N.P. Ry.

"From Railway to Railroad..."

The Northern Pacific Railway and the United States Railroad Administration at Auburn Yard during World War One, 1918


The United States Railroad Administration had been organized under an act of Congress back in March of 1917, to be enacted only if the railroad situation worsened. From 1914 to 1918 the Great War had created a car shortage, a personnel shortage, a material shortage and a runaway escalation in the cost of living. By the closing days of 1917, every one of these problems was exasperated, and would soon become very bleak indeed, as America itself mobilized for war. Nationalization began precisely at noon on December 28, 1917.

The first tenent of nationalization was that beginning January 1, 1918, all profits beyond operating expenses would be paid into in a revolving fund at the U.S. Treasury. Out of this same fund all deficits would be made up. Second, the lines taken over would be returned in the same physical and equipment status as of January 1, 1918. Third, all addition and betterment costs during nationalization were chargeable on a percentage basis to the roads and the government. Finally, all roads would be paid an individual rate, a rental price of sorts, based on their earnings from the average of three years ending June 30, 1917. (Daggett, Stuart Principles of Inland Transportation New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1934, p. 648)

Under the control of the USRA came each and every system of transportation in the country, including railroads, terminals, terminal companies, terminal associations, sleeping and parlor cars, private cars and private car lines, elevators, warehouses, telegraph and telephone lines and ...All equipment used as part of such a rail or combined rail and water systems of transportation. In one fell swoop the Railroad Administration gobbled up 241,194 miles of railroad from a grand total of 253,626. (Ibid., pp. 645-6) While the direct control descended from the Director General of Railroads through a long series of managers to the common laborer out on the line, it was not a change in the ownership of the railroads. The USRA's primary purpose was operating control and the formulation of general policies. One of Director General McAdoo's first acts to assist in the formulation of these policies was to appoint a four member commission chaired by Franklin K. Lane. The Lane Commission's task was to study wage issues confronting the railroads. For this, McAdoo gave them four months. (Ibid., p. 657)

Goodbye to the Great Big Baked Potato Killer

In Auburn and the Pacific Northwest the fourth year of World War One began with the Northern Pacific shuffling papers and personnel. The coming of the USRA caused the Railway to find itself a railroad again. Across the Railway Railroad Administration stamps reading 'Northern Pacific Railroad' were slammed down in red ink across company letterheads. In Seattle, Puget Sound Division Superintendent J. J. McCullough was transferred to the service of the USRA. To replace him the Northern Pacific promoted J. W. Allen, Agent at Seattle for 20 years. (Auburn Globe-Republican, 1-11-18 p. 8)

As the NP and the USRA played musical chairs with the road's managers, more tangible events were taking place. At Auburn, Greek and Italian section crews began laying temporary tracks to the coal bunker. These would be used to unload some ten thousand tons of coal stored in cars at the yard. (Ibid., 1-11-18 p. 8) Another construction project was going on at the south end of the yard. A gantry crane capable of lifting 25 tons under steam power, or a magnet capable of lifting three tons, was being assembled. (Ibid., 1-18-18 p. 8) While these projects were underway, the work force was increasing at Auburn. Roundhouse Foreman Alex McPhee's new stenographer was Laura Babcock, formerly of Cle Elum. Keeping with NP tradition, she was the niece of Storekeeper Askew. As Ms. Babcock arrived so did an additional 15 to 20 switchmen and trainmen, transferred from points on the NP in the middle west. (Ibid., 1-25-18 p. 8)

These crews were arriving as others were leaving, primarily for war service. Early in the year a bulletin was issued calling for 281 men to fill positions in the Railway Service of the Army. The positions ranged from Assistant General Manager with the rank of major, to Extra Gang Foreman with the rank of sergeant, and pay scales from $250 to $60 per month. (Ibid., 2-15-18 p. 8) No doubt the home office was worried about yet another drain on the Railway's pool of skilled managers. Such fears were well-founded, as Vice-President George T. Slade, notorious killer of the NP's Great Big Baked Potato, quickly volunteered. He was sent to France as a Lieutenant Colonel with the title of Deputy Director of Transportation. (Ibid., 2-15-18 p. 8) One of Auburn's former railroaders, George A. Kenrick, who had supervised the NP's construction forces during the building of the shop and yards in town, was already in France as a Lieutenant with the Army's 18th Engineers. Letters home relayed that he was still receiving his weekly editions of the Globe-Republican, and was following them closely enough to learn that an old friend in nearby Algona was shingling his roof. (Ibid., 2-15-18 p. 8)

Not everyone would be sent to Europe, however. By the time former Vice-President Slade was crossing the Atlantic, Auburn's Boiler Foreman Benjamin C. King, as well as former NP Superintendent Thomas H. Lantry were already in Vladivostok, doing service with the Russian Railway Commission. (Ibid., 2-1-18 p. 1) Some 19 Auburn trainmen had enlisted by March. This was something special however, as each was assigned to the Army's 31st Engineers. The men joining this outfit would be led by a familiar face, local Trainmaster Fred Brastrup. (Ibid., 3-15-18 p. 8) The last of the Auburn railroaders to join the 31st Engineers was Conductor Harvey Compton. Found at Seattle's Fort Lawton to be too heavy for his height, a special order was eventually made admitting him to service. In late April he left for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to join his co-workers from the NP. (Ibid., 4-26-18 p. 8) Another five NP men from Auburn, ranging from operators to engineers, were also shipping out, nearly all of whom would be going overseas to run more trains. (Ibid., 1-11-18 pp. 1, 8) Across the country the Army alone had already swelled to over a million and a half men, six times as many as had gone to the Spanish-American War; in Washington nearly 20,000 men had answered the call to arms. (Ibid., 1-25-18 pp. 3, 7)

