Tell Tale Extra Ack, Oakes, and the Death of Frank Sauriol
Some catch up items before next week's show. First we have a transcription of the Retirement Party pamphlet for Tacoma Division Chief Dispatcher A.W. Ackley, a local legend with a long history. Second, W. Thomas White of the Hill Reference Library has been kind enough to allow his article on 1880s NP power T.F. Oakes to be reproduced for NP fans. For the hard core researchers among you, Dr. White's Ph.D. thesis on railroad labor troubles in the Pacific Northwest is available through the University of Washington Libraries. Thanks Tom! Finally, seeing Trafton in Larry Schrenk's write up of the Darrington Branch jogged my feeble mind into remembering a story about an incident on the NP at that point: the death of Frank Sauriol.
I hope you enjoy this look at a Chief, a President, and the men on the section.
Mr. A.W. [Austin Webster] Ackley
August 4, 1956
Piano Selections Mrs. R.D. Leary
Introductory Remarks Mr. W.C. [Worthington] Smith [Superintendent, Tacoma Division]
Community Singing Mr. J.J. Schmidt
Comments Mr. W.C. Smith
Piano-Accordion Selections John Philip Ackley
Mr. J.F. [John] Alsip, Retired General Manager [NP]
Mr. S.F. Matousek, Local Chairman, ORT [Organization of Railroad Telegraphers]
Mr. C.C. [Clayton] McLean, Local Chairman, ATDA [American Train Dispatchers Association]
Recognition of Honored Guests
Presentation of Gifts D.B. [Don] McGregor
Adjournment to informal social hour
On August 1, 1956, Mr. A.W. Ackley, Chief Dispatcher, Tacoma office, Northern Pacific Railway, will retire after 46 years railroading, 45 of these years on the Tacoma Division.
This a short paragraph, spelling the termination of a long, successful railroad career; a career he may look back upon with great satisfaction as he now relaxes and enjoys the fruits of his many years' labor.
Austin Webster Ackley was born May 16, 1891 in Aberdeen, South Dakota, the son of a successful lawyer of that region. Under more fortunate circumstances "Ack", undoubtedly would have followed in the footsteps of his father, but he lost his father at an early age and securing a job, rather than an education, became the paramount factor in his young life.
In looking for a job he would like, Ack fell under the spell that gripped so many young men in the early 1900s, the spell of the musical sound put forth by the metal bar of the telegraph sounder, the sounds that brought the news of the world into remote hamlets, the chatter that was conversation with other people hundreds of miles away, this was the career for him!
Most stories of men learning telegraphy in this era commence by stating "he took a job sweeping out the local depot, in return for which the Agent taught him telegraphy", but Ack did it differently. He [p. 1] made a deal with the local operators and learned his telegraphy in the Western Union office in Aberdeen, South Dakota. After hard and intensive study he was ready.
The Western Union had an immediate opening for him, and being young and eager he was ready to go to work. However, the telegraphers at that time were attempting to negotiate a contract with the Western Union and had gone on strike to secure their demands. Older heads talked with Ack, explained the situation and thus he avoided committing an indiscretion that may have caused him considerable embarrassment. The issue was soon settled, the Western Union held no grudge, and Ack went to work September 1, 1908, remaining with the Western Union through 1909.
During this time, the tales told by the boomers, of the great West built up in him the urge to boom himself, so, resigning from the Western Union, he headed West. He worked his way through the Southwest into California, looking, but never quite finding, the spot he was looking for.
January 1910 found him in Seattle, still looking. He had heard the Northern Pacific was a good road to work for, so he presented himself to Chief Friberg in Seattle and hired out as a telegrapher on the old Seattle Division [the Tacoma Division's North End and Mountain lines].
His first job was at Hartford, now only a name on the timetable, but at that time a flourishing agency with an agent, a telegrapher and various clerks. Being on the extra list, his stay at Hartford was short and he subsequently worked at Sedro Woolley, Woodinville, CF Office Seattle and finally Ellensburg, where he was able to hold a steady job. He liked the NP, he liked Ellensburg, so was quite content to settle down. But as so often happens, his plans went awry.
