N.P. Ry.

"...To Stoppage"

The Northern Pacific Railway's Auburn Yard and the Road to Nationalization, 1916-1917


In 1916, the Committee of Five was joined in 1916 by a new group, the ARA's Commission on Car Service. Established in Washington, D.C., its task was to work with the Interstate Commerce Commission over car service issues on a daily basis. It also had a nominal authority to change car service and per diem rules. (Daggett, pp. 642-3) After this brief response, the ARA continued with its usual business.

The spring of 1916 brought more car loadings, more eastbound manifest trains, and more trouble to Auburn. A vast majority of 1916's traffic was attributable to Seattle's docks. The port saw $117 million dollars worth of goods move through its terminals in 1915, in 1916 the Port Warden pegged the figure at $360 million. And it showed no signs of slowing down. (Berner, pp. 198-9) The start of the trouble in Auburn was the arrival of nearly 100 cars of Du Pont gunpowder bound for Russia. Taken to East Auburn and placed in storage on sidings for the NP's local gravel pit, the cars, or more appropriately, the car's contents, caused quite a bit of consternation among the residents of Auburn. Awaiting their ship to Vladivostok, they were sent to Auburn because city ordinances in Seattle and Tacoma required explosives to be loaded immediately upon reaching city limits. The ordinances of Seattle actually required explosives to be at least five miles outside the city limits from sundown to sunup. (Auburn Globe 1-20-16 p. 1)

Almost immediately upon the cars arrival, Auburn's citizens were working to get King County officials to ask the NP to move the cars, preferably someplace remote. Following closely on the heels of this uproar was the arrival of E.C. Byford, head of the ARA's Bureau for the Safe Transportation Explosives. Byford came to Auburn at the behest of the US District Attorney in Seattle. (Daggett, p. 537) Upon inspecting the cars, he pronounced them safe and fit, and pointed out that only one in five such cars came through the Pacific Northwest, most headed to San Francisco. (Auburn Globe, 1-27-16 p. 1) By March, the number of such cars stored at Auburn would double. (Ibid., 3-31-16 p. 5) The stored cars were not without their rewards, however. Guarding the cars alone had created 18 new jobs. Ten guards for the night shift, six for the day, and one person for water service on each shift. (Ibid., 4-7-16 p. 5)

Other problems were busy vexing the NP. While the cars of gunpowder were arriving in Auburn, snow storms and avalanches were wreaking havoc in the Cascades. By the end of January, both the GN and the Milwaukee were detouring their eastbounds over the NP. Every available engineer is piloting foreign trains through Auburn. (Ibid., 1-27-16 p. 6) This over and above the ever-increasing amounts of freight already being shunted through Auburn. That March the yard handled 3,000 more cars than any month in its history. It surpassed the previous record number eastbound manifests by 25 trains. In the midst of all these records came another recognition for the shops. Auburn was chosen to be the first shop to receive a device which the Northern Pacific believed would revolutionize repair work; the oxy-acetylene welder. It was hoped that this new device would cut the time of patching a firebox from six days to a mere 10 hours. The Auburn roundhouse, open for less than three years, had already acquired a reputation for excellence. (Ibid., 4-7-16 p. 5)

Just A Starter...

Meanwhile, the car shortage and the traffic boom were causing drastic measures to be taken in a vain attempt to remedy the situations. Russia-bound material arriving in Auburn by train, which would normally be stored in the cars until the appropriate ship arrived in Tacoma or Seattle, would instead be unloaded, to get the cars back into service quickly. The only real problem was that the NP's transfer sheds at Auburn did not have much more storage space to handle all this off-loaded material, in fact, the sheds were already full. To increase its capacity, the NP announced it would build a 1,500 by 50-foot shed near the present freight transfer shed for export re-loads. (Ibid., 4-28-16 p. 1) In the meantime, the export material was unceremoniously dumped along the NP's right-of-way through town. (Ibid., 4-14-16 p. 5)

As late spring descended upon Auburn, St. Paul began sending its employees raises. These were unsolicited for the most part, but certainly not unwelcome. Hostler helpers, engine wipers, section gangs and day laborers were the first to get the rate hike, to $1.85 a day. (Ibid., 5-26-16 p. 5) The next to find themselves the recipient's of the home office's glad tidings were boilermakers, machinists and their helpers. Their new rates varied from a low of 27 cents an hour, for boilermaker's helpers, to a high of 49 cents an hour for boilermakers. Machinists topped out at one and a half cents less. (Ibid., 6-9-16 p. 5) Beginning July 15, the NP made another move to keep it's workers from moving to higher paying jobs elsewhere. The crew of the transfer shed, truckers, scalers, stevedores and callers would all be getting a pay raise, to 24 cents an hour. By winter, a month ahead of the rumored rate hike, the Railway's clerks found themselves earning $2.50 to $10 more per month. (Ibid., 11-24-16 p. 5) With the situation overseas and the shortage of workers at home, it could be seen as a case of the NP hedging its bets. St. Paul may well have been hoping against hope that the people in the employ of the Railway would stay with the road rather than leave it for the higher pay of industries cashing in on the world crises.

Late spring also saw two more important events take place in western Washington. In May, the members of the International Longshoremen's Association went out on strike in Seattle. As a show of solidarity, ILA members in Tacoma also went out. The strike had its roots in the strike of the Puget Sound Steamshipmen's Union, 500 of whom had gone on strike in March for union recognition and wage increases. Their main target was the Puget Sound Navigation Co., one of the port of Seattle's largest concerns. When Puget Sound Navigation locked out the strikers and brought in Black strikebreakers, the fight was on. The ILA and the Steamshipmen's strikes merged, becoming a shut down of all Pacific ports by June. Waterfront employers fought the strikers by hiring Blacks, Asians and Filipinos as strikebreakers, groups excluded from joining the ILA. (Berner, pp. 214-6) The striking Longshoremen, who were making anywhere from 55 cents an hour up to an unbelievable $1.50 an hour, must have seemed insane to some of the Auburn craftsmen. At the top of that scale, the best paid dock worker made almost as much in an hour as a section hand did in a day. The strike dragged on until October when the Federal government finally settled the isssue through mediation. The ILA had made contracts with small and larger shippers, though not Puget Sound Navigation, and Black strikebreakers had actually struck and won union scale in Tacoma, but the strike was generally thought to be a win for the employers. (Berner, p. 216) With Seattle's ascendancy on the Pacific, the strike threatened the not only the city's economy but the city's railroads as well. It caused two immediate repercussions on the NP. Six switch crews were laid-off in nearby Seattle and Auburn handled 500 fewer cars a day.

