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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 10:30 am 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 5:10 pm
Posts: 950
I'll chew on several points in this interesting thread. First of all, I want to say to Superheater "Right on!" regarding his comments about his relatives' experiences with prejudice from other white people. My mother's family were all miners as well, and many of them did not have much nice to say about the Irish. My father's side, all first generation Germans, had nothing nice to say about Poles, Hungarians, Russians or Italians. I suspect in both situations there was an element of religious prejudice, as well as for jobs.

Next, I'll say this about ADM's comments about oral history. During my two decades in the short line railroad business, I had many opportunities to speak with railroaders: enginemen, conductors, brakemen, trackmen. The vast majority of them saw no romance in what they did for a living; it was a job. I did occasionally meet up with someone who had a fleeting moment of joy, such as an engineer who began firing on the Pennsylvania RR in 1955, just at the tail end of steam, who once remarked that "watching the sun come up over the Schuylkill River from the seatbox of an L-1 on a coal train was a lovely experience." My late father-in-law, who spent 42 years in the PRR's mechanical department as a machinist, gang foreman and shop supervisor, often commented, "steam engines were just a lot of dirt and hot water down the back of my neck."

Finally, to the original topic of "the edge of history." I rode several of the Reading's Iron Horse Rambles as a teenager, and I occasionally find myself being breathlessly questioned about them by fellows quite a bit younger than me. I find it amusing that they think that I would have all the details of car numbers, train speeds, 19 and 31 train orders, etc. in hand, not to mention video (!) of each trip! Hell, I had a Brownie box camera at that point and could barely afford to get the film processed. And no, the photos are long gone, purged by my mother when I went off to college in 1965!


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 12:30 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 3:01 pm
Posts: 1438
Location: SouthEast Pennsylvania
Some of the previous posts in this topic are examples of oral history that could have been lost if not presented here.


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 2:55 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 3:57 pm
Posts: 162
Location: Eastampton, NJ
If you wanted to do a meeting of peers, but some of the participants are not up for travel, you could use Google Hangouts, or a similar service. This would let everyone converse, and see each other. It would also be useful if they're too far apart for a practical meeting. It could be useful if some of the participants would be tired out getting to the meeting, which could effect quality of their thoughts.

It's likely that someone setting this up would need a helper with the tech at each location. You need a camera for each computer, if you want to be able to see the person, but vision isn't required. Modern laptops tend to come with a camera built in. A test run would be a good idea. Larger computer monitors would be useful too. We're doing multi-location meetings at work routinely. There's rarely any technical issues.

-Mark


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 6:08 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:55 pm
Posts: 686
Location: Warren, PA
My grandmother - who lived to be 97 and never lost a bit between the ears - was a flowing river of oral history. The only problem was that some of it was nearly unbelievable - at least to me - at the time. Everything from being on the open observation car platform with Franklin D. Roosevelt to witnessing the hanging of a relative for being a horse thief.

What's of value to this discussion is that at least one of her rather fantastic stories turned out to be true - courtesy of Google Books digitizing the New York Times articles. It involved her husband (my grandfather) having recurring PTSD-type nightmares about falling over dead bodies in his fathers barn after a nearby train wreck. I always put that in the 'complete BS box' until I found an article about the train wreck - with the right dates and location, in Google Books NYT archives, and then actually finding the exact spot where it happened, as described. I'm writing an article.

So the reinforcement of some rather sketchy oral history is a lot easier now, seriously, if you use the tools of this century. I'm still a bit lost on FDR and horse thieves, but give it time.....


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 6:21 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:54 pm
Posts: 1733
"My grandmother - who lived to be 97 and never lost a bit between the ears - was a flowing river of oral history. The only problem was that some of it was nearly unbelievable - at least to me - at the time. Everything from being on the open observation car platform with Franklin D. Roosevelt to witnessing the hanging of a relative for being a horse thief."


My grandmother was sharp until 97. I never got that sort of story-I got the family stories-but Nana was a railfan before there was a railfan. She talked about the human element a lot-seeing the cooks in the dining cars,the sound of the Penobscot shops, the men and other details such as the acrid smell of the pig trains that passed through town-and about this runaway.

http://dotlibrary.specialcollection.net ... select+507)

It was pretty cool to see the official account of that memory. Naturally she remembered the cans of tomatoes spilled trackside, but didn't know about the lack of a brake test.

Best thing I ever did was get her on audio in the spring of 2010. The light was still bright but there are a few ominous flickers.


