The Six Year Feud

Seattle, Auburn, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen

The Rise of Auburn

In the latter half of the 1890s the Northern Pacific was handling a burgeoning traffic load out of Washington’s Queen City of Seattle. At that time freight out of Seattle was sent to Meeker, just north of Puyallup, where it proceeded east over was later known as the Buckley Line. This route, began in the 1870s as a branch from Tacoma to the coal fields of eastern Pierce County, had been adopted as the western approach to Stampede Pass in the 1880s. It had several objectionable features, not the least of which was an east bound helper district out of South Prairie, but the rails were in place and thus could hasten the completion of the Stampede Pass route.

               In the 1880s the Northern Pacific Engineer-in-Chief General Adna Anderson had studied a more expedient route from Palmer to present-day Auburn, but time did not allow for its construction. Finally, at the turn-of-the-century the Northern Pacific undertook the construction of the Palmer Cut-Off, a line which would shorten its distance to Seattle and replace the oatmeal lumpy grade of the Buckley Line with a straight one percent climb. With the opening of the Palmer Cut-Off between East Auburn and Kanaskat in 1900, Auburn became the western hub of Stampede Pass.

               The Palmer Cut-Off turned Auburn into the quintessential railroad town. The city went from a sleepy agricultural berg to one of the major marshalling yards of western Washington. After Auburn Yard’s completion in 1913, Auburn was the jump-off point for the majority of the Northern Pacific’s east bound freight, the primary base for large helper power, and home to numerous local freights running between Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, and British Columbia.

               Increasing traffic through Auburn placed a great strain on the Northern Pacific’s road crews. Engineers and firemen saw endless service, spending up to 16 hours on duty in rugged conditions. Having to spend so much time away from loved ones, it should not be surprising that engine crews worked to move their union lodges from Seattle to the town they called home. In at least one case, that of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, this became an act of sacrifice and defiance.


Puget Sound Lodge 407

In 1919 the Northern Pacific had fifteen Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen lodges across its system. Union firemen on what was then the Seattle Division were members of Puget Sound Lodge 407, headquartered in Seattle. Puget Sound Lodge members were not only from the Northern Pacific, but also the Great Northern, Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company (a subsidiary of the Union Pacific), the Milwaukee Road, and the dimunitive Pacific Coast.

               Lodge meetings were extremely difficult to attend for men on-call in isolated mountain hamlets. America’s love affair with the automobile was still in its infancy in 1919, and good roads between Seattle and Auburn were hard to come by. The roads which did exist were more often than not shared with traffic of the horse-and-wagon variety. For men in helper service at Lester, roads were non-existent. The obvious solution to the men was to move their lodge meetings to Auburn. As one of the busiest terminals in the area, and home to many members of the Puget Sound Lodge, a relocation would make life, and attending meetings, much easier, and end what must have seemed, at times, as the great American rallying cry, “taxation without representation.” The idea of relocating the lodge was probably proposed – and rejected – by the majority of members of the Puget Sound Lodge, though no record remains to attest to this. However, time would soon show that Northern Pacific employees in Auburn were determined to create a lodge of their own.


Secretary for the Petitioners

On June 18, 1919, members of the Puget Sound Lodge working out of Auburn came together to plan a course of action. They met at 8:00 P.M., electing Earl Cebell to chair the meeting and Oral E. Greer as secretary. Five men addressed the gathering, and following this, a motion was made to discuss the creation of a new lodge at Auburn. Ira Farmer and Jack Denise proposed a petition to ascertain general support for the move, and also to write the Brotherhood’s Grand Lodge in Cleveland, Ohio, about the transfer of membership. There was a recess while three men worked on the petition. When finished it was quickly approved as “proper as read.”

               Next, the men worked to find a way to gain support, in writing, from their fellow firemen. “Motion made by Charles A. Cunningham and seconded by A. M. Barrett to send a man up on the North End to get signatures on petition. Carried. Moved by Denise and seconded by Farmer that this party be paid $8 per day for this trip. Carried. Motion made and seconded that Denise present the petition to the North End men. Carried.” A petition was also to be sent to the Seattle roundhouse.

               Finally, the supporters of the infant lodge assessed each new member twenty-five cents to cover current expenses. With an eight-dollar-a-day trip to the North End about to begin, and a hall rental fee of $1.50, the lodge had begun operating in the red in less than two hours.