The second news item was Auburn's business for that May. The yard had handled over 47,000 cars. This traffic continued to take on odd forms. Russia's balance of trade with the U.S. fared a little better on July 6, when 31 cars of Russian licorice root passed through Auburn on their way to a candy maker in Camden, N.J. (AuburnGlobe 7-7-16 p. 4) Shortly afterward came six cars of sugar beet seeds from Asia. Bound for Wallaceburg, Ontario, the contents of the cars were valued at $400,000. The NP's cut in freight charges was $2,750. (Ibid., 7-14-16 p. 5) But even with 2,000 dock workers out in Seattle alone, the strike had all the long-term impact of a hiccup; the NP, GN, Milwaukee and OWR&N kept right on moving freight into the Puget Sound region. The strikes, shortages in cars, crews and craftsmen had little effect on the spiraling demand. Nor did any of it look to have an end in sight. By July 22 Auburn had broken yet another record. That day, seven more eastbound manifest trains were made up and sent out over the road than had been on any previous day. (Ibid., 7-28-16 p. 5) The rumor mill in St. Paul did not help things. Officials now hint that the rush of work now in hand is just a starter. It was. (Ibid., 7-14-16 p. 5)

Of Apples and Auburn Days

Circumstances in Auburn were not always humorous. On July 14 Machinist Fred Mutterbach, a new hire, with Blacksmith Robert Metcalf, his helper John Lockridge and Foreman Guy Wickham were caught in an explosion. The men had been heating metal in a locomotive cab with a tire heater; a torch attached to an eight-gallon tank of headlight oil under air pressure. A pipe in the tank broke off, spilling oil into the cab and against the part they were working on. It burst into flames which engulfed the cab. Wickham managed to get clear instantly and Lockridge came out with only minor injuries, but Metcalf and Mutterbach were burned extensively. After being treated by the company doctor in Auburn, B. E. Hoye, the men were sent to the Northern Pacific Beneficial Association Hospital in Tacoma to recover. (Ibid., 7-14-16 p. 5)

August brought celebrations, as 'Auburn Days' were soon underway in town. Ironically, the NP's offering amongst the parades, dances and sporting events was a First-Aid demonstration. Machinist's Helper Thomas Summerill, who had captained NP First-Aid Teams from Cle Elum and Roslyn in state-wide and system-wide competitions, formed a team at the roundhouse. During Auburn Days, he and seven other roundhouse workers would give the general public demonstrations in treating various compound fractures, handling severe spinal injuries, improvising a stretcher and carrying an injured person fifty feet, as well as how to deal with scaldings and burns. (Ibid., 8-4-16 p. 1)

The continuing flood of traffic was requiring more and more repairs to the yards. In early August, the rails at the cinder pit were actually sinking. Boggy land, coupled with repeated use by the heavy Mallets assigned to Auburn was literally driving the rails into the ground. Accordingly, the NP sent two cars of sand and gravel to Auburn, along with a carload of cement to shore-up the problem. (Ibid., 8-4-16 p. 5) Not only the heavy traffic was causing problems, the hostler's were, too. Engine 1381, used as temporary power at the boiler house during repairs was being returned to regular service when it derailed near the yard office ...When the Hostler tried to run it on two tracks at once. After an hours work and the use of considerable railroad language, the engine was gotten back on the rails and headed for the roundhouse. (Ibid., 8-18-16 p. 5)

Like the physical plant and shop forces, Auburn's pool of motive power required repair and replacement, as well. Engine 1599, coming in with its crown sheet badly firecracked, proved to be the perfect opportunity to put the new welding outfit to work. Boilermaker McMahon and Boiler Foreman Ben King moved in to repair the engine. Despite the awkward overhead location of the work and the 6,300 degree torch, they welded the crown sheet of the 1599 from side sheet to side sheet in a matter of hours. When they were done, they had completed the first major welding repair anywhere on the NP, and saved 35 percent over the old method. (Ibid., 8-25-15 p. 5)

Records other than the amount of freight handled and motive power repaired were also being set. It is believed that Peter Clevinger, a new machinist starting Thursday, has broken the short shift record. He appeared for work at 7 a.m., donned overalls, went in the south entrance, looked over the shop, wandered over to the roundhouse and evidently kept on going, for he never showed up again. (Ibid., 8-4-16 p. 5)

The car shortage continued to make itself felt in mysterious ways. The shortage, in conjunction with coal mine lay-offs, caused the NP to cut back freight service on the Buckley Line to three times a week. (Ibid., 10-6-16 p. 5) At Auburn, the cutting of eight men off the extra list was also chalked up to the shortage. (Ibid., 10-13-16 p. 5) Next, clerks and switchmen in the yard began to notice loads of wheat arriving in sacks under tarpaulins, in gondolas. Then on flatcars. (Ibid., 10-27-16 p. 5) Washington's trademark crop, the almighty apple, began to arrive in coal cars. Good apples, too, some of the men about the yards state. (Ibid., 11-10-16 p. 5) Shortly after the apples started arriving, so did a few extra Special Agents. It has been reported that there was more or less shrinkage to these shipments after they passed here. (Ibid., 11-17-16 p. 8)

The Seattle Problem

That September the Federal government took steps to rectify one of the most pressing transportation problems the nation was facing. It created the U.S. Shipping Board, which in turn, created the Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC). This organization, in turn, had an amazing role in the economy of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. (Berner, p. 273) When Europe went to war, Britian was the dominant naval power, in terms of both warships and merchant ships. Of some 45 million gross tons of commercial shipping in the world, nearly half sailed under the British flag. Some six to eight million tons belonged to the Central Powers, when the war broke out these ships were immediately interned. With British flag vessels pressed into service carrying war material from around the British Empire, and the cargo fleets of the Central Powers locked up, American business was forced to carry on foreign trade in American vessels. Unfortunately, there weren't any; U.S. vessels made up barely two percent of the world's commercial fleet. To rectify this situation and ensure Europe would not starve, the Federal government created the EFC to ...Promote ship construction and oversee their use. (Berner, p. 273) The nation then set about creating a merchant marine from scratch.