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 6:40 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 10:49 am
Posts: 634
I am enjoying this thread, but I want to make something perfectly clear here::

As an African American man, and a third generation railroader, none of your relatives have suffered the indignity of being chained in the hold of a ship, forced to work in brutal servitude, then once freed, could not own land, could not vote, were not hired despite their skill level, or hung from trees simply on a whim. When you were working, you were paid less than a white man for doing the same job. I could go on, but you get the point.

Yes, I have also been subject to racism, some subtle, some not so much. The stories my relatives told around the table were sometimes not just about locomotives and trains...they were about the fireman who was shot while taking water...the Pullman porter dragged from a train and hung...the brakeman deliberately run over by an engineer for allegedly "sassing" a conductor.

I could go into my own stories, but I do not see a need to do so. My greatest wish now is I wish I had sat with a tape recorder and gotten their stories for posterity...the good and the bad. Their railroad stories are part of the diaspora as well, and I wish I had recorded them. The ranks of African American railroaders is also growing thin...they are just about gone from that era. Get all of the stories you can, from who you can, whenever you can. It's important to be able to tell the entire story so that you get a complete picture of the industry we all support, work in, and love.


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:48 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:54 pm
Posts: 1733
"As an African American man, and a third generation railroader, none of your relatives have suffered the indignity of being chained in the hold of a ship, forced to work in brutal servitude, then once freed, could not own land, could not vote, were not hired despite their skill level, or hung from trees simply on a whim. When you were working, you were paid less than a white man for doing the same job. I could go on, but you get the point."

Actually, none of YOUR relatives faced the worst of that either-your ancestors did. Nobody alive today experienced chattel slavery and most of the rest of that, unless you are pretty old. Nobody alive today is the recipient of first party accounts of the slave trade.

My ancestors were busy tending sheep and raising plums and cabbages when that was occurring. My brown hair and eyes (and bellicose disposition, according to some) are very likely the result of Attila the Hun's rampages through Eastern and Central Europe. I guarantee that in your genome at least is part an admixture of the victors and the vanquished as well.

My relatives (they were alive in the 1970's when my grandmother visited the "old country") watched their country annexed by Nazis with Panzers and then round two was decades of Soviet domination. Their aspirations to be left the hell alone were crushed in 1968.

So to be blunt, I don't know what your point is-Dr. Thomas Sowell makes the case in exacting detail that you aren't very far from other groups dominating and brutalizing your ancestors-no matter who you are. As they say, you don't have to be a farmer to know manure (of man's inhumanity to man). The sufferings of your ancestors don't accrue to your benefit any more than my ancestors and relatives accrue to me.

I don't give two hoots about your melanin. I do care that you are a decent human being who I can trust with my life if we're anywhere near the right of way. You (and I) don't own a right to perpetual indignity or victimhood by virtue of birth -and you certainly don't own it against me or anybody in my ancestry-just as I don't have any gripe with Africans or African Americans-they weren't in the turrets of those tanks.

Are there a-holes out there who won't treat you right-I suppose, but I don't know any. I do know that there are places all over this country that are forbidden zones to me because of my skin, despite being a 250 pound gym rat. Should I resent you simply because the people that would kill me in North Philly have a swarthy complexion too? Of course not-similarly, I don't want to be identified with the Klan.

By the way, as a white male, I'm not in a "protected class" with regards to employment. That is codified injustice. I just got done with employment interviews-we actually had to fill out a paper that assigned points to every group except white males and the big debate was whether a naturalized person of Egyptian (Arabic, I think) was an African American. The idiocy of this drivel is insane. I try however to remember Orwell's phrase: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" since apparently we are in Animal Farm-I know pigs are in charge.


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2017 1:03 am 

Joined: Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:08 am
Posts: 237
Supe and Txhighballer - Brings up the interesting question - Which evil is more the cause of the racial morass we Americans find our society in today - the evil of enslavement, which many others in human history have been subject to and have been perpetrators of, or, the evil inherent in the legally authorized exclusion of former slaves and their descendants from all means of economic and social improvement - education, political office, employment, and housing - which occurred for about 100 years after the great emancipation?

In 1789 Benjamin Franklin wrote for the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, "Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature, that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitious care, may sometimes open a source of serious evils. The unhappy man who has been treated as a brute animal, too frequently sinks beneath the common standard of the human species. The galling chains, that bind his body, do also fetter his intellectual faculties, and impair the social affections of his heart… To instruct, to advise, to qualify those, who have been restored to freedom, for the exercise and enjoyment of civil liberty… and to procure for their children an education calculated for their future situation in life; these are the great outlines of the annexed plan, which we have adopted."