Those not leaving the Railway for overseas duty in the Army were in a home front caught in the grips of spiraling inflation. At the end of January the Department of Labor announced that the cost of living had increased 23 percent in the span of one year. Among foodstuffs, corn meal led off with an increase of 87 percent over the same period. Bacon followed a distant second, climbing 62 percent, followed by beans, at 39 percent and milk, with a 33 percent increase in cost. Only potatoes, staple of the Auburn Yard vegetable plots, had shown a decrease. Corn meal, on the other hand, had increased 127 percent in price from the closing months of 1913 to the end of 1917. (Ibid., 1-25-18 p. 7)

Situation Normal...

During the closing months of 1917 Seattle's Skinner & Eddy had launched its first ship for the Emergency Fleet Corporation. During the opening months of 1918 Skinner & Eddy redoubled their efforts to help the EFC build an American merchant marine. From January to April, eight ships slid down the ways and into the waters of Puget Sound for the EFC. Skinner & Eddy, and Seattle, were on their way. By the middle of 1918 the shipyard had won a $100 million dollar contract to build the government's ships. By the end of the war, Skinner & Eddy would build more ships for the EFC than any other yard in the nation. (Berner, p. 179) Seattle itself would launch 26.5 per cent of all the ships purchased by the EFC. Its shipyards employed 35,000 people, and to recruit scarce workers the shipyards offered wage incentives. (Berner, p. 273) Never, it seemed, could the NP and Auburn benefit from the business boom without also being threatened by it.

In Auburn, January was not without its problems. NP officials came to town to look into claims that local shippers, rather than pay no demurrage by returning a car quickly to service, preferred to pay the two dollar rate and unload a car at their own pace, aggravating the car shortage. (Auburn Globe-Republican, 1-18-18 p. 8) To spur the shippers on, demurrage rates had been bumped up a dollar a day by the end of the month. (Ibid., 1-25-18 p. 8) On the morning of January 14, a Monday, a rash of accidents occurred. Calls for three different wrecks came in as fast as the train dispatcher could call. It seemed to be crowding things a little too much. Calls on trains that had left the rails at Dudley, (near Cle Elum) Easton and Palmer Junction were reported in a span of just ten minutes and wrecking crews from Auburn and Tacoma soon headed east. (Ibid., 1-18-18 p. 8) By the 25th, two more wrecks had occurred. Extra 1507 West, with 70 loads of coal struck another westbound at Byrd siding in a heavy fog. The head end crew of the 1507 jumped clear, as did the rear-end crew of the other train. Engine 1507s smokebox was stove in, but not before it sailed through the caboose and two boxcars ahead, the latter of which was unfortunately a load of rifles for Camp Lewis. The two trains had left Kanaskat to the east just seven minutes apart. (Ibid., 1-25-18 p. 8) At 6:30 A.M. on January 24 a car dynamited in a train over the Palmer Cut-Off, just miles out of Auburn. This caused five carloads of steel to run through a string of empty boxes forward. For the next 24 hours all trains were detoured over the slower route of the Buckley Line. (Ibid., 1-25-18 p. 8)

February saw the NP trying something new in the yard. A contract was let to W. M. Miller & Sons to fill the coal bunkers, ice house and clean the cinder pit. The work however, would still be done by the same men, primarily Greek and Italian immigrants. (Ibid., 2-1-18 p. 8) Before the contract workers began shoveling cinders scoopful by scoopful out of the pit, a crew arrived to clean up the yard. Coming from Chicago in two day coaches, an extra gang of 80 to 90 Italian laborers arrived February 3. While the cleanliness of the yard was a prime consideration, their arrival forced the rip track to stop all work and concentrate instead on fixing up bunk cars for the gang. (Ibid., 2-8-18 p. 8)

They arrived in the midst of Auburn's continuing chaos. No less than 15 crews, a record for Auburn, were at work on turns based at the yard in a desperate attempt to keep up with the flood of traffic in and out of Seattle and Tacoma. Auburn's wrecking crew was even busier, if such a thing was possible. Between derailments and the menial task of picking up war material dumped along the right-of-way, the crew had racked up 549 hours of work in the month of January, or 17 hours of service per man over just 31 days. (Ibid., 2-1-18 p. 1)

The crews at the roundhouse, shorthanded even before America's entry into the war, were being run just as ragged. This strain sometimes cropped up in dangerous ways. Engine Inspector Otto Milley found himself laid off due to a scalded foot. While he was checking out an engine, someone forgot he was at work and turned on an injector, filling his shoe with escaping steam and water and severely burning his foot. (Ibid., 2-1-18 p. 8) Other news from around the yard was a little more humorous. Progress had come to Auburn's roads. The green flag which Flagman Morgan has been accustomed to directing traffic at the NP's First Street crossing has been supplanted by an oval metal sign, upon which is printed in heavy, bass-voice letters, the word 'Stop!' And believe us, when Morgan flashes that sign it checks the most reckless speed fiend. (Ibid., 2-8-18 p. 8)

As Inspector Milley recovered and Flagman Morgan stopped speeders, the NP continued to expand the yard facilities. Early in March Saint Paul approved a group of new offices to be scattered about the yard. A new 24 by 60-foot yard office was to be built, along with a new 30 by 60-foot transfer office. The present yard office was to be relegated to a switchman's shack and the present transfer office would become a locker for checkers and truckers. (Ibid., 3-1-18 p. 8) However, given the present shortage of materials and workers, it would be lucky if the buildings were started before the war had ended.