               Two days after the meeting in Auburn, Oral Greer sent a note to Puget Sound Lodge Chairman R. W. Moxley, informing him of the situation. “The question of having all NP members belonging to Puget Sound Lodge 407 transferred to this lodge, providing we can get the jurisdiction changed, came up and I was instructed to write Mr. Hawley [General Secretary of the Brotherhood] regarding this. He will probably call upon you and we wish you to give him all information necessary in regards to changing jurisdiction in order to prevent having two lodges and committees pulling against each other.”

               That day Greer also wrote a detailed letter to Hawley to lay out the group’s complaints.

               “The reason for organizing a lodge at this point is due to the fact that a large majority of the members of this division work out of Auburn or are under the jurisdiction of the Auburn roundhouse, and all, with the exception of the men on the two locals and switch engines, are subject to calls at any time, which makes it very inconvenient to go to Seattle to the lodge meeting, while the men that are working in Seattle are on regular jobs and can come to Auburn without missing anything.

               “The Auburn extra list has to protect all runs in Seattle and on the North End, as well as runs out of Auburn, and what men are now working in Seattle on switch engines and passenger runs, at sometime or another, have to work out of Auburn account increase or decrease business.

               “There are about twenty-five men east of Auburn on regular jobs that cannot go to Seattle to lodge without losing a day, that is, leave their home point in the morning, while if the lodge was here the majority could come to Auburn on 333 getting here at 9 P.M. and return, leaving here at 12:50 A.M. getting back before the next morning.”

               Greer tried to point out the pitfall best avoided by everyone involved.

               “At the meeting we came to the understanding that we did not want to get tangled up as the engineers have on this division by having two lodges and two committees . . . [Puget Sound Lodge 407] at present time has O&W, Pacific Coast and NP men, so if the NP men withdraw from it . . . we could handle our own business with our own men.”

               He closed with a statement showing the men’s determination.

               “We are confident that we can get not less than two-thirds of the members of the firemen that are on this division but are holding the petitions back until such time as we can year from you . . . we do not want to start something that we cannot finish.”

               Acting President Timothy Shea sent the Brotherhood’s official response on June 14. Shea’s answer would prove the be the beginning of months of delay. “Just as soon as I hear from [Lodge 407] I will conduct further correspondence with you.”


Paper Trails

A month later typewriters in Auburn, Seattle, and Cleveland were banging away. Puget Sound Lodge Recording Secretary I. S. Good wrote Timothy Shea on July 7, stating his objections. Four paragraphs complaining about the difficulties of attending lodge meetings were closed with a note that unwittingly attested to the Auburn men’s case. “Of course some of the members have automobiles, others have not, and some would have to go on the interurban and it costs 59 cents one way and he will have to be a pretty good lodge member to pay his fare all the time.”

               Shea took Good’s complains and his added them to his own objectives, organizing them into a joint letter to the men. He stated, “I was advised under date of July 2nd by Brother [T. P.] Gorman [Chairman of the General Grievance Committee on the Northern Pacific] that he would undertake an investigation of the situation . . . . It shall not be my purpose to arrive at any definite conclusions regarding the organization of a new lodge at Auburn until after Brother Gorman shall have made definite reply.” Shea’s comments, along with Good’s complaints, were read at the regular meeting of Lodge 407 on June 28. The reading ended any hopes of maintaining the status quo.

               Oral Greer wrote Shea and Gorman describing what had taken place.

               “The outcome was that a vote be taken to find out how the men stood on this matter. The first motion was that the jurisdiction of the grievance committee be changed to the new lodge when same was organized at Auburn. The chair would not let this come to a vote for the reason that there were more men present that were for the change than there were against it.

               “I got the floor and told them that what was wanted was to find out the sentiment of the members present at the meeting and the sentiment were for the change but we could not get that through, but to keep down trouble the first motion was finally withdrawn and upon the request a motion was made that a referendum vote be taken of all accessible members on the Seattle and Puget Sound divisions that the jurisdiction of the grievance committee be granted to a new lodge at Auburn, Wash., when same was organized. That vote has been taken and the results of this vote will be known next Sunday when they are counted.”

