P'burg railroaders to be honored

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When Dutch and Neva Ebaugh were married, their first home was an outfitted boxcar on a spur track.

All furniture had to be strapped or nailed down, and Neva's box of her mother's china quickly was broken.

"That was her home on wheels," Dutch joked with his wife. Neva reminded him that it was a home without electricity, bathrooms or running water.

Dutch was an off-track equipment operator, so had to travel to the scene of wrecks and rockslides to clear the way for the coming trains. That meant the Ebaughs got to travel the rail, from Denver to Utah, and from Alamosa to Grand Junction.

Both grew up in Phippsburg and still called it home for the years they were on the road. Eventually, only Dutch would be away during the week.

"I worked for three railroads and never did quit," said Dutch, who had 45 years with the railroads when he retired at 62.

Phippsburg's roots are with the railroad. It originally began as a company town for nearby mines but turned into a home base for railroaders.

Through the 1900s, tracks were laid down to connect the nation, making railroads the major way to transport goods and people. Working on the railroad meant long hours and hard work but was a source of pride because the railroads that were moving cattle, sheep, lettuce, coal -- just about everything.

Now, trains and railroad companies are bigger, more things are mechanized, and other types of transportation, mostly planes and cars, have become more popular.

But trains still make their way through Phippsburg, and much of the railroading history is alive in the small community.

To recognize the railroaders who have put their lives into their work, Phippsburg residents are planning a railroaders' wall. The wall will have photos and narrative, as well as buttons with names of residents who worked on the railroads and how long they worked.

It will be similar to the miners' wall in Oak Creek, and is being planned by Phippsburg residents and the Oak Creek and Phippsburg Historical Society.

"If we don't keep the old going, these young people will have no idea of what the world was like 75 or 100 years ago," Neva said. "The only way to keep the old living is by the wall."

The wall would commemorate Dutch, and others, such as resident Mark Williams, 79, who started working with the railroad in Phippsburg when he was 20, and eventually became a brakeman. In that job, he would jump into cars as a train was coming into the station and help separate the cars on different tracks. He retired after more than 40 years with the railroad.

Williams said he loved the challenge and that though the hours were long, the pay and benefits were good.

"It was a job that you had to stay on your toes," Williams said. "You couldn't go lollygag around."

Elmer Mai, 87, started at the Phippsburg railroad after serving his country and working in the coal mines. At the railroad, he worked as a gandy dancer, the name for workers who hit down the ballast between railroad ties by stamping on a tool while jumping in a circle.

Mai eventually was asked to work in the Phippsburg station office as a clerk, where he would bill customers and make switch lists during the late afternoon and nights. In his biggest day, he billed out $1 million worth of service.

Sometimes, he would stand outside the station and listen to the steam engines ride through the county. They would whistle as they passed through Steamboat, Sidney, Deer Park, Haybro and other places on their way to Phippsburg.

From the types of whistles he heard, Mai could tell how many train cars would have to be switched and set on different tracks.

Every now and then, he got calls about accidents, such as when a train stopped at a rockslide before the long and high trestle over Rock Creek Canyon in the middle of the night. The conductor grabbed a lantern and stepped out to see what happened, and fell down the deep canyon to his death.

Railroading was not without its risks, and a railroaders' wall will help recognize the sacrifices workers made.

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