Late March and early April saw strings of empties freed from other points pouring into western Washington. In Auburn alone 1,300 empties came off westbounds between April 6 and 10. (Ibid., 4-12-18 p. 8) This slight lessening of the car shortage gave the NP the opportunity to flood the yard with coal. With cars in hand the NP moved some 16,000 tons worth of black diamonds to stockpiles in the yard. While the coal was moving, so were airplane parts. Solid trains of parts and fir for the East were assembled and sent east from Auburn, all under the watchful eyes of government agents. (Ibid., 3-1-18 p. 8) Other special trains were being routed through Auburn. At 3:00 A.M. on April 28 a 42-car special of Asian soy bean oil left Auburn for New York. In April, these shipments increased from three to four cars per day to nearly 60 a week. (Ibid., 4-12-18 p. 8) The same day as the 42-cars of oil left, a 56-car train of government lumber, primarily spruce for aircraft, left Auburn for Buffalo. With a government messenger on board, the train would make the trip in ten days and not be broken up until reaching its final destination. (Ibid., 3-29-18 p. 1)

The New, Improved USRA

In April, after four months of existence, the Railroad Administration began to act. Locally J. J. McCullough, who had been appointed Joint Terminal Agent in Seattle shortly after the formation of the USRA, was now transferred to offices in Chicago. (Ibid., 4-5-18 p. 8) Next, a sliding scale wage increase for both union and non-union workers was announced by the USRA. Workers earning $100 per month would get a $26 increase, workers earning $200 would get just $8, with a cut-off for those making $230 or more per month. (Ibid., 4-19-18 p. 8) Finally, the USRA announced was that while the solid trains of government material would continue, the silk specials, soy bean specials, truck and farm equipment specials would not. All special trains would cease, save for those carrying war material. Not only would the specials cease, so would preferential routings. Goods destined for any given point would be sent over the most efficient routing possible.

This ruling made freight and passenger soliciting departments superfluous, and they were simply ordered closed. On the NP alone there were 32 such offices, with 16 of these being off-line and scattered from Boston and Buffalo to Chicago, Saint Louis, San Francisco and Winnipeg. A wave of personnel cascaded from the closed offices to other points in Operating Department made workers as far away as Auburn fear being 'bumped.' (Northern Pacific Railway Northern Pacific Traffic Representatives, NP Form 5111, Public Time Tables, October 3, 1920, n.p.) The new routing rules, effectively killing the soliciting departments, simultaneously killed publicity departments nationwide. The USRA's order was explicit. (Auburn Globe-Republican, 3-29-18 p. 8) All advertising of luxurious train service, superiority or extraneous matter of any description to stop. (Ibid., 4-12-18 p. 8) As the personnel from these departments were shuffled about the system in search of suitable positions, Roundhouse Foreman Alex McPhee started another wave of women into the workplace at Auburn. Beginning in April, women would move out of the clerk and steno positions into the labor end of the business, as engine wipers. The work is not heavy but dirty and hard on clothing. Twenty-five cents an hour paid to start. (Ibid., 3-29-18 p. 8) Unlike South Tacoma, there was no grumbling. The new help would require a few changes, however. A new room with lockers, hot and cold running water, soap and towels would be up in a week. ...The donning and doffing of overalls and other toggery will hereafter be done there instead of at home. (Ibid., 4-5-18 p. 8) In all, nine women would start work as engine wipers.

...There was a feeling against him here.

In the meantime, the wave of patriotism that had swept the country in the days following President Wilson's call to arms, now began to show signs of a serious undertow. For months, the editorial pages of the Globe-Republican had been filled with vehement anti-Industrial Workers of the World sentiment. Slowly this had enlarged to include anti-German sentiment as well. This showed up not so much in the editorial columns but in the advertisements for the Red Cross and Liberty Bonds. Quite quickly, Germans had become 'Huns.' Some of these attitudes manifested themselves in relatively harmless ways, such as the changing the name of the Germania Hall to the Liberty Hall, but others could be seen in more ominous tones. (Ibid., 4-19-18 p. 1) On April 20, NP Carman Luther Webber, a German immigrant who spoke only broken English, was found at nearby Wynaco. In the process of leaving Auburn to live with relatives in Seattle, he had been jumped by a gang of men, bound up, then tarred and feathered. The Globe-Republican reported simply ...There was a feeling against him here. (Ibid., 4-26-18 p. 1) Unlike the Wobblies, subject to weekly harangues in the editorial pages but who never amounted to much in Auburn, the Globe-Republican had no scorn for these home-grown vigilantes.

