City of New Orleans

"And the sons of Pullman porters and the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel. Mother
with her  babes asleep rocking to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel."

From the song "City of New Orleans,"
performed by Arlo Guthrie with
music written by
Steve Goodman.

Segregation in Railroad Jobs

by Phil Mounger

"I started railroading in Smithville in l942. I was 17 years old at the time and I was a senior in high school and lied about my age. The war had just started. I railroaded until l959. When I started and until perhaps the l970's most good paying jobs were for white-anglos. Blacks and Mexicans were restricted to lower paid laborer jobs, paying minimum wage. There were no jobs held by blacks or Mexicans on train crews, however train porters on passenger trains were manned by blacks. I don't remember ever seeing a Mexican as a porter. Laboring jobs in locomotive roundhouses were held blacks. Jobs on the section gangs, or track repair crews, were held mostly by Mexicans, but some blacks and I think a few whites also worked on the track gangs. The foremen of the track gangs were all white. As a general rule all laboring jobs on the Texas part of the Katy, were black and Mexican. There was no provision for promotion for these employees to better paying jobs. In the roundhouse, the laborers cleaned the locomotives, built the fires, filled the oil reservoirs, filled the tenders with oil and water and whatever else the roundhouse foreman thought needed to be done. We did have on the fireman/engineer seniority list one person who had a Spanish name. His name was Escamilla. I knew him and was his fireman a few times. As I remember, he did not speak English with an accent. I don't know how he became a fireman/engineer in those days, unless who ever did the hiring didn't know that Escamilla was a Spanish name. Generally there were more Mexican laborers closer to San Antonio and more blacks elsewhere.

In the above, I am speaking of the hiring practices of the Katy RR. I don't know about other railroads in Texas. I had heard that the IGN (International Great Northern) which was part of the Missouri Pacific, had black firemen, but that they were never promoted to Engineers. There were not any Mexican or black clericals. The jobs held exclusively by whites were locomotive engineer & firemen, conductors, brakemen, switchmen, switching yard clericals, car inspectors, telegraphers, station agents, dispatchers, enginehouse mechanics & machinists, blacksmiths, water-service mechanics, office clericals, call-boys, chief caller. All supervisory positions were, of course, were filled by whites. Some of those positions were superintendent, assistant superintendent, trainmaster, road foreman of engines, yardmaster, stationmaster, roundhouse foreman, section foreman, roadmaster. That is about all that I can remember at present.

I do want to say the there has been a revolution in manpower requirements of modern day railroading. A lot more freight is being moved by a lot less people. Also railroads do not discriminate, at lease in theory, in their hiring practices of today. I must say that I am happy about that. That should have happened a long time ago."

Phil Mounger's commentary on Segregation in Railroad Jobs is reproduced with the permission of Dr. Ken Bower, author of the web site, "A Cultural History of Smithville, Texas."

See Also: Disfarmer, "In his Main Street studio, Disfarmer captured the honesty and determination of rural people and families of Heber Springs, Arkansas."

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