job description : LUSENET : ACL and SAL Railroads Historical Society : One Thread

What was the job description of some called a captain on the rr? My gggfr was James Thomas Elmore and was with the Seaboard RR late l800`s and early l900`s. He lived for a time in Maxton nc and later in Henderson nc where he is buried. He was known as Capt. Elmore. Does this have any meaning in RR termanoligy? Thank you,

-- walter r. elmore (, March 10, 2001


Just came back from Jacksonville this moring on the Meteor (and, by the way, detoured down on 91, the Star the previoius day, over the Jessup- Waycross-Folkston route due to track work on the regular route) and my sleeping car attendant, recognizing me as one of the Star's engineers and called me "captain". When I was a youngster, one of my granfather's senior passenger conductors on the C&O was "Captain" Blake. One of the stories in my book, From The Cab, Stories From A Locomotive Engineer, recounts my first road trip as a brakeman, wherein the flagman, an old SAL hand, refered to everyone (even me, the new kid on the roster) as "captain". My point here is that out on the operating railroad, "captain" tends to be a highly generalized term, used/misused as a figure of speech to convey respect or good manners, as in "captain of the cars". The initial inquiry probably can't be answered by anyone other than one of the gentleman's coworkers, however, the fact that he was referred to as "captain" indicates that (whatever he did) he was held in respect by his fellow workers, or was in a supervisory position, such as a foreman or conductor.

-- Doug Riddell (, March 16, 2001.

I've heard the title used both inside and outside the railroad environment so I doubt its use was restricted just to the railroads. One possibility is that its use began in the period after the war and the return home of confederate soldiers to their former lives. If you've read any manuscripts from that time, most of the military officers (north and south) continued to use their military honorifics for the remainder of their public lives.

Following the the end of northern occupation and the retaking and concentrating of power by the Southern governments(made up of former confederate offiers/officials) through the implementation of various Jim Crow laws, any white in a position of authority simply became called "Cap'n". After this much time, I doubt if anyone really knows for sure how its use got started.

-- Buddy Hill (, March 14, 2001.

when I first reported for work on the ACL in 1949 to the foreman of a signal gang in Whitakers, NC I was introduced to him as Captain John Maultsby. I don't think the title was official but it was certainly used by many at that time. Bill Monroe's bluegrass tune, where he is applying for a job of mule drover, "New Mule-Skinner Blues" begins that song with the line "Good morning captain, good morning boss---"

-- Claude C. Howard (, March 14, 2001.

One other possibility: railroad marine tug boat captain

-- Doug Riddell (, March 11, 2001.

I've got to agree with Joe,he was a Section Foreman in M of W.We still some old guys who call the foreman captian.I had a 61 year old man call me captian when i was a foreman and I was only 25 years old!!

-- Vic Lewis (, March 10, 2001.

I have two possible answers to your question.

The train conductor,was refered to as "captain" because he was in charge of the train crew.IE engineer,fireman,flagman etc.

Most likey it was for a section foreman.He usually had black laborors working for him and he was the "captain" of the crew.Don't know for sure,but I bet this term dates to the time of slavery and transporting via steam ships.Very good question.Anyone else want to jump in?

-- J Oates (, March 10, 2001.

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