History of the Railrod Article 9

The New Railroad


     The following story are excerpts of a story as told by a Mr. John Grosvenor by Frederick W. Kaul and L.A. Rollins for a Federal Writers Project. John tells his story of working for the Central Missouri Railroad.

     In 1880, John needed a job to feed his family. He had a homestead but could not make a living off it.

     So, one afternoon, after having dinner at his father’s farm, four miles north of Logan, Kansas, John took off to find a badly needed job. Having walked eighteen miles, it was later in the afternoon when he found a job by finishing digging out a cellar which paid 50 cents in wages. Having brought with him seventy-five cents.       

     Before he went to bed that night, he found a job with the newly completed Central Missouri Pacific Railroad for a dollar a day. He had to furnish his own accommodations, so he found a house to rent. He sent word to his wife that he would be home next Sunday to bring her back with him.


Pacific Railroad Locomotive Charles H. Peck 1869

Author unknown Public Domain through Wiki Commons


     The work schedule was 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. After having worked that Saturday’s shift, he walked eighteen miles back home. They packed their stuff into a wagon and made their way back to the place he had rented and went to work first thing Monday morning.

     The work was hard. When they said ten hours work, they expected ten big hours as John classified it.

     The Homestead Act required a farmer to live on his homestead for five years making improvements to be able to claim it. He had to work on the railroad so he would have a steak to buy food.

     After spending the required time to hold on to his place, John went back to work on the railroad on April 1, 1882, for $1.10 a day.   

     It turned out that 1882 was a very wet year. The section of track that John was assigned was prone to flooding. So much so, was that when a big rain came, all hands on that section had to be at work. As the train came through, the section crews were in front of the train pushing the hand car. Of course, the train would follow just barely creeping along.

     They were checking for soft spots in the ballast roadbed or washouts. Either one would cause the train to derail. When they found either, they would wave the flag, stopping the train so they could repair the track.

     This would go on for miles where there was one and a half feet of water covering the track.

     They would keep going through the night, using lanterns to see. For three days and three nights they worked, finding over 3 miles of track that had been washed out.   

     They got help and repaired the washed-out track. It rained the entire time and in places it was between 1 1/2 feet to over a man's head deep.

     To repair the track, the rails had to be jacked up. They used timber, lumber, polls, iron along with anything else needed to fix the track. They would only use light trains and slowly get them through.

     The men did not have any rain gear, so the men remained soaked the entire time. Also, food was in short supply. When they finally got home the men were so completely wore out.

     They received time and 1/2 for the at night work. With the rain continuing the entire month, they receive almost double their wages that month.

     There was an ecological downside to all of the rain. Ducks and frogs flooded the area, as well as the rain. John stated that millions came to the track and stayed. The noise was so deafening that some of the men had trouble with their hearing for weeks.


Stagecoach from Idaho on the Central Pacific Railroad

  1. Bertrand, Public domain, via Wikimedia Common


  1. Federal Writers Project by Frederick W. Kaul and L.A. Rollins Hasting, Nebraska, as told by Mr. John Grosvenor of hasting Nebraska “The New Railroad”