Autobiography written by J. M. Fulton Dec 1930

My first railroad work was on the Atlantic & Great Western R. R. I was employed as a locomotive fireman between Galion and Kent, Ohio. The road was 6-ft. gauge and ran from Salamanca, N.Y. where it connected with the Erie Ry., also a 6-ft.gauge thence westerly through Meadville, Pa., Ravenna, Akron, Ashland, Mansfield, Galion, Ohio to Dayton, Ohio, where it connected with the Cincinnati Hamilton & Dayton Ry. to Cincinnati - 6-ft. gauge - that line connecting at Cincinnati with the Ohio & Mississippi Ry. running to St. Louis. Thus a 6-ft. gauge St. Louis to New York City. The cars, both passenger and freight, were very wide and rode steady, with strongly built track and equipment as is now. A 10-ft. wide inside measurement would take weight and bulk that would nearly be satisfactory to our executives.

1870 found me at Duluth, Minn. before there was a through connection to that city. During that year there came to Duluth by a Lake Superior boat two small locomotives which were built by Porter Bell Co. of Pittsburgh. They were named Minnetonka and Itaska. Also ten flat cars. The Lake Superior & Mississippi Ry. was being built between Duluth and St. Paul under the management and engineering of W. W. Hungerford, father of the now V. P. and General Manager of the Pullman sleeping car company. From the Duluth end of the line was built to a point a few miles beyond Fondulac, at which terminus a side track was put in and a station agency opened and named Northern Pacific junction. I was employed as a locomotive engineer and given the little locomotive Itaska, my first run was Duluth to Northern Pacific junction, with two flat cars upon which were rails, frog, switch stand, and a gang of men. In charge of the whole was M. C. Kimberley, then resident engineer. When we arrived at Northern Pacific junction Mr. Kimberley had the track material unloaded and directed the construction of a five hundred foot track – that was the first ever laid by the Northern Pacific Railway Company.

The Lake Superior & Mississippi was then a separate corporation (Mr. Kimberley, after the Northern Pacific was built through to Puget Sound, became General Manager) Adam Brown and I were the first locomotive engineers the Northern Pacific R.R. Co. employed. I was with the Itaska, put on construction. John Ross & Co. Canadian Contracting Co. built the line Northern Pacific Junction to Brainard, where the line led across the Mississippi River. When the line reached that point in early 1872 the company took over the road from the contractors. Mr. C. W. Mead was appointed General Manager, Mr. George W. Cushing, general master mechanic. Thirty Baldwin locomotives were purchased which were finished and painted as automobiles are today. I was given the No. 7 cylinder 15 x 24 five foot wheel, red wheels, brass covered dome, sand box, and brass jacket bands, four inches wide. I was intensely proud. Shops were built at Brainard. I interested other runners and we secured a charter and organized Division 144 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. I was selected as the first chief engineer of Division 144 B of L.E. of Brainard, Minn. I shortly became tired of Minnesota. I had frozen for two winters, one with my engine standing outside with the thermometer often at forty degrees below zero. I resigned and in a few weeks was with the CM&StPRy. at Milwaukee running on their new line between Chicago and Milwaukee. I again was honored by the engineers and was made chief engineer of Cream City Division of B of LE at Milwaukee. I was also sent to Philadelphia as representative delegate – the national convention there held in 1873 at which convention P. M. Arthur was elected grand chief engineer superseding Chas. Wilson. In 1875 I had a very severe illness and applied for a job as locomotive engineer to Mr. A. J. Stevens of the Central Pacific Ry. Mr. Stevens answered favorably. I was most excellently recommended by Mr. J. M. Lowry, general master mechanic of the St. Paul Co. result – I reported at Sacramento early in 1876.

I recall my first call for service with our company in March 1876. I was advised that engine No. 137, a Rhode Island Locomotive would arrive at Sacramento from Rocklin and I was ordered to take it over from the Rocklin man, got orders and proceed as directed by division dispatchers to Tulare (then shops and division terminal) and report to Seymour Johnson, division master mechanic.

