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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 People on the Move Americans Adopt the Auto Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction The Salisbury Depot What Happened to Plessy? A Way of Travel Railroad Conductor Pullman Porter Carrying Everything Into Town--and Out Locomotive Engineer & Fireman Railroaders behind the Scenes Promoting Good Roads Spencer, an Industrial Community What Happened to the Railroads?
9: Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927

Spencer, an Industrial Community

Spencer, a suburb of Salisbury, owed its existence to the Southern Railway. The town began in 1897, springing up around 141 acres of land the Southern bought to build a railroad repair-shop complex. Although the railway did not directly develop the town, more than 2,500 machinists, foundry workers, boilermakers, carpenters, and other shop workers and their families lived in Spencer. They and the merchants who supplied their needs made Spencer a thriving industrial community.

Parade in downtown Spencer, 1920s
Parade in downtown Spencer, 1920s
Spencer had a strong civic identity and held the usual array of holiday celebrations.

Steam Locomotive Shop Work

Work in the Spencer Shops was hot and hard. The pay was good and workers took pride in their craft. In the 1920s, the shops employed many African Americans as laborers, while at the top of the craft hierarchy stood the master boilermakers and master machinists. Labor disputes occasionally simmered, and in 1922 Spencer workers took part in the nationwide shopmen’s strike, the most extensive strike of the 20th century.

Main erecting hall, Spencer Shops, with steam locomotives in various stages of tear-down or reassembly
Main erecting hall, Spencer Shops, with steam locomotives in various stages of tear-down or reassembly
Aerial view of Spencer Shops in its heyday
Aerial view of Spencer Shops in its heyday
Foundrymen forging a steel billet under a steam hammer
Foundrymen forging a steel billet under a steam hammer
Workers at Spencer Shops, about 1915
Workers at Spencer Shops, about 1915

Steam Locomotive Shop Tools


Inspection and Lubrication

When a locomotive came into the shop, an inspector examined the boiler, wheels, and mechanical systems. Locomotives returned to service after necessary repairs, and after they had their wheel bearings oiled and their rod bearings greased.

Inspector's torch
Inspector's torch

This torch’s light was provided by kerosene fuel and a wick.

Journal hook
Journal hook
Used to check oil level for axles of tenders.
Oil can
Oil can
Oil can used on the Southern Railway
Alemite grease gun
Alemite grease gun

Alemite pneumatic grease gun used to inject grease into rod bearings.

Mechanical Work

Skilled mechanics used a variety of hand tools to remove and replace steam piping, and to loosen or tighten thousands of nuts and bolts during the disassembly and repair of locomotive parts. The work was hard, and often required great strength.

Railroad shop hammer
Railroad shop hammer
Cold chisel
Cold chisel
Alligator wrench, used at Spencer
Alligator wrench, used at Spencer
Small S wrench, with owner’s name
Small S wrench, with owner’s name
Large S wrench
Large S wrench
Monkey wrench
Monkey wrench
Crowfoot wrench
Crowfoot wrench
Homemade saddle-bolt spanner
Homemade saddle-bolt spanner
3-head wrench, used at Spencer
3-head wrench, used at Spencer
Large spanner
Large spanner
Three sockets
Three sockets

Boilermaking

Boilermakers dealt with the hundreds of rivets that held a boiler together. They “punched out” old rivets and “drove” new ones when they disassembled and reassembled a boiler. Boilermakers also installed new flues within the boiler. All this work had to be done properly or the boiler would leak.

Pneumatic rivet gun with swages
Pneumatic rivet gun with swages
Used to drive small rivets and seal flues
Swages for rivet gun
Swages for rivet gun
Used to form rivet heads and seal boiler flues
Staybolt taps
Staybolt taps
Used to thread holes for firebox staybolts

Machining

Machinists worked at large lathes, planers, milling machines, and boring mills, doing high-precision work to craft new rods, axles, bearings, pistons and cylinders, and other parts.

Machinist's divider
Machinist's divider
Machinist's caliper
Machinist's caliper

Union Dues Buttons

These buttons showed that a union member had paid his dues for the date printed. They represent some of the unions that organized workers by their separate crafts in the time of steam railroads.

International Brotherhood of Boiler Makers & Helpers, November 1942
International Brotherhood of Boiler Makers & Helpers, November 1942
United Association of Steam Fitters and Helpers, 1945
United Association of Steam Fitters and Helpers, 1945
International Brotherhood of Stationary Firemen and Oilers, 1918
International Brotherhood of Stationary Firemen and Oilers, 1918
International Association of Machinists, 1919
International Association of Machinists, 1919
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