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Woman's place? The railroad
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   Author  Topic: Woman's place? The railroad  (Read 776 times)
BNSF_1088
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Woman's place? The railroad
 
« on: Mar 29th, 2004, 10:53am »
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Woman's place? The railroad  
RICHMOND, Calif. - Women were expected to fit a certain mold in the 1880s. The goal was to get married and then work hard the rest of your life, taking care of your husband and children, according to the Contra Costa Times.  
Kate Potwin didn't fit that mold. She had gotten married to Pacheco merchant Hiram Russell, but it didn't work out. She was 27 years old. It was 1882.  
 
She couldn't go home again to Walnut Creek and live on her father's farm. Not only had the widowed George Potwin recently gotten married, but he married a woman 33 years his junior and only five years older than Kate.  
 
Her employment choices were limited. Teaching school was an acceptable occupation; it was also proper to become a seamstress or to run a boardinghouse. But those jobs didn't appeal to Kate. She knew what she wanted and she went after it, even though she knew women didn't do the things she was about to do.  
 
She was about to become a "railroad man," a job she would keep for 42 years.  
 
Kate Potwin relished telling her story, and reporters loved listening to her. She gave extensive interviews to the Oakland Tribune, the Post Enquirer, the American Magazine and the Southern Pacific Bulletin, telling them all how it happened.  
 
Kate met a telegrapher and thought he had a pretty interesting job. She couldn't figure out why a woman couldn't do what he was doing, so she went to the Southern Pacific agent in Concord and asked to borrow a student's telegrapher's set. She was a quick learner and soon was assisting the Concord agent by sending and receiving messages.  
 
"After I knew the ropes he used to leave me there in charge of the place while he went on necessary trips," Kate said. "I learned the telegraph, the freight end, all of it. Then one day over the wire, I became acquainted with a Martinez ticket agent.  
 
"He asked me, 'Why don't you learn this end of it?' So he wrote to the superintendent, and I wrote to the superintendent, asking permission to learn. The answer was a letter to the Martinez agent to let me study in his office."  
 
Kate applied for a job. The superintendent of the division approved her application to become a student operator and assigned her to the Martinez station.  
 
"This superintendent was kind and so willing to give me a chance, so I got on the stage and went down to Martinez. Within three weeks they sent for me, only three weeks after I had been there as a student, and they put me at (the) 16th Street Station as a relief ticket agent."  
 
The pay was 75 dollars a month, enough to make Kate Potwin independent.  
 
A relief ticket agent just doesn't stay in one spot. Kate was soon traveling to Hayward, San Leandro and Pinole. She was ambitious. She wanted to go further. She heard about an opening in Humboldt, Nev. It was a lonely spot surrounded by a desert.  
 
"There was nothing to do but watch continually," Kate said. "However, that watch was on from 12 o'clock noon until 12 o'clock at midnight, while the agent for the other watch slept. When darkness fell, in every direction you could see little fires all over the desert. An Indian camp was out there. All that Humboldt consisted of was the eating house, the station house and one or two such buildings."  
 
At night the window shades would be pulled down, but they were full of big cracks. Kate could see faces of Indians or tramps peering at her through the windows and then rattling the doors to be let in.  
 
"I used to be so scared that I could scarcely see, all alone in behind a wooden rail in that huge bare room. Then the other agent told me to pin papers over the cracks and it was better. But at midnight often packs of coyotes would come over the desert and howl out there on the station platform till I felt as though my hair actually stood on end."  
 
She got a dog and felt a lot safer.  
 
From Humboldt, Kate was transferred to Port Costa, where the cross-country trains were ferried across the Carquinez Strait from Benicia.  
 
This was the time when Port Costa was the granary of the West. Carloads of grain passed through every day.  
 
Kate's first act was to put out stop flags on both sides of the station. The two male operators who had preceded her hadn't followed company rules. They only put out flags when there was a specific order to stop the trains.  
 
It was a safer way to operate, and Kate always maintained that she followed the company rules ... except that one time in Port Costa when she didn't. She didn't tell that story until she was 92 years old, many years after she retired.  
 
There was this one Sunday when everyone seemed to forget about a special train to Martinez from Port Costa. Kate was all alone at the station. She ordered an extra brakeman to make the run and instructed him not to collect fares.  
 
"I've never told the company about that, but I guess everyone else that could complain about it is dead by now," she said.  
 
In 1918, Kate was appointed the ticket agent for the Southern Pacific Railways at its principal station at 16th Street in Oakland. It was to be her biggest job.  
 
The 16th Street Station was the principal Southern Pacific terminal for Oakland. Forty-nine mail-line trains stopped there each day, and 375 electric trains. About 4,000 passengers passed through the terminal daily. Kate was in charge of baggage men, the porters ("redcaps"), the passenger directors, the matrons, the mailmen and the ticket clerks.  
 