               Being blocked through parliamentary procedure was one thing, but the next move of the Seattle interests was another. “We were under the impression that the matter would rest until this vote was taken,” Greer continued, “Now I get your letter and by that I see that the lodge at another meeting have wrote you that 407 is not in favor of this move. I myself though helping to take the vote, will say that this letter does not express the sentiments of the members of 407 and that the few that were there are going out of their place in writing you such a letter. If a small minority are going to rule the B of LF and E then it is time we do something. I also note that in the letter that he in giving you time of these trains has misstated the time of them showing that they have not tried to use some of them.”

               “We members here at Auburn are trying to be on the square with this move. I will read a copy of this letter at lodge at the next meeting so they will know what I have done.”

               The feud between Seattle and Auburn interests had begun in earnest.

               After the contentious meeting the Auburn men worked at organizing support for a new lodge. In late July Oral Greer wrote Shea and Gorman of their efforts, following with the results of the vote on July 23. It was a damning note. “First, there were 197 names on the roll, 12 were laying off, 24 could not be found without a greater expense than we deemed necessary, 29 voted against this, 2 were not signed, one was thrown out on account of not being filled out. [One hundred and twenty-nine] voted in favor.”

               Shea replied on July 30. T. P. Gorman had yet to file a report on the matter, “Therefore, it will not be my purpose to arrive at any definite conclusion until statement is received . . .” It was becoming a well-known refrain.

               To his credit, however, Shea did not stop there. He responded in full to Greer’s charges regarding the disastrous June 28 meeting. “It was presumed the Brother Good’s letter [complaining on the difficulties of Seattle residents to attend meetings in Auburn] communicated information developed at a meeting of Lodge 407, as no intelligent expression of opinion of the membership of the lodge could be made without some discussion of the question at regular meetings of the lodge.” He continued, “If, as indicated in Brother Greer’s letters, action was deferred on account of the ‘Auburn membership having packed the meetings,’ then it would have been proper to have advised those at the meeting that the question of organizing a new loge at Auburn would be given consideration at a future meeting of lodge, and requisition all members interested to be in attendance, thereby securing an attendance of a representative portion of the members of the lodge to determine the question.” Shea closed by stating, “As it is, I understand Brother Good’s letter is simply an expression of his personal opinion, and is not an expression of the opinion of the membership of Lodge 407.” It could only be read as a rebuke of the Seattle contingent’s actions. Hopefully, it worked to restore Shea’s and the Brotherhood’s credibility with the Auburn men.


Meeting Time

With a majority of the lodge’s membership behind them, the rank-and-file insurgents took matters into their own hands. Bolstered by the outcome of the vote, and Shea’s rebuke of I. S. Good, the upstart firemen began meeting in Auburn as a lodge.

               Auburn’s Mystic Hall hosted their first meeting on August 10. The show began at 12:30 P.M., with Jack Denise sworn in as chairman and Charles Cunningham as Acting Secretary (Oral Greer had departed for pressing business). Early in August the men had been officially canvassed and 104 members of the Puget Sound Lodge, a majority, had signed the petition for a new lodge. A representative from the Brotherhood’s headquarters had also come to investigate the matter. His findings or recommendations, however, were not made known at the meeting. What was set forth, instead, were the membership’s goals, and calls for action.

               “Motion is made by Brother A. M. Barrett and seconded by Brother Joe Phillips that a letter be written by acting secretary to Timothy Shea, explaining to him that we do not consider a further investigation necessary as a referendum vote has been taken according to the constitution and a large majority are in favor of a lodge being organized at Auburn and that the petition for the request for a charter will follow in a few days. Carried.” Cunningham added a hand-written note to the record. “Please try and get this off on [No.] 4 in the [morning] or as soon as possible as requested by members present.”

               With headquarters informed of their intent, and hopefully out of their way, the men moved on to the next step, gaining a charter for the lodge.

               “Motion made by Brother [Earl] Cebell and seconded by Brother Phillips that offer made by Brother Anderson to loan $50.00 for charter for lodge at Auburn be excepted [sic] and to be paid back to him by assessing each member of said lodge after being organized with lawful rate of interest. Carried. Motion made by Brother Cebell and seconded by Brother Phillips that Brother [Lester] Dyer be sent north with petition to get members to sign for a charter for a lodge at Auburn. Motion passed.”

