Railroad Work, Safety, Unions & Strikes

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Accident By Design: The Truth About Train 92, and Why 3 Veteran Engineers Died at Aldershot East, February 26th, 2012  Dave Berard   A deeper look into the Train 92 accident by a former railway accident investigator, and why federal investigators sold a failed investigation to the people of Canada.


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"Railroad Collisions, A Deadly Story of Mismanaged Risk" George Swimmer - Citizen-advocate George Swimmer spent twenty years investigating the causes behind railroad collisions. What he discovered is a tangled mess of both inadvertent and intentional mismanagement. In Railroad Collisions, Swimmer reveals his findings. He faults the railroads themselves for poor risk management, but the industry is by no means the only culpable party. The Federal Railroad Administration’s timid dealings with railroad companies impairs meaningful changes, while the National Transportation Safety Board’s findings in many of their accident investigations are woefully, fatally incorrect.


Boomer - Railroad Memoirs  Linda Niemann    University of California Press   Berkley, CA    1990    This classic account of self discovery and railroad life describes Linda Grant Niemann’s travels as an itinerant brakeman on the Southern Pacific. Boomer combines travelogue, Wild West adventure, sexual memoir, and closely observed ethnography. A Berkeley Ph.D., Niemann turned her back on academia and set out to master the craft of railroad brakeman, beginning a journey of sexual and subcultural exploration and traveling down a path toward recovery from alcoholism. In honest, clean prose, Niemann treks off the beaten path and into the forgotten places along the rail lines, finding true American characters with colorful pasts―and her true self as well.




Brotherhoods of Color: Black Workers and the Struggle for Equality   Eric Arnesen    Harvard University Press    2002This sweeping narrative re-creates the heroic efforts by black locomotive firemen, brakemen, porters, dining car waiters, and redcaps to fight a pervasive system of racism and job discrimination fostered by their employers, white co-workers, and the unions that legally represented them even while barring them from membership. Decades before the rise of the modern civil rights movement in the mid-1950s, black railroaders forged their own brand of civil rights activism, organizing their own associations, challenging white trade unions, and pursuing legal redress through the courts.


 Brownie the Boomer - The Life of Charles P. Brown  Edited by H. Roger Grant. Northern Illinois University Press. Dekalb, IL. 1991 (original text 1930).  An itinerant railroad worker, or "boomer,"  Charles Brown hopscotched across America 1900 to 1913 seeking work wherever opportunities arose. He held a variety of jobs - fireman, brakeman, switchman - for the Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Wabash, and New York Central until he was disabled at age 34 in a railroad accident. In this sometimes tragic, frequently funny, behind-the-scenes account of railroading, Brownie reveals the reality of working conditions for the railroad laborer at the turn of the century .


El Tren Pasa Primero   Elena Poniatowska    (Spanish)   A young man from Oaxaca, Mexico learned at an early age that he was gifted, not with beauty or physical strength, but with willpower, the force of the spoken word and a constant eagerness for knowledge. The story of his life is a journey that starts with the whistle of a train .... It is also the place in which his ardent speech to his railroad brothers resulted in a fight that would upturn a country and a regime.





Faces of Railroading: Portraits of America's Greatest Industry    Carl A. Swanson   Kalbach Books. Milwaukee. 2004. A glorious photographic tribute to the people who made railroading the greatest industry America has ever known, this book celebrates those who made the nation's railroads the envy of the world. Although its magnificent machines and inventions are often romanticized and celebrated alongside its most eccentric pioneers and tycoons, it is the faces of an unsung workforce that best personify this great industry. Readers will glimpse their own family history as they join train crews in the locomotive cab and at the back of the caboose.

Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow  Dee Brown Holt. New York. 1977. History of the building of the transcontinental railroads, starting in 1854 and proceeding in detail until the 1890s, then hurriedly summarizes until the 1970s. And Brown shows, repeatedly and at length, how the railroad builders screwed and continue to screw the American public and workers time and again. Featuring archival photographs, a vivid re-creation of the heyday of American expansion brings the transcontinental railroads to life, including all of the heroes and villains, laborers and presidents, engineers, bankers, and politicians who contributed to the drama. Reprint. 12,500 first printing.





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Old Rails' Tales: Anecdotes, Stories & Memoirs - On the Road and in the Yard  Allan Allen. Trafford Publishing. Victoria, BC. 2005. True on-the-job stories by six generations of steam engine rails and was reviewed by New York Times as one of the best books of the year. There are stories from Southern Pacific, Western Pacific, Santa Fe and Amtrak and stories by the first women engineers in California on the road and in the yard.


Power at Odds: The 1922 Shopmen's Strike   Colin J. Davis   University of Illinois Press.    Urbana and Chicago. 1997. Outlines and describes the development of how a mass  strike of nearly halfa million railroad shopmen went on a generalized strike that had the potential to change the nature of rail labor relations in North America.


Prarie Whistles: Tales of Midwest Railroading Dennis Boyer. Trails Books. Black Earth, Wisconsin. 2001. A collection of oral reminiscences drawn from Midwest railroaders during the 20th century. All aboard for a glimpse of life on the rails! Weaving together tales of railroading days gone by, this collection of personal reminiscences will delight any fail fan or traveler. Featured are stories of conductors, porters, carmen and tower operators from around the Midwest.


Railroading in Texas - One Man's Memories    Fred W. Picker. Dorrance Publishing Company, Inc. Pittsburg. 1996. Historical account of one man's experience of 36 years as a railroad conductor in Texas.


