Author Topic: Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?  (Read 3086 times)

Jessicaolds

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Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?
« on: May 12, 2013, 07:43:29 AM »
Hi Everyone -

I have posted here before in regards to trying to track down whomever my Grandfather was who worked for C&EI in 1948. Some questions regarding his supposed job title:

What was the average age of a brakeman?
What was the average age of a fireman?

My grandmother said that he was 21 - based on some of the other brakeman I have found, that seems pretty young to be a brakeman? In some accounts she said he was a Fireman for the railroad? Would that be more likely given his age? Did railroaders ever do both jobs?

All I know is that he worked at the Evansville Roundhouse in Feb-March of 48. Their relationship was extremely brief so its not as though shes talking about seeing him switch positions over a period of time.

The other question I have - how easy would it have been for a young man to lie about his name? Did they wear name badges at C&EI? If she visited him at the roundhouse frequently (over the course of weeks/a month) wouldn't their be coworkers who would be calling him by his real name??

Sorry for the random questions, thank you so much for your assistance, I'm hoping by knowing a little more about how the positions worked back then will help me figure some of this out.

CSX_CO

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Re: Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2013, 04:27:08 PM »
Hi Everyone -

I have posted here before in regards to trying to track down whomever my Grandfather was who worked for C&EI in 1948. Some questions regarding his supposed job title:

What was the average age of a brakeman?
What was the average age of a fireman?

My grandmother said that he was 21 - based on some of the other brakeman I have found, that seems pretty young to be a brakeman? In some accounts she said he was a Fireman for the railroad? Would that be more likely given his age? Did railroaders ever do both jobs?

All I know is that he worked at the Evansville Roundhouse in Feb-March of 48. Their relationship was extremely brief so its not as though shes talking about seeing him switch positions over a period of time.

Not sure the average age of a fireman, but brakemen started young.  Back then, they could lie about their age and hire in at 15 or 16.  So, being 21 and a brakeman isn't out of the question.

AFAIK, Brakemen and Firemen were different 'crafts' so they're wasn't much going back and forth between them.  Not sure if they hired firemen from the street or from their brakemen and conductor ranks.  It was usually a precursor to becoming an engineer.  You would fire for a time, while you learned about engines and engine service.  A lot of places required engineers to be hired from the fireman ranks, especially back in the steam era.

The other question I have - how easy would it have been for a young man to lie about his name? Did they wear name badges at C&EI? If she visited him at the roundhouse frequently (over the course of weeks/a month) wouldn't their be coworkers who would be calling him by his real name??

Railroads are a 'nickname' heaven.  A lot of people get referred to and called by their nickname rather than their real name.  That could be what your grandmother was hearing?

Jessicaolds

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Re: Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2013, 06:53:28 PM »
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply! That information is very helpful, good to know that he was most likely a brakeman :) Thanks again!

Jessicaolds

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Re: Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2013, 08:33:18 PM »
Here's another random question: Were Brakemen and Switchmen the same thing or were those different positions?

Wes Lewis

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Re: Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2013, 09:25:03 PM »
Some railroads hired people when they were 18 and others required folks to be 21.  I knew a man from a strong B&O family in Garrett who hired out on the Nickel Plate only because he was right out of high school and the B&O had a age requirement of 21.  This would have been slightly later than the era you ask about, however, this was very early 1960's, but he stayed and retired from Norfolk Southern about 42 years later. 

I knew several men who lied about their age to hire out on the railroad, one engineer I knew who was the senior engineer on his roster for a long time hired out at 16, lying about his age.  This man and others had a future complication way down the road when they went to retire and had to prove their correct age.

Back in the era of your grandfather, it is quite possible that he may have worked as both a brakeman and a fireman.  It was not terribly uncommon on the railroads I was familiar with to find men who had worked as both, they would hire out as one or the other, times would get slow and yet, at the same time, although they were furloughed, say, as a fireman, the railroad would need brakemen, so they would switch over and go braking.  Then, when they would get recalled to the craft they hired out in, they would have to make a choice as to whether they wanted to return to the fireman's job or stay braking.  It is possible that your grandfather may have done this.

