A Railroad Contractor

(Much of this story is badly faded. Some of the words are best guesses.)

On May 12, 1903, after many talks and tales told me by R. J. Lizzie, and the advantages that would be had by going into partnership with him, lead me to believe that it would be worth some while to me in the way of making money, he stated further that his business was so extensive that he required a man of my capability to carry on his work, it was too much for one man believing all this to be true, I went into the game. The firm was known as Lizzie and Robert. On the above date, the outfit was taken to Isinours, a station on the Southern Division of the St. Paul & Milwaukee Ry, to undertake a piece of work, clearing right-of-way grading 3 miles of roadbed. Two camps, accommodating 50 to 60 men, were installed, one near Isinours, and the other near Preston, Fillmore County. The right-of-way paralleled the Root River. The outfit consisted of 24 horses, harnesses, graders, wheel-scrapers, slushers, several wagons and pale team of buggy horses. Two cuts of stone work were given out to station men Lind & Lund stoneman, one cut of 9000 yards, the other 6500 yards. The dirt was moved by teams and sweep-cars with about 2 miles of track. We subbed for Foley Bros., the general contractors. They furnished us $1000.00 as working capital (this fund I never saw, but Lizzie stated it went for procuring necessary tools etc.). The work proceeded nicely. At the end of two weeks the men demanded money. Lizzie was in St. Paul at the time. I went to Mr. Wells, President of the Bank of Preston, and told him I wanted some money to pay off the men. Told him the Engineer had sent us an estimate and that Mr. Lizzie, on his return from St. Paul, would bring some funds. This (was) agreeable to him. I negotiated a loan of $3500.00, signed the firm name, also endorsing same personally on the back, the amount was placed to our credit. Paid off the men. As the work progressed, we bought 20 old skates just returned from the woods, were thin, and ill-fed by their owners. They were not much good until fed up and given a rest. Then more men put to work. Joe LaBissoniere was given the bridge work. The channel in the river was changed in two places to avoid bridges. When about to change the course of water into the new channel made by us, a heavy rain came up and washed away the greater part of our work. I had more than 150 grain sacks filled with earth and placed in the channel, and then worked fast to close up. I induced the men on this work to work overtime at double pay and also promised them a barrel of beer if it was closed. It withstood another heavy rain. I got them the barrel of beer and they had one hell of a time that night, some of them had a bad headache the next day.

Preston is located in southeastern Minnesota. Isinours is not on the state highway map but does appear on this USGS map. At larger scales, a railroad can be seen running along the river valley between Preston and Isinours. This is probably the line described here.

The season was very wet and 9 or 10 of the old skates got hoof diseased and died and I buried them one after the other in the grade, much against the warning of Mr. Coos, the engineer on the work. One morning after a heavy rain, I walked over the grade and there I saw 4 legs sticking out about two feet. I ran back to camp and with the barnman sawed off the legs and buried them--not any too soon for the engineer and his helpers came along and I diverted their attention to another angle. I often invited the engineer and his helpers to dinner, and sometimes in the afternoon, much to the dislike of Lizzie, but the engineer was a swell fellow and gave me a lot of farce-account work. I called his attention to the stone work along the river and suggested it ought to be rip-rapped. He told me to go ahead. I put in two men with two stone hammers and in two days had knocked off the corners. Rendered a bill for $800.00 ($1.00 per yard). It was allowed and paid by the Co. Lizzie told the engineer, and others, that if I had undertaken R.R. work as a young man I would be the best in the country. The grading was done and bridge built and the work ready for the track layers.

The men employed by us, with the exception of a few, were booze-fighters. Every pay day they went to Preston for a drunk and got rolled for their money, came back to the camp with an awful headache. One day I asked Ole Peterson, "why do you spend your money that way?" "Well," he said, "no one can be a good lumberjack or railroader unless he got drunk and rolled for his money." This same Ole came to the commissary to buy a pair of shoes, but he thought I was asking too much for them. He went to Preston, bought himself a pair of shoes and in coming home drunk as a lord, he lost his shoes, and I going to town the next day, I found his shoes and sold them to him for $2.50. I thought this a joke, but later on, in the fall, he borrowed a fall coat from me and I never have seen Ole, or the coat since. The firm of Lizzie and Robert had a payroll of more than $34,600 for this work, and I believe that very little of this amount did not buy booze.

I liked this work awful well. It was interesting and I enjoyed it immensely. We finished the work on Oct. 20, 1903. I believe it was the only railroad job ever done without a lawsuit, although Lizzie had trouble with the station-men, and the farmers around the right-of-way whose gates were left open by our drivers. I was always the fixer, a box of cigars, a bottle of booze, or something out of our store, a shovel, pick or crow bar. I was a good fellow with them, but my partner Lizzie was (I will leave it unsaid).

The firm cleaned up $10,292.00. The firm then did a job on Vandelia St. and cleaned up $800.00 in 30 days. From there we went to Lee Summit Wis., Lizzie going first leaving me here to finish unsettled matters. Lizzie, at Lee Summit with the bookkeeper, fixed the books showing I had nothing coming. I discovered this while at Lee Summit. I took $550.00, a check on the Bank for $500.00 and $50.00 cash in hand. Lizzie sued me for taking this money. I set up partnership, and the court gave me what I took, and $565.40 more. Lizzie took an appeal and the case was sent back for trial. Mr Lizzie would not try it over because the lower court had not given Robert his proportionate share of the assets and property bought with the earnings of the Co.

Music is I've Been Working on the Railroad sequenced by Bill Basham

This site created by Harry E. Connors III

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