The pre-eminent beneficiary of this program turned out to be the city of Seattle. By the end of the program Seattle's shipyards had built 25 percent of the entire EFC's ships, some 800,000 tons. The tremendous success also had a downside; a flood of workers descended on Seattle to find employment in the yards, more than a few were lured away from the NP's roundhouses. The drain on the NP's labor pool was not the least of the problems, the shipyard boom created a flood of traffic into an already congested area, the flood of people into the area piled on even greater demands for materials from food to timber, which only added more traffic to the NP's lines. Piled on top of this was the war traffic; priority headaches and car shortages. If the labor shortage didn't get the Railway, the car shortage would.


System-wide the NP found itself 9,000 cars short of the number requested by shippers. At Auburn this translated into calls for cars on the house tracks. (Auburn Globe, 11-3-16 p. 5) Finally, the troubling conditions forced St. Paul to act. By the end of October, 1916 the NP announced it was going to purchase 15,000 cars. (Ibid., 10-20-16 p. 8) It was a tall order, and the right decision in the long run, but it would take time to get the cars from the factory floors to the NP's iron. Until that time the car shortage was going to persist, and require far stronger measures to compensate for it. These would not be long in coming. They couldn't be.

The next step the NP took to ease the shortage was to get the cars it had on hand turned around more quickly. In general terms, when a car was spotted on a spur for unloading, the business was granted a specific amount of time to get the job done, taking into consideration Sundays and holidays. Sluggish shippers failing to unload a car in the allotted time were charged demurrage, a penalty rate for tying up the Railway's cars. In November, 1916 the railroads in Washington state went to the Public Service Commission and asked for a new demurrage rate with stiffer penalties: 48 hours to unload any given car, a $2 fine for the next 24 hours, $3 for the next 24 and so on. The railroad's wanted the new rates as fast as they could be had. They asked permission to give shippers just one day's notice. (Ibid., 11-17-16 p. 8) December 1 saw the new rates in action around Auburn. The Northern Clay Co. as well as Summerfield & Holt found themselves adding penalties on their checks to the NP. (Ibid., 12-1-16 p. 1)

As always, there was a human price to be paid for the inhuman amounts of traffic. 'Curley' Ware is going about with his eye bandaged and the side of his head swollen considerably. While releasing a brake set tighter than usual he was using a brake stick and when he kicked the dog off the stick swung around and hit him in the eye. But the massive flux of traffic must not have seemed all bad, at least to some of the yard's workers. Switchmen and yard clerks were all happy Wednesday night because a shipment of blue ribboned dairy cattle on their way from Canada to a cattle show in Portland had to be milked while laying in the yards. There was a grand scurrying for any sort of container that would hold 10 or 20 gallons of milk. (Ibid., 12-1-16 p. 5)

The close of 1916 at Auburn saw the clerks reporting that the yard had handled 5,000 cars over 1915 levels, 15,000 over 1914. (Ibid., 12-1-16 p. 5) Across the NP as a whole, the numbers reflected a staggering trend. In 1914, loaded freight cars had racked up 286,684,515 miles on the NP. By the close of 1916, this number had increased nearly 100 million miles, climbing to 364,028,734. System-wide in 1916 the average freight consisted of 30 loads and 12 empties, roughly 21 tons of freight to a car. The average number of tons of freight on an NP train was 634, a 67 ton increase over 1914, with an increase of less than two more loaded cars per train. (N.P. Ry. Co. Nineteenth Annual Report, 6-30-15 p. 31) (N.P. Ry. Co. Twenty-First Annual Report, 12-31-17 p. 31)

...and Embargo.

Before the New Year Russia would be receiving more gifts via the Northern Pacific and Auburn. More than two hundred cars of International Harvester farm equipment arrived from Chicago for shipment to Vladivostok. After two years, the movements of such material had become routine. An additional 60 cars had arrived at the same time, the only difference being that the loads would leave through Vancouver, B. C. instead of a Puget Sound port. (Auburn Globe, 12-22-16 p. 8) At this point St. Paul put its foot down and in doing so, threw a wrench into the entire system. The Railway was ...Not willing to let its cars go out of the country at the present time. The Canadian-bound freight was brought to the transfer shed, unloaded, then re-loaded into cars from foreign roads. This hassle was minor in the scheme of things, for months now goods bound for Russia had been off-loaded along the right-of-way only to be re-loaded into other cars by the Auburn wrecker at a later date. But it was the first time the NP had embargoed another line, let alone an entire country. Close on the heels of this announcement came another, far more devastating in scope.

No road had ever entered a World War before, and none could have foreseen the tidal wave of demand coming. No demurrage rate could offset it, and no line could have purchased all the equipment necessary to make it go away. Even if a road had the cash in hand, there was still the murderous lag between placing the order and the delivery, and there was still no guarantee that the materials could be had to build the cars in the first place. Off the NP the destructive practice of keeping cars captive, like the M-K-T boxcar that had toured Cuba for nearly a month, was already well underway. Now, after two years, the car shortage smashed down on the railroads. Just months after the United States entered the war, the number of home cars to total cars on the average American system had slipped to just 48 percent. (A healthy mixture being considered about 70 percent) (Daggett, pp. 665-666) (Interview, Alan R. Burns, Engineer, MRL, 7-15-95) This meant that the demands of the NP's shippers were being met with the cars of other roads, a loss in income, and the per diem rate charged to the NP's own off-line cars would never be as much as if those cars were hauling freight for the company's customers on the company's lines, another loss. A shipment originating in Seattle, filled out to the 21-ton load average for the NP's cars in those years, picked up and hauled in one Railway's eastbound manifests out of Auburn right to Spokane's freight-house door, at the optimistically low rate of a penny per ton per mile, and without the extra income of switching fees and the like, would earn the company a minimum of $80 on the 386 mile trip. An NP car off-line in 1917 would net the company 75 cents, just 60 cents after March 31 of that year, in per diem rates. (Daggett, p. 532) It was a double hit for any company's coffers.