She maintained that in all the years she worked for Southern Pacific, she was never discriminated against because of her gender.  
 
"I worked with men as a man and never suffered because of my sex."  
 
(This item appeared in the Contra Costa Times March 28, 2004)
 
March 29, 2004  


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CN5710
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #1 on: Apr 5th, 2004, 12:42am »
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There are some women that work on the Grand Trunk system , only 3 that I can think of ,  2 are engineers .

« Last Edit: Apr 5th, 2004, 12:43am by CN5710 » Logged

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BNSF_1088
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #2 on: Apr 5th, 2004, 10:49pm »
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I think we 5 or 6 where i work

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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #3 on: Apr 9th, 2004, 12:17am »
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I never worked with these women since they are engineers but they seem to do just as a good of a job as the men do  

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Ken V
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #4 on: Apr 9th, 2004, 1:33pm »
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That's an interesting story Matt. It's somewhat surprising for the 1880's.  
 
Today it is not at all unusual to find a woman working on the railroad. Several of the dispatchers handling train traffic in the Toronto area on both CN and CP are women. Some of them have been doing the job for many years and, these days, more often than not, the dispatcher's voice I hear over the scanner is female. While it doesn't happen often, there have been a few times recently when the voice from the cab is also that of a woman.
 
A few years ago I watched a woman working from the caboose as the brakeman on a CN local.


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They looked in the future and what did they see? They saw an iron road running from the sea to the sea
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BNSF_1088
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #5 on: Apr 10th, 2004, 8:32pm »
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on Apr 9th, 2004, 1:33pm, Ken V wrote:       (Click here for original message)
That's an interesting story Matt. It's somewhat surprising for the 1880's.  
 
Today it is not at all unusual to find a woman working on the railroad. Several of the dispatchers handling train traffic in the Toronto area on both CN and CP are women. Some of them have been doing the job for many years and, these days, more often than not, the dispatcher's voice I hear over the scanner is female. While it doesn't happen often, there have been a few times recently when the voice from the cab is also that of a woman.
 
A few years ago I watched a woman working from the caboose as the brakeman on a CN local.

 i thought it was a good one to


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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #6 on: Apr 10th, 2004, 10:27pm »
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Hi All,,
 
Every now and again you hear a woman's voice on the radio, apparently she is a dispatcher disseminating information and directions to various trains. Normally it is no big deal, since these women have a pleasant voice and they are in command of the situation. It does seem strange to hear a feminine voice on the engine's radio. It certainly immediately grabs your attention.  
 
Once did catch a "misunderstanding" between a young woman (her voice sounded fairly young) and an older fellow. He was miffed at something she had done, and proceeded to read her out the riot act. Not very pleasant to the ears. Hopefully it was an isolated case.


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RDG484
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #7 on: May 16th, 2004, 9:45pm »
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Off of the top of my head I know of 5 female engineers and at least a dozen female conductors on the Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington.  There's also a female yardmaster at Sunnyside Yard in Queens, NY.

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Pennsy
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #8 on: May 16th, 2004, 10:12pm »
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Hi All,
 
Lady Conductors are not that uncommon. The last time I was aboard an Amtrak Superliner at LAUS, I asked the Lady Conductor for permission to tour the last of the last full length Amtrak domes. She even offered to give me a guided tour and told me the car was over 30 years old. I was even told that the business class and business cars were the way to travel to San Diego. I told her I couldn't drink that much. Both had a good laugh.


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NYC_Subway_Fan
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #9 on: May 17th, 2004, 9:34pm »
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on May 16th, 2004, 9:45pm, RDG484 wrote:       (Click here for original message)
 There's also a female yardmaster at Sunnyside Yard in Queens, NY.

 
Yup, I hear her voice all the time on the radio.
 
There's also a female dispatcher in the Glass House, Chicago's tower at Union Station.  I've heard her on the radio more than once too.


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Alan,

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BNSF_1088
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #10 on: May 20th, 2004, 9:11am »
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on May 17th, 2004, 9:34pm, NYC_Subway_Fan wrote:       (Click here for original message)

 
Yup, I hear her voice all the time on the radio.
 
There's also a female dispatcher in the Glass House, Chicago's tower at Union Station.  I've heard her on the radio more than once too.

 
And she is a mean one to


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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #11 on: May 20th, 2004, 10:35am »
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Hi All,
 
Allow me to state the obvious. With all of those listed here, probably a fraction of the actual audience, it is painfully poignant to remind those that are transmitting on these frequencies to guard their speech and watch what they say. I too have heard "unacceptable" comments, speech, admonitions etc. over the air. Gender has nothing to do with it, lack of patience and understanding does. Remember, the train you are speaking to, or the dispatcher you are speaking to is not your only audience. You are not on a restricted access telephone.