The Spring of 1918 seemed to be filled with bad news for the railroaders in town. At 8:30 P.M. on March 31 Great Northern train 426 failed to stop at a red block and struck the caboose and two rear-end gondolas of Brakeman A. J. Kingston's freight, still holding the main just north of the yard limit. Kingston had been trying to flag the 426 when he was struck by the engine, his body was later found under one of the gondolas. (Ibid., 4-5-18 p. 1) Barely a month had gone by before another deadly accident took place. On April 29 Boilermaker Helper Joseph Gerarden and Boilermaker C. J. Coughlin were in the cab of 1523 testing a wash out plug when it gave way, filling the cab with steam. Coughlin managed to get out of the cab quickly and was not seriously injured, but Gerarden was badly burned about the head. He was given first aid and sent home to recuperate. By the next day he had been sent to the Northern Pacific Beneficial Association hospital in Tacoma, but died shortly thereafter. (Ibid., 5-3-18 p. 1) Fortunately, not all the work around the yard was lethal, some was merely embarrassing. Clyde Rowe caught his foot under a rail while crossing the tracks Tuesday and fell full-length on the opposite rail. He has a swollen lip, several teeth missing, an enlarged nose and otherwise a generally disreputable look, but is able to be at work. (Ibid., 4-19-18 p. 8)

Spring acted more like its usual self in other parts of the yard. This year's production is expected to be larger than last, for many amateur gardeners of last season are now professionals. (Ibid., 4-5-18 p. 8) Crews from the rip track would be lucky if they ever saw their "war gardens" however, as they were going to a ten hour day on May 1. (Ibid., 5-3-18 p. 8) May also saw the extra gang from Chicago, sent to clean the yards, pressed into service as stevedores. (Ibid., 5-3-18 p. 8) In addition, the yard's switchmen again found themselves without a home. An outfit car set out behind the yard office for their use caught fire in late May and burned to the ground. It was the second shanty they had seen destroyed in six months. The score was now fire two, switchmen zero. (Ibid., 5-24-18 p. 8)

Road crews, depleted by men leaving for the armed services, were being augmented, according to the Globe-Republican, from some unusual sources. John Shurber is a new fireman on the NP running out of Auburn. He formerly was a vaudeville performer, trick bicyclist and appeared at the Palace Hippodrome last January. The cost of transporting his excess baggage grew to such an extent that he was forced to give up his theatrical work. (Ibid., 5-10-18 p. 8) The roundhouse was just as short, lacking in early June no less than six machinists. Though Foreman McPhee had filled many positions with women and high school students, his was still at a terrible competitive disadvantage when it came to wages. Even Seattle longshoremen were making more than some of his most skilled craftsmen. (Ibid., 6-7-18 p. 8) The Globe-Republican continued to report the worker shortage, though the railroad reporter kept it tongue-in-cheek. As an example of how hard it is for the railway companies to keep laborers, it is cited that at Argo the section crew consists of the Foreman only, who is kept busy filling switch lights, keeping rail plates tight and numerous other odd jobs that ordinarily is below the dignity of a Foreman. His crew has gone to the shipyards. (Ibid., 6-7-18 p. 8)

June saw another employment record. As Car Foreman Frank Windley escorted his wife to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for surgery, he appointed Hilda Kelly to be Acting Foreman in his absence. She became the only woman to be the Foreman of any department at Auburn in 68 years of NP operations. (Ibid., 6-7-18 p. 8) She quipped in one of the Globe-Republican's ' Half-Minute Interviews' that The reason why there isn't so much news in the railroad yards since the women have got to working is because they do their work, observe 'Safety First' rules, and everything runs smoothly. (Ibid., 10-25-18 p. 1) It was a statement her co-worker Clyde Rowe was quick to elaborate upon. The real reason of why there isn't as much news in the railroad yards as there used to be is that the men are busy checking up the errors made by the women employees, and haven't time to get out any news. (Ibid., 11-1-18 p. 8)

While Foreman McPhee searched for machinists and Foreman Kelly kept the rip track running smoothly, former Boiler Foreman and now Lieutenant Ben King, working as a supervisor on the Chinese Eastern Railway, wrote home from Harbin, Manchuria. I am stationed at the large repair shop here and the department I am in employs 200 men, the entire plant employing about 15,000 people, it being about the largest outside of Petrograd. They have a store room here with a stock worth about $7.5 million rubles. If McPhee had what they have here in this store room he would be happy. (Ibid., 6-14-18 p. 1) He would, as Auburn's own store house seldom handled more than $15,000 worth of parts and material per month, with roughly $35,000 worth on hand at any given time. (Ibid., 3-29-18 p. 8)

As for 15,000 workers, Auburn was having a hard time keeping a hundred. June 18, a Monday, started with the entire force of truckers and stevedores failing to show up for work at the Transfer Shed. The Globe-Republican blithely reported that the ...Handling of freight was seriously hindered. It looked as though the situation was to get worse before getting better. ...They don't intend to work until they have some definite answer to their request for higher wages. The stevedores were asking for the same rates as were paid in Seattle, fifty to sixty-five cents an hour. Presently the NP paid twenty-seven and a half cents an hour for the same work. One hundred men had walked out Monday and Tuesday the NP brought in 50 men from Seattle. By Thursday 25 of the original men had returned and the rest were expected back on the job by the end of the week. (Ibid., 6-21-18 p. 8) Within two weeks the NP was announcing that the number of freight handlers at the Transfer Shed was being increased to 235. (Ibid., 6-29-18 p. 8) And so it went.

