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Trains and your family history

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  • Member since
    October, 2015
  • 82 posts
Posted by jk10 on Thursday, March 16, 2017 7:16 PM




My great-grandfather came over from Ireland and worked on a railroad on the east coast for awhile. He later moved to the Twin Cities and worked in the Omaha Shops. I believe this was for the Minneapolis, St. Louis Railway or something like that. Don't have the exact name in front of me. He lost his eye from a spark while on the job. Was some sort of welder/repairman on the steam engines. My mom has all the information on him. Doubt he had any impact on my interest in trains, but hopefully I can find some items from the railroad. 



The Omaha Road was an affiliate/subsidiary of the Chicago & North Western.  Official name Chicago, Minneapolis, St Paul & Omaha.  It was a surprisingly large and extensive railroad in its own right.  The main shops were in Hudson WI but that is not far from the Twin Cities.  They also had shops and facilities in the Twin Cities themselves.  The C&NW Historical Society might have information about him in their archives.
There is an excellent book on the Omaha Road by Stan Mailer, and the C&NW Historical Society regularly has Omaha Road stuff in their quarterly magazine, North Western Lines.
Dave Nelson

For Christmas, my mom bought a book on the railroad through the C&NW Historical Society. I grew up 20 minutes down the road from Hudson, too. Somewhere, my mom has a postcard or some sort artifact item from the shops in St. Paul. I may have to do some digging into the railroad's roots in western Wisconsin. Are there any available maps for the railraod? Maybe through the historical society. My mom does a lot of research on the area and has ties to different historical societies back home. 

I'd be curious to know if my wife's family has any ties to railroading. I doubt it, though. 

  • Member since
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  • From: Georgetown, Maine
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Posted by herrinchoker on Thursday, March 16, 2017 9:15 PM

My Grandfather started working for the railroad in 1906 in Brownsville Texas. He retired in 1939 as the Yardmaster for the Missouri Pacific in Brownsville, and was recalled in January 1942 due to the war, and retired again in January of 1946. He would take me with him when he went down to the yard, and I spent a fair amount of time on 2-8-0s, and 4-6-0, they are fond memories.


  • Member since
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  • From: Bradford, Ontario
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Posted by hon30critter on Thursday, March 16, 2017 9:39 PM

I don't have much railroading history in my family, but I do know that my father and my grandfather hitched a ride from Toronto to North Bay in the cab of a locomotive. This happened somewhere in the late 1920s or early 30s.

As the story goes, my dad and my grandfather had been in Toronto and were headed back to Calandar, ON. which was just south of North Bay. My grandfather had a cousin who happened to be an engineer on that particular route, and they had arranged to meet at the station in Toronto to say hello. It so happened that my dad and my grandfather were booked on the same train that my grandfather's cousin was going to be running. The cousin told my grandfather to go back to the ticket booth and get a refund, which he did. They were then ushered into the locomotive cab for a free ride north! Try that today!!!


  • Member since
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  • From: Wisconsin
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Posted by Trynn_Allen2 on Friday, March 17, 2017 9:57 AM

My paternal Grandfather tangently helped lay out the trackage at the former Badger Ammunition Plant.


My maternial Grandfather was a cattleman and for 20 years rode the rails using a modified automotive boxcar.  15 to 20 head on the lower level, where the lower level of side boards had been removed (think nose level of a browsing cow).  The upper level was constructed on the autoracks.  Feed, water tanking, bunking and equipment went on the upper level.  The doors would be anchored closed on one side and on the other the door would be closed half to 3/4 with three boards anchored across it to prevent accidental overboarding.  He and two hired men would travel with the cattle in the car and as such would be placed at the head end of passenger trains that they would be shuttled with.

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  • From: Gateway City
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Posted by yankee flyer on Sunday, March 19, 2017 8:24 AM

I had an Uncle that hired on with the Missouri Pacfic during world war 2 working as a fireman and then as an engineer.

