Nearly a century ago the casualty rate among locomotive firemen was so high that very few insurance companies would insure firemen and then only at a rate that was so high as to be prohibitive considering their compensation. This resulted in many widows and orphans being left destitute.
On December 31, 1873 at Port Jervis, New York, a few firemen met after the untimely death of one of their fellow workmen and decided to form some kind of organization to alleviate the dire circumstances in which deceased firemen’s families were left. They banded themselves together into the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen with an insurance feature for relief of the deceased brother’s family. At times it was a strenuous problem to raise sufficient money to meet their obligations, but they never failed.
From this meager beginning has developed the present Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen with one hundred and twenty-five per cent of assets for every dollar of insurance.
The motto of this organization is: Protection, Charity, Sobriety, and Industry.
Marceline Lodge #486 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen was organized at 2:00 p.m., December 31, 1896, by Charles W. Maier, Vice Grand Master, in Knights of Pythias hall over the State Bank. The session continued until a motion was made to adjourn for supper and to re-assemble at 7:30 p.m., which was done. The charter members and the offices to which they were elected were: J. Piper, Master; James Kain, Vice Master; L. A. Sheldon, Secretary; M. Maloney, Collector; E. Edwards, Receiver; F. Prince, Past Master; A. D. Young, Delegate to Grand Lodge; J. C. Showmaker, L. A. Sheldon, and F. O. Payden, Board of Trustees; M. Maloney, Protective Board (Chairman);, J. Fry, Protective Board; F. Prince, Protective Board; M. W. Shumaker and C. M. Rhodes, Members. Dr. McMillen was appointed Medical Examiner. Congratulations were extended by visiting Brothers William Bock, Frank Caldwell, and Charles Boyles of Lodge #391, Fort Madison, Iowa. The quarterly dues for a member carrying a $1,500 policy was $5; $1,000 policy, $4; $2.50 for a $500 policy. Initiation fee was $5.
In April, 1897, the Committee had a meeting with the coal chute foreman endeavoring to have coal broken up before being placed on tanks of engines. Also M. Maloney had a meeting with Roundhouse Foreman Mr. Weaver in an attempt to have an employee on duty in the oil house at noon so firemen could draw oil and supplies upon arrival instead of waiting until long after dinner to perform this duty. Firemen were required to supply engines and fill lubricators.
On June 20, 1897, at a regular meeting M. Maloney, J. D. Fry, and L. A. Sheldon were appointed as a committee to visit the businessmen of Marceline requesting them not to handle H. S. Block t Co. cigars and informed the businessmen either to boycott H. S. Block & Co. or be boycotted by the firemen. On November 7, 1897, M. Maloney presented a bill for 2 trips to Fort Madison on seniority cases. His bill was for $6.30 for three days lost time, on a work train. The rate at that time was $2.10 per day for 12 hours. At a July meeting the Lodge paid M. Maloney $35 as salary for attending the Grand Lodge Convention in Toronto, Canada.
Shortly after 1900, efforts were made to organize the firemen on the old Hannibal and St. Joe R.R. The mention of a union organization there was considered a dischargeable offense since the disastrous 1888 strike of the Engineers. Men were discharged by wire when found to belong to a union. This was a condition on other roads and with other unions in many places. Firemen had to be very secretive about any union activity. The firemen on the Burlington properties slipped away to B. of L.F. & E. Lodges on railroads where unions were recognized or at least tolerated and there joined the Brotherhood. Many of those at Brookfield drove to Marceline, tied their horses in out-of- the-way places, and were initiated. Some of this was done in the beer storage room of the White Elephant saloon owned by Shupe Walker, who slipped them in and out the back door. Others were obligated in the coal house behind Sam Myers Store – just across from where Myers Clothing Company is now located.
Sam Myers stood on the back porch of the store and kept a lookout for spies and spotters. In June of 1903 Lodge #634 was formed in Brookfield.
Much credit is due the hardy pioneers who often chanced the loss of their jobs and the subsequent black-balling in order to organize and maintain their union. Especially active in maintaining Lodge #486 were L. A. Sheldon, J. B. Piper, R. Guthrie, J. C.- Dieterich, J. J. O’Connor. F. A. Prince, Bert Oldham, R. R. Kelly, A. I. Bowen, and the long-time champion of the firemen, their local chairman (grievance man) Mike Maloney. Maloney would go to the bat with anyone in defense of his firemen. On several occasions I have heard him say when being complimented on a run by an official of the company, “Don’t compliment me, compliment that boy on the left side. I couldn’t have gone anywhere if he didn’t have the ‘putty’ for me.”
If a railroader in the earlier day was discharged for union activities or other causes which officials deemed undesirable, the man would receive a service letter which might sound fairly good, but when held to the light showed a water mark of a hatchet. The result of showing this letter meant “no job” for the holder. Consequently, a good business grew up on did Union Avenue at Kansas City across from the old Union Depot. There, one could get a ready-made service letter or one made to order for a few dollars. One railroad would not answer questions concerning their service letters. Had all the service letters being carried from that railroad been genuine, they would have had over a million firemen employed. The boomer of the early days always had a pocket full of service letters.
Conditions such as previously mentioned no longer exist. Railroad and union officials meet each other as members of organizations having an equal part in the operation of the railroad. While they are on opposite sides of the table with their differences of opinion and desires, each respects the other and his position and generally succeed in adjusting their differences.