               Like the earlier drive for signatures on the petition for the new lodge, now there was a push for signatures on the new lodge’s charter. Appointed to handle the signature gathering were Jack Denise for Lester, Easton, Cle Elum and Ellensburg; Joe Phillips for Auburn; Ross Despain for Seattle, and Dyer for communities on the North End. Dyer would be pulling double duty, as he was also tasked with helping Phillips collect signatures in the Auburn vicinity.

               Around 2 P.M. another collection was taken up as the proceedings wound down. Each man donated twenty-five cents, yielding the fledgling lodge $3.25. Less the Mystic Hall’s fee, the Green River Lodge’s general fund now stood at $1.75.


The General Fund Fight

The going, for Greer and others who had ranged far and wide trying to build support for the new lodge, now got worse. The organizers submitted bills for their endeavors to Lodge 407, hoping to be compensated for their toil. On August 11, Puget Sound Lodge Financial Secretary J. H. Gilluly handed Greer the bad news. Their requests were turned down because the Brotherhood’s by-laws, as Gilluly interpreted them, did not allow it.

               “I regret very much that this matter was allowed to get in the shape it is in at the present as I believe you boys should be compensated but, as I understand the law, I could take no other stand and do my duty as financial secretary.”

               This opened the Pandora’s box of funding. Would the by-laws allow the Auburn men to claim the dues they had paid into the Puget Sound Lodge’s general fund over the years? Could a representative portion of the Puget Sound Lodge’s funds be transferred to the new lodge? The Puget Sound Lodge’s general fund stood at $6,500, a sizeable sum in 1919 (over $64,000 in 2000 dollars), and a sum accumulated in large part from the toil of Auburn men.

               After receiving Gilluly’s note, Greer immediately fired off a letter to Timothy Shea. He addressed two issues. First was the avoidance of issues at the Puget Sound Lodge’s meetings and Shea’s insistence on an investigation that showed no signs of being carried out in a timely manner. The insurgent’s patience was running very thin on that point.

               “We are going to circulate the petition now and that will be completed in a few days and will be sent to you. This petition will contain a majority of the members of the Brotherhood on this division and if that will not do any good we don’t know what will follow as they boys here are getting very much dissatisfied at the way things are going in 407.”

               Second came issue of the general fund.

               “The reason that some do not want to leave 407 is on account of the money that they have in the General Fund there, something about $6,500.00 and it does not look right that after a person has belonged to that lodge for eight to 12 years or longer to leave to someone else, as this was paid to a large extent by NP members. What would your decision be on that?”

               To Greer’s way of thinking, even a small portion of this sum would settle the lodge issue once and for all, as it would allow the men to build their own meeting hall in Auburn.

               Shea’s grim reply was sent August 20.

               “There is no provision in the laws of the Brotherhood under which a portion of this fund could be divided with the new lodge if it is determined that same shall be organized.”

               He went on to cite the Brotherhood’s constitution chapter and verse.

               “The property of a lodge is not transferable, but owned in common by its members, and when a member severs his connection with the lodge, his rights, title, and interest in and to the property or funds, or any part thereof, are forfeited.”

               The acting president went on to explain it again, to make sure there would be no mistakes about the consequences of what forming a new lodge would mean financially.

               “When members of Lodge 407 transfer their membership to another lodge regardless of the causes necessitating such transfer of membership, they lose all rights, titles and interest in and to the property and funds of the lodge from which the transfer is made.”

               For the right to belong to a lodge where they could represent themselves as they saw fit, the Auburn men had to be willing to make a large financial sacrifice.


The G. C. C.

On October 29, T. P. Gorman of the Northern Pacific General Grievance Committee finally weighed in. Detained for months by meetings of the Association of General Grievance Committees, he had yet to take the ten days he deemed necessary to travel to Seattle for an investigation of the matter. In fact, he never would.

               He wrote to Shea, “If I understand your letter of August 20th, addressed to Brother Greer, correctly, and the only question involved is the organization of an additional lodge on the system, in order to make it more convenient for our members to attend lodge meetings more frequently, I will not hesitate to give my approval to the organization of this new lodge at Auburn . . . Such action has my approval, and will be in line with the action of the other three organizations on this division.”