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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #12 on: May 21st, 2004, 5:23am »
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on May 20th, 2004, 10:35am, Pennsy wrote:       (Click here for original message)
...Remember, the train you are speaking to, or the dispatcher you are speaking to is not your only audience. You are not on a restricted access telephone.

Indeed. Back in CR days, a female engineer on CP Rail used to get a bit of good-natured radio razzing when she'd arrive Allentown Yard from Bingo. One day the smart remarks got out of hand, and I heard the Mt. Laurel dispatcher jump on and growl, "All right, let's have a little professionalism on the radio..." Everybody shut up and got back to business.
 
Another time, the female dispatcher at ALTO tower in Altoona had a real jam-up on her hands, and had no choice but to make a westbound mail train stop and wait at Rose. As she tried to explain the situation to him, he started tongue-lashing her in an obnoxious and bullying manner, practically ordering her to let him through. After a few increasingly heated exchanges, she interrupted his ranting and barked "Excuse me -- I'm the dispatcher here!" He shut up and waited.


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Ken V
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Re: Women of the Railway Calendar
 
« Reply #13 on: Nov 26th, 2005, 9:10pm »
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In this week's edition of our local paper there's a story about a new calendar for 2006 which features photos and stories of real women rail workers "in action". You can read the story online at Toronto Community Newspapers. Calendars can be ordered from railway-women.com.

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They looked in the future and what did they see? They saw an iron road running from the sea to the sea
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #14 on: Mar 9th, 2008, 4:28pm »
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I have no objections to women. It is illegal to discriminate. Years ago, women were relegated to the offices. What I do not like about some women on the job is that they do not pull their weight. They drive down the wages and they tattle to the bosses and cozy-up for easy assignments and promotions. Do you hear me at Metro-North and LIRR?

« Last Edit: Mar 10th, 2008, 3:18pm by keithsy » Logged
keithsy
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad BE CAREFUL
 
« Reply #15 on: Mar 17th, 2008, 8:17pm »
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If you hire on a commuter carrier, be careful. Women supervisors are out to make a name for themselves and will bring a man down. They did it to my friend at NJT. He was set up. Days before, they were his best friends. Meanwhile, they were greasing the skids for him. LIRR and MNCRR, they are in the "man's" office running their mouths and telling on everyone. They will sell their mothers for a job and a promotion. Do not forget. These women never held a real job before. They were on welfare and everthing else. This is their golden opportunity to make something of themselves at other's expense. After all, they learn from their counterparts in city subways.

« Last Edit: Mar 17th, 2008, 8:19pm by keithsy » Logged
1oldgoat
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Re: Woman's place? The railroad
 
« Reply #16 on: Apr 24th, 2008, 11:46pm »
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I hired out on the BN at a shop in '74.  Had quite a few women through there.  Some were clueless ditzses, others were good.  
 
One of them was a real PITA (pain in the ass) to work with.  When she worked in the yard, she'd change into her boots and leave her street shoes on the lunch table.  She kept doing it despite requests not to.  One night, another switchman found her shoes on the table when she was out in the yard.  He took them to one of those carosel-type vending machines and bought two sandwiches.  As he took a sandwich out, he'd slip one of her shoes in its place.  It cost her over $5 to get her shoes back.  (She never put her shoes on the table again!
 
She came to she shop as a hostler.  She was truly dazed and confused behind the throttle.  Someone wrote this limmerick about her and posted it.
     "There once was a hostler named ?ohen,
   an expert at not really knowing.
     And when she is switchin'
   she's constantly b*tchin'
  but doesn't know which way she's goin'."
 
One was a braless, well-endowed, "hippie chick".  This was before they had a locker room of their own.  One day at the end of the shift, she took off her T-shirt and was bare  from the waist up.  One old timer just sat there staring.  She said to him, "What's the matter.  You never seen a pair of tits before?"  He about fell of the bench.
 
We had another who was showing guys that she knew how to "deep throat" with a banana (this was in the mid-70s).  Well when she went to pull the banana out, it broke of and she was choking.  Somebody had to do the Heimlich manuever on her.  She's still there and is one helluva good engine driver!
 
 I trained one who weighed not more than 100 pounds soaking wet (and she was drop dead gorgeous) to be a hostler helper.  She'd throw switches and tie down handbrakes good as any man I knew.  She married another hostler helper and they live in Idaho, both still working for the company.
 
We also had our share of dikes, or women who were just waiting for someone to say something "inappropriate" so they could sue the company.  But for the most part, they just wanted a good paying job, minded their own business, and did the job.  I could never figure out though why some guys would insist on "fishing off the company pier" as they say.  Except for the couple in Idaho, the relationships never lasted, and of course, everyone else in the shop knew what (or who) had gone down.  
 
These are true stories.  Now that I'm retired I'm thinking about writing a book with my any others experiences as a "rail".  Would you buy a book about thisstuff?


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