Switchmen work in the yard switching cars, in some locations and on some roads, they were called yard brakemen, in other locations or other roads, they were switchmen.  Back in that era, seniority rosters were frequently separate, road men or brakemen would have no seniority rights in the yards, in other words, they couldn't come into the yards and be switchmen, that was a separate seniority roster.  Again, like most things, this varied from road to road and sometimes from one part of a railroad to another part.

I know I haven't answered any of your questions and my answer is based only on my own experiences and what I learned over my own railroad career.

Jessicaolds

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Re: Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?
« Reply #5 on: May 13, 2013, 08:09:06 AM »
Thank you so much! That info is definitely helpful as well! I'm beginning to think that he was a yard brakeman as she spoke of visiting him at the Wansford roundhouse during her stay in Evansville.

Bassbone52

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Re: Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?
« Reply #6 on: August 27, 2013, 01:11:32 PM »
When I hired on the Penn Central in 1972, I was 20.  There were other guys my age, too.  IIRC, those over 5' 11" tall started as brakemen and those shorter could have hired on as firemen.  This was based on the vertical opening of the locomotive cab doors.  Didn't seem too logical since I was frequently in and out of cabs.   ::)

Wes Lewis

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Re: Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?
« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2013, 08:40:59 PM »
This is unique, all I can say is that it wasn't like that on the N&W, where I first worked as a fireman when I was 18.

DRLOCO

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Re: Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2014, 09:45:30 PM »
As far as brakemen/firemen..as mentioned, it was two different crafts..Train service and Engine service.  Lots of times, Firemen were chosen out of the locomotive shops--usually the smartest guys in the shops got a shot at being firemen, then, of course, promotion to engineer after several decades of being a fireman).  Lots of them in both crafts got hired in off of the street, and, as you have seen, nepotism was (and still somewhat is) alive an well at the railroad...It was thought that if you knew someone who was a railroader, and after hearing all of the horror stories about the long hours and hard work and you *still* wanted to work there, you were more likely to stay.  Also, Family bonds  are strong, and those whole families that "went railroading" did it out of pride-and sometimes that age old brotherly "I can do it better than you" thing that brothers all do...


I was told by several old heads I worked with that Back in the late 1980's, when the railroad retirement board was switching from paper records to the first electronic data records, they provided an amnesty period where those that "fudged" their age could fess up and get their age correct for the purposes of retirement.  My favorite example of this was the oldest son of a second generation railroad family in Fairland, Indiana.  (Some people here will know who I am talking about).  He told me (as we were sharing lunch in *his* caboose on the Shelbyville Local job) that his father was the stationmaster in Shelbyville, and smartly "put him on the roster" at age 14. He was then a part of the B&B (Bridges and buildings department) and his job was to keep the station clean, sweep/shovel the platforms and do basic janitorial work..and even paint the whole thing every summer. After he graduated high school, he hired out and worked for the railroad until retirement around 2000.  That family of railroad men taught me (a kid who hired on at 19) a lot about the railroad...and life...
Professional Locomotive Engineer and train nerd with most social skills.

RS3

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Re: Average age of Brakeman or Fireman?
« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2014, 06:26:08 AM »
The reference to nepotism in railroad hiring reminded me of a story told me by the man who taught me much about railroading - WL Chapman, long deceased.  In the 1950's, a boy from the southeastern Kentucky mountains came to Louisville and hired out with the L&N as a brakeman. Later, this young man sent word to his brother to "c'mon down and they'll hire you". The brother came and was hired. Subsequently, two more brothers came and they were hired. When brother no. 5 came, the L&N turned him down. The young man asked why and was told "Because if we keep hiring you all, when your  Grampa dies, we'd have to shut down the whole railroad!"
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