My first cousin twice removed, Mary Elizabeth Butler Chambliss, worked from 1948-1988 as a station agent for Nashville, Chattanooga, & St. Louis Railway, which is now part of the much more boringly-named railroad CSX.
Cousin Mary Elizabeth is still with us, living in Jackson TN. We last saw her around Christmas time in 2008. She is first cousin to my dad’s mother Ruth Waldrop Hord. She’s an impressive lady for many reasons, not least of which is how she got started working for the railroad.
Dad summed it up for me this way (some paragraph breaks added for easier on-screen reading):
Mary Elizabeth’s father was a station agent/telegrapher for the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis RR (NC&StL) in Jackson, TN. Mary Elizabeth would often spend her evenings with her father at the station. He was the “second trick” agent (“swing shift” in other industries) there and the station was a good place her to do her homework. She also learned Morse code and learned to work the telegraph key.
This was fortuitous because her father had an alcohol problem and was known to be too drunk on the job to run the key. On such occasions Mary Elizabeth simply took over the telegraph key. She knew the other telegraphers up and down the line, knew how the railroad was run and simply ran her piece of the railroad.
At the age of 16 or so she found herself doing her father’s job. The other station agent/telegraphers knew her “signature” on the key and knew when she was on the job during her father’s increasing debilities and, of course, so did NC&StL RR management. On graduation from high school Mary Elizabeth was offered a job as station agent, Jackson, TN.
Railroading was then very much a man’s world and the offer of a job was a tribute to Mary Elizabeth’s devotion to both her father and the NC&StL RR. Mary Elizabeth remained an agent of the railroad, now CSXT Corp., until her retirement. Following her retirement she became a curator of the City of Jackson NC&StL Depot and Railroad Museum.