Nebraska Railroad Workers & Biographies

I am seeking submitals for this page. If you have a relative with a Nebraska connection that worked for the railroad, especially before the 1950's, and have a short biography on him, or will write one, I will post it on this page for others to read. My thanks to Lenise Cook for the first such biography:

He Helped Build The Transcontinental Railroad

Fred Kruse was born near Hamburg, Germany April 13, 1843. He was a second son and as such would not inherit the family land. He trained as a shoemaker, but when war broke out with Napoleon III, he left for "Paradise," the United States. Leaving his fiance Katharina Fehlhaber behind, he sailed by steamship to America. He was so seasick most of the trip he vowed never to sail again and never saw his parents and homeland again. He arrived in Iowa in the Spring of 1867 where he had planned to work with Katharina's uncle splitting rails. They found out the Union Pacific Railroad was paying better wages for anyone willing to sign on until the completion of the transcontinental route, so they signed up. Fred was issued a rifle, a pick, and a shovel, and the cost of these was later taken out of his wages. His grandson still had the pick in the late 1960's and probably later. The rifle was supposed to be for protection against the Indians, but GGGrandfather said they were never attacked, mostly the Indians pulled up the track after they had laid it and then they would have to go back and redo it, but since the rails were so heavy the Indians couldn't do too much damage.

When the crews from the two railroad companies met to join the lines at Promonotory Point, Utah, Fred was there. His commitment fulfilled, he took advantage of the railroad's offer of a free ride back to any place the railroad served. From all the places he had been, he chose Grand Island, Nebraska. From there he sent for his girl, and she soon joined him. They opened a shoe shop, Grand Island Shoemaking, and lived behind the shop for a few years before deciding to try their hand at farming and they moved to Howard County.

Thanks to C. Conner for the following story. I believe this article to have been published in the December 20, 1941 Lincoln, Nebraska newspaper - this has not been confirmed.

Ox Team to Steamliner

From ox team to modern steamliner is the history of the Wilson family, for its members have been connected with transportation from pioneer days through the present era of speed, comfort, and safety. Martin D. Wilson plans to retire in December from the Burlington after 51 years of railroading, but Vonley M. Wilson and Gaylord E. Wilson [this is Vonley's son, he was known as Gene] are continuing along the general line of work of their father and grandfather.

The first in this interesting saga was William Clarkson Wilson, who came from his native Indiana in 1857, a young man of 23, [this date puts William d.o.b. in 1834, not consistent with other records] to seek his fortune in the Colorado gold fields. [William C. Wilson is on the Colorado Nebraska territory census in the gold fields in 1860] From Nebraska City, he [William C. Wilson] went to St. Joseph, Mo., as a bullwacker, a means of earning his way to the mines and wealth. Gold wasn't much easier to get then than now, and young [William C.] Wilson returned to Nebraska City to drive ox teams for Russel, Majors, and Waddell, who held a government contract to move supplies to Fort Kearny and Denver City over the Nebraska City-Fort Kearny cutoff.

Drove Stage Coach

Two years later, in 1861, Mr. [William C.] Wilson started to drive a stage coach from Fort Kearny to Cottonwood Springs, a station a short distance west of Fort Pherson. On one of the trips, his stage was attacked by Indians, and Mr. Wilson carried the ball from a shot in the shoulder the remainder of his life.

Butterfield's Overland dispatch was established in 1865. Mr. Wilson became feed master of the venture, better known as the Smokey Hill route to Denver. It was sold to Benjamin Holladay who re-sold in 1866 to Wells-Fargo Express company.

With the coming of the Union Pacific, Mr. Wilson knew the closing chapter of freighting and of the stage coach were being written. He freighted over the ox bow trail through Ashland Nebraska while employed by Russel, Majors, and Waddell, so in 1867 Mr. Wilson returned to Ashland.

In October, 1868, a month after his marriage to Sarah M. Robinson, Mr. Wilson filed application for a quarter section, land now adjacent to the National Guard camp at Ashland. Three children were born, Burtyne W., who died years ago, Martin D., and Emory J.