To show that the Central Pacific had progressed as much as the east I will relate that the engineer from Rocklin advised that I would have to take the engine to the shop before I left for Tulare. I asked him for a reason and he said the water glass had burst. I said are the gauge cocks free and tried them. I said I would go on as I never yet had run an engine with a water glass. Few were then in general use except on the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Rys.

I was put at work in the shop on my arrival at Tulare, and as an extra engineer. Soon, however, I was made engineer of Engine No. 203 a ten wheel Danforth and Cooke - and told to take the engine to Caliente and there report to superintendent of construction, Mr. J. B. Harris. The end of track was then near Bealville. Track laying had been stopped for some time owing to very slow work in tunnel #5 account difficult condition of earth formation. I then in addition to being engineer was in charge of train operation from Caliente to end of the track, beyond which point (Caliente) the regular division operating department had no control, but was in charge of superintendent of construction. Mr. Harris had a very active man named Gerry who received daily list of rails, ties, splices, bolts, etc. needed for that days' tracklaying, also supplies for men and animals. We had only link and pin couplings and only hand brakes. I was aware instantly of the danger of runaway cars and once refused to handle any cars in rear of the engine. We were successful, we never handled one car behind the engine while constructing the line from Bealville to Tehachapi, and never had a car get away from us.

I therefore piloted the first engine No. 203 around the loop and over the summit at Tehachapi.

Mr. Harris there speeded up the work. From Tehachapi men, teams, plows, scrapers left the end of track every morning, graded more than one mile daily, upon which grade the tracks were at once laid and ballasted with such material as the country afforded.

When the end of the track was about four miles north of where Lancaster now is located, owing to a derailment by the regular operating company at the extreme south end of the Mojave yard, we of the construction outfit were blocked in the yard, with the result that there was but one carload of water at the front, the Chinamen were cut off from their regular every night bath. Those boys formed in groups and at midnight they had a well or rather a sump with plenty of water. This was miraculous to all, but surely to Mr. Nadeau who had freighted for many years with large mule teams Los Angeles to where Keeler is now, and to Candelaria and had always hauled water from where Ravena is now located, to carry the teams to a point 12 miles east of where Mojave is now. Mr. Harris had from Cameron south 800 men and 200 horses. The matter of prompt delivery of supplies, water and track material had to be right to the minute or all work stopped. We had no hours of work. We were paid by the month which meant work all the time – night and day if need be – but keep the front supplied with water and food for man and beast and materials if it took all night, and I never heard a complaint made. We met the track layers from the south at Langs where the last rail was laid connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles by rail.   A large party of our officials came from San Francisco and their train and engine were the first to go over.   Engine 203, of which I was engineer was relieved from construction on the day following and I was told to take the engine to Los Angeles.  So ended construction work.    

We had been fortunate in the work from Bealville to Lang – no life had been lost through accident – nor anyone injured – no derailment no damage to superintendents construction office car, and home where Mrs. Harris also lived, no damage to the cook, dining and sleeping cars, which we moved daily.    

I reported as ordered to the master mechanic at Los Angeles.   I was told that regular passenger and freight service was to be installed at once between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and I was assigned to McQueen engine No. 29, five foot wheel cylinder 16 x 24.   I was to be engineer on the passenger run between Los Angeles to Mojave.   Mr. Ben Smith so called traveling engineer, but more an assistant general master mechanic had sent from Sacramento a bright, alert young man, named Charles A. Vogelsong, to be fireman for me.   He was brother to Alex Vogelsong, ex-supervisor of San Francisco, first assistant secretary of the interior under Franklin E. Lane, during the Wilson administration, and acting secretary of the interior much of the time as Mr. Lane was put on war work.   Vogelsong was a good fireman, afterward  promoted and was made engineer on passenger train between Los Angeles and Bakersfield – resigned to take service in one of the leading banks of Los Angeles from which position he again resigned to take the poosition of executive manager of the California Fish and Game Commission to which position he had been appointed, and from which position he again resigned when appointed a commissioner Host of the Worlds Fair at San Francisco.   While Mr. Vogelsong and I were employed on engine 29, more than fifty years ago, there was established a friendship that has endured and I now have the blessing of a weekly call from him when we recall old times.    

