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Rise of Industrial America
Railroads in the Late 19th Century
Working on the Central Missouri Pacific Railroad

In 1938, John Grosvenor of Hastings, Nebraska, spoke with an interviewer about working in railroad construction in the early 1880s. In the following, Mr. Grosvenor shares his thoughts on "working for the railroad." Why did Mr. Grosvenor go to work on the railroad? How does he describe the work and pay of railroad construction? Weather was a problem for the railroad construction crews. Can you provide examples of how weather impacts transportation construction today?

View the entire interview with Mr. Grosvenor from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


"In the year 1880, I was hunting a job and after dinner from my father's farm, 4 miles north of Logan, Kansas, I walked 18 mlles and struck a job and earned 50 of late that afternoon finishing digging out a cellar. I had left home with 75.

"Before I went to bed that night, I had struck a job for as long as I wanted it an the Central Missouri Pacific Railroad, for a $1 a day and pay my own board. They had just completed the railroad and I went to work of Wednesday. The first regular train to go thru was on Saturday night.

"Before I went to bed that night, I rented a house and sent word to my wife, would be after her an the coming of Sunday. I worked to Saturday night, then walked back 18 miles after I done the days work on the section. Come back to my work on Sunday. Everything we had in one wagon. Went to work Monday morning.

"We all worked 10 hours a day and they had to be 10 big ones. I worked 6 months and as my wife and I had a homestead, we had to return back to it. The law--we had to stay so many nights for so many months in order to hold the homestead or somebody else might take it.

"I had to work out like on the railroad in order to get a stake and buy food.

In 1882, I started working again on the railroad, The Central Missouri Pacific, April 1st., and received $1.10 a day. Same ten hours. It was a very wet year. Very heavy rains. Washouts were very common.

"Every big rain, when a train came along our section, we had to have all hands there. Then push the handcar along in front of the train. The train of course just barely creeping along. We had a flag to wave if we run into a real soft spot or a wash out. For miles of this, there was an average of 1 1/2 feet of water covering the tracks.

"At night we had to do the same thing but used a lantern. The country was just being developed around there, Logan, Kansas and west. Lots of people and much freight moving in.

"Finally after a steady 3 day and 3 nights of rain[.?] Over 3 miles of track washed out. We got a big crew and for almost 4 days and 4 nights in steady rain, we relaid the track. The track and places we had to work was all the way from 1 1/2 feet to over a man's head deep. It was just a sea of water everywhere.

"Tracks were jacked up. Timbers, lumber, poles, iron, anything and everything was brought into use to fix the track up, so the light trains in use then could creep thru.

"We had no raincoats only [boots?]. We were soaked thru. Food was short. We finally got home. Many of the men were just dead on their feet and it was some job to wake them up.

"We got time and one half at night working and that month of nearly steady rain, I received almost double my regular wages.

"Oh Yes, for some reason ducks and frogs of all kinds by the millions came to the track and staid. The noise was constantly deafening."
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View the entire interview with Mr. Grosvenor from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.