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Working Lunch: 1943

February 1943. "Daniel Senise (center) at lunch in the work shanty at an Indiana Harbor Belt Line rail yard. With him are switchmen John McCarthy (left) and E.H. Albrecht." Medium-format nitrate negative by Jack Delano. View full size.

February 1943. "Daniel Senise (center) at lunch in the work shanty at an Indiana Harbor Belt Line rail yard. With him are switchmen John McCarthy (left) and E.H. Albrecht." Medium-format nitrate negative by Jack Delano. View full size.


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Tied cuffs and buttoned collars

Many rails tied their cuffs as a safety measure. It prevented catching a heel in the cuff when getting on or off moving equipment. The buttoned collars are to prevent cinders from steam locomotives from going down your neck. From the looks of their "bibs" I'd guess they were working on a steam locomotive.

Yes, there was plenty of drinking going on, especially back in the "boomer" days, but I doubt anyone would be so brazen as to drink so openly, or in front of a camera.


While I agree that's not booze in the bottle in this shot, anyone who thinks no drinking on the job went on in those days while working on the railroad is nuts. As recently as the late 70s I knew of at least one yardmaster who kept a desk drawer full of ice and liquor or beer for the crews. The entire attic of the RR building I work in now is full of old steel beer cans.

But no. No one with any sense at all would allow themselves to be photographed drinking on the job.


Yep, it's Carnation and I just can't resist:

Carnation milk,
Best in the land.
Comes to the table,
In a little red can.

No tits to pull,
No s--- to pitch.
Just punch two holes,
In the son-of-a-bitch.

Warm flask

The coffee flasks were warmed against the boiler/firebox of the locomotive ... enough pipes and nicks and crannies there to prop up a glass flask against the hot firebox/pipes ... corked ...

Coffee or Tea it MUST Be

Before the ever-popular Thermos, folks would save an old glass bottle to carry coffee or tea with them out to a job. Just uild a small fire, or set the bottle near a stove and reheat it.

When your life depends on the people around you, you can bet there's no hooch or wine here. Railroad employees were, and still are, governed by General Rule G: "The use of intoxicants or narcotics is prohibited. Employees must not have intoxicants or narcotics in their possession while on duty."

Bunkhouse Gang

My grandfather was section crew boss and lived in a four-story company house with bunkhouse at ground level. We saw this scene reenacted every time we visited; my father was part of the crew. No way that is hooch in the bottle, and yes, it is Carnation going into the coffee.

Winter, summer, spring and fall they tied off anything that could catch and kill; for winter warmth they wore Union suits under their coveralls. Both of them had the hat too. Some men wore it off the job, but my gramp and dad had a dress hat. At the end of the day they would drop their work clothes and go into the bunkhouse shower room to clean up before going home.

My mother and grandmother had the task of getting the coal dust out of their clothes, which always ended up with holes and frayed due to strong detergents and scrubbing. Gad, what a memory this one inspires -- a really good memory.


My thrifty German father always put a layer of newspapers on the table before we ate. Tablecloths were reserved for guests.

Being a farmer, Daddy wore those bib overalls daily. The wide pocket in front was reserved for his metal tin of Prince Albert. His tobacco and pack of ZigZag rolling papers were always at the ready!

Stormy Kromer

Those sure are Stormy Kromers. They are still made in Michigan. One of these years I am going to pull the trigger and buy one.

Draft prevention

What a great slice-of-life photo. This being taken in February, I'm guessing they've tied their pants legs closed to keep cold air from blowing up, although it could be to keep clean. Their collars also seem to be similarly sealed.

Kromer Komments

Kromers, which as an owner I can positively state are the absolute best cold weather cap ever made, are still produced today by a firm in Michigan.

George "Stormy" Kromer was a real person. A Chicago & North Western engineer and amateur baseball player, he needed a cap that would stay on when leaning out of the engine cab for better visibility in cold weather. He and his wife reworked one of his old wool baseball caps and the Storm King was born in the 1900s. Other railroaders saw the hat and wanted one, leading to the formation of the Kromer Cap Co. in Milwaukee.

Leg ties didn't keep you warm — they kept you alive. The last thing you want to wear in a working railroad yard is loose fitting clothing that could catch on something, causing you to stumble and fall. There's no room for error between tracks when cars are passing inches away, and it's a long way to the ground from the cab or deck plate of a locomotive.

Tea for Me

Seeing as how the railroad would probably frown on switchmen drinking on the job (to say nothing of your co-workers, or the inadvisability of doing so while a government photographer is taking your picture), it's not very likely that Mr. M is taking a nip.

What's in that bottle?

The man in the stripes is drinking from a bottle that looks similar to a wine or hooch flask from that era. Dan is adding evaporated milk to his coffee, which was used by my old relatives who did not have cream. Also their zowiches were wrapped in wax paper which currently costs more than plastic wrap (and plastic was not in popular use in those days) and some people would bring home and re-use their sandwich wrap the next day too. Typical hard-working men with humble dignity, reminiscent of all the blue collar laborers of the 40's.

I'll wager..

that's Carnation he's pouring in his coffee.

RR Topper

Senise and Albrecht are wearing Kromer caps that were manufactured in Wisconsin back in the day. My grandfather worked for the Soo Line in Gladstone, Michigan, and I have his black Kromer. I believed it to be black until I cautiously took it to the dry cleaner and it turned out to be dark blue. All those years of railroading had been washed away, but not forgotten.

Leg Ties

That's one way of keeping a cold draft from going up your pants.

Mr. McCarthy has that Bogart overbite and squint. "The conductors wear grey. You wear blue. See?"

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