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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

Railroad Conductor

The conductor’s job involved more than collecting tickets. He was the “captain” of the train. He supervised other train crew, looked out for the safety of everyone aboard, and made sure that every passenger paid the correct fare. The engineer was responsible for signals and speed restrictions en route, but the conductor determined when a train could safely depart a station and was in charge during emergencies. The conductor’s role as chief of the train came from maritime tradition. Many conductors on the first American railroads in the 1830s had been steamboat or coastal packet captains.

Southern Railway conductor C. Frank Marshall and engineer David L. Fant compare watches, Greenville, South Carolina, 2:48 p.m., January 4, 1929.
Southern Railway conductor C. Frank Marshall and engineer David L. Fant compare watches, Greenville, South Carolina, 2:48 p.m., January 4, 1929.
Pullman conductor John W. Zimmer greets a passenger, Burlington, Iowa, 1925.
Pullman conductor John W. Zimmer greets a passenger, Burlington, Iowa, 1925.
Conductor’s watch, Hamilton Model 950, 23 jewels, 1918
Conductor’s watch, Hamilton Model 950, 23 jewels, 1918
It was most important that the conductor keep the train on schedule. To ensure accuracy, watches were inspected regularly by jewelers on contract to the railroad.
Railroad rule book, Southern Railway, 1930s
Railroad companies developed standard sets of rules that train crews and dispatchers were expected to follow. Collisions and derailments were widespread on the early railroads and the rules were designed to prevent accidents.
Railroad rule book, Southern Railway, 1930s
Conductor’s ticket and cash case, about 1860
Conductor’s ticket and cash case, about 1860
Conductors accounted for the ticket of each passenger and, when necessary, sold tickets on board. This early case—and later, a larger “grip” (small suitcase)—kept records in order.
Railroad conductor’s cap, 1920s-1940s
A conductor’s most recognizable “badge of office” was the traditional hat. Other trainmen wore these, too, so the cap badge indicated the wearer’s title and authority.
Railroad conductor’s cap, 1920s-1940s
Convention badge, Order of Railway Conductors, 1915
Convention badge, Order of Railway Conductors, 1915
Most union conductors belonged to either the Order of Railway Conductors, founded in 1868, or the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, founded in 1883.
Conductor’s ticket punch, Southern Railway, 1920s-1940s
Each conductor’s punch made a distinctively shaped hole in a ticket. Thus a conductor could easily determine who had canceled the ticket.
Conductor’s ticket punch, Southern Railway, 1920s-1940s
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