In offices scattered from St. Paul to Seattle the Railway's officials had undoubtedly been watching this disturbing trend for many months. They and literally everyone on the payroll, had kept the NP out of this deadly fray for at least that long. The loads dumped along the side the right-of-way, the bumper crops moving in coal cars, the midnight yard searches, combined with the long hours of the shop forces and the vicious demurrage rates had all helped minimize the shortage and kept the NP from tying up the cars of foreign roads. Now in far-away St. Paul, when the men in the Traffic Department asked the men in the Transportation Department when an NP car would come back to the road, their collective answer must have been We don't know. In the Globe-Republican this was translated as Cars [going off-line] are lost indeterminantly. (Auburn Globe-Republican, 12-22-16 p. 8) Thus the NP's officials moved to protect the NP the only way they knew how: they embargoed. All shipments east of the Minnesota Transfer Yard in the Twin Cities, as well as all shipments to lines south of Kansas City, Missouri were stopped. (Ibid., 12-22-16 p. 8) In a peace time economy the response would have been textbook. But as the order went out, some of those officers must have looked out the windows of the General Office Building in St. Paul and the L. C. Smith Building in Seattle, and wondered what the effect of the embargo would be. Would it work? Would it spread? Could any of those men have foreseen what effect an embargo would have in a wartime economy? After the initial onslaught of demand and the subsequent scramble for cars, this was perhaps railroad's third step toward quagmire, but it was the major step toward nationalization. The non-cooperation that would kill America's railroads had begun in earnest.


In 1917, the ARA finally responded to the deepening crisis with a flurry of activity. The Committee of Five was expanded twice in just three months, blossoming from five to 25 members. It was reorganized with a chairman and executive committee of five members drawn from the general committee, while the Commission on Car Service was made a sub-committee of this group of executives, now known as the Railway War Board. These groups served as both a counsel and a liaison between the ICC and US rail systems. The Railway War Board had no authority, but its suggestions carried weight, while the former Commission retained its limited authority over rules. From the time of its creation until the advent of the US Railroad Administration, the Board urged shippers and systems to increase the weight of their carloadings, speed the loading and unloading of cars, handled military movement routings, and made suggestions for the most direct routings of passengers and goods. Congress worked against the flood tide as well, granting the ICC greater regulatory powers over car service and making it a misdemeanor to obstruct the flow of interstate and foreign commerce. (Daggett, p. 643) All of this was aimed at getting the maximum use out of America's rail systems. Had the Railway War Board been in place as little as a year earlier, and granted voluntary authority on car distribution by the system's themselves, or the ICC's powers, a check against captive service and circuitous routings, been used, nationalization might have been avoided. But with the ARA's and Congress' actions coming just months before America's entry into the war, it was already a case of too little, too late.

The year America entered the Great War would be the best on record for nearby and influential Seattle, for it was the beginning of the great shipyard boom. Ironically, Seattle became not only an opportunity but a threat to the NP at Auburn. The opportunity is plain to see. The Edgar Ames shipyard landed a contract to build nine ships for Cunard Lines; Seattle's fledgling Skinner & Eddy shipyard was begun, its owners spending $1.2 million for Seattle Construction and Dry Dock Co. plus acres and acres of waterfront property. (Berner, p. 234-5) Seattle Construction itself had begun as the Moran Brothers which had built the battleship Nebraska back in 1902, virtually founding large-scale shipbuilding on Puget Sound. (Berner, p. 27) Suzuki & Co. moved its offices, as well as eight steamships, from Portland to Seattle. (Berner, p. 234-5) The value of Seattle's trade-borne business climbed as well, to $485 million. (Berner, pp. 198-9)

The threat to Auburn's railroad yards was subtle. While Seattle's boom meant the NP would be handling more traffic than ever before, it was also going to have to find the people to move it. And the people, for the most part, were working in Seattle's shipyards. For example, when the Ames yard received the Cunard contract employment there went from 500 to 3,000 overnight. In addition, in Seattle's shipyards ...Union recognition prevaled, setting wages standards that drew workers from other occupations. (Berner, p. 234) While the number of shipyards increased very slowly, there being 26 yards in 1914 and adding just two more by 1919, the average number of workers each yard employed had skyrocketed. Twenty-six yards in 1914 averaged 198 workers, in 1919 28 yards had an average of 2,430 employees, most at union scale. (Berner, pp. 27-8) The war and the shipyards ...Brought to Seattle a period of economic expansion that was unmatched in its history... In the space of 18 months nearly 60,000 people were attracted to the city, and almost 100 new manufacturing establishments were created where none had existed before. (Berner, p. 260) Until the end of 1920, a labor shortage would be Seattle's major problem, not umemployment. (Berner, p. 186) The magnate that the city's shipyards became would draw scores of workers from the NP, and Auburn.

