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Brownie the Boomer: The Life of Charles P.…

Brownie the Boomer: The Life of Charles P. Brown, an American Railroader… (1930)

by H. Roger Grant

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811,441,205 (5)4
  1. 00
    Boomer Railroad Memoirs by Linda Niemann (alco261)
    alco261: Linda is the late 20th Century female equivalent of Charles Brown and the similarities and differences in their experiences make for some interesting reading.
  2. 00
    Railroadman, by Chauncey Del French (alco261)

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Charles Brown (1879-19??) worked as a railroad boomer from 1900-1913. Boomers were the Kelly temps of the day. Every railroad of the period had its cadre of regular employees who could handle the work load for periods of time in the course of a year, however, most of those railroads had one or more periods of time during a year when demands for their services were above and beyond the norm -seasonal crops, rapid expansion/construction to meet sudden changes in traffic, etc. When these conditions arose the boomer was the individual who was hired to help meet the demand. Most boomers, like Brown, were ordinary people. The big difference between Brown and his co-workers is that he took the time to write about his experience.
His original book was self published on the eve of the Great Depression. As far as is known only 3 copies of the work survived. Roger Grant discovered the book while researching railroad history of the west. Using official records Grant was able to trace Brown's movements after his career as a boomer was cut short by a railroad accident, and he was also able to confirm much of what Brown wrote (locations, places, events, etc.) The level of detail in his book is such that it is evident Brown either possessed a fantastic memory or he kept a detailed journal of his experiences which he used as a reference when he wrote his book. As the editor for this release of Brown's work Grant has provided annotations and footnotes to highlight the facts Brown cites.
Brown's wrote probably the way he spoke. His style takes a little getting used to but once you have the "cadence" of his narrative the book gives you the sense that you are sitting in his living room listening to him tell his story.
For example Brown states: "When you read in a newspaper about an engineer dying at his post with his hand on the throttle in a train wreck, about nine times out of ten it is a lotta bunk, for most any railroad man will tell you that these so called brave engineers that sticks to his post and dies with his hand on the throttle when he had a chance to jump would sure be an awful sap, and the truth of the matter in most cases where a poor unfortunate engineer is caught in a wreck and gets killed, is because that things happened so quick and fast that the poor fellow did not have a ghost of a show to jump or get out, and save himself before the crash came. For dear readers I want to tell you that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred when train wrecks happen they always happen without warning to the train crew or anybody else, and they happen so quick and fast that nobody hardly knows what has happened until they have stopped piling up and it is all over but the cleaning up the wreckage..." (pp.158-159)
His story is ordinary only in the sense that what he did was once typical. Today his story is extraordinary and it provides a glimpse of the way things once were. I think it is an outstanding autobiography and I would recommend it to anyone who might be interested in reading about how things were back when. (Text Length - 230 pages, Total Length - 259 pages, includes index.) ( )
  alco261 | Oct 30, 2010 |
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Now I want to ask my readers to excuse the very noticeable lack of grammar and construction of my story, for I had a very poor chance to even get a common school education.
Well I worked on the Clover Leaf until the first of November, 1903, when I bunched the job and dragged my time and beat it back to St. Louis, where I stuck around for about a week, then I went out to the Frisco yards where I had fired an engine the year before, and squared myself a ride in the caboose with a train crew who carried me to Newberg, then I rode with another crew from Newberg to Springfield, and when I got there I went to the trainmaster's office, of the old Kansas City Fort Scott & Memphis railroad, and got a job of braking between Springfield and Thayer, Mo., down through Roof divsion, and I want to say right here that it was the best job of braking that I ever had.
Now I remember another time I was called to go out on the old 1010, a tramp passenger engine which they used out of Needles to double head and help heavy passenger trains up the mountains, and the engineer was an extra man who had come there just a short time before off of the Great Northern at Minot, North Dakota, but I can’t think of his name just now. Well anyway we went over to the roundhouse to get the old 1010 ready for we were going to double head No. 8 out of Needles that night as she was an extra heavy train this trip, and old Tom Gallagher and his 1275 had to have help up to the top of Yampai mountain. But before the passenger engine herder came to take us over to the depot, I took a look in the fire box, and I noticed that several of the flues were leaking pretty bad, and then I told the hogger about them, then he took a look, after which he beat it into the roundhouse, and got hold of the night roundhouse foreman, and brought him out to the engine and let him see for himself just how bad she was leaking. Then the engineer told the foreman that the only way that we would take her out in that condition would be by order from the mechanical department, and the foreman says O.K. go ahead and if you have any trouble or delay, I will stand behind you and release you from all blame. So when we got over to the depot and coupled on ahead of the 1275, I put on the blower and kept her good and hot, with plenty of water in the boiler, and when we pulled out and got going, the hogger worked her pretty hard, and I kept a good hot fire in her. After we had gone several miles, the flues took up and stopped leaking, but the engineer seemed to be having trouble with her from some cause or other, for she was not working just right. And when we pulled up in the desert and stopped at Yucca for water, he told old Tom Gallagher about it, and old Tom says, well you go back and run the 1275 and I will run the old 1010 up as far as Kingman and see if I can locate the trouble, for this old girl used to be my regular engine, and I run her for four or five years. So after we pulled out of Yucca old Tom fussed around with her for a while, and by the time we reached Kingman she was working fine and pulling her share of the train. Old Tom told me while we were going from Yucca up to Kingman that he had pulled Death Valley Scotty’s special from Barstow to Needles with her, and that he had given old Death Valley Scotty and his bunch a ride for their lives, and that old Death Valley Scotty was such a hound for speed that he came over on the engine and rode with old Tom and his fireman and patted them on the back for the speed that they were making, and he was so tickled that he gave each one of them a twenty dollar gold piece.
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