In 1910, the NP maintained a Dispatchers Office in Ellensburg, upstairs in the present depot. In early 1911 this office was consolidated into the Pasco and Seattle offices, leaving these dispatchers seeking employment. All were taken care of except one, a dispatcher by name of Shaw, married with four children. Having no prior telegraph rights, and the railroad needing no additional telegraphers, the outlook for Shaw was not good. Seeing the man's situation, Ack decided he was homesick, so he resigned, enabling Shaw to work. This good turn was to be returned to Ack in later years.
Ack returned to Aberdeen and reentered the employment of the Western Union, working for them from February, 1911 until February, 1912 when the desire to get back on the road became too strong to ignore.
Resigning from the Western Union, he hired out as a telegrapher for the Milwaukee Road at Aberdeen, South Dakota. This was a short-lived job, and June, 1912 found him on a train, again heading west with the Western Union in Portland, Oregon, his ultimate destination.
En route to Portland, via Northern Pacific, of course, he stopped over in Ellensburg to renew old acquaintances. These old acquaintances were indeed happy to see him, for reasons in addition to talking over old times.
Then, as now, the division was short of telegraphers, and being short of telegraphers, no one was getting a vacation. Ack had his plans made, he wanted to work for the Western Union in Portland, but he finally gave in to their pleading, he would stick around a short while, working long enough to allow them to take their vacations, then he would continue on to Portland. This 'short while' commenced June, 1912 and has lasted 44 years.
By the time the vacation work at Ellensburg was completed, Ack had settled back in the swing; the NP was still a good road to work for, the outlook for continuing work was good, so, hoping that the Western Union wasn't holding his job for him he hit the extra board.
Dudley, Upham, Kennedy, Weston, Palmer Junction, Ravensdale, Covington, East Auburn, stations now remembered by only the old timers, were home to Ack in the next eight years. Eight years in which he built a reputation as a good operator and a better than excellent poker player!
When queried as to what he thought was the outstanding trait Ack displayed during these years, and old telegrapher on the east end replied without hesitation, that the outstanding trait Ack displayed was always being as good as his word - "if he said he had 'em, he HAD 'em!"
Ack finally secured a job at Martin, in the days when the depot was located at the east end, rather than at its present location. While working at Martin, in 1916 [actually May 9, 1917], he was indirectly touched by a tragedy that occurred near Kennedy. Extra 3015 East was climbing the hill, and for some unexplained reason, the boiler blew up. demolishing the engine, killing or seriously injuring several members of the engine and train crew. Ack had ordered two quarts of milk from Lester and they were placed on the tender of this engine. When the wreckage of the engine was examined, and [p. 2] there was little left to examine, Ack's two quarts of milk were discovered, unbroken and the cream hardly stirred up. An item for "Believe It or Not."
During these years, Ack's work came to the attention of the Chief Dispatcher and he was given the opportunity to come into Seattle and "break-in" in the Dispatchers' Office.
He jumped at the chance, and there followed another period of learning, a period of working his job during the day then spending hours each night in the Dispatchers' Office learning the many requirements of a Train Dispatcher's job. After months of this grueling grind, he was "ready" and on April 3, 1920 worked his first trick as a dispatcher. After four years on the dispatchers' extra list Ack bid in his first steady job in 1924. The world looked rosy indeed. He held a job as a dispatcher, working the various jobs in the Old Seattle office, until the depression.
In the interest of economy, in 1932, the Northern Pacific consolidated their Seattle and Tacoma offices. The combined office being at Tacoma, and Ack found himself, not only unable to hold a dispatcher's position, but also found himself completely removed from railroading. Quite a blow after 18 years.
In 1920, unlike the present time, when a telegrapher was promoted to dispatcher his telegraph rights were forfeited after six months working as a dispatcher. The railroad was not hiring telegraphers at the time, so the rosy look the world had had in 1924 dissolved into a very dark outlook on January 1, 1932, the effective date of the consolidation.
