I came from a Railroad family. My Dad, Jack Lancaster, was a Yardmaster for the old
Seaboard Air Line Railroad from 1940 until he retired after nearly 40 years of service. My
Grandfather, Dawson Mosely, worked for the old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad until he retired
with nearly 40 years of service.
There were many arguments between those two for a long time. They argued over which
was the best railroad for the most part and that one day one of the companies would likely
take over the other. They were right, it happened exactly that way.
My Dad worked all his life in Hamlet; my Grandad mostly in Wilmington, NC and then later
in Jacksonville, FL.
I fulfilled my four plus years with the United States Air Force in 1963 and returned to Hamlet
after a four year absence. I tried to hire out with the old SAL but was told I didn't pass their
physical exam. I protested, "But, I just took a physical with the Air Force and they would not
let you out unless you passed!"
Elton Cook, then Terminal Superintendent at Hamlet, called me back to his office after
my protest. He said that he would hire me, but as a Clerk, not as a trainman as I had
requested. He had known me for years since his son and I had been in High School together
though a year apart. He thought I would make a better Clerk than a trainman. I agreed and
that started my railroad career in Hamlet.
However, I was only sent on "training" jobs around Hamlet Yard. There was no pay for
training but I was not too worried. After all, the Air Force had told me I would be eligible for
Unemployment pay until I found a job. That turned out to be a nightmare.
After collecting unemployment from the state of North Carolina for two weeks, I was
called in and advised I would have to pay the money back. I explained I didn't have a job,
that I was only training for the railroad in Hamlet and not earning any money. It didn't matter
to them. I had to pay it back.
So, there I was in the fall of 1963 working a job and not getting paid for it and in trouble
with the State of North Carolina. I also had a wife and child to provide for with another
child soon to be born. I was hurting.
It turned out that I would never get paid a single day for working in Hamlet, but I would
earn some money as a Clerk for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.
Ernest Hughulet was in charge of the Crew Office and the Clerks in Hamlet. He told me
that I was an "extra" Clerk and would be paid only when I actually worked. He also told me
that I would be called to protect jobs as far away as Richmond, Va. And, that is the only
place I was ever paid during 1963.
Mr. Hughulet would call me on Sunday evenings and tell me to "deadhead" by train to
Richmond and report to Brown Street Agency for further instructions. I would be there an
entire week each time I accepted these calls. My son was due to be born any day and this
was yet another hardship for my wife and I as I was out of town so much.
The SAL only paid a new Clerk about $18.00 a day and we had to pay for our own food
and lodging while on out of town assignments. I was actually losing money to work!
I decided to ride the train back to Hamlet from Richmond each evening after work
arriving in Hamlet around 11:00 P.M. and catching the next train back to Richmond about
an hour and a half later, shortly after midnight. I was doing this every night getting what
little sleep I could on the train.
After about a month of this, I was so tired I decided to spend a Thursday evening in
Richmond. Wouldn't you just know it... my son was born that night.
As I arrived for work that Friday morning, the freight agent advised me of the birth of
my son the night before. He told me I would be allowed to leave work early enough to
catch one of the Silver Service trains back to Hamlet to be with my new son and my wife.
That would be the last day I ever worked for the old SAL.
The next Sunday, when I received my call from Mr. Hughulet to catch the train to work
in Richmond the next morning, I told him I wouldn't be making that trip. It would be nearly
five years before I worked for the SAL again and only after they merged with the ACL.
I found a job in Lexington, NC the next day and worked there until 1965 in various jobs.
Then, I returned to Hamlet and worked for Pee Dee Bottling Company for the next three years.
In the early summer of 1968, I quit my job with Pee Dee Bottling and went back to the Yard
Office in Hamlet to talk to Elton Cook again. I told him I wanted my job back. He arranged for
me to do that and told me I would again be "in training" without money until I qualified to work a
Clerk's job. But, this time, he could send me no more than 30 miles away to work. I agreed.
I qualified within three days and bid in a regular job within 10 days and was never without
a job again with the railroad. It was now called the SCL (Seaboard Coast Line) Railroad.
Office Manager, Richard Presler, and a Clerk, Harold Guinn, were instrumental in taking me
under their wings and teaching me all the jobs I could handle. They encouraged me to take
the hardest of jobs in order to keep other Clerks with more seniority from bumping me off
those jobs. Their advice paid off. Over the next 34 years, I was bumped less than 5 times.
I enjoyed my job as a Clerk in Hamlet. I was promoted in 1979 to an officer's position,
Terminal Co-ordinator. After a month or so in that capacity I resigned back to my Clerk's
position which I enjoyed. I also worked from time to time as an extra Yardmaster.
In 1986, I was elected as Local and District chairman of our Union. I enjoyed this
position and the ability to protect the rights of my fellow Clerks.
In March 1988, the Railroad began moving Clerks from around the system to a
centralized office in Jacksonville, FL. I knew that in order to keep my job, I needed to
consider moving. My wife and last child (a 13 year old daughter) were ready for me to
make the move.
I had three days to move and did so with great fear which turned out to be unfounded.
I finished my career as a Manager with the now "CSX" railroad in Jacksonville and
retired in January 2002.
I had both good days and bad with the railroad but it provided a good living for my
family and me for 34 years. I remember each job I worked and still think back to how it
all started so many years ago in the Yard Office in Hamlet. I remember the folks I have
mentioned in this short tale.... with respect... but most of all... I remember Hamlet.
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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