'The Hume System'

The new year of 1917 found the Northern Pacific's Storekeeper in Auburn, Edgar C. Hume, inconsolable. Some time ago the Railway had given him the use of two cars for running errands within the yard. Their route was from the storehouse to the rip track office. They were two nice lady-like old cars and Ed was real proud of his 'system.' This week, a bunch of rude, uncultured switchmen yanked the whole end out of one of them, beyond the hope of repair. The order has gone forth that the car is to be burned to get what junk can be saved. Ed feels as though one of his best friends is to be cremated, and furthermore his system is reduced 50 percent. (Auburn Globe-Republican, 12-29-16 p. 8)

For Auburn's train crews, things were starting out just as bad. On January 9, as a westbound freight rolled slowly over the First Street crossing and into the yard, the train's crew took the opportunity to let off some non-paying passengers. Twelve to 15 men, suspected by the crew as being members in the Industrial Workers of the World, (The I.W.W. or more frequently 'Wobblies') were rousted from the train. As they jumped, or were kicked off, a few took the time to throw stones back at the crew. Brakeman George Blont took two on the knee and before long a small riot had broken out. Things quieted down drastically though when a City Marshall showed up. He counseled the Wobblies to ...Take Pacific Highway, where the walking wasn't as crowded, and they were last seen headed Seattleward. (Ibid., 1-12-17 p. 5)

At the same time a report came in that on the night of January 24 over 1,900 cars of just eastbound freight were filling sidings from Paradise, Montana to Cheney, Washington. The local divisions had run out of motive power. The situation of westbound traffic was said to be scarcely better. The hoped-for remedy was announced the same month, the NP announcing it would be buying 25 new locomotives from the American Locomotive Company for use exclusively on its western lines. (Ibid., 1-26-17 p. 5) As costly as that purchase might have seemed, it was nothing compared to the bills being sent to the governments of Europe. A story in the Globe-Republican stated that American banks were calculating the cost of the European war as $105 million every 24 hours. The war's cost since 1914 was estimated at $75 billion, $67 billion in excess of the entire cost of the American Civil War, formerly the most expensive conflagration in history. (Ibid., 2-9-17 p. 2)

Still, the Railway had to find new ways to try and keep up with the demand. The simplest if not always the kindest action, was to work the crews longer. Thus, promptly on March 1, the rip track forces found themselves on a ten hour day, six days a week. The war was not only grinding up soldiers and shells but rails, crews and cars as well. (Ibid., 2-23-17 p. 8) All of the NP's employees, at least in Washington, were soon hit with more bad news. Washington state was going 'dry.' The Legislature passed a prohibition law on February 22, far ahead of the rest of the nation. When NP Agent John W. McKee was asked what he thought about it by the local railroad reporter, he replied Do you know where I can find a first class experienced bartender? If business keeps up as it has we will have to put one at the Express Office. He may need a lady assistant for the men are not alone in the rush to prepare themselves against the bone dry law. (Ibid., 3-2-16 p. 4) The business was keeping up. February, 1917 saw an increase of 2,500 cars handled over February, 1916. George Fenner, the second trick operator at Auburn depot made a count of the trains passing his depot window that February. His final tally came to 270. (Ibid., 3-2-16 p. 5)

John W. McKee ...Potato King.

To keep people's mind off the numbing work of running the railway, Puget Sound Division Superintendent J. J. McCullough implemented a novel plan. Auburn Car Foreman Frank Windley, Roundhouse Foreman Alex McPhee and Tom O'Neil were given the job of doling out unused parcels of land around Auburn yard for NP employees to put under the plow and use as vegetable gardens. Overnight, competition broke out between the would-be farmers over who was to be crowned Potato King. The idea caught on in Tacoma, where unused land was given to company clerks under the agreement that anything grown on the plots would be sold at cost to their fellow employees. (Ibid., 3-2-16 p. 5)

March brought even more work to the rip track. The company gravel pit at East Auburn was to be opened that month to supply fresh ballast on the Lake Washington Belt Line, the double track from Auburn to Meeker and at spots along the Palmer Cut-Off. Foreman Windley and his carmen found themselves tasked with repairs to 120 company service cars, stripping down 50 double-deck stock cars for emergency lumber and shingle use, as well as having to try and keep up with the already heavy flow of worn-out and damaged equipment that staggered into Auburn daily. (Ibid., 3-9-17 p. 5) In the meantime, the crew assigned to re-open the gravel pit and fill those cars staged a strike. The dozen or so men demanded a 30 cent a day raise, to $2.20. Unfortunately no one in Auburn had the authority to grant such a request. The strikers found themselves thrown off the property as the NP went looking for a new crew. (Ibid., 3-16-17 p. 5) A similar incident occurred on a steel gang relaying rail in the yard. Fifty men, all Italian immigrants, went on strike when their Foreman fired one of their number and refused to reinstate the man. Again, the striking men were let go and the Railway went looking for fresh workers. At the same time these two groups were fired in Auburn, St. Paul was maneuvering to hold on to the very same laborers already in its employ. On March 30 it was announced that all section crews, hostlers, engine wipers, oilers, coal dock workers and general laborers would now be paid two dollars a day. (Ibid., 3-30-17 p. 5) In one sense it was already too late. For months now the yard's employees, skilled and unskilled, had been leaving for higher pay elsewhere. Machinists could make ten cents an hour more in the contract shops of nearby Seattle. For many, the extra pay was too good an opportunity to pass up. (Ibid., 3-30-17 p. 5)

...Eyes on the Middlemen...

For the NP, the workers lost now might never be replaced, for beginning that April, any able-bodied, unmarried man, aged 18 to 45, was eligible for military service (The 18-year-olds, however, would need a note from their parents). (Ibid., 4-6-17 p. 1) On April 6, after three years, millions of casualties, the sinking of the Lusitania and most recently unrestricted submarine warfare on the part of the Imperial German Navy, Word War One and conscription had come to the United States.

Auburn and her citizens working in the service of the Northern Pacific Railway were suddenly caught up in the wave of patriotic fever that swept America. Washington's Governor Lister, declared that the day the draft lottery was to be held, June 5, would be a legal holiday. (Ibid., 5-25-17 p. 1) At Auburn's Terminal Theatre, a crowd of 400 or more spilled out into the street to hear a speech in support of the draft by Representative Paul Houser and to listen to the wife of Auburn's car dealer sing the Star Spangled Banner. Elsewhere, 40 women of Auburn met to found a chapter of the American Red Cross. (Ibid., 4-6-17 p. 1) Members of the Commercial Club, the City Council and people across the town drafted resolutions in support of President Woodrow Wilson's call to ...Make the world safe for democracy.