Road Building

The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad in Nebraska was constructing lines from Plattsmouth to Kearney in 1870. Mr. Wilson had broken the prairie for cultivation, and he sold his potatoes to John Fitzgerald, contractor for the B. and M.

In 1866, the family removed to Lincoln Nebraska. The father [William C. Wilson] took up the building trade, and Martin and Emory Wilson were employed by the horse car company to hitch an extra mule to the cars to help them make the grade on the hills on O Street from Eighth to Ninth and on P Street from Seventh to Ninth Streets.

The family later returned to Ashland, but Martin D. Wilson felt the call of the rails. In 1890, he began his service of John Mullen on a boarding train, which took him west to the end of the Burlington lines. The tracks were being laid into the northwest, and Martin was present when the end of the track was Gillette, Wyo., and again when Burlington connected with the Northern Pacific at Billings, Mont.

Bridge Department

Two years later, Martin D. Wilson entered the employ of the B. and M. in the building and bridge department, working on frame and steel bridges on the Lincoln, Omaha, and Alliance division, and a year later was transferred to the Lincoln and Omaha division as brakeman. He became conductor in 1897 and had remained in that work up to the time of his retirement. Mr. Martin Wilson has had runs on every part of the Lincoln, Omaha, and Creston Division, and was on the mail run from Omaha to Burlington, Ia.

Miss Susie J. Troutt and Mr. Martin Wilson were married in Lincoln December 20, 1897. They resided in Lincoln many years, as well as in Aurora, Schuyler, and Omaha.

Still Switchman

November 1, 1899, Vonley M. Wilson was born to them [Susie & Martin], and in Lincoln on July 10, 1919, he [Vonley] entered the Burlington service as switchman, a job he still has. Gaylord E. Wilson, son of V.M. Wilson, followed the family way August 1, 1941, when he became a Burlington switchman.

William C. Wilson died in 1926 at Ashland. Martin D. Wilson is looking forward to retirement on December 20 [1941?]. Vonley and Gaylord are the railroad men of the Wilson family in the future. It is an honored tradition that the four men have upheld and are upholding in Nebraska, a story that began in Nebraska's territoryhood with William Clarkson Wilson cracking his long whip over the backs of slow oxen to the young Wilsons who still are writing family legends, through the fourth generation of transportation men. Through the four men, the combined service totals 84 years.

***there is a typed note at the bottom of the article, I don't know who wrote it: " This 20th day of Dec. 1941, America is at war, the above pictures and writing is a tribute to two men that have done their bit in building the country west of the Missouri River in the State of Nebraska. Transportation has played a leading role in the development of our Nation. The other two men are still following their forebears in the transportation field, Yes to date four generations have followed it for 84 years, therefore War or Peace, transportation must not stop and it shall not stop, America marches on today, tomorrow and forever. What the elder men have done shall not have been done in vain, for the Stars and Stripes will never come down.

Joseph Brown O'Bryan

This story was sent to me by Mary Jo Dowd:

My great grandfather, Joseph Brown O'Bryan, was born in Bardstown, Ky 12 Nov. 1855. He married Henrietta Spalding on 12 Sep. 1878. Joe was a pioneer Nebraska railroad engineer, having piloted the first train into Loup City over the Union Pacific railroad tracks in the year 1885. The O'Bryans lived in Omaha for a while, but made there home in Loup City. He was later transferred to other runs, including out of Omaha, and out of Ord to Spaulding, Ne. I have several stories to share.

Story #1
One incident of his railroad life happened while he was engineer on the Ord Branch. He was piloting his train to Ord one evening when he and his fireman saw an old-fashioned Nebraska tornado tearing across the prairie toward the train. Seeing the storm was sure to strike the train, Joe used his head, and brought the train to a stop. While the storm did strike the train, overturning three of the coaches, he had succeeded in stopping his iron horse before the storm struck. While a number of his passengers were considerably bruised, no one was seriously injured. Both passengers and the railroad officials attributed this fact and the slight damage to the train to the presence of mind of the engineer Joe B. O'Bryan.

