Most of my ancestors occupations were farm related. So when I came across my great grandfather's occupation I was intrigued. Frank H. Glover, my great grandfather, listed his occupation as brakeman for the Illinois Railroad in the 1910 U. S. Federal Census. He also listed his occupation as brakeman on his 1882 marriage record.
A brakeman was one of the most dangerous positions in the railway. The brakeman duties were to assist the conductor, operate the brakes, and assist with switches.
Prior to 1872, the brakeman was the one who had to walk on the top of the moving train to apply the brakes and make sure all cars were stopped. At this time, there were two brakeman who worked from the front and back of the train. In addition, the brakeman was responsible for track switches, coupling and uncoupling the cars.
In 1872, a system for air brakes was designed. The need for walking on top of the train to set the brakes was no longer needed. The brakeman was responsible for hand setting the cars in the yard though. After this, only one brakeman was needed.
In 1893, it was mandatory that all train cars have air brakes and automatic couplers. The brakeman was the one responsible for operating the brakes.
I don't know if my great grandfather ever walked on top of a moving train, but I would have loved to hear his stories as a brakeman. I imagine he saw a lot of changes during his time working for the railroad. Do you have an unusual occupations that your ancestor did? Please share in the comments section.