Soon the Globe-Republican would be printing Wilson's Appeal to the Nation. In it, the President asked for the support of the nation to get through the tremendous crisis at hand. One of the sections of the appeal was entitled Eyes on the Middlemen. (Ibid., 4-20-17 p. 2) The middlemen the President singled out were America's railway laborers and managers. ...The railways are the arteries of the nation's life and upon them rests the immense responsibility of seeing to it those arteries suffer no obstruction... (Ibid., 4-20-17 p. 2) Given the situation, it was a tall order. America's rail systems, already handling the most traffic they had ever seen, were straining under the massive demand. The railroads' customers demanded cars, cars for manufactured goods, for crops, for coal, iron and oil, and for passengers, as well as for the materiel of war. The railroads had not built an equipment fleet equal to that demand and now that mobilization had come to America, the material that might have been used to build rolling stock would be diverted into bullets, rifles and ships. The cars the systems had on hand would now have to stand up to the wear and tear of very hard service for the duration.

In the crises of the car shortage, some systems had taken to keeping cars from other roads 'captive.' In an attempt to get those cars back, and more importantly, keep the cars they had left some systems, including the Northern Pacific, had begun to embargo. With over 25,000 box cars alone when America entered the war, the Northern Pacific had just taken a fair percentage out the cars available for interchange nationwide, as well as created a huge snarl of congestion. (N. P. Ry. Co. Twenty-First Annual Report, 12-31-17 p. 9) America's entry into World War I exasperated one other major problem the railroads were already beginning to feel, the critical shortage of workers (A testimony to this fact is the fact that work on one of the NP's major double-tracking projects in Montana came to a stop for over two months due to the lack of laborers alone). (N. P. Ry. Twenty-Second Annual Report, 1918 p. XX)

J. J. M. and the N. P. Get Progressive with a 'New' Policy

Already hemorrhaging employees at Auburn Yard, the NP was about to lose more. Only now, rather than losing skilled workers to higher-paying jobs in the mills, machine shops and shipyards of Seattle and Tacoma, the Railway would be losing its workers to the low play and lousy food of the armed services. Almost as soon as the declaration of war was announced, NP men in Auburn were enlisting. The yard office alone contributed callers Claude Diamond, Les Gove and Bugs Von Lossow, Night Chief Weighmaster Merle Keyser and Night Checker Charles Elliott. (Auburn Globe-Republican, 4-13-17 p. 1) The Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen joined in by pledging that the union would protect the membership, insurance, seniority and promotion rights of those in its ranks who entered the armed services. (Ibid., 4-20-17 p. 1) By the end of that April the yard had already begun to feel the pinch. In addition to replacing the men who had enlisted, they had yet to find enough workers to relay rails in the yard. The section gang of 50 men dismissed in March, solely because they stood up for one of their own, must have looked like a luxury the Railway could ill-afford to repeat in retrospect. (Ibid., 4-27-17 p. 4) Beginning in May, the NP would be taking steps to remedy this crisis.

On May 2 Superintendent McCullough issued a circular describing what was to be done. All employing officers are to make full use of female help in offices and elsewhere where women can do the work instead of male employees. To that end present employees are requested to present application from their female relatives and in all vacancies and new positions no male applications are to be employed when female help can be obtained to do the work required: callers, clerks, checkers, time keepers, all office and desk work, or any other work can do and are willing to do. It was quite a bombshell. The Superintendent ended with another. Female employees are to receive the same salary and the same working conditions such as promotions, now given to males and are to be given any assistance to enable them to become familiar with the duties they assume. (Ibid., 5-4-17 p. 8)

At the Northern Pacific's bastion of west-end manhood, the massive backshop at South Tacoma, the Railway might as well have told the crews there that it was going to give all their jobs to a screaming horde of Wobblies and Bolsheviks. The shop men did not wait long to voice disapproval about the imminent arrival of the fairer sex to their stomping grounds. Taking flight from reality, they issued a statement which read in part There is no shortage of men- if the Railway would pay a living wage. The employment of women was simply another greedy capitalist plot ...A sinister attempt to bring down the existing wage scales and lower the standard of living of American wage workers. They closed with a statement that was probably the crux of the matter, at least as they saw it. Such a course must inevitably degrade and debase the home life of the nation and wreck it's domestic ideals. South Tacoma had spoken. (Ibid., 6-1-17 p. 8)

South Tacoma's shopmen failed to mention however, that for years preceding the war the Northern Pacific had been hiring women. Not only in clerk's positions, or office stenographers as might be suspected, but as telegraphers and agents as well. Several female telegraphers on the Pacific Division alone had seniority enough to hold steady positions at stations, even as Agent, rather than face the constant movement of working the extra board. They also neglected to mention that in the past two years alone the Northern Pacific had voluntarily, even without a request to do so in many instances, granted no less than half a dozen wage increases to most, if not all of the Railway's crafts. All of those cases the raises may have been nothing more than bold-faced attempts on St. Paul's part to hang on to every last employee possible in the face of a booming economy. But as angry as the craftsmen may have been, they didn't go on strike over the issue and no individual, at South Tacoma or elsewhere, was ever reported to have left company's service because of the 'new' policy.

Auburn, far from cowering in fear at the arrival of women, actually seemed to enjoy the change. As women began to come to the depot, yard office and rip track with applications in hand, the Globe-Republican's railroad reporter gleefully recorded for posterity who came through the door first. Miss Anna Morgan became Agent McKee's first hire and Mrs. R. H. Keene became the first woman at Yardmaster Iversen's yard office. Both hired on within days of the new edict. (Ibid., 5-4-17 p. 8) Foreman Frank Windley at the rip track seemed to have a harder time in both finding and keeping female clerks. Miss Eugenia Uebelacker from Ellensburg hired on in mid-May, only to resign shortly thereafter, to get married. The savvy Foreman fell back on that most time-honored of railroad practices: Nepotism. His new clerk, at least while she was on her summer break from school, would be his daughter Bessie. (Ibid., 6-8-17 p. 8) Whatever the men at South Tacoma might be saying about the new hiring policy, Auburn was embracing it, even changing it conform to long-standing Northern Pacific traditions. Auburn was keeping it a family business.

