I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad

Lola with Mildred

Lola with Mildred

Within two years after the birth of their first daughter Mildred, the young Ferguson family moved to Sedalia, Missouri. While in Sedalia, Tom took a job with the U.S. Postal Service as a railway mail clerk. This job provided a good middle class income for the family that would see them safely through the Great Depression of the 1930s. His route went from Sedalia, Missouri to Parsons, Kansas. While in Sedalia, their second daughter Dorothy, was born May 2, 1908. Clyde followed shortly being born on May 7, 1910.

In June of 1911 the family moved to Webster Groves, Missouri. Tom was transferred to St. Louis where he worked on the St. Louis to Sedalia line. Mary Elizabeth Baker, Tom’s mother, lived with the family in Sedalia and moved to Webster Groves with them. She stayed until the early 1920s when she moved back to Fort Scott, Kansas. Russ was born December 12, 1912 and Mary was born June 13, 1915.

Railway postal clerks spent long periods of time away from home. They loaded the mail onto the car, sorted, cancelled, and filled sacks with the mail for delivery to post offices across the U. S. The postal rail car, officially known as the Railway Post Office (RPO) car, located behind the locomotive, was in a precarious position in the event of an accident. In early days they were made of wood making the cars vulnerable to fire. Because postal rail cars carried mail containing money, jewels, and other valuables, they were often the focus of robberies. I’m sure Tom carried a shotgun with him while working. Railroad postal clerks were looked upon as the elite of the postal service and Tom Ferguson was one of them.

    Sorting the Mail on the RPO

Sorting the Mail on the RPO

Tom Ferguson, Growing Up in Bourbon County, Kansas

The fourth of five children, Thomas Carrol Ferguson was born on July 23, 1880 to Thomas Bunn Ferguson and Mary Elizabeth Baker Ferguson. The family resided in the Fort Scott, Kansas area. At the age of three Tom’s father died leaving his mother to raise five children who ranged in age from ten months to eleven years of age.

 The 1885 Kansas census shows the family still in Scott Township. They most likely continued to live and work on their farm with the help of James C. Ferguson, their uncle, a farmer and living with the family. Mary, their mother, was a housekeeper. Tom’s sisters Rebecca Adaline and Sophia, and his brother Walter, attended school. Sammie, the youngest, was two. The Pope family lived close by.

 By 1895 uncle James was no longer listed as living with the family. The Kansas census shows that Sophia, Tom, and Samuel attending school. Rebecca (Ada), married to Charles Clary, lived nearby. At the age of twenty, Walter lived at home. No record remains but I believe that Tom and Lola knew each other from a very young age and both attended the same school. A friendship most likely developed that led to their marriage in 1901.

Ferguson, Tom Woodmen Association

Tom Ferguson in his Woodmen Association Uniform

Tom was a handsome fellow. His World War I draft registration paper shows he was slender, of medium height, and had blue eyes and  dark brown hair. He was a joiner. This is evident from records of the Kansas Odd Fellows Lodge No. 395. He joined the Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal benefit organization formed to protect the financial well-being of families after the death of the breadwinner. “Members were protected with life insurance and also enjoyed fraternal benefits …”¹. The Modern Woodmen of America organization still exists today. In researching the organization I found that many men belonged to drill teams. There were pictures of the drill teams on their website wearing the uniform that Tom wears in this picture. I wonder if it is possible that Tom belonged to a drill team?

 

¹From the website of Modern Woodmen Association, https://www.modern-woodmen.org/AboutUs2/History/Pages/Timeline.aspx