T. S. Turney was here: 1904

I have a problem purely of my own making.  At times I can get a bit bored so I like to give myself "projects".  I have a lot of these, and often they go unfinished.  Such was the case when I decided to complete a survey of all of the Pennsylvania Railroad structures across Indiana.  This would have been from the 1856 line that largely parallels U.S. 30 today.  I worked with a budding historian, began in the middle of the route (Plymouth) and worked our way east to the state line.  We came up a few miles short before it was time to turn around and head home.

The survey yielded some great architectural finds.  We documented nearly 40 railroad-related structures on this line.  However, my biggest interest was in the stone bridge work that dominated the Pennsy line during their reconstruction of the route in about 1900.  The massive rusticated stone abutments and arches have always held a certain charm and engineering interest for me.  So, I was all in.

The legacy bridge between Atwood and Etna Green
Between Etna Green and Atwood we duly noted a railroad bridge with the typical rusticated (rough stone face) blocks that composed the bridge abutments.  However, this one was different.  It didn't serve as a bridge over a road or creek-it just seemed to straddle, well, nothing.  So in our photo documentation is seemed reasonable to walk under the bridge to check out the stone work.  I have seen chisel marks and other tooling marks that made me believe there was some carved instructions to assembly.  But, I had never seen century-old graffiti.  This was a legacy bridge.

Creating a stone bridge for a railroad, 1890
I couldn't have imagined how hard it was to find a photo of bridge-building by railroads!
The stonework under this bridge was loaded with the initials and names of, what I had presumed, were the builders of these bridges across the Pennsy.  These were all marked with the date 1904.  In later bridge investigations, we turned up only a handful of names on all other bridges combined.  So I had to wonder-was this the last of the bridges built by this crew?  Was it here that they were going to leave their mark for posterity?

A Baltimore & Ohio Railroad-building crew from c. 1920.
Unfortunately few of the names could be deciphered well.  I came back with three names:  T. S. Turney, J. E. Belliet, and Ben H. Frost.  I did as much on-line investigative work as reasonably possible and only Mr. Turney provided a solid lead.  So, for your reading pleasure, here is the life of T. S. Turney.

 I found that he was Truman S. Turney, born near Accident, Maryland in 1877 to a farming family.  He appeared in the 1880 census with his family and then reappeared in the 1900 census in Antelope, Nebraska as a laborer for the railroad.  He was single and probably lived in a boarding house or hotel as the crew was passing through.  Mr. Turney disappeared from the 1910 census, though I think it is likely he was on a crew passing through and was missed by census takers.  He was also married about that time and made it all the way to Greybull, Wyoming where he lived out the rest of his life.  He enlisted for the draft in 1918, though I'm not certain he was called to active service.  He worked for the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad which went through Greybull in 1905.  He became an engineer for the railroad and retired from it in 1945.  He died in 1947.  His obituary stated that he "went west at the age of 19 and began railroad work in 1911".  My guess is that was when he was employed by the railroad versus a contractor building bridges for the Pennsy.

Greybull, Wyoming in 1909
I have to admit, this was an enjoyable investigation.  I sent a message to a descendant who manages an ancestry.com site for the family mentioning the photo of the carving I had.  My concern is that railroads are notoriously lousy preservationists, let alone maintainists (I made that word up).  The railroad already covered a section of the old stone work from the 1850s in Plymouth.  I should hope that at the very least we capture more of the names inscribed on these old bridges before neglect forever erases them from our consciousness.  I'll do a follow-up with some of the structures along the Pennsy soon.  And maybe one day be able to survey the other half of the state.


Jim said…
My kind of project! And how cool that you were able to find out stories about one of the workers who left his mark.

Popular Posts