Sunday, May 6, 2012

“Track Work Patriots” From Davis: White Collar Guys “Working on the Railroad” (57)

WWII military mobilization created acute manual labor shortages in the U. S. Among other programs, efforts were made to recruit “white collar” men too old for the military into hard-to-fill manual labor tasks.

One such program was organized by the Southern Pacific Railroad for the purpose of moving freight piling up in rail centers and maintaining and repairing tracks.

As a town with a train depot and SP station agent, Davis was an obvious and easy target for such recruitment. This was especially so since the agent was long-time Davis resident Sam Brinley who had married into the pioneer Weber family and who had become a prime mover-and-shaker in local affairs.

In 1942-43, about a hundred white-collar Davis men were recruited and worked on the railroad an unknown number of weekends. This engagement was a point of much pride and discussion in Davis and featured heavily in the Davis Enterprise. Joanne Larkey canonizes the episode in her Davisville ’68 and Portraits of the Past series.

I have tended to think this program was as much symbol and morale propaganda as substance (and this possibility is hinted at in the accompanying article by SP). I am particularly impressed by the considerable public relations resources the SP invested in photographing the participants and writing puff reports about their doings.

I recently acquired a copy of the March, 1942 issue of the Southern Pacific Bulletin which features a photo of four Davis men posing near the Davis train depot as though they are working. This photo is one of a half-a-dozen shots in which I have seen these four men appear to be modeling work rather than actually working.

Looking closely at them in this and other shots, one can see they are dressed in white, starched shirts and not otherwise wearing gear suitable for serious manual labor.

I think it is also of note that these men are not four randomly selected Davis white-collar guys. Instead, they are very well known and influential UC professors (Bainer--of UCD’s Bainer Hall--and Wilson), a prominent businessman (Burks), and the public school head (Marshall). In addition, inside the Bulletin, we get a photo of Sam Brinley himself talking with the editor of the Davis Enterprise (Maghetti).

Rounding out this account, I include excerpts from my E-500s People booklet describing two additional “track work patriots.”  One of them, Floyd Bagley, who was a major organizer of the effort, owned & lived in the house in which I sit as I write this. The other, Grover Lowe, owned & lived in the house next door.