It was while things were their darkest, that the good deed Ack had performed in 1912, resigning as a telegrapher at Ellensburg so a married man with a family could work, was returned to him "Ten Times Over" as the proverb goes. The telegraphers themselves, even though jobs were at a premium, circulated a petition among the operators, securing their consent, and restoring to Ack and other dispatchers, who had lost their seniority, their original seniority dates as telegraphers! This act on the part of his co-workers proved to Ack that his choice of a railroad career had been the right choice.
In the early '30s, business was light, few trains were running, so time hung heavy on the third trick forces hands. It is probably untrue, but the rumor persists, that the Yardmasters at Auburn were responsible for Ack returning to the Dispatchers' Office. The clerks at Auburn Yard were spending more time figuring out how Ack could consistently outdraw them than they were writing up trains, and the Yardmasters were going crazy! Be this rumor, fact or fiction, Ack did return to a Trick Dispatcher's job in 1934.
In 1936, Ack was promoted to an Assistant Chief Dispatcher's position. The Night Chief's job followed a short period on the Class A extra board, then progressively to Afternoon Chief, Assistant Day Chief, and finally, on June 1, 1941, promotion to Chief Dispatcher of the Tacoma Division. This he had dreamed of since his first day's work on the railroad, to be Chief.
It was a good job, his Assistant Chiefs were all experienced men, his telegraphers were old heads and did their jobs well, the road ahead looked pleasant.
But on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and what had looked like a smooth road ahead turned into a frantic madhouse. Not only did the demands of the war strain the available engines and cars to their limit and beyond, but also the forces to operate the railroad had to be expanded and expanded quickly.
New dispatchers had to be selected, trained and promoted, new telegraphers by the score were required and a thousand and one other details, pertinent to the operation of the Division, required constant attention and handling.
These were trying times, and it required bringing to bear all the knowledge of railroading he had acquired over the years to meet and solve each problem. Ack was equal to the situation and under his guidance, the dispatchers and telegraphers carried out their jobs well and efficiently during the war years. With the close of the war, and the subsequent recession that followed, it appeared that the railroad would fall back into routine operation, but this was not to be.
After a brief respite, the great boom that has gripped the nation since 1949, commenced and the Tacoma Division was as busy, and even busier, than during the war years. The shortages of power, of rolling stock, the constant turnover of operators, kept Ack operating at top speed and as is inevitable, took the toll of the man.
In the spring of 1953, after 41 years working without a sick day, Ack was taken to the hospital suffering from a complete rundown condition. After a period in the hospital, he was placed on sick [p. 3] leave and went south to recuperate and regain his health. He returned to the railroad in the summer of 1953, his health improved, but still showing effects of the grueling years as Chief. He quickly returned to the routine of the job, was progressing well with his health when misfortune again befell him.
On New Year's Day of this year, he slipped and fell on a stairway, severely injuring his back. Again he went to the Tacoma Hospital for many weeks, followed by several months recuperation at home, and, eventually a return to the job in the spring of this year.
The routine of the work again quickly returned -- but he had been thinking -- thinking of his many years on the railroad -- thinking of the demands of his position -- thinking that while he was in fair health again, perhaps he'd be wise to step out of the harness and spend the coming years enjoying his leisure. It was not an easy decision to make, to leave a job after all these years, and suddenly change an entire way of life. But, the decision was made, and in May of this year he requested the Company to retire him effective August 1, 1956.
Thus Ack completes 46 years of railroading, many of the years good years, some of them bad years, but each a year he can look back upon with a feeling of pleasure, and a feeling of job well done.
Mr. and Mrs. Ackley have no definite plans to govern their retirement years beyond enjoying their Vashon Island home in the summer and following the sun south in the winter.
No matter where he may be, Ack will not be out of touch of the Tacoma Division, nor of his many friends and acquaintances. His son, John, Afternoon Chief on the Tacoma Division, will be well able to keep him informed on the progress of the railroad over the coming years, thus maintaining the ties established over these many years.
-Collection of White River Valley Museum, Auburn, Wash.
Thomas Fletcher Oakes
(July 15, 1843-March 14, 1919)
By W. Thomas White
James Jerome Hill Reference Library
CAREER: Purchasing agent, assistant treasurer, general freight agent, vice-president, and general superintendent, Kansas Pacific Railroad (1865-1879); general superintendent, Kansas City, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad and Kansas City, Lawrence and Southern Railroad (1879-1880); vice-president, Oregon Railway and Navigation Company (1880-1881); vice-president (1881-1888), general manager (1883-1889), president (1888-1893), receiver, Northern Pacific Railway (1893-1895).