               However, Gorman wanted a clarification. Would the second lodge also have a second grievance committee, or would this be a simple relocation of the existing Seattle lodge to Auburn?

               Of the former, he stated “This is question that should receive very careful consideration.” Of the latter, “I would hesitate to approve such action, as this would only result in reversing the situation.”

               The Brotherhood now moved towards resolution and compromise. There would be two lodges for the convenience of men working out of Seattle and out of Auburn. There would also be two grievance committees, each with well-defined territories.

               On November 10, Shea asked Gorman to define the jurisdictions of the two grievance committees. Gorman’s reply of November 18, sent the matter back to the local men.

               “I can see no good reason why the question of jurisdiction cannot be amicably adjusted between the two lodges. I believe it would be impracticable for me to attempt to define the jurisdiction of the two lodges, until such time as the lodes have failed to agree between themselves.”

               In addition to this statement, Gorman also included a warning. Because of his confidence in the men, he felt they would not “permit a situation to arise that will destroy, in any measure, the efficiency of our organization on the division.”


The Long Road to Compromise

Before the lodges could decide on what their respective territories would be, the insurgents voiced their displeasure at the overall situation. Greer, in a letter of November 24, stated in no unclear terms to both Shea and Gorman that compromise was not what was wanted.

               “As to defining the limits of the jurisdiction of this lodge and Lodge 407, I will say from all action taken on this matter in the past that what a majority of the members here want and expect to get is one lodge and one grievance committee on this division. I do not think that any more be said than this, that if you try to [do] that, that there will be trouble and that is what we want to avoid. The petition I believe was strong enough on what was wanted, and anything short of that will not fill the bill. The members here are getting where they don’t want anything more to do with 407 as it is not a fireman’s lodge anymore but is controlled by men who are running engines and foreign road men. When I write this I express the wishes of the 104 members whose names were on the petition.”

               Ironically, the day after Greer mailed the petitioner’s displeasure, Shea wrote to inform them of the Brotherhood’s tentative approval of the new lodge. As the 104 petitioning members of Lodge 407 constituted a majority and wished to organize a new lodge, “Article 17, Section I, authorizes the institution on a lodge at Auburn and I am asking General Secretary and Treasurer Hawley to send you a preliminary outfit.” Applications for membership, applications for transfer of membership, and a blank application for charter were on their way. Shea went on to state, “I desire to make it plain that such a transfer of jurisdiction cannot under any circumstances be arranged . . . it will be necessary for the two lodges to agree among themselves as to their respective jurisdiction . . . if the petitioners desire to proceed under these conditions they are at liberty to do so.”

               By December 4, Shea had received the petitioner’s strident note. His response was to reiterate his message of November 25. “I am thoroughly convinced . . . that there would be no justice in arbitrarily removing the authority now resting in Lodge 407 and transferring same to a new lodge.” It would also be “unfair not to accord your petitioners with the same consideration as is accorded in all other instances when it seems impossible to not agree as to the proper disposition of any controversy.” The answer was pro forma – an investigation was needed. This time, however, rather than months of delay, there would be action. Vice President George K. Wark was on the way. He, and his schedule, were not to be trifled with.

               Wark notified Greer, Good, and Gorman from Toronto, Canada, that he would arrive on December 26. He would conduct his investigation from that time until the evening of December 28, when he desired a special meeting be called to deal with the issue. “I am particularly anxious,” Wark wrote, “to dispose of the question at the earliest possible moment.” Wark meant for nothing to get in the way of more important business.


Casting the Ballots

January 19, 1920, brought Wark’s report and the Brotherhood’s final summary. In a three-page letter to T. P. Gorman, Shea wrote out a detailed summary of the situation as it now stood. He outlined the petitioner’s complaints, focusing on their refusal to set up a second grievance committee which would divide the territory in conjunction with Puget Sound Lodge 407.

               “This specification did not meet with the approval of the petitioners and the matter was referred to Vice President Wark for personal investigation while on a western trip. The question was taken up for investigation at a regular meeting of Lodge 407 held on December 27th, which meeting was well attended, and at which many diverse opinions concerning the subject were advanced.”

