Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche–They Work on the Railroad


“How hard they worked is an astonishment to us in the twenty-first century. Except for some of the cooks, and bakers, there was not a fat man among them. Their hands were tough enough for any job–one never sees gloves in the photographs–which included pickax handling, shoveling, wielding sledgehammers, picking up iron rails, and using other equipment that required hands like iron. Their waists were generally thin, but oh, those shoulders! Those arms! Those legs! They were men who could move things, whatever was required, in rain or snow or high winds or burning sun and scorching temperature, all day, every day. Nebraska can be hotter than hell, colder than the South Pole. They kept on working. They didn’t whine, they didn’t complain, they didn’t quit, they just kept on working.”

Stephen Ambrose writing about the Chinese, the Civil War veterans and all of the immigrants who worked for the rails building the Transcontinental Railroad in his book Nothing Like it in the World

Interesting tidbits:

The Chinese came because they wanted to make money and kept coming despite the prejudices they encountered only to prove themselves as excellent workers and humans.

Most workers were either still teenagers or very young adults.

Many still wore the remnants of their uniforms from fighting the war between the states.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Elephant says:

    They were too poor for gloves. You know I can’t get over how tough the people of that era were. I know there are tough people around today, but these men were amazing. They were camped out with very little and worked at tough dangerous jobs sans gloves! I suppose the idea of how rough it was either grabs you or it doesn’t – it obviously amazes us!
    Thanks men!


    1. I think because they were mostly young men they probably misplaced their gloves (I’m thinking of my teenaged sons 🙂 ). haha. Women have a lot of wonderful qualities and some would probably have done well working on the RR’s but I wouldn’t have. I can’t imagine swinging a 20 pound sledgehammer for 8 hours a day (with a break for lunch) but I could see my husband doing it.


      1. Elephant says:

        Oh how wonderful that you have a husband who could swing that hammer! (nothing rude intended). Yes, the women – oh my – how did they do all they did with those dresses and restrictions and all the house, home and family things that they did – it makes me tired to even think about it.

        You should have your husband’s DNA preserved – I fear a man who can work hard all day is an endangered species!

        Someday, when we know each other well, I will tell you a sad story about a working man’s gloves!



      2. Can’t wait! My husband says it’s because he comes from peasant stock in the midwest 🙂


  2. Elephant says:

    Peasant stock in the mid-west? Well, then wasn’t he a descendant of these strong pioneers? The men!



    1. I laughed when our son wrote a story about my husband and called him “The Rhino.”


      1. Elephant says:

        Well . . . where did that Rhino come from?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s