...Aids to Patriotism... -OR- The Battling Flagpoles

As South Tacoma's furor faded into the overwhelming noise of the business at hand, keeping the trains moving over the road, a new fascination tugged at the yard's collective conscience. On May 9, a giant 75-foot flagpole was raised at the yard office. I. P. Iversen was to make a patriotic address and Weighmaster Clyde Rowe was to sing the Star Spangled Banner, but something went wrong with the scheduling and the pole was erected without these aids to patriotism. At the top, a huge 5 by 8-foot American flag was unfurled. The pole and the flag could be seen from every part of the yard. With the flag's unfurling a competition of sorts got underway. (Ibid., 5-11-17 p. 4) On May 11, W. J. Gregoire and his associates at the transfer shed unveiled their own flagpole, 125 feet high with a 14-foot flag. (Ibid., 5-18-17 p. 8) There is more or less a spirit of rivalry among the different departments of the NP forces. (Ibid., 5-27-17 p. 8) The competition was growing fierce. Next it was time for the roundhouse to weigh in. Like the yard office, the dedication of the roundhouse's flagpole came without ...The formality of oratory or pyrotechnics but filled with genuine patriotic impulse. The flagpole itself, a mere 102 feet, was not the tallest, but not to be outdone the roundhouse crew had surmounted it with something novel, a halo lit by electric lights, coupled with a ten by 18-foot flag. ...The banner made an impressive picture as it floated from its proud height. (Ibid., 6-8-17 p. 8)

Wartime also brought changes to the NP's passenger service. In spring, Vice-President George T. Slade announced that the Railway would cut through-train service between Seattle and St. Paul to one train a day. His rationale was To discourage pleasure trips and expedite handling of troops and supplies. (Ibid., 5-4-17 p. 8) There would be another casualty of war to passenger service, the pride of NP dining cars and the Publicity Department's moniker, the Great Big Baked Potato. It was to be taken out of service as ...An economic war measure. Clearly, having to carry all those oversized spuds was slowing down the North Coast Limited. (Ibid., 5-11-17 p. 4)

Concurrently with the NP's money-saving baked potato moves, the employee's vegetable plots in Auburn Yard again made the papers. One in particular drew the attention of the reporter on the railroad beat, that of Agent McKee. J. W. McKee thinks being a Potato King is a job that is likely to be overworked this summer so he is laying on plans to be a Bean King. He has about an acre under cultivation south of the ice house and has gone heavy on the beans: Navy beans, Butter beans, Kidney beans, String beans, Stringless beans, Boston beans, Porkand beans, Mexican beans. Every kind of beans Mac ever heard of he has planted. He sent for his father-in-law, D. C. Pretty of Mount Vernon, and he will take active charge of the bean farm while Mac loafs around the depot and tells how he is cutting down the high cost of beans. (Ibid., 5-25-17 p. 8)

McKee would not be loafing for long. In May American railroads, including the NP, went to the Interstate Commerce Commission to ask for an across-the-board 15 percent rate hike. The NP claimed that the Adamson eight-hour law had cost four million dollars in wage increases and war-time inflation had added two million dollars to fuel costs. To all this the ICC simply said 'no.' (Ibid., 5-25-17 p. 2) (Ibid., 7-6-17 p. 2)

Despite the costs the Railway continued spending a fortune to keep its employees. Beginning May 1, Road Foremen of Engines and Yardmasters had their salaries increased. (Ibid., 5-4-17 p. 8) Next up was a ten percent bonus on wages paid between January 1 and July 1 was granted to all employees ...Except those whose rates are fixed by collective agreements... those earning over $3,000 per year or $1,500 in six months. System-wide this was a pay out of $750,000, more than had been spent by the NP to build its facilities in Auburn just four years ago. In the same swoop the low-wage workers at the transfer shed found themselves receiving another wage boost. The lowest paid moved from $2.25 a day to $2.50, the top of the scale moving up to three dollars per day. (Ibid., 5-18-17 p. 8) The main reason behind these dramatic raises was the run-away increase of the cost of living.

May also saw a full-scale wheat rush underway, with 100 cars a day hustling through Auburn. (Ibid., 5-15-17 p. 8) At the same time the yard was setting a new upper limit on the total number of cars handled in twenty-four hours. Over two thousand cars flew through on May 28, as many as hand been handled in the proceeding two weeks combined. (Ibid., 6-1-17 p. 8) The Globe-Republican's reporter repeated the word heard around the yard ...It is predicted that May's showing in all departments will be a record-breaker by big odds. Anyone who thought they would get a break from railroading was clearly fooling themselves. Nothing short of death or serious sickness will get a man a leave of absence in the yards now-a-days. (Ibid., 6-1-17 p. 8) From June 22 to June 26, eastbound traffic over the hill continued to skyrocket. Ten manifest trains a day left Auburn yard. In the palmiest days gone by six or seven was considered a big rush, but the demand now on freight traffic is the greatest in the history of the company. (Ibid., 6-29-17 p. 5)

August saw something new on the NP's lines, troop trains. On August 1 a train for the Army's cantonment at American Lake (Present day Fort Lewis) passed through Auburn in three sections. (Ibid., 8-3-17 p. 5) Another, again in three sections, came through town on August 8. (Ibid., 8-10-17 p. 5) All of this was making some of the NP's employees a bit irritable. I. P. Iversen, when asked about how the yard was doing by the Globe-Republican's railroad reporter replied I've got 20 minutes to do an hour's work in, so you'll have to excuse me. Come around after the war's over and I'll visit with you. (Ibid., 7-6-17 p. 5) Others bolstered their spirits with more artistic pursuits. It had become one of the yard's minor traditions that was even now managing to hold up against the stress and strain of war, the rip track office's flower garden. The flower garden that is carefully tended by the force about the car department office brightens the view of travelers as they pass through the Auburn yards. In the garden are nine variety of blooms: sweet peas, hollyhocks, nasturtiums and others the names of which are known only to the experts who cultivate them. (Ibid., 8-31-17 p. 5)