The Cinderellas

At the roundhouse, the bad luck continued. Starting with a shortage of six machinists in spring, by summer McPhee was faced with a shortfall of 32 workers from the regular force, with no relief in sight. Shipyards were now paying no less than two dollars a day more to skilled workers, a great lure considering the rampant increase in the cost of living. (Ibid., 6-21-18 p. 8) Still, the shipyards of Seattle's Skinner & Eddy could not compete with the NP's Auburn roundhouse for sheer excitement. July 11 saw oil in a pit below one of the Mallet's catch fire. The cab of the big behemoth quickly filled with flames, which were just as quickly extinguished by sand and the smooth responses of Foreman Miller and Hostler Joe Phillips. (Ibid., 7-12-18 p. 8)

Yard Section Foreman White turned to a novel approach to find workers: advertising. He was more successful than he could have imagined, as he attempted to and succeeded in the creation of an all-woman section gang. Thirty-five women responded to the call, creating a section gang filled out by banker's daughters, lawyer's daughters, and ...Fourteen married women. (Ibid., 7-19-18 p. 8) The job, shoveling cinders, coal, clearing the yard of debris and other maintenance paid $2.75 for an eight-hour day. This worked out to thirty-four cents an hour to start, six-and-a-half more than the women engine wipers employed at the roundhouse. (Ibid., 7-5-18 p. 8)

The women on the section gang were soon attracting attention from every quarter, on and off the property. The male employees about the yard refer to the new lady section gang as 'The Cinderellas,' possibly because they shovel cinders, though there isn't a girl by the name of Ella in the whole bunch. (Ibid., 7-12-18 p. 8) When you hear an especially wild burst of cheering as troop trains and drafted men go through the yards here it is for when the men have discovered Foreman White's gang of 'Cinderellas.' Some of the girls have developed rheumatism in one arm from waving so much as the boys go by. (Ibid., 7-26-18 p. 8)

July saw other important events take place. J. J. McCullough returned from the USRA in Chicago to become Terminal Superintendent of the entire Puget Sound region. (Ibid., 7-12-18 p. 8) His return brought praise from the Globe-Republican's railroad reporter. Local railway men are pleased to know they are again to be under the direct supervision of 'J. J. M.' whose knowledge of railroad terminal work and whose grasp of detail and aggressive policies have won the respect and admiration of hundreds of men who work under his direction. (Ibid., 7-12-18 p. 8)

However, foremost on everyone's minds was the immanent arrival of checks for the Railroad Administration's mandated back pay. This was the pay-off from the USRA's sliding scale announcement from months before, with the lowest paid getting the largest increases. (Ibid., 7-12-18 p. 8) Not everyone was enamored with the extra pay. ...There is one much flabbergasted individual because of these checks, and he became more so when the February and March back pay checks commenced to cover him up this week. The grieved one is Freight Agent Lonnie Smith, who has suffered such an attack of paycheckitis that he had to take a layoff and recuperate at Pacific Beach over Sunday. These extra paychecks are sent by the Treasurer's Office to the point where the man last worked at the time the back pay is figured and in the past six months there have been many changes. Checks sent here have to be forwarded to Interbay, Pasco, Kanaskat and all points between here and Hellandgone for delivery. By the time the other three months' back pay arrive here Paymaster Smith will be about as calm and placid as a bunch of squirrels in a filbert orchard. (Ibid., 7-19-18 p. 8) While the NP began paying out the millions mandated by the USRA, Paymaster Smith slipped into the doldrums. To the Half Minute Interviews, he complained They used to sing a song 'Every Day Will Be a Sunday By and By,' which indicated the coming of a grand and glorious epoch when everybody would be happy. We have pretty near reached it around the freight depot since the Company commenced issuing back pay checks, for every day is payday nowadays, only we of the paying department don't have that grand and glorious feeling that the old-fashioned song prophesied. (Ibid., 8-9-18 p. 3) No sooner had the back payments begun than the USRA raised the rates again. Boilermakers, Blacksmiths, First Class Electricians, Machinists, Molders and Sheet Metal workers were all to get sixty-eight cents an hour. Carmen and Second Class Electricians were to get fifty-eight cents an hour, and all helpers would move up to forty-five cents an hour. Additionally, Foremen paid on an hourly basis were to get a five-cent-an-hour increase over their respective crafts' rates. Foremen paid on a monthly basis would get an increase of $40 per month. (Ibid., 7-26-18 p. 1)

As the town floated on the sudden rush of cold cash, a noticeable improvement could be seen in many quarters. Yardmaster I. P. Iversen is now cavorting around in a young Tin Lizzie of the Henry variety. He maintains that the bug belongs to his two sons but it is noticed that Iver polishes it up with his handkerchief and stands off and gazes admiringly at it as though he also had a proprietary interest. (Ibid., 7-12-18 p. 8) For Iversen, the coverage of his story had an unexpected return. ...It pays to advertise: during this past week he has received a number of old handkerchiefs from admiring friends who want him to keep his new Henry Stutz bug polished up nicely. (Ibid., 7-19-18 p. 8) Even with the increased pay, the Railway's Foremen were still having trouble keeping up with the lure of the yet higher pay of the shipyards. The rip track, normally staffed with a crew of 75, managed to scrape together only 35 workers in mid-July. (Ibid., 7-19-18 p. 8) Their tenuous position had collapsed by the end of the month. The past week three trains of bad-ordered cars have been moved from the Auburn yards to points on the Montana Division for repair work. Foreman Windley's department is so short-handed as to make it impossible to do all the work asked of them in this territory. (Ibid., 7-26-18 p. 8) Windley's answer was right in hand if he had the sense to see it. While both the roundhouse and the section crew ranks had been quickly filled out by female workers, save for the office, the rip track had never hired women for work. Given the seriousness of the car shortage, the extra trouble it took to move trains of bad-ordered cars to distant points in the middle of the war, as well as the long-standing order to hire women for all possible jobs, it was a serious lapse of judgment on Windley's part not to tap this huge labor pool.