Story #2
On the trip between Boelus and Pleasanton, on the South Loup, there is a sandy spot where the sand was drifting. It was bright sand and had covered both rails and looked smooth as a bit of pavement. When the engine hit it, it raised the drive wheels up of of the rails, causing the engine to totter to one side, and it fell like a bird wounded in it's flight. Joe stuck to his post and went down in the wreck. Smiling and cheerful as before, he has sadly limped ever since. Surgery and science afforded him but little help. Eventually the leg had to be amputated.

Story #3

Joe O'Bryan's railroad service was one of 43 years. 41 years of which he was an engineer. For the greater part he served, especially in later years, on the Ord Branch and at times made the old railroad bed tremble. In the good old days when railroad regulations were not quite so cute and acute, he sometimes delighted in getting some novice or tenderfoot in his cab and then running down from Ord in imitation of a run away roller coaster.

In those early years he had a bent of doing extra favors for the road's patrons. The father of Mrs Ed. L. Brown [Mr. Erskine] was on of those patrons. He was a traveling salesman. Joe would sometimes contrived to have trouble with the engine, the brakes, or somethin', to let Mr Erskine complete a little deal and catch the train for the next stop. Old friendships!

I have my great grandfather's railroad watch which,to me is priceless and when you open up one side it has a picture of him as well as one of his wife and the other side is the watch. I also have pictures of other railroad engineers, but do not know who they are.

Joe Thompsons sons also worked for the railroad:

  1. Joseph Richard(Dick) O'Bryan
  2. John Mary (John) O'Bryan
  3. Harvey B. O'Bryan
  4. Martin Catherine(Bud) O'Bryan

Their only daughter(My grandmother), Gladys Brook O'Bryan, married Joseph A. Thompson. They had in-laws who also worked for the railraod by the name of Thompson and Powell.

Engineer Joe O'Bryan was retired by the company (UPRR) on a pension in the fall of 1914. His family had learned to love Loup City and almost immediately upon his retirement from active duty, he moved his family to this city.

OLD ENGINEER ON BURLINGTON WILL QUIT ON PENSION

(Special to The Star) [Note: No year on this news article, however pension letter is dated 1931. Most likely this is dated 1930.]

WYMORE, Neb., Aug. 23--John E. Baird*, veteran locomotive engineer for the Burlington, employed on the Wymore division for the past 45 years has applied for a pension on account of nearing the age limit and being in failing health. Most of Mr. Baird's long service has been on heavy main line passenger trains operating between Lincoln and St. Joseph. However, he is known over all of the division. He started as a machinist and fireman and was promoted to an engineer in 1888, there being only two engineers now employed on the division who are older in the service, and they only by a few months.

It is understood that he will go east for his health at present and possibly remain in New York state where he has a son and a daughter.

Pension letter from C B &Q RR
Chicago, February 2, 1931
Mr. John E Baird
938 S. 12th Street
Lincoln, Nebraska

Dear Sir:

In transmitting this first pension remittance, the C. B, & Q R. R. Co., through its Board of Pensions, desires to express its appreciation of the 42 years of service which you have rendered, and the hope that you may continue to enjoy the benefits of the pension for many years.

Yours Truly,

J. N. Redfern (chairman)
H. H. Holcomb
H. W. Johnson
W. F. Thiehoff
E. Flynn
O.E. Ward
by J R King (secretary)


*For information on John Baird, go to http://www.members.aol.com/mbaird/baird.html

From: Surfincows@msn.com:

My GGGGGrandfather, David Hawksworth was born 7 Feb 1831 in England. He passed away 25 Aug 1911 in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. He led a very busy and active life and worked for the B& M railroad for most of his career. The following is a biography that was written about him in "History of Nebraska, 1882"

DAVID HAWKSWORTH, Master Mechanic of the Burlington & Missouri Railroad Company, Plattsmouth, was born in England in 1831; was employed there in the machine department of the Manchester Southern & Liverpool Railroad Company and other companies. He cam to America in 1849, residing at Burlington, Iowa.

