Italians in America
This site is devoted to the history, mndset, victories and struggles of Italians and Italian Americans
Erie Railroad Company
Before the 1880s removing the wood ashes was easy; for the most part the fire was out and wood ashes easily were removed when the vent was open beneath the engine fire box. Removing the burning soft coal ashes, which burned much longer, was something else. The burning soft coal fused, making clinkers. The clinkers had to be broken with iron rods so they could pass through the grates under the firebox. The men doing this work were so close to the open engine firebox they continually were breathing the soft coal gases. Many developed breathing problems with persistent coughing.
When confronted with the soft coal gasses which inhibited their breathing. The local individuals who worked at the ash pits wouldn't work there any longer. Thus the Erie and other railroads solicited arriving immigrants to fill these positions. A great uncle who came to America in 1883 was one of many arriving Italian immigrants solicited by the Erie to work at the engine repair facilities (roundhouses or back shops) and assigned to removing ashes from steam engines.
The immigrant Italian who worked at these jobs during their lifetime; the major contributing cause of their deaths was from emphysema
The Erie itself was another story, its corporate life span stretched from 1832 through the early 1970s. Except during the period of the Civil War, World War 1 and World War 2 the line was in continual receivership or bankruptcy Before the demise of the Erie it merged with the Delaware Lackawanna and Western in 1962
.Everyone who worked for the Erie at the time were familiar with a poem by Joyce Kilmer printed below
The House with Nobody in it
Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
Go to Erie photo below or
The Erie placed the engines in service early during World War 1 and used as helpers in Susquehanna on the Gulf Summit run. It is not clear how many of these engines were purchased by the Erie. But it couldn't be more than three. Stories from that period revealed that the old timers, Italian and others said that the Matt Shay pushed a train to Gulf Summit and on its return it had to go back to the roundhouse for repairs. This was true of many of Erie pusher engines at the time. The same old timers said that they could identify the Matt Shay anywhere in town by the unique sound they made.
The book "Union Pacific" describes the Big Boy as follows: “Built for and used only on the Union Pacific, the Big Boy 4-8-8-4 articulated locomotive was the world’s most powerful steam locomotive in 1941. Among the largest ever made, the enormous engines were 132 feet long and weighed 1.2 million ponds---over 550 tons. Built to haul 3500 ton loads up steep mountain grades, each locomotive could speed up to 80 miles per hour on level track.” The difference between the Matt Shay and the Big Boy was that its builder (The American Locomotive Works) apparently learned much from the failure of the Matt Shay and furthermore had 27 more years experience building steam engine
Top Map Erie Lackawanna, bottom Erie Prior to merger 1960