He was responsible for preparing the equipment and checking the train’s condition.  Johnny needed to understand the incline and decline of the right-of-way, and how to adjust speed so as not to arrive too early or too late.  Knowledge of track geometry and signal placement helped to prevent derailment and train separation which together helped ensure everyone’s safety. 











In simple terms, a train can move without a conductor, but it can’t move without an engineer. 



11 comments:

  1. Everybody working as a team - look at the size of that engine! It's massive!

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    1. Yes, I'm always surprised when I see pictures of people standing beside those steam locomotives.

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  2. Wow...I always thought the engineer was totaly in charge! Happy 4th!

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    1. I'm glad you said that because I always thought they were the same person.

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  3. Interesting post, Wendy! Glad you wrote about the job duties of the engineer vs. the conductor. Many people don't know that the conductor is actually in charge. I had ancestors who were involved with railroads as well.

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    1. Thanks Denise! I had never really given much thought to what any of those jobs entailed until I needed something to say and so researched job descriptions.

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  4. Great post as usual Wendy! You put such interesting info into it.

    That photo of Joseph in front of the train is so cool!

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    1. Thanks for the kind remarks! I think the picture is cool too. One intimidating engine! It's not the little one that could.

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  5. Come ride the little train that is rolling down the tracks to the junction.
    (Petticoat Junction)
    Forget about your cares, it is time to relax
    at the junction.
    (Petticoat Junction)

    Lotsa curves, you bet. Even more when you get
    To the junction, Petticoat Junction.

    There's a little hotel called the Shady Rest
    at the junction.
    (Petticoat Junction)
    It is run by Kate, come and be her guest
    at the junction.
    (Petticaor Junction)
    And that's Uncle Joe, he's a movin' kind of slow
    at the junction,
    Petticoat Junction.

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