He was engaged as Engineer, on Mississippi River ferry boats, several months; then in the machine-shops of the Michigan Southern Railroad Company, located at Toledo, Ohio, for a few months; afterward ran an engine in a saw-mill for a short time; returning to Burlington, Iowa, was employed in machine-shops for three years. In the spring of 1854, was employed by the Omaha Town Site Company as engineer on ferry boat between Omaha, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa, until July of that year. He was then employed as engineer and machinist on railroads and in conducting a saw-mill until the fall of 1859, when he entered the employ of the Burlington & Missouri Railroad Company as machinist, at Burlington, Iowa. He remained in that capacity until June, 1862, when he enlisted in the United States Navy, and was appointed Second Assistant Engineer on the United States gun-boat, "Indianola," serving until captured below Vicksburg, in February, 1863. He was detained as a prisoner three months, then released, and shortly afterward was appointed Second Assistant Engineer on the United States gun-boat, "Marmora", serving until mustered out in July, 1864. He then again entered the machine shops of the Burlington & Missouri Railroad, at Burlington, Iowa. Was appointed general foreman of the shops in 1868, holding the position until he came to Plattsmouth, Neb. in September, 1875, since which time he has held the position of Master Mechanic of the Burlington & Missouri Railroad in Nebraska. Mr. Hawksworth was married, at Burlington, Iowa, in 1863, to Kate Schaefer, a native of Germany. They have Five children--Frank, Mary, Joseph, David Jr., Fredrick.

From the Plattsmouth Daily Journal--28 August 1911
DAVID HAWKSWORTH, AGED CITIZEN, PASSED AWAY EARLY THIS MORNING

Was for many years superintendent of Motive Power for the Burlington Lines West of the River. Was in Position to aid Plattsmouth and always looked after town

David Hawksworth, one of Plattsmouth's best known and most respected aged citizens, died this morning at 5 o'clock at the home after a serious illness of less than ten days. He has been in a weakened condition and ill at times for years, but the attack which resulted in his death began but a short time ago. He was 80 years old.

David Hawksworth was a citizen much loved and respected. Holding an important position with the Burlington for many years, and influential with the management. He was in a position to do much for Plattsmouth and it is not known that he ever failed to look out for the interests of his home city.

He leaves a widow and 5 children as follows: Frank of Lincoln, Neb., Mrs. E.W. Cook of Plattsmouth, D.W. Hawksworth of Detroit; Joseph E. of Fort Madison, Iowa, and Fred of Plattsmouth. Three of the children are here and the other are expected today or tomorrow.

Mr. Hawksworth was born in the spring of 1831, he was employed by the Omaha Town Site Company as engineer on a ferry boat between Omaha and Council Bluffs. In 1859 he entered the employing of the Burlington railroad as machinist at Burlington, Iowa. He remained at that place until 1862, when he enlisted in the United States Navy and was appointed second assistant engineer on the gunboat Indianola. Serving until captured below Vicksburg in February, 1863. he was detained as a prisoner for three months, then released and shortly afterwards was appointed second assistant engineer of the gunboat Marmora, serving until mustered out in July 1864. He then returned to Burlington, Iowa, where he worked for the Burlington railroad until Sept. 1875, when he cam to Plattsmouth to take the position of master mechanic of the B. & M railroad in Nebraska. In 1888 he was made superintendent of motive power for the lines west of the river. He was retired in 1901 on account of old age, being 70 years old at that time. He was often called upon for advice by the managers of the road, and his opinions were given much weight by the management. Even after his retirement his advice was sought by the company.

In 1903 he was elected county commissioner and served three years, refusing a second nomination. He was a member of the Episcopal church and of the G. A. R. and the B. P. O. E.

The funeral arrangements have not been made except that Sunday afternoon has been decided upon for the time of the services.

Plattsmouth Daily Journal, 29 August 1911
FRIENDS FROM MANY PLACES PAY FINAL TRIBUTE TO DAVID HAWKSWORTH

Railroad and shop men and friends come from afar to attend the funeral of their old "Boss" and friend--Canon Burgess talked of the life of this friend of mankind.

The funeral services of David Hawksworth were held Sunday afternoon at the home on Vine Street. One of the largest gatherings of people that ever attended a funeral in this city was present to pay the last earthly tribute to a man whose life and respect of everyone who came in contact with him. From many places in this state and Iowa. friends of years ago came to pay their respects to this aged citizen, so much of whose life was given to his fellow man.

