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A time when name calling meant something Susan Walter | Sat, Sep 24 2011 12:00 PM

John D. Spreckels had a massive influence in San Diego County. He was living with his family in San Francisco in 1906 when the earthquake occurred. Lucky us, the Spreckels family moved here.

He had visited San Diego during the boom of the 1880s and was much impressed. Spreckels, the richest man in the county, was involved in many large enterprises, employed thousands and paid 10 percent of all of San Diego's taxes at one point! Importantly for South Bay, he owned railroads.

One of his railroads was the San Diego & Arizona which attracted employees from Mexico in unprecedented numbers because SD&A's route ran through northern Baja, Mexico. There it was named the Tijuana & Tecate. Spreckels also owned the National City & Otay, Coronado Railroad and the San Diego Electric Railway of interurban streetcars.

The rail industry had a huge impact on our local economy. In the 1930 census there were about 50 families that at least partly relied on the various railroads for their bread and butter.

Four Anglo heads of households owned their homes and three rented. Sixteen Hispanic heads of households owned and 21 rented. Adding up the total of family members, there were more than 260 people with someone in their household working for the railroads that year.

I love slang and every profession has its lingo. According to railroad references, we had a number of interestingly named jobs. These guys mostly were the "home guard" (worked for one railroad), although there were probably "homesteaders" (drifter railroad employees who settled down with a family) as well.

We know the term "iron horse," but locomotives were often referred to as "hogs." Therefore, in National City there lived one "hogmaster," "grunt" or "pig-mauler" (locomotive engineer) named George Mead. Amen Driscoll was a "soda jerk," "ashcat" or "bakehead" (fireman). Wilfred Greenlee was a "figurehead" (timekeeper). "Bug slinger" (brakeman) was Manuel Roman's job.

Albert Jerauld was the "wise guy" (station agent) and "lightning slinger" (telegraph operator) at National City Depot for the Santa Fe, and his wife Blanche was the "paperweight" or "pencil pusher" (station clerk); they were assisted by junior "pencil pusher" Martin Weaver. Lonnie Lumbley was foreman for the Santa Fe.

There were two "electric owls" (night watchmen) named William Finney and Lott Smith. Richard LaRue was a "nut buster" or "chamber maid" (machinist); interesting appellations for his work, don't you think?

William Knarr could be called all kinds of names; he was the "brains," "swellhead," "nickel grabber" or "big ox" (street car conductor). Marea Stein, a comptometer operator (you can look that up), was the other of the two listed female employees. The streetcars used "juice" (electricity) for power.

There were 11 "clowns," aka "grave diggers" (section hands) named Andres Esperansa, Gonzales Estudillo, Gracion Gonzales, Alfonso, Anselmo, Martin and Venas Hermenez, Jose and Ignacio Jimenez, Anaclato Meza, and Domingo Vargas; all were born in Mexico. Their boss was Emil Holm, "king snipe" (section foreman), from Sweden. They rode to work on a "galloping goose" (section car).

Without a doubt, the largest number of rail employees in the 1930 census were those who did the physical work. They could have been called "gandy dancers," "muckers," "drill crew" (laborers) or perhaps "tonks" (car repairmen). There were about 36 of them and, excepting two, all were born in Mexico.

The only non-Hispanic laborer was young Cecil Finney. Who were the others? Antonio Anas, Alberto Calderon (for the electric railway), Maximinio Carrillo, Julio Chavez and his son Genovio, Romolo Esquevel, brothers Felis and Soltero Soriano, Navidad Estudillo, Manuel Garcia (born in Texas), Pedro Hernandez, Elias Lopez, Miguel Lopez, Lucas Marin, Servio Marin and his son Navidad, Eduardo Martinez, Antonio Morales, Jesus Munoz, Antonio Nagera, Alberto (senior) and Alberto (junior) Orozco, Henry Padilla, Delfino Portillo, Marcellino and his son Adollo Ramerez, Jose Reval Garcia, Vicente Rodriguez, Josepho Serra, James and Particia (brothers) and James' son Guadulupe Vargas, Elladio Varnum, Jose Vasquez and Cenobio Velderam.

After work, Hermenez and Jimmenez would "pin for home" (go home for the day) to the "red onion" (the section house, a boarding house for railroad men) to "put on the nosebag" (eat a meal) and "pound their ears" (sleep). All the other employees had regular street addresses when they "threw out the anchor" (quit work for the day).

I do hope none of our workers "went fishing," "went back to the farm" or were "dehorned" (got laid off), and I wonder if any of them "got the rocking chair" (retired with a pension)?

At my home every night if I'm awake long enough, I get to hear a hogmaster "pull the calf's tail" (pull the whistle cord).

Nowhere's a telegraphic term meaning that's all, no more: "Thirty!"

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Sylvia Banuelos Says:

Sun, Oct 02 2011 10:21 AM

It's odd and exhilerating to see the name of my grandfather in your article. A name that only existed in my head. Romolo Esquevel. Thank you.


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