Like many thousands of similar home-brew sites, Wx4 is an exercise in sharing. Thus, it's always a pleasure to encounter others of a like mind.

Awhile back, Carole Joppe wrote us, indicating that she had a very similar photo to one on the Wx4 Questions page (see the tent photo, below), and she wondered if there might be a connection. She had no idea of the shot's provenance, other than that it was one of several that orignated with her great grandparents, who both worked for Southern Pacific.

Carole asked if we could we help in identification, and incidentally mentioned that we could use the photos on Wx4, if we liked. Boy, could we!

Thanks, Carole!

Railroading Less Chronicled:
Earl Hanson and His SP Ditcher Gang,
Circa 1916 -1936
Track workers tend to receive a short shrift, compared to other railroad employees. They generally work the hardest and are paid the least. Likewise, their working lives usually receive scant attention, unlike those in more glamourous occupations.

Earl Hanson, a Southern Pacific ditcher gang foreman in the early Twentieth Century, thankfully was an exception. Earl's photo collection gives us much evidence of the long, hard days that his gang spent moving earth so that trains, in turn, could move with greater dispatch.

These photographs date approximately from 1916 to about the time of his death at age 78 in 1928. Note that many railroad men and women worked into their 70's and 80's at the time, since the Railroad Retirement system didn't come along until 1937 - prior to that time retirees had to live off of accumulated savings.

Most all of what we know about Earl's career comes from the scant notes written on some of the photos. His wife, Eva, worked as the gang's cook, and apparently continued on for several years after Earl's death.

What he photos do tell us that Earl and his outfit worked all over Oregon and Northern California. Certainly his crew must have spent considerable time helping construct SP's Natron Cutoff through Klamath Falls, Oregon, which replaced the Syskiyou Line through Medford, Oregon as the railroad's principle north / south mainline.

That's him in 1916 (photo, bottom-right) along with Clark Radford (center) and three unidentified gentlemen at an unknown location (see further below). Earl came from hearty Quaker stock - he was already in his mid-60's at the time of this photo.

Note: all of the photos on this page are thumbnails (some cropped) that can be clicked upon to view the larger original scans. If you can divine additional info from these photographs, please send us an email: We - especially Carole - would love to hear from you!

Here's the photo that got Carole to thinking. There's no information on the photo, but Wx4 staff thinks that this shot may be at Klamath Falls, given everthing, especially since there appears to be pier pilings in the background to the right of the tent. Certainly the earth berm around the tent - to anchor against the wind - and the presence of sage brush and tumbleweed all say "Klamath Basin". From the men's dress, we'd also offer that this is a World War I era scene.

(Photo right) Hanson and Radford again, standing on the machinery. This photo also dates from about 1916 (possibly later), and Wx4 staff is wondering if that's the Whaleback, the mountain just south of Grass Lake.

(Photo below) Is this an interesting setup, or what? This photo apperas to have been taken at the same time as the page's topmost photo, with Hanson and Radford standing at the right. Note the shabby, unlettered condition of the wood-fired steam shovel, uncharcteristic of SP ownership, which may indicate that either Hanson and crew were working for a contractor at the time. We have no idea of the location, but could this be an ex Weed Lumber Company rig that Hanson is using to improve upon the former Weed Lumber right-of-way, say, near Grass Lake? Of course, the wet, gloomy forest background could place the photo at any one of a hundred spots in Oregon.

SPMW 3923 is another one of Earl's early steam shovels (a.k.a., ditcher). Although oil-fired, it was fairly antiquated by the time that this photo was recorded at Amity, Oregon on SP's West Side Line below McMinnville, in 1924. As always, Hanson and Radford are together, at the left of the line.

(Above left) By 1927, Earl's shovels had become more versitile, having exchanged railroad wheels for crawler tracks, but they still sported steam power, as evidenced in this photo of SPMW 13 sitting upon what looks to be a Pressed Steel Car Company flat car. (Above right) That's Earl with two trusty sidekicks. The rig at immediate right may be the 13 at a different time, since the partially visible lettering is different.

By the mid-1930's, internal combustion powered the gang's shovel, SP 029. The fellow at left surely looks like Earl, but an August, 1934 lube date is clearly visible on the ditcher's supporting T&NO flatcar tells that it's not him (see page bottom for this fellow's identity.

Above, we see Earl, and his wife, Eva, along with his two bowser sidekicks. Carole says that Great Grandmother Eva traveled with Earl (the old coach is obviously their humble abode) and probably cooked for Earl's gang. Possibly the same coach appears in the photo at left.

These three photos are unidentified. The sparse territory in the upper and lower left photos says "Modoc Line", and the lower photos location looks like the Modoc Line or the Lakeview Branch, since that looks like the Warner Mountains in the background, and the sun direction is correct. Mark Hershoren kindly wrote in to identify the autos: likely a 1936 Ford coupe and a 1928-31 Model A.

The above photo resemble the ones of SPMW 013, but this instance, they show the 015. This photo, and the one at right, give no information on the young folks. From his garb, the fellow must have been a locomotive fireman, or a very young engineer on on of earl's work trains. Circa 1927.

Earl and his crew were well-traveled. The photo above was shot at Canby, Oregon - on the mainline south of Portland - in 1923. Earl is on the right; an unidentified co-worker is on the left.

The plot thickens...

As we were composing these pages, things became a little confusing - see the 1927 photo at Cantara Loop at left. Which one of these fellows is Earl? They surely look alike.
Well, as it turns out, they both are! After a little sleuthing, Great Grandaughter Carole found a 1910 census listing Enos C. (Earl), as having a son, Enon E. (Earl). At that date, Earl was 60, and Earl was 34. And they both eventually worked for Southern Pacific - Son Earl was a locomotive engineer.

Thus, in the photo we see Father Earl (right) with Son Earl. The woman appears to be Earl Sr.'s wife Eva. Earl Jr.'s wife's name was Bessie (maiden name, Powell?).

Dear Reader: Do you have a family member who worked for Southern Pacific? We at Wx4 would love to place his/her biography and photos on our pages. See our Contents Page for email address.

Earl Hanson Biography

Back to Top