It does not matter if your ancestors had just been freed from tending the fields in chains or were working a sustenance farm in eastern Europe (as were mine) when the Americans at the time failed to heed Franklin's wisdom of almost a century before the reconstruction. Any organization, whether it be a rail museum or a nation, succeeds and fails as one. To say, "I was not the one who ordered this replacement part incorrectly" or, "I was not the one who denied the freed slave or his descendants basic liberties" misses the point. As to the legacy of slavery in the United States, no unbiased person alive today is at fault but we are all responsible to do what we can to sort out this mess we inherited once and for all. For any organization to succeed, everyone in the organization has to take ownership of it all - the good and the bad, the sources of pride and embarrassment, and the pleasant and the things we'd rather just avoid.

PCook - Your idea for panel interviews is a good one as people generally open up more amongst peers. As long as the interview subjects can be made comfortable with the technology, it can really ease the physical burden of moving people to a central location. I too was fortunate to have a grandmother who lived to 95 with full faculties to the end. She was one of the later-born among her siblings so her father was older when she was born. He told her stories from when he was a young man, which she relayed to me. 115-year-old stories of his life, his experiences in several wars, old jokes. I failed to record any of them and still regret it to this day.


Last edited by Scranton Yard on Fri Nov 10, 2017 1:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2017 1:17 am 
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The study of railroad history can be whatever the individual participants in this hobby want it to be. I had the good luck to be able to work in the middle of it for fifty years, and to me it was never just a job, it was quite a privilege. The best place of all to do history interviews was the cafeteria at EMD at lunch time, and you never debated the people who worked there, you just let them talk as you listened and learned.

PC

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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2017 2:10 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:54 pm
Posts: 1733
"As to the legacy of slavery in the United States, no unbiased person alive today is at fault but we are all responsible to do what we can to sort out this mess we inherited once and for all. For any organization to succeed, everyone in the organization has to take ownership of it all - the good and the bad, the sources of pride and embarrassment, and the pleasant and the things we'd rather just avoid."

Unfortunately, that would be a good political speech, so its actual social utility is about the same as all good political speeches.


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:36 am 

Joined: Tue Sep 14, 2004 7:52 am
Posts: 1238
Location: Strasburg, PA
Never forget that a lot of oral history isn’t worth the air it is carried on. Examples:

An older engineer working here once made much of his experience firing and running PRR steam in the mid-fifties, and all was good until a perusal of the PRR’s all time employee roster (held by the PRRT&HS) which didn’t show his name on the list. His father’s name was there, but not his. Hmm.

D&RGW #346 at the Colorado RR Museum came into their possession with half flanges on the normally blind second and third drivers. Old railroaders told Bob Richardson that the modification was done by the Colorado & Southern when the engine was leased by them in 1935-36 as an attempt to help her tracking abilities on the old South Park’s rickety track.

Since then, that story has become gospel to generations of narrow gauge foamers. That is until the Denver Public Library’s vast photo collection added a zoom feature to the displays. The photographic evidence clearly shows that the modification wasn’t done until the mid-1940’s. Regardless, many refuse to believe their eyes and still hold that it was done in the 1930’s.

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"It was not easy to convince Allnutt. All his shop training had given him a profound prejudice against inexact work, experimental work, hit-or-miss work."
C. S. Forester

Strasburg Rail Road Mechanical Department


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2017 10:07 am 
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Kelly Anderson wrote:
Never forget that a lot of oral history isn’t worth the air it is carried on.


Which puts it on par with a lot of what gets posted on the internet.

PC

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Advice from the multitude costs nothing and is often worth just that. (EMD-1945)


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2017 11:23 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 10:49 am
Posts: 634
superheater wrote:
"As to the legacy of slavery in the United States, no unbiased person alive today is at fault but we are all responsible to do what we can to sort out this mess we inherited once and for all. For any organization to succeed, everyone in the organization has to take ownership of it all - the good and the bad, the sources of pride and embarrassment, and the pleasant and the things we'd rather just avoid."

Unfortunately, that would be a good political speech, so its actual social utility is about the same as all good political speeches.


While it's true no one alive today is at fault today for slavery, people are still benefiting from the the scourge of racism which has permeated this country since its founding. That is the undisputed truth, and the evidence is plain to see. You will not have to look very far to find it.

Until that truth is recognized by everyone, it will never be properly dealt with. It is not a comfortable subject, and the truth of the matter is non subjugated people fail to see and combat the issue in a meaningful way. It's easy to avoid something you do not have to deal with every day, but there are some of us who have no choice in the issue.

No doubt, if I met any of you near the right of way, in the cab of a locomotive, or in a yard office, no doubt I would show you all the respect due a person who lives and breathes this stuff the way we do. That is the way it should be, but it's not the way it is in many places. That is a story in itself.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2017 12:15 am 

Joined: Sun Jun 23, 2013 1:16 pm
Posts: 71
Our city has quite active group of people who are historically minded. We have a nice, well put together historical museum, and a railroad museum adjacent to it, with a small collection of rolling stock and quite an assortment of memorabilia in the building.

