G Scale Model Train Forum banner

1 - 3 of 3 Posts

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
281 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I started writing this for my Online Station column in Garden Railways, but the topic didn't really fit with garden railroading, so here it is for you. Just so my deep insights won't go to waste. [grin]

While many look to the Great Depression of the 1930s for comparisons to the current economic situation, those interested in the history of the railroads may wish to ponder the “Long Depression” of the 1870s.

It started with a financial panic blamed on, among various factors, unbridled expansion brought on by the post-Civil-War railroad land-grant policies (railroad connection!) and the demonetization of silver in 1873. Dropping silver as a basis for currency caused an immediate collapse of silver prices, which was good news and bad to the young Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (railroad connection!). The railroad suffered, but the lower initial cost of narrow gauge was considered a big plus in a depression. You can read more about the panic at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panic_of_1873.

The silver bust was also referred to as “the Crime of 1873” in later political battles (the gold vs. silver debate went on until the early 1900s). But that bit of exaggeration seems unjustified, compared with the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. By that time, all railroads were suffering badly, and so the owners started looking for ways to cut costs. You know where this is heading, don't you?

The Pennsylvania Railroad reduced wages to $1 per day, which was regarded as “absolute poverty” wages even by standards of the day. On top of that, many train crews were laid off and those who remained were required to take on double work. In 1877, the workers of Pittsburgh had had enough, and went on strike for their past wages. The governor – who was vacationing on a luxury car provided by the Pennsylvania RR – called up National Guard troops from Philadelphia.

The militia, “spoiling for a fight”, attacked the hostile crowd of thousands with bayonets and Gatling guns. In the end, dozens of workers, militiamen, women and children were killed or injured by gunfire, trampling and stoning. The enraged crowd drove the militia into the PRR roundhouse, then burned down the trainyard.

This sorry episode is chronicled in Jack Beatty's book “The Age of Betrayal”, which is excerpted at http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07189/799860-109.stm. I suppose the lesson is that, as bad as we have it now, it could be worse. Bring on the bailouts.
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
2,940 Posts
I agree with you, Vance, in hoping it never is that bad again. During the 1978 Clerks' Strike, I worked 12 hour night shifts at Bellevue Yard in Bellevue, Ohio. Usually I was a pin puller on the hump, but I worked several other yard jobs as well. We would work 21 days straight, then get flown back to Roanoke for "R&R." "R&R" meant that as soon as you got off the plane you were told to be back in the airport in 48 hours or less! Railroad operating departments can be brutal when workers have no contract to protect them, and as "managers" we had no contract.

Those of us who worked in the yards considered ourselves lucky. We only had to work 12 hour shifts. Our friends on the road jobs sometimes pulled shifts as long as 23 hours! There is no "hogging out" (being on a train over 12 hours) during a strike. The 1978 strike gave us a taste of what it would be like if railroad operating departments had no labor contracts to honor.

Yours,
David Meashey
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
4,716 Posts
Nobody seems to remember the mid 80's where unemployment was much higher. Of course, it can get worse.
 
1 - 3 of 3 Posts
Top