Researching Family History: Grandpa was a railroad engineer

Published: Wednesday, June 19 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Russ Bangerter shares the story of his grandfather, Leo Amos Blair, who first started out as an engine fireman and Bangerter remembers his grandfather fondly for wearing coveralls, a hat with lines on it and a scarf around his collar.

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My grandpa, Leo Amos Blair, was born to Amos Chase Blair and Francis Profinda Hogan in Woods Cross on Jan. 4, 1898. Six brothers and three sisters followed. It seemed as though he had much responsibility laid on him at any early age, including helping his parents with his younger siblings.

Grandpa met and later married Myrtle Hannah Christensen on Aug. 5, 1922, in Salt Lake City. They had one son and two daughters, one being my mother. This is documented in his obituary in the Davis County Clipper (accessible by typing in "Utah Digitized Newspapers" on Google and specifying the Dec. 8, 1961, issue).

Patriotism was one of Grandpa's strongest examples. So eager was he to defend the country that at the young age of 16, he hopped a train to Pocatello, where no one knew his real age, and signed up for the U.S. Army. But when his true age was discovered, he returned to Utah to finish high school.

Like his father, Grandpa became an engine fireman for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. He shoveled coal in the steam locomotives to keep the "wheels turning." His World War I draft card from 1918 shows this occupation.

He enlisted in the Army on March 17, 1920. For his training in the Tank Corps, he began with the rank of private and received orders to go to Fort Meade, Md. There he was assigned to Company A, 328th Battalion. Months later, on Oct. 23, 1920, he was given an honorable discharge because of an unfortunate accident during training.

A tank ran over one of his feet, crushing the bones; it's unclear whether it was his right or left foot. He was sent to Camp Funston, Kansas Army Hospital, where he received surgeries and treatments for his injured foot with strict instructions that he should not march. He was classified as a disabled American veteran, according to his military papers.

After his stint in the Army, he returned to his job at the railroad, this time as an engineer in the big Ogden railroad depot. This depot handled all trains coming and going between Omaha, Neb., and the West Coast.

While an engineer, he joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a professional association for engineers and their families that provided a variety of benefits. One of those was special travel rates to almost anywhere in the U.S. He also joined the Union Pacific Old Timers Club.

We grandchildren saw Grandpa as the “official train engineer,” an image he exemplified to a T. We remember him fondly for wearing coveralls, a hat with lines on it and a scarf around his collar.

When our grandparents visited our place on warm summer or fall days, Grandpa would lie down and rest sprawled on a blanket in the backyard, a soft breeze blowing around him. His job was very demanding, with varied schedules and long hours.

After he had a good nap, some of us would lie next to him and look up at the “cloud castles” rolling by while talking with him about our accomplishments and dreams for the future. Grandpa always treated us with kindness and gentleness, and we never came away from those experiences without being reminded that he loved us.

In November 1961, when Grandpa and Grandma were living at 2681 Madison Ave. in Ogden, he suffered a stroke. After a few days at St. Benedict's Hospital, he passed away from a cerebral thrombosis on Nov. 20, 1961.

Sometimes when I hear the sound of a railroad engine blowing its horn here in the valley, or think of him as a soldier, a flood of memories come back. These are happy and peaceful ones with him on those warm, sunny, breezy days in our backyard.

I love you, Grandpa, and Happy Father's Day!

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, Inc., at ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and adviser to Treasured Souls to Keep, at treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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