Lefty Ulrickson

Guy and Louie in the back yard at the Pink House

Guy and Louie in the back yard at the Pink House

Louie had several jobs as a teenager. The one that interested me the most was the job working for the railroad. He started with the easy, physical tasks, eventually moving to hostler and watchman, driving steam engines at the end of the line.

I’ve always been fascinated by steam locomotives. As a six-year-old child I would disappear from the house now and then, found later by Mom or Grandma over in the rail yards watching trains being switched. I’ve already written about my time in the engine house and at the docks where they loaded coal, water and sand into the steam engines.

Louie had the misfortune of getting a job at the railroad near the end of the steam era. In the old days a steam engine needed service at least every one hundred miles. The new diesels, brought on-line in big numbers in the early fifties, could run hundreds of miles without refueling. The automobile and better highways ate into passenger traffic, meaning railroads had to shrink. With service, freight, and passenger traffic dropping, Jamestown would never be a hub of railroad activity again. The hundreds of employees shrank to almost nobody by the time I left town.

Louie was proud of having learned to drive a steam locomotive, even if it was just around the Y. If you’ve ever seen inside the cab of one of those machines you’d understand why he was proud.

Louie writes:

My first real job in Jamestown was with the North American Creamery managed by “Lefty” Ulrickson.

I was hired as a flunky, helping deliver pop, ice cream and beer to local businesses.

I was broke in as a cream tester while I was there. I had to take samples of cream from the ten gallon cans, add sulphiric acid, place it in a whirl machine, take a reading of the fat that showed in the sample, and this gave you the butterfat content % in the can. (If you can figure out what I just wrote, please explain it to me.)

I earned $13.50 cents a week, put in around 50 to 60 hours a week and loved it.

Oh Yah – I was a ripe old 13 year old kid

My job on the railroad started at the coal docks, unloading coal cars, breaking up the large chunks, operating the coal chutes that put coal into the engines, was promoted to hostler helper that took care of the steam engines after their tour of duty, cleaning the fire box, filling them with coal and water and sand, then putting them on the turntable to place them in the right round house stanchion, got to operate quite a few steamers at that job. Then the cut-backs started and I ended up as an engine watchman in a branch at McHenry, NDak.

Had to shovel coal from a box car, up into the tender of the engine and then clean the firebox, run the engine around the “Y” setting it up pointing it in the right direction to go back to Jamestown. I finally got bumped off that job and that took care of my railroad jobs. But I can always say that I got to operate a steamer. Something they can’t take away from me.

Louie Letter 103