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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 >>

Injuries caused by the trains

To illustrate how dangerous life was in the railroad yards, Strickland tells a story about how one of his coworkers lost his leg.

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

That switching job, you got to kind of have to watch your step. Them wheels'll get you. They'll cut you, but it ain't no respect of person. If you ever fall or make a miscue or step in front of there, they'll cut your leg off. I'll tell you a fearful story if you don't mind. After I was conductor after a long time, a fellow, Dick Robinson, here in Charlotte. The Seaboard railroad give him a job as operator. Anyway, me and Dick was up there at the top of the hill switching one day, and a brake wheel broke off, one of them Ajax brake wheels. The thing hurled out, right in the hub of the wheel. Dick had both hands on that rim of that wheel, and when it hurled out, he wasn't holding nothing else but the wheel. He fell right backwards off in the middle of the track. He caught that front and it drug him sixty feet down the track to that switch, and while it was dragging, it cut his leg off about six inches below his knee. Bless you, his leg and his foot with his shoe on it was standing up out there on a little old path with a little old walk alongside the track. It drug him up in that switch. That switch point caught the skin on his leg and just split that skin all up into his thigh. That caught his leg, and he was up under there. It was holding him, and he couldn't get out from under there. He begin to scream and holler. I was right on the ladder with him, right beside him when that brake wheel hurled out with him. He fell back, and I jumped back and grabbed my hat off—Ike was the engineer—whopping him down and signing him down trying to get him to stop. He drug him about sixty feet on down. Ike finally got started, but he was up under that car screaming and hollering. I climbed up there, and he couldn't get out. That piece of skin was hung into that switch forhim. He couldn't get out, he couldn't get a-loose. I tried to get out, I got back out and I tried to get Ike to back up. I was making all those funny motions. Ike got scared. He wouldn't move; he knew the railroad. You wouldn't move your equipment till you know exactly what was going on. That's one of the rules, but he done right. I was going to try to get him to back off so I could get Dick out from under there. Ike wouldn't back up, so I took out my pocket knife and crawled back up under that coal hopper and finished cutting off his leg. Course, that frees him out from under that switch point. Then he humped on his elbow and crawled back out from under the car. His leg was up that a way and the blood was just spouting. Bill Ray was firing—one of them eleven hundred's—he come running down. I had sent Bill down there. He held his brake right on that engine; that was his responsible to do that. He sent his fireman down there and Bill come running down there. I said, "Bill, for God's sake, go get me—I'm an old railroad man; I know that first aid—go get me a string or rag or something. I'm going to make a tourniquet put it on his leg." Blood was just spouting. So Bill flew back up to that engine and got some old waste, some old rags and come running down there. I tied a couple of those rags together and made a tourniquet and put it up there above his knee. Got me a stick, I picked up a little old shart stick and twisted it and made a tourniquet on his leg. That stopped that blood from spouting. I hollered one of those colored men working on the switch down there just below. I hollered and told him. He come running out the yard and they called the ambulance. They come up there at the end of Church Street right up the top of the hill. I held that tourniquet right on his leg all the way to the hospital. We come back through coming to the Mercy Hospital. Dr. Douglas Neal was surgeon for Seaboard at that time. He was the surgeon.
Seaboard had a surgeon?
Yeah, he was a Seaboard surgeon. Dr. Neal, they called him and he come running. He knew me; I know Dr. Neal. He says, "Has he lost much blood?" I said, "I don't know, Dr. Neal. His lower leg is spouting blood. I really don't know." Then he turned to the nurse. I had my tourniquet on and holding it all the time. They went and got a hospital tourniquet and put it on his leg and stopped that blood. Then he begin to order blood plasma. I told him his leg was cut off just below his knee, about six or eight inches, about halfway I'd say. I says, "Dr. Neal, is there any chance of you saving that leg below his knee?" I knew. He shook his head. He said, "I don't believe so, Strick. I'm going to have to …" He did. He cut his leg off above his knee. The boy lives right over yonder right over there next to that mint museum is where he lives now, Dick Robinson. He got over it. He was real strong, young fellow. He just gritted his teeth. It's funny how a person will react. I won't say a dirty word, but he used some profanity, and I did too just cursing because I was excited. I was gritting my teeth and cursing and kind of helping the situation. But after it got over at the hospital, and got that tourniquet on his leg, I just turned chicken then. They had to go get me a cup of ammonia and fan me around there. All that time, everything was going on, I was mad as a wet hen. I just cussing and mad. After I got over there and the doctor got there, then I relaxed.
Do you remember what year that was?
Around in the 60's sometime, about 1955, 1960.