many workers today, when for corporate up and comers three to five
years is considered a long time to stay with one company, Richard
Adams apparently did not exert any effort whatsoever looking for
a better job.
Better known to his co-workers with the International and Great
Northern Railroad as "Uncle Dick," Adams hired on with the company
in 1871 when it was still just the Great Northern. Fifty-five years
later -- yes, a half-century plus five -- he still worked for the
By the spring of 1926, Adams had seen 79 birthdays come and go.
And he was still on the IG&N payroll as a crossing gate tender in
San Antonio. (This
was before the automation of railroad crossing gates when safety,
like just about everything else, was much more labor intensive.)
At the time, the IG&N was part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
In its April 1926 issue, that company's employee magazine published
an article on Adams along with his photograph under a terse heading
that read "55-Year Record." Adams does not look particularly happy
in the photo, but maybe he was merely annoyed at the delay in getting
back to work.
"Born in County Cork, Ireland," the article noted, "he came to this
country as a child. Upon reaching manhood, he went to work in 1871
on what was then known as the Great Northern, which was being constructed
north from Houston...with
no definite destination in view, it is said, except to connect somewhere
with the International Railroad that was then built as far west
Actually first known as the Houston and Great Northern, the company
had been chartered by the state in October 1866. That line merged
with the International Railroad in 1873 to become the I&GN. At the
time, it had 252 miles of track in Texas. From then on, while Adams
continued to toil away, the I&GN remained in a state of relative
corporate chaos, surviving receiverships, mergers and several owners
until it became part of the Missouri Pacific system in 1922.
The same year the International and Great Northern became one entity,
Adams look part in another merger of sorts. In 1873, he was married
to Harriet Wisbey of Willis.
And 55 years later, their marital train remained on the tracks right
along with his career. Clearly, Adams thought switching was something
you did with train tracks, not jobs or marriages.
At its peak, the I&GN maintained more than 1,000 miles of track
in the state and extended from Laredo
to San Antonio, Austin
and then on to Palestine.
The line also served Houston,
Fort Worth and points
Adams' career, thanks to that long-ago in-house publication, is
much easier to follow than the I&GN story. He literally started
at the ground level doing grade work (which back then depended on
pickax and shovel) and then became a track layer. Again, that was
manual labor with spikes driven into railroad ties by blows from
a sledge hammer.
In time moving into a supervisory role, he became a section foreman
and next a yard foreman. Finally, he got promoted to road master.
Having already been with the company for 34 years, in 1905 he became
a crossing guard in San
Antonio. When the employee magazine ran its piece on him, he
was assigned to the gates at Lake View Avenue in the
That job must have been tantamount to being put out to pasture.
Before automation, someone with the railroad had to physically lower
the protective gates to keep vehicles from crossing the tracks when
a train approached. At busier intersections, railroads often had
small guard shacks or even watch towers that would make it easier
for a guard to see a train coming.
Doubtless boring compared with other work Adams had done for the
I&GN, being a crossing guard was no less important a job for the
railroad. A train accident meant damaged rolling stock, possible
injury or death and often, litigation.
According to that long ago article on Adams, he wasn't even the
longest-serving I&GN employee. That honor went to A.R. Howard, the
company's treasurer. Howard had already been on the job as assistant
paymaster when Adams started with the line in 1871.
How much longer Adams remained with the I&GN, when he died and where
he is buried have not yet been determined. But his stick-to-it nature
is not in question.
"Texas Tales" August
10, 2017 column