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Marcella Hart: 1943

Marcella Hart: 1943

April 1943. Clinton, Iowa. "Mrs. Marcella Hart, mother of three, employed as a wiper at the roundhouse. Chicago & North Western R.R." 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.


This is my new nick here now, Brent

My father was serving on the HMCS Louisburg and Royal Canadian Naval Corvette of the Flower Class.

They were on convoy duty running supplies and troops into North Africa for the campaign against Rommel. His ship was hit by an aerial torpedo and sunk very quickly. Being an "Engine Room Artificer" below decks, his chances of getting out alive were slim to none.

Thanks for asking!

Just out of curiosity

Oldtimer, what ship was your father serving on when he was lost?

My dad started out his career

as a "callboy" on the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1920s. Very few people in those days had telephones. He went door to door to wake up operating personnel, like locomotive engineers and firemen, to call them to work. The prerequisite for the callboy job: you had to have a bicycle!

His dad, my grandfather, was a "hogger"(locomotive engineer) with the CPR. He retired circa 1950.

My dad progressed to an engine wiper, apprenticed as a steamfitter and received his journeyman's papers in 1936. He served in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve in WWII and went missing in action at sea 10 days before my birth in 1943.

Marcella's ticker

I'll bet there's a railroad pocket watch in her upper right coverall pocket attached to the denim shoelace.

Wipers Wipe

off dirt, grease, and any other gunk that gets on the locomotive. Railroads worked hard to keep their equipment looking good.

If a wiper was good, he/she could move up to oiler, and learn how the various bearings should be lubricated.

The Wiper's Job

The wiper's job was to wipe down or clean the boiler jacket -- no mean task on a big, modern engine. This was done with a handful of "waste" (a leftover from the textile mills, it was basically a wad of loose thread, used by the handful like a shop rag -- this is what she's holding in her right hand) and dipped in a light oil or kerosene (the red can). Wipers might also clean headlight, reverse lamp and class/marker lights, cab glass, and sweep down the running boards to remove accumulations of cinders. May have even hosed down the deck of the cab during this busy time, although firemen usually took care of that chore.

Re: Wipers

A wiper was essentially a '"ube tech" and cleaner, they went around and filled oil reservoirs on bearing-boxes and various pivot points then knocked off accumulated road grime.

Good Manicure Too

Despite her hard, dirty job, Mrs. Hart still has beautifully lacquered nails. Reminds me of the landlady in the first reel of "Swing Shift," who, as her young tenants are putting up her blackout curtains for her after Pearl Harbor, finally finishes with her nail file and announces to the room, "Well, this is one American who's going to die with perfect nails!"


OK, thanks "Our Mom" for the mental images - but what does a wiper do in a locomotive sense?

Some things don't change.

I work on diesel locomotives in the Morris Park yard of the Long Island RR. The steam engines are gone, as are the wipers, but we still get just as filthy!

Our mom

Our mom was a wiper, too. But it was mainly on our cabooses. And on really bad days, she probably looked a little like the hardworking lady in the photo. Sans overalls, of course.

Blue and Red

Wonderful photo! I imagine Jack Delano saying something like, "Just as you are, ma'am, that's fine. Yep, grease and all, that's what I'm after." and her saying "You can have the grease, but there ain't no way you're taking that picture till I've put on my lipstick."

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