My maternal grandfather, Wallace Betts Dingman, b 1881 – d 1920, was the first of several relatives to “escape” from life on the farm to working on the railroad. He grew up with his twin brother, Walter, on the farm of Andrew and Mary (Betts) Dingman in Williamsfield Township, Ashtabula County, Ohio. The family is listed in Williamsfield in the 1900 Census.
I can’t be sure exactly when Wallace began working for a railroad, but we know from the 1910 Census that he was living in Conneaut, Ohio, with his wife, Grace (listed as Maud [sic]), and daughter, Mary (listed as Bernice [sic]), working as a brakeman for a “steam railway.” Wallace and Grace were married in Andover, Ashtabula County, Ohio on 28 Sep 1905, and it is likely that he landed his first railroad job around then.
On his WWI draft registration card, filled out on 6 Sep 1918, he lists his occupation as switchman for the B&LE Railroad [a short-haul railroad named the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad hauling iron ore between Conneaut and Bessemer, Pennsylvania.
In the 1920 Census, his occupation is listed as switchman for a Steam Rail Road.
His obituary, published in the Andover Citizen, described his employment thusly:
He was married to Miss Grace Morley of this place [Andover] and they moved to Conneaut where Mr. Dingman was employed by the Nickle Plate railroad. [from clipping of obit in possession of the author.]
So, he must have switched employers sometime between 1918 and 1920. What could we learn about these two railroads at the time of his employment?
I found the following excerpt online in a sample of text provided by Google Books from Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad, by Kenneth C. Springirth, Arcadia Publishing, 2009:
The Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad is a north-south railroad in western Pennsylvania from North Bessemer (near Pittsburgh) … to Conneaut, Ohio.
Carnegie Steel Corporation, headed by Andrew Carnegie, had the iron ore and the vessels to transport the iron ore and gained control of the railroad, which on Decmeber 31, 1900, became incorporated as the Bessemer and lake Erie Railroad to transport the iron ore from Lake Erie to the company’s Pittsburgh steel mills. The railroad became a subsidiary of United States Steel Corporation, which took over Carnegie Steel Company in 1901.
Further, I found the following excerpt online in another sample of text provided by Google Books, this from Railroading in Conneaut, Ohio, by David Borsveld, Arcadia Publishing, 2003. First, here is some background on this book provided by the publisher:
Conneaut, Ohio, a major Lake Erie harbor town, fortified the industrial and economic growth of the Great Lakes area during the “Golden Age” of railroading. Three major railroads, the Nickel Plate Road, the New York Central, and the Bessemer & Lake Erie hauled people, iron ore, and coal in and out of Conneaut. Written in cooperation with the Conneaut Historical Railroad Museum and the Conneaut Area Historical Society, this book preserves Conneaut’s rich rail and shipping history in vintage photographs.
Now for the excerpt that explains where the Nickle Plate got its name:
The importance of the Nickel Plate Road in Conneaut’s history cannot be overstated. Conneaut yard was the western terminus of the railroad’s eastern division and served as a model for other yards in the system; many local residents were employed there.
The New York & Chicago Railway was formed in 1881 by a group of New York investors with plans to construct a mainline stretching from Chicago to Buffalo and with designs on St. Louis as well. The Norwalk Chronicle (Ohio) described the New York & Chicago as “the great New York and St. Louis double-track nickel-plated railroad”—giving birth to the moniker Nickel Plate Road, which was embraced by the company. In that same year, the New York & Chicago merged with the Buffalo, Cleveland & Chicago to form the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railway. The line was extended eastward, and by January 1882, the rails had reached Conneaut. During 1881-82, Conneaut competed vigorously with Ashtabula and Kingsville for the division point yard and eastern division repair shops, offering 70 acres of free land. A party of Nickel Plate VIPs made the first passenger trip over the line’s eastern division from Cleveland to Conneaut on February 17, 1882, carrying out a thorough inspection of the physical plant. On March 16, Conneaut was given the nod, to the job of its citizens. The new roundhouse that was built there had 22 locomotive stalls around its 65-foot turntable, and the yard incorporated 8 miles of track.
By October the NKP’s eastern division tracks were complete into Buffalo, as were the new Conneaut facilities. The first two local freights to originate from Conneaut departed simultaneously at 6 a.m. on October 25, 1882, one heading east and the other west. In 1911, a new, larger turntable and roundhouse were built, and the shop facilities were also expanded. Five years later, in accordance with the recently passed Clayton Antitrust Act, the New York Central (which had controlled the NKP since shortly after its inception) was forced to sell the line. Brothers Mantis and Otis Van Sweringen, real estate men from Cleveland, purchased the railroad in order to secure the right-of-way for a planned traction line. In 1922, the NKP tool over both the Lake Erie & Western Railroad and the Toledo, St. Louis & Western, becoming a Midwestern giant with 1,683 miles of track.
I did a bit more online research to see what the duties were for Brakeman and Switchman. A website for the Union Pacific Railroad System gives concise definitions as follow:
Brakeman — Inspects the train, assists the conductor, operates the brakes and assists in switching.
Switchman — Attends the switch in a railroad yard, switching trains from one track to another.
So, with Internet research using Google, I was able to gather a modest amount of information that probably applied to Wallace and his work history before his untimely death in 1920.
I’ll provide information about other relatives “working on the railroad” in future posts.
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