The services were conducted by the pastor and long-time friend of the deceased Cannon H.B. Burgess of St. Luke's Episcopal Church. The text of his sermon was from Ephesians, vi-12: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." It was the first part of the sentence that Canon Burgess uses.

"The Battle Of Life", could well be chosen as the title of the sermon. He talked of David Hawksworth's life as a young man just entering the battle of life; as a soldier in the civil war, where, as an engineer on two gunboats, he exposed himself to great danger; of his courage and labor, where he invariably came out right because of his love of justice and fair play. His calm, pacific nature was always an aid to him whatever the struggle in which he was engaged.

He was a lover of men, said the speaker, and the "boys" in the shops all loved him. The man who was discharged was never offended because Dave Hawksworth did it in such a gracious manner. He often told his pastor how hard it was for him to discharge a man. He always told his men that he tried to retain as far it was in his power to do so, the men with wives and families. "You single men can better shift for yourselves than the married men, for you have no one but yourselves to depend upon you, so I am going to let you go first." Was the way he talked to the single men, and of course, they saw the justice of his action and never complained.

Cannon Burgess told of Mr. Hawksworth's loyalty to his family, to his men, to his church, to his city, to his state, and to his nation; he told of his great moral courage, of his noble generosity, his manliness and of his splendid ability as a mechanic. He was a man who, in an age when the struggle for gold was crowding out the quality of unselfishness never forgot that the great purpose of life is to make easier the lot of his fellow man.

The floral offerings were beautiful. The shop men gave has one of their offerings a large wheel of flowers with one of the spokes broken. It was as beautifully made as it was appropriate. The Elks, the G.A.R. and many friends gave beautiful offerings.

The active pall-bearers were Dr. J.S. Livingston, Ed h. Schulhof, William Ballance, Robert Hayes, D.C. Morgan, and F.E. Schlater. The honorary pall bearers were selected by the McConaha post of the G.A.R. of which the deceased was a member. They were; L.H. Thrasher, Thomas W. Glenn, William Porter, W. H. Newell, Edward Bates, and William H. Freese.

The shop men and the members of the Elk's lodge formed in line and make up a part of the funeral procession.

The relatives present were; the widow, Mrs. D. Hawksworth, his sons, Frank, Lincoln, D.W., Detroit, Mich.; Joseph, Fort Madison, Iowa, and Fred, Plattsmouth; his daughter, Mrs. E.W. Cook, Plattsmouth; John Schaefer, Fairfield, Iowa; Fred and Mary Schaefer, Burlington Iowa. Lionel Hawksworth and two daughters, Ella and Nettie, Burlington, Iowa; Mrs. J.M. Jackson, Chicago; Mrs. M.A. Hobson, Lincoln, and Mrs. F.W. Hawksworth, Lincoln.

The Journal was unable to get all the large list of the railroad men that were here for the funeral, but the following is a partial list; T.E. Calvert, consulting engineer, C.B. & Q Chicago, A.B. Pirie, Atchinson, Kas., John Thompson, Lincoln; S.C. Wheeler, superintendent of Air Wymore; Chas Baily, Wymore; John Sexton, Fort Madison, Iowa; James Eagen, McCook; Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Ryan, Nebraska City; T. Boon, superintendent of motive power, Lincoln; A.N. Wilsie, master mechanic, Omaha; Ed Dutton, Hevelock; F.W. Hager, Lincoln; Mr. & Mrs. Archie Adams and daughter, Havelock; J.H. Gray, Havelock; George Anderson, Havelock, Dan Lucas, Havelock; Jack Bignell, Havelock; William Ackerman, master mechanic, Havelock; H.E. Culbertson, superintendent, McCook division; Gus Bedig, McCook; Mike Warren, Havelock; J.W. Newell, Chicago; J. Pietrich, master mechanic, Lincoln; Jacob Gleason, Havelock; James Caldwell, Havelock; Dave Walters, Havelock; John Merring, Havelock; James Duffy, Lincoln; J.C. Thompson, Omaha; Julius Pepperberg, Lincoln; A.A. Hyers, Havelock; R.W. Hyers, Havelcok; F.E. White, Omaha; Judge Jesse L. Root, Lincoln.