Who the shipyards did not lure away it seemed, the USRA transferred. Beginning July 23 I. P. Iversen was no longer the NP's General Yardmaster at Auburn, a position he had held since before the opening of the yard, but the Railroad Administration's Trainmaster for every terminal between Everett and South Tacoma. Not only would Iversen be overseeing the NP's yards, but the yards of the Milwaukee, Great Northern and Union Pacific as well. J. A. Jeffries was appointed by the NP to take Iversen's place, a man whom the railroaders quickly found had a skeleton in his closet. Dig deep enough into the past of the average man and you will find something that his friends and relatives would just as soon not come to light. Take General Yardmaster J. A. Jeffries for instance. The other day he inadvertently let slip an admission and when pressed for further information admitted, reluctantly, it is true, that one time in his youthful days he played the bass drum, and in a circus band! Then he callously told how he played traps in the orchestra that furnished music for the concert. He has also sold tickets. The ridicule Jeffries would have to put up with over this flap would be less than normal however, as he and his assistants were going from a 12 to an eight hour shift by order of the USRA. In addition to the shorter hours, Jeffries would be getting some help in the form of two additional yardmasters, provided he could find someone to fill the slots. (Ibid., 11-1-18 p. 8)

A Percentage of Americanism:
Auburn Vs. the Liberty Loan

Over at the passenger depot, Agent Jack McKee was having no better a time of it. When Agent McKee was at his busiest handling fruit shipments one evening this week a women complained to him about losing her suitcase which she had left in the waiting room. Mac was as sympathetically solicitous as his busy condition would allow. 'The man in the office said it would be all right to leave it there,' the lady said, following McKee from one express truck to another, 'And now it's gone, and what am I going to do about it?' McKee hadn't seen the baggage and hadn't the slightest idea what had become of it, but between checking berries would try and get some line on it. The longer the lady talked the madder she got and kept repeating that the man in the office said it would be all right to leave her baggage there. Finally she stated that she had come in on a Portland train that arrived here at 10:15 and the mystery was solved! She had left her baggage at the Milwaukee depot six or seven blocks distant and it wasn't much wonder that she couldn't find it at the Northern Pacific. (Ibid., 7-26-18 p. 8)

Nor was the wrecking crew having an easy summer. If you noticed that the war gardens of any of the wrecking crew have been neglected recently, here is the reason. Most of them got in 54 days time during July. Auto agents stay away, for they will buy Liberty Bonds with all this surplus kale... When they get it. (Ibid., 8-2-18 p. 8) They had slacked off a bit though, from 17 hour days down to a mere 14.

While the crews of the yard cursed their lot, foreign dignitaries sang their praises. In late August the NP's General Manager in Seattle, I. B. Richards, arrived with two engineers from the Russian Railway Commission. The two visitors had inspected most of the large railway yards in the U.S., but were particularly impressed with the NP's yards at Auburn saying, It is more efficiently run than the New York Central's yard that handles the business that enters New York City. (Ibid., 8-23-18 p. 8) Sometimes however, efficiency gave way in the face of sheer volume. Late August found westbounds holding sidings on the mainline over Stampede, waiting for the situation to settle enough in the yard to allow their entry. (Ibid., 9-6-18 p. 8)

September brought another change among the various departments at the yard. The roundhouse lost four laborers to Auburn High School as the academic year commenced, while the engine wiper crew was expanded by an additional six women. The section crews were bolstered by 20 Japanese track workers. Gone, it seemed, were the days of Italian, Greek and Bulgarian section crews. (Ibid., 9-6-18 p. 8)

As the end of 1918 and America's first year of involvement in World War One approached, another wave of patriotic fervor broke over the country, and Auburn. That September, the railroad men of the town rallied themselves to support the Fourth Liberty Loan. With Agent McKee as Chairman, they organized into nothing less than a posse, concerned only with a big money round-up for Uncle Sam. They were a model of efficiency, with block lieutenants appointed, four to each block in the residential neighborhoods, as well as larger territories the farther the distance from downtown. The block lieutenants were to see that everyone in their assigned area purchased as many bonds as they were capable of. This will make the organization slacker tight. Having every citizen of the town buy a bond was not enough. A record of each block or district will be made public each week of the drive, showing the percentage of Americanism exhibited in the territory. The railroad men would put up a sign showing boxcars, each to be filled in as the money was collected, with cars being added to fill the train out, reaching Auburn's hoped-for quota of nearly $20 per person in the process. The caboose will give 'high ball' and Auburn is 'Over the Top and on to Berlin.' (Ibid., 9-20-18 p. 1) When the bond drive officially started in the first week of October, Auburn's railroaders managed to push the Fourth Liberty Loan over the town's quota of $126,000 in just eight hours. In the following days of the drive they managed to subscribe over $203,000 in bonds. (Ibid., 11-22-18 p. 1) By Armistice Day, the citizen's of Auburn had contributed over $500,000 towards the cost of the war. (Ibid., 11-22-18 p. 1)