The passenger run between Los Angeles and Mojave was a picnic.   We left Los Angeles at 2 pm Mojave at 6 pm. Left Mojave at 8 am Los Angeles at noon. The train consisted of one mail car, one baggage and express, one day coach, one Silver Palace sleeping car (company owned). There was not sufficient travel to use all the space. At that time, the year 1878, the population of Los Angeles was but 8,000; now there are more than 8,000 school teachers there. I was sure very content. We never had need of a headlight – all daylight work – and I was just all right out there suddenly came an end. One day we were standing at the Los Angeles depot (the old station – passenger and freight combined) it was ten minutes of leaving time when Mr. E. E. Hewitt superintendent, and James Velsir, master mechanic came to the engine and said to me "John, we have been told from San Francisco to ask you to go to the front on construction (near where Indio is) will you go?" I said, "I will do whatever you say." I asked when I was to go and they said just as soon as possible. Mr. Velsir said I was to have whichever engine I wanted and to go just as soon as possible; and asked me what engine I wanted.

In the meantime Mr. Martin Metzel, engineer, had taken over the 29 and was off for Mojave with my little good run. I told Mr. Velsir I thought engine 37 – a ten wheel McQueen – would be the best for the work. The engine was at once made ready and at 3:10 pm I was on the way to the end of the track, and was on the job early the following morning.

Mr. Harris, superintendent of construction, wanted to grade, lay track and ballast, never less than 2 1/2 miles per day. This meant bringing forward ties, rails, splices, bolts, and spikes, for 2 1/2 miles of track; also water for 250 head of horses and over 1,000 men; also hay and feed for the animals and supplies for the men; and it was vital that there be no failure. We were fortunate and pushed along rapidly to Yuma where we were detained while Seth Green, superintendent of B and B under Arthur Brown, Bridged the Colorado River, after which construction was again suspended.

When I returned to Los Angeles I was given engine #60 an 8 wheel McQueen and held for extra passenger work out of Los Angeles. I was called up to be engineer of many special trains from Los Angeles to Yuma and return with parties of our officers from the San Francisco office. Soon I was assigned to be so called master mechanic of the Stockton and Copperopolis – owned by our company. There were only four small engines and we did only running repairs, when heavy repairs needed they were sent to Sacramento. I did not get along well with the management. I refrain from any comments, except that I wrote Mr. Stevens, general master mechanic that I felt I could not to the interest of the company or credit to myself remain there, and asked to be relieved. I was given engine 73 one of a number of Sacramento built engines, and they were all good engines – far ahead in my judgement to the eastern built Rogers, McQueens, Danforth & Cooke and many others. Later I was changed to be engineer of engine 48 – a Sacramento built engine with cylinders 16 x 30, with valve and intake steam parts at each end of the long cylinders. It was a new departure and I felt then – do now – that it was an advance.