For the convenience of the railroad men at Lincoln who wished to attend the funeral the Missouri Pacific put on an extra coach and passed men through.

W.A. Grosvenor

Submitted by Pat Irvine

OBITUARY

W.A. Grosvenor Called.

   William A. Grosvenor, died at his home in Sidney on November 30th of typhoid fever. The deceased was born in Iowa in 1869 and about twenty years ago came to Nebraska with his parents, locating near Curtis but later coming to Cheyenne county. For several years past he has been working for the Union Pacific Railroad company as a machinist. During the Spanish American war he enlisted as a volunteer in General Torrey's regiment of Rough Riders and after serving eight months was honorably discharged. In September 1899, he was married in Sidney to Miss Florence Hadley, who with their two children, a boy four years old and a baby girl, survive him.

   All who knew the deceased bear record that he was a kind affectionate son, good neighbor, a devoted husband and a loving and affectionate father.

   The funeral services were held at the Methodist church on Sunday afternoon conducted by Rev. James. The A.O.U.W. lodge went to the home of the deceased, and accompanied the body to the church and from the church to the cemetery. Mr. Grosvenor was a member of the A.O.U.W. and Highlander lodges and carried insurance in each.
[Sce: Sidney Sun-Telegraph, Dec 8, 1906]

WILLIAM A GROSVENOR

HE GIVETH HIS BELOVED SLEEP
          D. Nov 30 1906
     AGE 37 YEARS 10 MO'S 4 DS

We miss thee from our home, dear one we miss thee from thy place.
A shadow on our life is cast we miss the sunshine of thy face
We miss thy kind and willing hand, thy fond and earnest care.
Our home is dark without thee, we miss thee everywhere.
[Sce: Headstone - Greenwood Cemetery, Sidney, NE]

James W. Grosvenor

Submitted by Pat Irvine

Obituary.

James W. Grosvenor died at his home in this city on Friday morning. He had been suffering for two weeks with an attack of typhoid fever but his condition was not thought to be serious and the announcement of his death was a great shock to his many friends. On the morning of his death his brother Will called and spent some time with him and left him apparently feeling quite well. A short time after the brother left a violent hemorrhage of the stomach ensued and in a very few moments he was dead.

   The deceased was born in Polk county, Nebraska, and came to this county with his parents in 1892 and has been a resident of Sidney and vicinity almost continuously since that time. On August 20, 1899, he was united in marriage to Miss Dessie Davison of Ickes, Neb, and she with parents, brothers and sisters and many friends are left to mourn the loss of a loved one. The deceased was a member of Sidney Camp No. 1091, M. W. of A.,and carried $2000 of insurance.

   The funeral service will be held at the M. E. church Sunday, at 2 o'clock p.m., and will undoubtedly be largely attended.
[Sce: The Sidney Telegraph, Saturday, September, 27, 1902, p. 1]




FUNERAL OF J.W. GROSVENOR

   The funeral of Mas. Grosvenor was held at the M. E. church on Sunday afternoon conducted by Rev. Gilpin, assisted by Rev. Austin. The body was in charge of the Modern Woodman lodge of which the deceased was a member. Uniformed pallbearers carried the casket attended by a large delegation of lodge members. The congregation at the church was unusually large, all the seats being filled and many being compelled to stand. The services at the church were very solemn and impressive. Rev. Austin, who was lately stationed her for two years, making an especially fine address. At the conclusion of the church service, the casket was returned to the hearse and taken to the city cemetery where the beautiful and solemn ritual service was conducted by the lodge.
[Sce: The Sidney Telegraph, Saturday, Oct 4, 1902]

James W. Grosvenor
   Born Oct. 30 1874
   Died Sep 26, 1902
     come unto me
Peaceful be they silent slumber
Peaceful in thy grave so low
Thou no more will join our number
Thou no more our sorrows know
Yet again we hope to meet thee
When the day of life is fleet
And in Heaven with joy to greet thee
Where no farewell tears are shed.
[Sce: Headstone in Greenwood Cemetery, Sidney, NE - Aug 2002]

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