Railroad Voices    Narratives by Linda Niemann - Photos by Linda Bertucci   Stanford University Press. 1998. An evocative and honest portrayal in words and images of railroad life in America, Railroad Voices is a collaboration by two of the first women to work as railroad brakemen. Linda Niemann hired on the Southern Pacific in 1979 in California, and Lina Bertucci hired on the now-defunct Milwaukee Road in 1974.


Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class  Larry Tye. Holt. New York. 2004.   An engaging social history that reveals the critical role Pullman porters played in the struggle for African American civil rights. When George Pullman began recruiting Southern blacks as porters in his luxurious new sleeping cars, the former slaves quickly signed up to work aboard the trains full of white passengers, making the Pullman Company the largest employer of African American men in the country by the 1920s. Pullman porters played important social, political, and economic roles, carrying jazz and blues to outlying areas, forming America's first black trade union, and acting as forerunners of the modern black middle class. Tye draws on extensive interviews with dozens of porters and their descendants.


She's Been Working on the Railroad  Nancy Smiler Levinson. Lodestar Books. New York. 1997. Women's unknown but important contribution working on the railroads is explored in this eye-opening account. From their rise from domestic service jobs in the mid-1830s to positions vacated when men went off to fight in two world wars, women overcame prejudice to take their place in the railroad workforce in all capacities, including telegraph operators, architects, yardmasters, welders, nurse, brakemen, and locomotive engineers


The Boomer: A Story of the Rails  Harry Bedwell 1942.  This is an episodic story about Eddie Sand, a skilled telegrapher who booms around the country working at various depots, towers and shanties plying his craft. The author - Harry Bedwell - was a lifelong railroad man who wrote sixty short stories and this one novel, considered by many to be the best railroad novel ever published.



The Hoghead - An Industrial Ethnology of the Locomotive Engineer  Frederick C. Gamst    Holt, Rinehart and Winston. New York. 1980.     "... the occupation and life of the locomotive engineer and his fellow workers in an exposition of the ethnological (social and cultural anthropological) study of industry." One-time locomotive engineer turned university professor Fred Gamst explores the day to day life and psychology of the railroad engineer.




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The Great Labor Uprising of 1877    Phillip S. Foner  Pathfinder Press. New York. 1977. Outlines the Railroad Strike of 1877 and how this first generalized strike of U.S. workers spread across the entire country. Starting in the small West VIrginia town of Martinsville and quickly spreading across the B&O to the Pennsylvania RR, the Midwest and to the Pacific Coast, the strike - led by railroad workers - included workers from numerous industries in a general uprising against oppression and exploitation of the working class.


The Pullman Case: The Clash of Labor and Capital in Industrial America  David Ray PapkeUniversity of Kansas. Lawrence.    1999. Account of the great strike waged against the Pullman Company by the American Railway Union (ARU in 1894), led by Eugene V. Debs and others.


The Working Life - A Worker on the Transcontinental Railroad   James Barter   The men who built the Transcontinental Railroad between 1863 and 1869 labored twelve hour days building bridges, blasting tunnels, and laying rail beds in the midst of freezing winters and hot summers while fighting Indians and dodging dynamite explosions. This book honors the tens of thousands of mostly immigrants by describing their day-to-day lives while constructing the greatest railroad of all time.


From the Cab: Stories from a Locomotive Engineer  Doug Riddell. 1999. The author takes the reader through his railroad career as fireman, brakeman, conductor, freight engineer and Amtrak engineer. He learns how the newly merged Seaboard Coast Line and Seaboard Air Lines operate, works as a brakeman, and enters engine service to become an engineer. Riddell's stories provide insight into the hardships of a railroading life. "Most outsiders have no idea the price railroaders pay for the few minutes they sit in a warm locomotive cab or caboose instead of hanging on the side of a boxcar whose grab irons and stirrups are coated three inches thick with ice, or marching two miles toward the rear of a freight train in a snake-infested swamp during a drenching rain."



Working for the Railroad: The Organization of Work in the Nineteenth Century Walter Licht1989.

Walter Licht chronicles the working and personal lives of the first two generations of American railwaymen, the first workers in America to enter large-scale, bureaucratically managed, corporately owned work organizations.


Workin' on the Railroad - Reminiscences from the Age of Steam  Richard Reinhardt.  University of Oklahoma Press.  Norman. 1970.   “The mighty railroad occupied the undisputed center of American public life. The railroad founded cities, populated states, created governments, destroyed the wilderness. It was the great speculator, the political tyrant, the recruiter of immigrants, the opener of new lands, the cynosure of poets and pioneers, the symbol of adventure, opportunity, escape, and power. . . . Yet, the railroad man, for all his historic importance, his archetypal stature, and his economic power, has achieved only a minor position in American literature.”--from Workin’ on the Railroad



Working on the Railroad  Brian Solomon. MBI Publishing. St. Paul. 2006. The notion of working on a railroad has always carried its share of romance, taking in everything from the dreams of small boys to legends like John Henry and Casey Jones. The reality is far more complicated and often, as this book amply demonstrates, more interesting. This richly illustrated volume takes us behind the scenes to show what goes into keeping a railroad running in our era of computer-aided 6,000-horsepower diesel locomotion. Author and photographer Brian Solomon explains who does what and how, from dispatching and signaling to maintaining locomotives and driving trains


Working on the Western Maryland - A Collection of Employee Interviews Wes Morganstern   Western Maryland Historical Society. 1999.    Various accounts of work and life on the Western Maryland  Railway by a wide array of workers from various crafts and unions. They recount their working lives through steam and diesel from the war years, on through until the 1980s, from the days of the independent Western Maryland, then Chessie System, and finally with CSX. The general theme is one of deep satisfaction with the railroad in the days of the WM, discontent with the encroachment of the Chessie, and outright hostility once the CSX assumed control in the 1980s.