Thomas Fletcher Oakes was an important, if largely unrecognized, figure in far-western railroading. Born into a well-established Yankee family, he nonetheless worked up from an entry-level position to president of the Northern Pacific Railway. As a railroad executive he was often overshadowed by Henry Villard, but Oakes did make important contributions by actually completing the Northern Pacific's main line, thereby opening the interior Northwest to settlement. Oakes also reorganized the railroad and made it a more effective, efficient corporation, although his contributions did not prove sufficient to save the road from bankruptcy following the panic of 1893.
Thomas Fletcher Oakes, railroad executive, was born on July 15, 1843, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Francis Garaux and Ruth Page Oakes. A member of a long-established New England family, he was educated by private tutors and at Boston's Eliot School. At the age of twenty he was hired by Samual Hallett and Company to work on the construction of the Kansas Pacific, which was the eastern division of the nation's first transcontinental railway line, the Union Pacific Railroad. He married Abby Rogers Haskell of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and they had five children. In 1865 he began working directly for the Kansas Pacific as purchasing agent and assistant treasurer. Oakes proved a quick study and an industrious employee and, as a result, was quickly promoted to general freight agent, vice-president, and, in 1879, to general superintendent of the line.
[p. 4] Oakes distinguished himself well in his performance during the general disintegration and reorganization of the western railroads that occurred in the late 1870s. James F. Joy of Detroit and prominent members of the Boston investing community particularly were impressed by Oakes's work, and consequently they worked to have him appointed general superintendent of the 600 miles encompassed by the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Gulf and the Kansas City, Lawrence and Southern railroad companies. He served in that capacity only one year, however.
In 1880 Henry Villard, after obtaining control of the troubled Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, which operated along the Columbia River, recruited Oakes to manage that enterprise. When Villard obtained control of the Northern Pacific Railway the following year, Oakes was named vice-president and director of the line which had yet to fulfill the terms of its congressional charter to link the Midwest with the Northwest coast. Working, essentially, as Villard's executive officer, Oakes played an important role in Villard's domination of river and rail traffic along the strategically vital Columbia River, the principal east-west thoroughfare in the Pacific Northwest.
When Thomas Oakes assumed his new duties, a gap of 1,000 miles of unconstructed railroad line remained on the Northern Pacific. From the west the railroad extended only to Sprague, Washington Territory, on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. From the east the line had reached only to Dickinson, Dakota Territory, leaving much of the northern Great Plains and all of the Rocky Mountain cordillera yet to be traversed.
To complete the Northern Pacific's main line, which would make the railroad a transcontinental line and allow it to claim the massive land grant authorized by Congress, Oakes played a pivotal role. Within two years, at Oakes's direction, construction crews closed the 1,000-mile gap and laid an additional 1,000 miles of branch line for the Northern Pacific, Oregon Railway and Navigation, and Oregon and Transcontinental companies. In 1883 at Gold Creek, Montana Territory, Henry Villard orchestrated the last-spike ceremony as part of a system-wide celebration of the long-awaited completion of the Northern Pacific, which now ran from Lake Superior to Puget Sound. That fundamentally important new axis of trade and commerce which the Northern Pacific represented resulted in large measure from Oakes's efforts.
That same year he was promoted to vice-president and general manager of the newly-completed railroad, followed by terms as president and general manager (1888-1889)and president (1889-1893). In 1893 the Northern Pacific was forced into bankruptcy, a victim of the severe depression of that year that threw all transcontinental railroads, aside from the Great Northern, into receivership and generally ravaged the nation's economy. Meanwhile, Oakes confronted other challenges, including the ongoing dispute over the railroad's attempt to claim much of Montana's rich mineral lands-a claim hotly contested by mine owners, laborers, merchants, and nearly everyone else in the territory (after 1889, state). As president, Oakes did not resolve that dispute, which intermittently raged into the twentieth century, nor did he do so as one of the railroad's receivers. He was involved in other significant events that were resolved in the Northern Pacific's favor, however, and included the railroad's alliance with other roads and the federal government to combat the Coxeyite movement and to smash the industrially organized American Railway Union in the 1894 Pullman Boycott and Strike.