His run was from St. louis Mo. to Popler Bluff Mo. and passed my house in the country were I lived as a kid 70 years ago. We could see the track about half mile away. He would often give us a special whistle as he headed by.  As a grade schooler I lived just south of a grade called Gads Hill. It was said that this was were Jesse James robbed his first train. A north bound train would be down to a crawl and easy to ride up to and jump on. I remember at night when it was quiet you could hear a train crawling up this grade with a slow chuff chuff and then the rapid chuffs of wheel spin, drop some sand , and then back to the slow chuff chuff.

My first model train was a wind up, with a few feet of track and a car or two.

My first love was airplanes, which was an itch I did manage to scratch.

aah boy hood memorys.

Have a good day.



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Posted by rws1225 on Sunday, March 19, 2017 10:53 AM

Great thread, my grandfather was a fireman for a while at an iron mine in MN, both locomotive and steam shovel.  My dad was a model railroad fan and had a short stint with the Detroit Terminal as a crossing watchman during the construction of an overpass of Woodward Avenue; sometime in the 30s.

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Posted by boct8418 on Sunday, March 19, 2017 1:19 PM

Yes, good thread. My grandfather on my father's side was a chef on which  RR I don't remember but my father was a stationmaster at Grand Central Station in Chicago. he retired when the B&O moved to the CNW station in 1969.

That same year, I hired out in engine service on the B&CTRR.


  • Member since
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  • From: Clinton, MO, US
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Posted by Medina1128 on Sunday, March 19, 2017 1:20 PM


"Rosies on the railroad"  My mom (R) and her sister returning home from working the night shift on the Illinois Central Railroad, New Orleans, Louisiana.  Circa 1944.

"Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep 'em rolling..."  John.


Your aunt sure bears a strong resemblance to Hilary Swank, or, vice versa!

  • Member since
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  • From: Las Vegas, Nevada
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Posted by JOHN C TARANTO on Sunday, March 19, 2017 9:39 PM

I never noticed before, but you're right!

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Posted by matt56 on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 10:06 PM

It was my dad who got me interesting in trains, but it's my mom's side of the family that has the ties.  At least 2 of my 6 uncles on that side worked for the C&NW in Fairchild, WI in the late 70s and early 80s.  The mainline also ran through the back yard of my great grandfather's farm (now owned by an uncle) in nearby Humbird and my mom remembers my great grandma always waving as a train went by, getting a short horn blast and a wave from whoever was in the caboose in return.


Modeling the C&NW in northcentral Wisconsin, late summer 1976

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Posted by Howard Zane on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 11:29 PM

I guess I was extremely dad had a huge O gauge (yup, 3 rail) pike and I had two uncles who ran steam on The Erie and Pennsy-Reading Seashore lines. I was a guest several times from 1946 to 1950 on Uncle Ike's K-1 4-6-2, and then in 1953 my dad and I rode with Uncle Ed in his K-4 and hung on for dear life. I'll never forget the roar and the fireman constantly shoveling with out the safety chains hooked...and Uncle Ed relieving himself on the coal pile at 80 knots only  holding on to little Uncle Ed...all while dad and I were grabbing at any thing we could find. I did get to shovel some coal and I'll never forget the powerful draft damn near sucking the coal from the scoop.

I eventually got into avaition as an airplane driver, but I would have traded all of my air time in a minute to have a career running steam.

Today, I relive these times in my basement.


Howard Zane
  • Member since
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  • From: Las Vegas, Nevada
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Posted by JOHN C TARANTO on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 8:47 AM

Great story, Howard!

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  • From: Nashville, TN area
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Posted by hardcoalcase on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 1:10 PM

I have a Great Grandfather who was an Engineer for the Erie, based out of Jersey City.  He died in 1890 while operating engine #109, having the misfortune of leaning out the cab window and being struck by a signal post.

The only reference to engine 109 I have found is from the book Erie Power  which lists it as a  Brooks 4-4-0 built in 1872 or 1875 for the Buffalo & Southwestern RR, later renumbered by the Erie.

My father grew up in Carbondale (Scranton area) PA, and told me the story that an out-of-town visitor was surprised in seeing a camelback locomotive, to which my father replied..."Is there any other kind?" 

No suprise then that I model an anthracite line c. 1910 and my RR's HQ is Carbondale.


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