The Timber Strike

In the month that America entered the war a strike began which was to have repurcussions across a broad segment of the Pacific Northwest's economy. On April 17 in eastern Washington and northern Idaho, loggers began walking off the job for an eight hour day. It took three months for the strike to spread to the heart of the timber industry, western Washington. But spread it did, and on July 16 more than 20,000 timber workers were out, after mill owners had refused negotiation or arbitration. (Berner, pp. 241-5)

It was led by two unions, the American Federation of Labor, and a group that was very strong in the northwestern woods; the Industrial Workers of the World. The I.W.W. had a strong following and was much beloved by timber workers, but had the unfortunate knack of producing literature which the timber barons and most everyone else viewed as not only inflammatory, but anarchist. The result of this viewpoint was that ...No government agencies would deal with the IWW beacuse of their 'revolutionary aims' instead, they were stimply rounded up. (Berner, pp. 241-5)

Unable to stop the work in the woods entirely, the I.W.W. switched tactics and moved for a work slowdown. The Longshoremen joined the fray by refusing to handle the products of 10-hour mills. Things were no better on the other side of the picket line. ...As a group, employers insisted on uncompromisingly on unilaterally dicating the terms of employment as though it was an immuatable, divine right. The owners were at least as bull-headed as the Wobblies, proved themselves no better at the art of compromise. (Berner, pp. 241-5)

The result was a catastrophe. Seattle's fledgling Boeing Airplane Co. was at this time producing one plane a day. Boeing, as well as airplane builders around the country as across the globe relied on a steady supply of spruce to build their planes, spruce primarily available from the forests of western Washington and spruce whose tenuous supply line was now cut. It took the Federal government to force the issue in two unusual ways. First, with the demand for precious spruce a priority item, the U.S. Army formed the Spruce Production Division, and troops went into the woods to ensure a steady supply. Secondly, with the employers vehemently against dealing with the I.W.W. or the American Federation of Labor, the government sponsored a new union, the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen. By the middle of November the 4-Ls as it came to be known was swearing in 20,000 members into 200 locals the government had set up across the northwest. By the end of February, 1918 workers had returned to the woods and the mill owners capitulated; the eight-hour day had become a reality. (Berner, pp. 241-5) There was a trade off, however. By the summer of 1918 the I.W.W.s were driven out of the woods by the combined action of the Spruce Production Division, 4-Ls and round ups by the aunthorities. As an organization, the IWW practically ceased to exist. But many drifted to the cities where the demand for labor outran supply... (Berner, p. 253) It was a trade off which would not be felt for many months and which would, in the end, contribute mightily to Seattle shipyard's economic downfall.

In the interim however, timber production was in a slump for ten months. The loss to the country, the war effort, the mill owners and the NP was astronomical. Take for example, the Northern Pacific's Grays Harbor Branch. Leaving St. Clair, Washington (Between Tacoma and Olympia) on the Seattle to Portland main line, it travelled 100 miles due west to the town of Moclips on the Pacific Ocean. Twelve mills along this line operated 63 miles of logging railroad and produced 1,635,000 board feet of lumber each and every day. The Grays Harbor Branch, while a strong producer of lumber, was one of only 14 NP branches in western Washington, exclusive of the north-south and east-west main lines of the Seattle and Tacoma Divisions. (The Timberman, p. 47)

Fire One, Switchmen Zero...

Five more women were added to Auburn's payroll that summer. Among them, Irene Epperson became a stenographer at the transfer shed, Elizabeth Hemphill and Lydia Holm hired on as clerks at the yard office. (AuburnGlobe-Republican 6-22-17 p. 5) Still, the shortage of workers continued to make itself felt. Roundhouse laborers Alex McPhee, Jr. and Howard Roe, as well as Hostler Helpers Virgil Murphy, Carl Mull and Clyde Elliott were lost not to the draft, or to higher pay elsewhere, but to Auburn High School. (Ibid., 8-31-17 p. 5) Bessie Windley also resigned so that she could return to her studies at Bellingham Normal School (Now Western Washington University). The slack at the rip track was picked up by Hilda Kelley. (Ibid., 8-3-17 p. 5) Over at the yard office work at the Inbound Train Desk was eased by the arrival of Helen Spaight. (Ibid., 8-24-17 p. 8) As the yard lost workers to the schools around western Washington it also lost a few special agents, mainly due to their own negligence. In the middle of the night Special Agent J.K. Jensen stepped off an Everett-bound freight only to fall through a bridge deck, breaking his leg. Later that fall Special Agent C. H. Rose, cleaning an 'unloaded' revolver, somehow managed to shoot himself through the left thumb. (Ibid., 9-14-17 p. 5)

The NP's Special Agents were not the only ones hurting. On December 4, at 5 A.M., Auburn Yard's switchmen lost their shanty. The fire was discovered shortly after the night crew had lunched and left their rain-soaked apparel hanging about a right good fire to dry. Not only were these garments dried beyond recognition, but likewise the contents of the 30-odd lockers containing the working suits of sever men on duty at the time. Otherwise the loss is insignificant. The shanty was a collection of bad-ordered boxes that were still in bad order and should long ago have had the attention of the Health Officer. It was more appropriately dubbed 'The Snake House' by its occupants. (Ibid., 12-7-17 p. 4)

The year had nearly ended when St. Paul announced yet another round of wage increases. Crews at the rip track would receive a five-cent-an-hour increase as of July 1, as well as a nine hour day. Few at the rip track would actually be able to stay just nine hours on their jobs, so those running over would be earning time-and-a-half for ten hours and more. Employees not covered by collective agreements would be getting another ten percent increase on January 1, 1918. (Ibid., 7-6-17 p. 5)

The End of the Line

There was one more surprise that December, the last for 1917. On December 27 came the news that American railroads were no longer on their own. All the important American systems, from the Northern Pacific to the Pennsylvania Railroad were now under the control of the Federal government's Director General of Railroads, William G. McAdoo. Nationalization, in the form of the United States Railroad Administration, had arrived.

Author: John A. Phillips, III. Title: Auburn 1916-1917 ...to Stoppage. URL: www.netcom.com/~whstlpnk/stoppage.html.

© March 20, 2002