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Railroad Laborer Diary

 Collection — Box: MISC-04, Folder: MSS-0056
Identifier: MSS-0056

Content Description

Diary of an unidentified male railroad laborer on a crew laying and repairing track along the Columbia River in Oregon. The diary consists of 20 loose pages dated July 3-20, 1894. The entries begin in Arlington, with the unknown author joining a new work outfit, and the 300-man workforce required to switch the railcars of their construction train by hand before the engine arrives. Each of the daily entries are dated and describe weather conditions, work completed with a detailed log, and daily occurrences. Two pages of the diary are devoted to a handwritten calendar for July 1894 notating daily meals and calcuations for personal bookkeeping.

The diary’s author primarily relies on railroad mile posts for geographic description, but occasionally cites nearby villages including Blalock, Squally Hook, John Day, and Rufus. The O.R. & N. Co. (Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company) Railroad is mentioned. In the diary’s last few entries, the author switches from the dayshift to a nightshift offered by his foreman, a man named Sullivan.

The author’s work experience is punctuated by a number of notable events: one of the workers discovers a large rattlesnake while sleeping under a railcar in Squally Hook (the author describes the location as “a sandy deserted country”). While at John Day Station, the author notes a nearby camp of Native Americans:

“Some Indian people were camped on an island near where we were working. They were a sample of their race as they were male and female of all sizes, and their actions were according to their history.”

A prominent event in the diary occurs over the course of July 14-16: on a “hot and sultry day” shoveling a sand drift, a large workforce failed to receive water from the only man on duty: “about 57 men was screaming bring us water and water man said wait till you get it.” The diary’s author and four other men were discharged for stopping work to drink river water after being refused water. The following two entries are devoted to the author and Sullivan stating their cases to the road masters, and the author choosing to continue working under an apologetic Sullivan instead of transferring to a supply position.


  • July 1894

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the Nebraska Public Records Statutes (Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 84-712 through 84-712.09), and other relevant regulations. Confidential material may include, but is not limited to, educational, medical, and personnel records. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of Nebraska Omaha assumes no responsibility.

Conditions Governing Use

The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, Archives & Special Collections will provide information about copyright owners and related information. Securing permission to publish or use material is the responsibility of the researcher. Note that unless specifically transferred to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, any applicable copyrights may be held by another individual or entity. Further information about copyright policy is available at


0.01 Cubic Feet (1 folder) : diary

Language of Materials



Collection has been arranged and described.

Custodial History

Ebay purchase from seller 50s-60s-70s on 2/2/16.

Physical Characteristics

Diary consists of loose sheets of white, blue-ruled paper folded in half to create five folios, 8" high and 5" wide. Two of the diary's 20 pages are blank. The diary's entries are written in cursive with a modern graphite pencil. Each leaf of the diary is embossed with a Golden Gate logo, and each sheet has a "GG MILLS SUPERFINE" watermark. The paper is dirty from handling and yellowed by age, with a prominent black ink stain seeped through every page.

Railroad Laborer Diary
Angela Kroeger; Amy Schindler; David DeYarman (intern, 2022)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nebraska at Omaha Archives & Special Collections Repository

Archives & Special Collections
Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss Library
6001 Dodge St.
Omaha Nebraska 68182-0237 United States