Simultaneously with the running of the bond drive, another patriotic appurtenance appeared in town, the Trophy Train. With a locomotive, two flatcars, a large boxcar and two sleepers, the train was a rolling exhibition of the Western Front. The flat cars held artillery, machine guns, anti-aircraft guns and ordinance. While in the boxcar, all properly labeled, will be seen trench howitzers, mortars, grenades, rifles, shells, helmets, types of armor plate and hundreds of other war relics all captured from the Germans. Arriving on September 30, it was open to the public and free. In the train's half-hour stop in town some 3,000 people visited the train. (Ibid., 9-27-18 p. 1) (Ibid., 10-4-18 p. 1)

When the air is pure, breathe all of it you can.

The winter of 1918 had one more surprise in store for the town's citizens. While they had succeeded in turning around the Puget Sound Division's so-far dismal performance in the NP's system-wide Liberty Bond competition, (The Montana Division having long led all others) they had a much bigger competition in store for them, that of merely staying alive. Since the beginning of the war in Europe, an epidemic of Spanish Influenza, a particularly virulent strain of the flu often followed by pneumonia and death, had slowly been stalking its way westward. Spreading over Europe, then over America's eastern seaboard, by 1918 it had flung itself over the middle west and was soon to the Pacific. In the first weeks of October this tidal wave of disease broke over western Washington. By the end of the month the city would be shut down as the epidemic killed about 20 people a day. Before it had run its course, an estimated 500,000 would succumb to the outbreak. Berner p 276 After Seattle, cases were soon reported in Tacoma and Bremerton, hemming Auburn in. By October 8 twelve cases were reported in town, two severe enough to warrant hospitalization at the NP Beneficial Association's hospital in nearby Tacoma.

In response to the epidemic Auburn's health officer, Dr. H. E. McIntire, ordered drastic precautions taken. All theaters, dance halls, pool halls, card rooms were closed. In addition all public gatherings were prohibited, an order that closed schools and all churches. The Surgeon General weighed in with 12 steps on how to prevent the further spread of the illness. Most of the rules concerned basic hygiene practices, but the last was more along the lines of a home remedy. When the air is pure, breathe all of it you can. (Ibid., 9-27-18 p. 2) In Auburn, the situation was aggravated by the lack of the serum used to fight the disease, most of which was being sent to Seattle to vaccinate crowded neighborhoods. Auburn, and most other small towns, would have to wait. (Ibid., 10-11-18 p. 1)

Within a week, even with all the precautions being taken, the number of cases in town had risen to 17. The first few residents had started succumbing to the disease as well. With the high percentage of NP employees in town, it was almost inevitable they would be the first to fall. Strangely, the disease killed 34-year-old engineer W. W. Wolters first, a man reported to be in fine health. He would be followed by just mere weeks by his brother and fellow NP engineer Charles Wolters. (Ibid., 11-1-18 p. 8) By the end of the month Dr. McIntire was reporting three new cases a day. Which should be sufficient warning to all to exercise most diligent care lest the disease reach the epidemic stage. (Ibid., 10-25-18 p. 1) While the epidemic further thinned the working ranks of the NP in some areas, it was creating a surplus in other areas. Duncan McPhee, son of Foreman McPhee found the closing of the high school a chance to work as a clerk in the storehouse. (Ibid., 10-18-18 p. 8) As citizens tried to go about their daily business wearing surgical masks for protection, life began to get a bit comical. Charles Cavanaugh, owner of the local hardware store, was stopped in the street by the Globe-Republican's editor and quipped Don't you think I look like Fatima with this mask on? Dave Griffiths, a roundhouse worker, had more important things on his mind. There is nothing to that report about me being dead. I'm too busy just at this time, though I am not taking any chances. (Ibid., 11-1-18 p. 7) In the face of death and disease the town's residents came back laughing.

...I ought to be a gainer.

Then in the midst of the worst health crisis in its history the town began to get downright festive. The Globe-Republican covered both the effect, and the cause. Overseas, in the Kaiser's Germany, things were beginning to collapse. Since October, the Imperial German government had been exchanging notes on peace with the Allies. In the first weeks of October the Army canceled a draft call, a sure sign that the end of the war was in sight. (Ibid., 10-11-18 p. 8) By the middle of the month President Wilson had sent a note requesting the unconditional surrender of Germany. (Ibid., 10-18-18 p. 2) In the first days of November, the rumors coming across the telegraph wires were more than the town could bear. Thus, promptly at 1:00 P.M. on November 8, three days before the armistice, Auburn began celebrating the end of World War I. All businesses have closed and some 3,000 people filled the flag-bedecked streets, while the band played patriotic airs. There were parades of cars, of boy scouts, of girl cadets, of children and their parents, of men and women from the NP's yards. All the whistles, from South Auburn to the [Borden Milk] Condenser; all the church bells, cow bells, belles of the ball, all the noise making devices human ingenuity could create, joined in one air-splitting chorus, acclaiming the glad event. The Globe-Republican went on to report that Auburn made the most of it and is still celebrating as we go to press. (Ibid., 11-8-18 p. 1) Demobilization, one retired General estimated, would only take two years. (Ibid., 11-8-18 p. 1)

