Thursday, March 26, 2015

Boilermakers Lodge 201

Winona got its first railroad, the Winona and St. Peter, in 1862. Construction was slowed by the Civil War, but in 1864 the W&St.P. had already built a small shop facility along the river on Winona's
West End. In 1867, the Chicago and Northwestern purchased the W&StP, making Winona but a stop on one of the Midwest's largest railroad systems. In 1880, the C&NW built a massive two-story brick station and division headquarters at Second and Huff (see left). The humble shop facility of 1864 grew into a sprawling complex. The C&NW's Winona Shops also provided steady employment to generations of Winona's Kashubian Polish workingmen. The work was hard and dirty. The hours were long. But the pay was very good for the time, and the shopmen took great pride in their job and in their railroad. It was customary for fathers to get their sons positions in the Winona Shops. Some might call this "nepotism," but Marvin Hughlitt, the famous and highly respected president of the C&NW from 1887 to 1910, felt otherwise. The C&NW itself was too large to be a real family in Hughlitt's opinion, but approved of smaller "families" forming on the towns on his railroad. The son of a good, hardworking C&NW railroader was bound to be a good, hardworking C&NW railroader too.

The years of 1898 and 1899 brought a whirlwind of union activity to Winona. Spearheaded by local organizer George Hess, Winona boasted fourteen organized trades by mid-1899. One of these newly organized union affiliates was Boilermakers and Helpers' "Gate City" Lodges 201 and 28, as seen in this picture. The banner proudly proclaims the lodges' names and the herald of the C&NW, and American flags are distributed liberally on and around the banner. I would guess that the men closest to the banner - who are also holding little hammers - are the lodge officials. The man in the suit could very well be George Hess himself. At first I thought this picture was taken on C&NW property, deep in the Winona Shops. But the buildings in the background are too ornate to be shop buildings (two of which survive in Winona, by the way). And the building at right is definitely not the 1880 C&NW railroad station, which had a much higher roof. Perhaps it was taken somewhere on West Second Street close to a place where liquid refreshments could be served?

Unlike most railroad presidents of his time, Marvin Hughlitt believed in paying his employees a fair salary, instead of trying to get the most work for the least money. He had no problems with his employees belonging to unions, as long as they kept doing their jobs. This was quite likely the reason why the C&NW encountered far less labor trouble than most other American railroads at that time. Certainly the men posing in their overalls are proud of their work, their union, their railroad, and their country.

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