We also had a "Farm History" group, who put on a show every year with equipment being used and displayed, and demonstrations of farm related activities for children.
That Farm group went to the effort to take a handheld recorder and go visit old farmers and ranchers and do interviews with them to get stories of farming life in days gone by, and record them for posterity.

One day a man and wife team from that group called on me and said "Hey, you know and worked with a lot of old railroad men, have a lot of contacts in the industry, and we thought maybe you'd like to do the same thing with those men as we did with the farmers and ranchers. We'll give you this recorder, and all you have to do is go interview these guys and record their stories and we can have them transcribed and make a book and put it in the railroad museum.

Well, I explained the reasons why that wasn't going to happen.

I don't know about railroaders of other railroads, but from just being around these men for 40 years, I can tell you that for the most part, the stories that these guys tell are not for polite company, and they sure won't want their wives and kids privvy to the stuff that they usually reminisce about when they get together.

I don't know what kind of stories the public THINKS that railroaders would have to tell, but the guys they wanted me to interview worked in an era where it was smoking dope, drinking beer or whiskey, and chasing women. A few family men had other "families" at their "away from home terminals"....and everyone had a girlfriend or two. Lots of divorces and homes broken up because of infidelity.

Working on the railroad let you be gone for 24 hours (at least on this division)... and back then there was no way for your wife to check on you while you were at the other end. Took 4 hours to make the trip, so you had 10 or 12 hours of partying at the other end, at one of the multitudes of bars that railroaders frequented, before you got called for the return trip.. and if you neglected to get your rest while you were there, hopefully someone on the crew was sober enough to run the engine and get you back home. Drinking on the engine AND caboose, a common thing. You were basically on your own and you made the most of your time away from home.

This was a wild and woolly bunch, these guys I know/knew (lots of them have died).
Nowadays, nobody pulls anything like they used to do... too easy to get in trouble and lose your job forever... used to be guys would tear up stuff and break just the right rules... be off for 30, 60 or 90 days... maybe even 6 months... and have a summer vacation, getting paid with job insurance! Not that way anymore!

That was just the trainmen and engineers. The maintenance of way guys... O.M.G.. you haven't heard wild stories til you listen to them guys.... I don't see how some of them survived long enough to retire.

I only knew MKT and some MoPac guys that worked in my part of the country. The railroaders you guys know might have been the salts of the earth and went to church 7 days a week and taught Sunday school and can tell stories of railroading that don't include all that stuff I described.

Sure, they had lots of stories on the actual railroading aspect of it: derailments, collisions, floods, speeding, running track speed on red signals... anything you can think of... and I guess those would make good reading, but the stories that all these guys gravitate to are the type that didn't involve much actual railroading .

I actually DID ask a few of them after I was initially approached if they'd be willing to be interviewed, and to a man, they all replied "hell no, you ain't gonna get me on tape telling stories" :)

I could set here and retell their stories and it would be no problem, because they would be anonymous.. but it doesn't work like that when you're doing it in front of a family member...


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 Post subject: Re: The Edge of History
PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2017 6:42 pm 

Joined: Tue Mar 10, 2015 10:29 am
Posts: 45
Location: Michigan
This forum participant has mentioned in a previous post quite a while back, it’s obvious there are a lot of brilliant people here.
Reading what some of you have put forth in this thread is passionate.

I've enjoyed every single contribution to this thread and curious about how the topic came to a sudden end.
[Bad Order] hit on a very authentic aspect to oral history that does indeed go unpublished.

Among all the descriptive recollections and opinions replying to the original post, the very brief 21-word sentence made by JimBoylan raises a continuing question for me.

Jim wrote, “Some of the previous posts in this topic are examples of oral history that could have been lost if not presented here.”

“Here”, most likely meaning this Internet forum.

Here's the lead-up to my question:

The longevity or archival qualities of anything on the Internet is quite fragile. All of your passionate conversations are held here at the whim of “electricity” and whether -bills are paid-.

So… What happens to all of your thoughtful, well researched facts, ideas [posted photography], “1/4 inch” tapes, laser discs, flash memory, cloud-storage and so on when they are no longer retrievable? Say, 50 years from now?

I just opened up a book published 94 years ago. It recalls the opening notice of the Stockton & Darlington Railway Company. The notice of the opening is dated September 19, 1825. Using daylight, it required no electricity to read the book contents.

What’s the likelihood this very conversation in this thread will be around… say, 50 years from now?

John


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