Mr. Sheedy, retired superintendent of machinery of the Southern Distrct with headquarters at Los Angeles was then general foreman of the Sacramento shops and Mr. Stillman afterwards engineer of tests aided Mr. Stevens in the plans and construction of the engine. Mr. Sheedy when on duty was always well attired usually wearing a black silk cap, and often seen swinging a rule in his hand. He knew all about the 48, and the why and wherefore of the many intricacies of steam performance. He taught me much. About that much discussed engine. I ran the 48 until Dec. 24, 1884. The Nevada & California Ry. a narrow gauge line had been built 28 miles north of Reno by a local corporation. Mr. Chas. Moran of New York a banker, had taken the bonds. Interest had been defaulted and Mr. Moran had foreclosed and taken over the road, and his representative had asked Mr. Towne our genl supt for a man who knew something about track, locomotives, cars, etc. I was offered the chance with the privilege of coming back if I desired. I was always willing to take one chance and took that one – going to Reno and starting with the little road on Jany 1st 1885. The line was extended 70 miles. I became what was designated master of transportation. My duties were many – practically all except the financial and accounting departments. I was given a free hand. The Moran policy was that or nothing. They fully trusted their officials or not at all. They paid out large sums with no help from communities or states. They were just and honest and helpful to the public and to their employees, they paid out large amounts of money never getting anything back. While with that little road with others there was employed on track extension and maintenance an active clean-cut man of Swedish origin named A. R. Moquist now SP roadmaster at Tracy. Making good track seemed to be natural to him, and he soon had a number of his countrymen, and I urged him to get more Swedes. Among them was a slender clean looking boy with corn colored hair and blue eyes named Edward Anderson. He was of sound mind and industrious and in every way a desireable and valuable man. He was made a fireman. He is now getting into the veteran class as a locomotive engineer running out of Alturas for our company. I was with the N&C narrow gauge in 1894 at the time of the A. R.U. strike. No trains ran in or out of Reno for 10 days. One passenger train was tied up at Reno. The engineer being John Deforest, always known as Johnny (now gone). The conductor Mr. Coates – the shops were at Wadsworth and at Truckee. There were a lot of radicals at Wadsworth who threatened death to any engineer who attempted to take out a train. It was a complete tieup – one train arrived at Wadsworth from Ogden which consisted of one Pullman, several day coaches and a number of baggage cars with two companies of U.S. soldiers, and officers and a colonel. They were from Ft. Douglas near Salt Lake, they were tied up at Wadsworth. There was a great noise by the scum as to what they would do if an attempt was made to move them west. I was full of disgust, and after these troops had been held for four days at Wadsworth I found Johnny Deforrest and asked him if he was not ashamed with the boys timidity. I proposed we go to Wadsworth and told him I would get a good buggy team and asked him if he would go with me that afternoon. He said he would. We drove from Reno to Wadsworth. On the way I told Johnny I proposed to call on the Colonel and tell him if there was not someone of the company men who would take him and his force to Reno that if he would give me help I would get an engine ready and run him and his troops to Reno. He said I was who he was looking for that he would furnish 200 men and officers to help and protect me I told John Deforest and he at once consulted with the engineers and others with result that the crew whose turn it was to go out first took the train to Reno. I rode with the Colonel. Though I was I think a respected citizen of Reno there was much feeling against me for my action as I believe more than 99% of the people were with the strikers and I do not believe 5% of them knew what it was all about.

On arrival of the troops at Reno the Colonel placed a guard around the S. P. station buildings and took steps to guard all of its property. It was only a few days until the troops moved west and the line was opened to Sacramento.

I dropped out of the game after the Colonel reached Reno except to assure him if I could be of any help I was his to command. I next appeared with the Southern Pacific as district freight and passenger agent at Reno, as acting superintendent of the Carson & Colorado while it was being made a broad gauge line Mound House to Tonopah Junction, and as assistant general freight and passenger agent, which position I held when retired. At which time I must confess I felt as did Mr. J. Black Ryan, attorney for our company for nearly fifty years. When the time came for his retirement, William Sprould, in his inimitable way, congratulated Mr. Ryan on his long service and expressed the hope that he would have many years of happiness. "Well," said Mr. Ryan, "it is just as I expected. I have always told my wife I did not believe it would be a steady job."

In conclusion, I put in more than 57 years of active railroad employment. I never took part in any labor trouble and was on the whole well and justly treated.

I had enough official life with our company to know the trials of the higher officials, many of whom I feel honored in calling friends and at times shared in their problems.

I trust all realize what our wonderful hospital department, our pension system, and the insurance we have been given by our officers negotiating with the great company who carries us on their rolls. Surely all must appreciate all of this and the fair treatment given. Our officers constantly face grave problems feel and beg to say that employes should give them hearty support in attempts for cheaper operation - not nag, nor attempt to enlist support of politicians in passing detrimental laws but to oppose such tactics, and if you believe something should be done, deal with your officials direct – not aid in passing laws that will not only affect the company's revenue and interests but in turn affect your own revenue and interests.

I feel wisdom and gratitude should cause all to study the company's interest and say "in my own way can I best help my company's interests, thereby helping my own."


Courtesy of the Lynn D. Farrar Collection.

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