Seventy years later that number grew by more than 190,000 miles. The railroads expanded with the help of Congressional land grants and economic growth following the Civil War, pulling people and prosperity with them.
The men who made this travel possible were forgotten in the rush to crisscross the country. These men would have to keep the track safe and stable for passengers and for the growing freight traffic. As the nation grew dependent on this faster mode of transportation that replaced the stagecoach, there was an ever-increasing demand for railroads and employees to maintain them.
The initial rush to lay rail had produced poorly laid track that could not handle the speed and amount of traffic. The early makeshift crews gave way to other crews who could rebuild, repair and maintain the track. These men worked from sunrise to sunset – 14.5 hours a day – with a one-hour break in the winter and ninety minutes in the summer. There were no job guarantees and wage cuts were forced upon them. There were no benefits for injury or death and the average pay was eighty cents a day.
It was these conditions that led John T. Wilson, in 1887 at the age of 26, to risk his job and welfare to form an organization to offer some protections to his fellow maintenance workers. This new group, the Order of Railway Trackmen, was conceived solely as a benevolent society that would offer death and disability insurance to its members.
To continue reading the fascinating history of the unions rocky beginning as well as how the Brotherhood functions in modern society, click below.