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a FRISCO R. R. story that needs telling
The St. Louis San-Francisco Railway was in the process of merging with the Burlington RR. At the time, my wife and I were operating a small highway Drive Inn and restaurant just North of Springfield MO. I think the year may have been 1978 when a regular customer stopped in with the news he was dismantling the FRISCO RAILWAY Recordís Warehouse located in the North Yards. This was a large brick building on the north edge of the main rail yards in North Springfield Missouri. The powers-that-be had given him all the dimensional lumber that was used to support the massive amount of railroad records in black boxes that had accumulated over the years. All he had to do was destroy these records. It was expected he would shred them.
The lumber was much desired, but disposing of the records posed a big problem. He tried to recycle, but no one was set up to handle this mixture of cardboard boxes and old paper. The landfill was his only option and would be more expensive than he reckoned on. It represented many, many dump truck loads.
His description of these records intrigued me. I wanted to see what he was getting, and getting into. (I have a natural curiosity that sometimes leaves folks wondering what I am up to next) He said the railroad police were watching and I should bring my pickup. If they asked, I would be one of his employees.
I found his crew already in the process of loading a large dump truck. Unfortunately, their starting point was into the very heart of the section that made up real Frisco history. But this made up only a fraction of the total. The total being a vast amount and row upon row of employee files in black file boxes stacked upon shelves eight feet or more high.
I headed off the loaders and began to load the good stuff into my truck. After a good amount that looked interesting, I headed home. The hour was late, so the next morning I returned to retrieve more records. His crew had returned and already finished off this section that housed the real history of the railroad.
I begin searching for other records. Perhaps my father-in-law, or others I knew who had made the Frisco their life. I soon had another truckload. I decided I would use an abandoned service station next door to our Drive Inn to save more records. This pleased our friend, as the landfill fees were getting a bit much.
After two truckloads, I had to call a halt because we were out of space. I soon learned the extent of how much our friend (?) wanted to save the landfill fees. He instructed his driver to dump a load in the yard of our country home. I pulled into our drive way just as his truck driver was fleeing.
This created a real crisis; our next-door neighbor was a long time employee of the Frisco as well as a neighbor across the street. I could see the wind picking up and blowing these records into their yards. I quickly set a match to this mountain of paper. This just shouldn't be happening.
* * * * * * *
The records' building was now vacant. I begin going over what I had accumulated. First, I had to spray for fleas. Many fleas. Birds and field mice had taken over the old records building since they had abandoned it. I wound up with about six large boxes of real history. Of the personal records, I had records of several thousand employees dating back to 1895. What to do? I had a fear the company would find out not all their records were destroyed.
Another friend suggested he knew a Frisco manager who would love to see these records and would be discreet. I let him inspect much of what I had. He spent most of a day going over them. He was amazed, but his feeling was that there was nothing that could or would hurt the operation of the railroad today, and that I should set on all this until the Burlington Northern completed its merger with the Frisco.
But still, what should I do with these employee records? I spend hours going over many of them. They were fascinating reading. It didn't take long to feel the pride, the pain, and the true lives of these employees who dedicated their lives to the railroad. From the humble mother begging for the reinstatement of her son as the only breadwinner of the family, to the endless pages of depositions given when fingers got meshed or trains wrecked.
I knew I was on hollow ground and no one to turn to. I didn't know what to do then. Today, I know what I should have done, but that was then. Then, I set about removing letterheads of railroads long since gone. I had a collection of about 60 such railroads. This would be my hobby. I sorted out about 100 of the more interesting files and kept 4 of the black file boxes. The rest I disposed of. Time was running out and I had to get them out of the building I used.
I loaded 3 old suitcases and a box with records that pertained to the every day operation of the old Frisco and headed off to the St. Louis Museum of Transportation. From what I remember, a Doctor of medicine was running the museum then. He was tickled to get all this and told me he was much upset because he had asked the Frisco to let him go through the building before they destroyed it. They told him there wasn't anything of interest. What I had here was of much interest to him. I left my folder of the 60 of more letterheads for him to read, and told him I wanted this one back. I never got it back, and this should have been a lesson to me that I wouldn't repeat again. A spokesperson for this museum had said they have no Frisco records but since have learned they do and are doing some preservation. I had, a couple of years ago written this Transportation Museum with a question about these papers and never received a reply.
After storing the remaining records for the rest of the years, I went through them again about five years ago and found I had another box of operating records. I loaded them and also a loose-leaf binder of the latest collections of letterheads and proceeded to give them to the Frisco RR Museum in Springfield. Once again, advising this person that he could look at my collection of letterheads, but I wanted them back. I seem to never learn. I never got it back, even after much effort. From neither museum did I get so much of a thank-you for what I did give willingly to them.
(NOTE June 2003: the Springfield MO FRISCO MUSEUM has closed its doors and many items have been purchased and moved to the old Frisco Office building in Springfield for safe keeping for now) (June 2005, The Springfield Public Library now has much of the employee records dated after 1944 as well as the early editions of the employee newspaper published by the railroad, More on this when you return to the front page)
In fairness to other museums, I should add that most do care. I gave the Springfield History museum some letters pertaining to the Railroad's relation with the city and they went out of their way to thank me and write a letter of thank you.
In the meantime, I became interested in Genealogy. It was then I realized I should have removed the employment applications from each of the employee records before I had destroyed them. I returned to what I had left of these records and retrieved about 50 applications. From all this I kept one complete Engineer file that would represent an example of how records were kept.
I am still going through miscellaneous items such as tickets and telegrams of the period. I have listed many names found among these papers in hopes descendants can find and have a piece of their fathers working life on the Frisco. But how much more there could have been if we could of seen down the road the interest in genealogy and the computer. A Genealogist working with me, only shakes her head at the thought of what might have been.
CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT A 1913 FRISCO EMPLOYMENT APPLICATION COVERED.
AN AFTER THOUGHT.
Many thought the RR kept the employee records. They did not. There is the
privacy of the living that must be protected and lets face it, most are not that
interested in their ancestors life.
There were records of employees discharged for different reasons. You have to ask yourself; do I want to know ALL about my G Grandfather? I know many of you would answer YES, or you wouldn't be interested in this subject. Maybe the powers-to-be should save the original applications of these employees and destroy the rest. If the records are not old, then store them in a time capsule. But that would take money away from stockholders. In the end, they rule, so itís off to the shredder for all your ancestorís records. (or with todayís technology, you hit the delete button)
Do any records of RR employees exist? Outside of records kept by the R R retirement board, little if anything was kept by the employer. In some cases a card file was kept that lists only name, date, and employment status. Nothing about what was on the original application. Nothing at all about demerits given for various reasons. Nothing about sick leaves, time off for a childís funeral. Files of long time employees listing all this information were often as much as three inches thick with pages of very personal information. I felt privileged and humbled to peer into these past lives. I wish I could have found more descendants of these hard working railroad men and women.
To help you understand what an application for the Frisco asked, I have posted the above link to a 1913 application form. You can also see a picture of a black box and a complete file by the side of it.