Two years later Oakes retired when a new management team took over, dominated by allies of the Northern Pacific's longtime rival, James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railway, and the House of Morgan The records are vague, but Oakes seems to have retired from all active association in the railroad industry, moved to Concord, Massachusetts, and confined himself to working with the New York banking firm of Taylor, Cutting and Company and the directorships of various companies. On March 14, 1919, Thomas Fletcher Oakes died in Seattle, Washington.
Thomas C. Cochran, Railroad Leaders, 1845-1890: The Business Mind in Action (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953)
Railway Age (March 21, 1919): 794
Louis Tuck Renz, The History of the Northern Pacific Railroad (Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1980)
Eugene V. Smalley, History of the Northern Pacific Railroad (New York: Putnam's, 1883)
Material concerning Thomas F. Oakes is located in the Northern Pacific Railway Company Records of the Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota, and in the Henry Villard Papers of the Houghton Library of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
THE DEATH OF FRANK SAURIOL
Frank Sauriol Meets Tragic Death Friday
Word came by telegraph to the Sauriol home Friday that Frank Sauriol was found shot in his bed at Trafton. The facts of the shooting are as follows: Young Sauriol, though only 27 years old, was section boss for the NP Railway at Trafton by an Italian by the name of Tom Montellio, who had worked for him three years, slept in an adjoining room at the
section house. He had always loved young Sauriol dearly, but had been very morose since he had quit use of liquor and tobacco a few weeks ago. When the section men came to the section house at 6:30 Friday morning they found the door locked and failed to rouse anybody. They got a ladder and climbed to the second story window through which they could see Montellio lying on the floor. Climbing in they found that he was dead from a bullet wound through the heart.
The supposition is that Montellio in a fit of despondency determined to make an end of himself and decided to take his friend with him. He had two pairs of heavy wool socks which he had presumably worn to prevent his friend from hearing him. Young Sauriol never knew what happened to him and was found lying just as though asleep.
Frank Sauriol was born in Walla Walla 27 years ago and while he had never lived in Auburn he had many friends here. He laves to mourn his untimely death his father, Charles Sauriol; one sister, Mrs. Grace O'Donnell, five brothers, Charles, Claude, Johnnie, Elmer and Ernest, all of Auburn, three uncles, Will Sauriol of Kalama, George Sauriol of South Tacoma, and Alphonse Sauriol of Chehalis, four aunts, Mrs. Minnie Kahill of Walula, Mrs. Walter Dennis of Portland, Ore., Mrs. Cora Button of South Tacoma, and Mrs. Mary Conners of South Tacoma, his Fiancée, Miss Wilma Barr of Arlington, to whom he was to have been married in September, and hosts of friends. The body was taken to South Tacoma where funeral services were held Monday morning in the Catholic church, and interment was made in the South Tacoma Catholic Calvary cemetery.
-The [Auburn, Wash.] Washington Co-Operator, July 24, 1924 p.6
Sauriol's father Charles was Roadmaster at Lester circa 1910. He actually had an MD from an eastern college, but had gone out on the section to work. You can see mentions of him in my article on Nagrom. There is a follow up article in this paper or the Auburn Globe-Republican, but its adrift in a sea of paperwork at the moment. This paper, the Co-Operator, was founded during the 1922 Shop Strike, its editor was Pieter Prins, an emigree who found work as a machinist at Lester from circa 1910 to 1920, when he went out on strike. He went to Maple Valley after the strike, apparently working in Auburn on this paper for a while. He was related to the Fred Ploegman, an early NP section hand who was injured at some point and lived out his life at Nagrom. One of Ploegman's daughters now lives in Utah, and a son runs the hardware store in Maple Valley, Wash. The White River Museum in Auburn has a few bound volumes of his paper.
Author: John A. Phillips, III. Title: Ack, Oakes, and the Death of Frank Sauriol.