               “This investigation developed the fact that there are 23 or more switching crews working at Seattle and that the majority of the engineers are engaged are members of this Brotherhood; that there are 19 passenger crews and one local freight crew located at Seattle, making a total of 43 firemen working out of that point in addition to the engineer members engaged in switching service exclusively. This fact seems to indicate that it would not be practicable to move Lodge 407 from Seattle to Auburn as it would merely reverse the existing conditions and leave the members at Seattle in identically the same condition as our members at Auburn now find themselves.”

               “My investigation of the situation leads me to believe that there is necessity for the organization of a lodge at Auburn and that Lodge 407 should be maintained at Seattle for the benefit of members employed at that point. Under no circumstances, however, can the members who make up the lodge at Auburn, if instituted, deprive Lodge 407 from maintaining a local grievance committee, and in the event it is organized, the two lodges must agree as to their respective jurisdiction, subject to final determination by the General Committee in the event of disagreement.”

               For the petitioners, the situation had not changed.

               Shea closed his letter asking Gorman to refer his statements, along with any comments that Gorman, as head of the General Grievance Committee on the Northern Pacific, might want to add, to his 15 local chairman across the Northern Pacific. The vote was on.



On March 16, 1920, W. S. Carter, president of the Brotherhood, acknowledge the results of the vote on an Auburn lodge. Lodge 264 had failed to or abstained from voting, and four more had voted against the organization, but ten others had voted in support of Auburn.

               “The majority of the members of the General Committee having voted in favor of the organization of a lodge at Auburn, the application for charter will be approved by me upon completion of the preliminary work and I am sending complete outfit to Secretary Pro Tem Greer, this date.”

               Nearly ten months had passed since Greer and the petitioners had begun the fight. Now, with a charter in hand, Green River Lodge 895 was officially sanctioned. There was still one last problem to overcome – deciding where the jurisdictional boundaries of the two local grievance committee’s would be drawn. This task would take nearly five more years.

               Only in late August, 1924, was a serious measure taken. T. P. Gorman, acting through Puget Sound Lodge 407 Chairman R. W. Moxley, proposed that the Seattle Division be “divided into two districts, one district to come under the jurisdiction of Lodge 407 and the other to come under the jurisdiction of Lodge 895. Lodge 407 will have jurisdiction over all passenger runs on the division and all the freight runs and switch jobs terminating at Seattle, together with all freight runs and yard service north of Seattle excepting such freight runs as have their home terminal in Auburn. Lodge 895 will have jurisdiction over all freight runs terminating at Auburn, mountain helper service at Lester and Easton, together with all other freight runs and yard service on the first district [Auburn to Ellensburg].”

               In itself, this section of the agreement was remarkably like an edict issued by Seattle Division Master Mechanic Calvin S. Lairson more than a decade earlier. His bulletin of May 12, 1913, concerning extra boards on the division, stated, “We will maintain an extra list at Seattle, another at Auburn and another at Lester . . . . It must be understood also that extra men on the extra list at Lester will do the work out of Lester, Easton and Cle Elum and Ellensburg. Extra men out of Auburn will do the extra work on all engines terminating at Auburn and Tacoma. Men at Seattle will do the extra work on runs terminating at Seattle and all outlying points north of Seattle on such runs which do not terminate at Auburn.”

               The new territories simply followed the Seattle Division’s extra boards, themselves established when Auburn Yard opened in 1913.

               In addition to spelling out the respective jurisdictions, the propose also named who would act as representation, and which rules they would be governed by.

               “It is understood that each local chairman will represent the men of his own lodge regardless of which jurisdiction they may happen to be working in. Such local chairman in representing a member outside of the jurisdiction of his lodge will be governed by such agreements or other regulations in vogue on that jurisdiction, regardless of whether or not such regulations prevail in his own district.”

               There was also an admonishment.

               “It would be the height of folly for Lodge 895 and Lodge 407 to engage in any sort of controversy in connection with the jurisdictional matters as that would simply weaken our efficiency in the handling of claims before division officers.”

               The local chairmen, secretaries, and T. P. Gorman, signed the memorandum. The agreement, based on an eleven-year-old master mechanic’s bulletin, went into effect September 24, 1924, and brought to a close the six year feud.

Author: John A. Phillips, III. Title: The Six Year Feud. URL:

© March 20, 2002