Life it seemed, would be getting back to normal. Within days of the armistice, President Wilson had ended the draft calls. At the same time, the flu epidemic finally ran its course. Churches, schools, theaters and public houses were fumigated and re-opened. Dr. McIntire, recovering from the flu, summed up the general mood of the town. It looks to me as though I ought to gain from now on. During my recent sickness I lost my appetite, lost weight, lost sleep, and a lot of things. Last summer the Salvation Army took my clothes, then the Red Cross got all my money, and I never did have much of a reputation to lose, I can't see that I can lose anything else and from now on I ought to be a gainer. In a few months he would be appointed the NP's Company Surgeon at Auburn. (Ibid., 11-15-18 p. 2)

The return to normalcy was accompanied by news from Washington, D. C. From the USRA came an order directing that American railroads, beginning in December, were to begin paying their employees just like the rest of the nation's industries, twice a month. (Ibid., 11-22-18 p. 8) In addition, the USRA announced that railroads would revert to private control in 21 months, unless Congress dictated otherwise. (Ibid., 11-15-18 p. 8) Along with the increased number of paychecks the railroaders, and the rest of the nation, would be getting another national holiday. In late November President Wilson officially re-instated that most American of traditions, Thanksgiving. After the war, the epidemic, and the armistice, it was particularly fitting. (Ibid., 11-22-18 p. 3)

The New Yard Office, or: A Work In Progress

The saga of the new yard office played itself out that winter. The epic struggle against worker shortages, material shortages, and mis-routed equipment had been going on for nearly a year. The momentous question of whether the old yard office would hold together when it was moved has been settled. It did. The move was made Tuesday morning and work of placing the foundation for the new building has been started. (Ibid., 12-27-17 p. 8) After this fast start, the debacle began. After months of waiting, material finally began to arrive in August, in reverse order. First came the brick for the chimney, then some roofing material, plumbing and electric fixtures. Later some gravel, which indicates the structure is to have a concrete foundation. Some office furniture is expected next, and perhaps before the present force dies off the rest of the material will arrive and work will be started. (Ibid., 8-2-18 p. 8) Any hopes of beginning the construction must have soon faded, however. Members of the yard office force experienced the thrill that comes once in a lifetime when they found that a carload of lumber to be used in the construction of the long looked for new yard office had arrived Monday night sometime. Workmen started to unload Tuesday and when the car was about half empty Yardmaster Jeffries made the discovery that nothing was coming out of the car less than two inches in thickness and there were oodles and oodles of four-by-fours and four-by-sixes and other heavy stuff that was better suited for the construction of stock yards or coal bunkers. Inquiry was made in the B&B department and it was found that the wrong car was being unloaded. The brick for the chimney is still on the ground, but the material for the rest of the building is still on the road. (Ibid., 8-23-18 p. 8) By October the news was for the better. Enough material has arrived for the new yard office. It is to be 26 by 60-feet, one story with a private office for the Yardmaster, a partitioned telegraph office, filing room, store room and a clerk's office. (Ibid., 10-11-18 p. 8) Things moved smoothly through October, save for Mother Nature. Interior of the new yard office is being completed, if weather holds. (Ibid., 11-1-18 p. 8) It didn't. Work on finishing up the yard office going slowly. Work was to have been completed by October 15, but three months later looks to be the date of the grand opening. (Ibid., 12-6-18 p. 8) Only in the middle of December did the furniture arrive, ending more than twelve months of anticipation for the crew of the yard office. (Ibid., 12-20-18 p. 8)

What goes Up, Must come Down

Ripples from the slowdown and cessation of hostilities were spreading by mid-November. The slack in traffic caused the lay-off of four chain gang crews over the mountain and rip track crews, working desperately to keep up with the rate of destruction of rolling stock, were cut from a ten-hour-a-day schedule to nine. (Ibid., 11-22-18 p. 8) The slack continued into the next month, with the rip track going to an eight hour day by December 12. (Ibid., 12-20-18 p. 8) They would be able to keep up with their work however, as 87 men were now on Windley's force, an all-time record for the yard. (Ibid., 11-15-18 p. 8)

Even before armistice, the pool of unskilled labor had been growing. The shortage of workers had eased to such an extant that by the beginning of December most of the departments at the yard were up to full strength, to the point of turning away applicants. (Ibid., 12-13-18 p. 8) The Cinderellas, who had quickly become a fixture at the yard, found themselves laid off to a woman within just days of the peace, to be replaced by an all-Japanese immagrent gang. (Ibid., 11-15-18 p. 8) The NP was progressive it seemed, only when it suited Saint Paul. As the women were being laid off the Railway looked for new ways to be progressive. As always, the Globe-Republican's railroad reporter took it in stride. Uptown reports are to the effect that an efficiency expert is now employed at the yard office and that the percentage of efficiency is to be increased materially. (Ibid., 12-6-18 p. 8)

The USRA had one more announcement for 1918, this time coming from Director General McAdoo himself. In letters to the Chairmen of the House and Senate Interstate Commerce Committees, he contradicted his own Administration's declaration of November, by recommending that the Federal government retain control of American railroads for an additional five years, until January 1, 1924. (Ibid., 12-13-18 p. 8)

Author: J. A. Phillips, III. Title: Auburn, 1918. From Railway to Railroad... URL: www.netcom.com/~whstlpnk/torailroad.html.

© March 20, 2002