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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Finding a job with the railroad

When Strickland was discharged from the navy, he found it difficult to get a new job. Eventually, his brother Paul who worked on the railroad provided him with the connections he needed to become a substitute worker who was called when a full-time employee was absent. From there, he worked his way into a full-time permanent position.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
I got paid off at Brooklyn Navy Yard December 26, 1926. I went back to Warm Springs. My people still in Warm Springs. Stayed around there two or three months, couldn't find no work, no job. I told mama, I said, "I believe I'll make the Navy a career." I was second class petty officer. I'd just make the Navy a career and ship over. I bought me a ticket from Warm Springs to Portsmouth, Virginia, and ship over in the Navy. I had a brother over here in Hamlet that I hadn't seen in four years, brother Paul. The only train coming this away to Portsmouth out of Atlanta, I begin to think. I'm going right through Hamlet on Seaboard Railroad, and I hadn't seen him in four years. I asked the conductor, I says, "Conductor, I got a brother in Hamlet, how about me stopping off here two or three days? Can I use my ticket?" He said, "Yeah." He just punched my ticket, give it back to me. Said, "Yeah, you go ahead and see your brother." In fact, he knew brother Paul. He was on the railroad at that time.
LU ANN JONES:
Paul was? What was he doing?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
He was a brakeman and a conductor on the railroad. He was already working for Seaboard. I stopped there two or three days. My brother says, "Ralph, you don't want to go right now. Stay out." Mr. C. H. Sauls was superintendent, and the division used to be in Hamlet, North Carolina. North Carolina Division was in Hamlet. C. H. Sauls, he was retired assistant vice-president. Anyway, he was superintendent, and he said, "I'll take you down to Mr. Sauls office, and see if he won't give you a job." Sure enough, the next day or so, he took me down there, and he took me up there in Mr. Sauls office and introduced me to him. I asked him for a job firing. I wanted a job firing. I was firing man in the Navy, and I had experience with boilers. Mr. Sauls looked at me and he looked at Paul. He knew Paul, good friend of Paul. He said, "Boy, I can't give you no job firing. I've got sixty firemen on this division cut off now." He sort of thought and looked at Paul and looked at me, said, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do, I'm going to send you over here to Charlotte." Old man T. R. Campbell was general yard master over here. Said, "I'm going to send you on over there to him, and if he can use you, he can put you on over there as a job switchman. That's the only thing I can offer you is to get you a job switchman. If he can use you, it'll be all right with for you to go to work." That was March 1, 1927. I caught twenty-one, that's the train from Hamlet to Royalton. Turn around job, made turn around trip everyday. I got off the train right down here, March 1, 1921 about 11:30 a.m.
LU ANN JONES:
Right down here where?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Right down here on Tryon Street, that old passenger station on Tryon Street, 1100 block of North Tryon Street, Seaboard Passenger Station. I got off that train there. I knew who I was looking for, and I asked my mama, "Where is Mr. Tom Campbell, general yard master?" Someone pointed him out to me, said, "There he is." I went up there and introduced myself to him and told him that Mr. C. H. Sauls had sent me over here from Hamlet and would appreciate it if he could use me and put me to work. Old man Tom, he looked around, says, "I ain't got nothing for you right now, but Mr. Sauls sent you over here—he's superintendent—he sent you over there, we going to have a fertilizer opening up two or three more weeks." That was the first day of March. That was when the Royster and McCade fertilizer and all these fertilizer plants—they's hauling all that fertilizer by rail back them days. Says, "I might be able to use you a few days a while. I want you to get out here and learn the yard, learn the work, learn how to give a signal, and learn how to do this work, and I'll be able to put you on, maybe." So I did, I got out there and started to learn this yard, following them yard crews around, following them conductors around, and learning how to give a signal. Make a coupling, and air hose and all that kind of stuff.
LU ANN JONES:
Did they just teach you by…
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
That's right. They talked to me, showed me and talked to me. I picked up a whole lot of it, just from observing them, following them around from time to time.
LU ANN JONES:
Were you getting paid then?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
No ma'am. While I was learning, I had to learn the yard and learn the work. I stayed over here about ten days, then I went back to Hamlet and took my train rule examination. Then after I got my train rule examination, then I come back over here and marked up on the extra board. The first day I made after I marked up, then that's when I got paid.
LU ANN JONES:
What does that mean, "marked up?"
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Marked up on the extra board.
LU ANN JONES:
What does that mean?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
The extra board, there's about five or six men. It's a seniority question. All the seniority men that stood for regular jobs, they wanted regular jobs. They maintained about five men on that extra board to relieve in case a man gets sick. They'd relieve him; they work them first in and first out on the extra board. Course, I didn't have no seniority as one of the lowest man on the totem pole, so I had to work on that extra board for a long time until I got enough seniority to where I stood for regular jobs.