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Working By Candlelight

By Fred Boland, Machinist 1928-1980
Bayshore Shops, Southern Pacific Railroad

In 1934 I was working the night shift in the machine shop. Tom Duff was lead workman. Fred Schilling, always having a cheek puffed out at least an inch with a "chaw" of tobacco, was Master Mechanic. Fred, of course, was on day shift.

Fred lived down the peninsula and would drive into San Francisco for union meetings, and other orginazitions he was a member of. Seems like most everyone was a member of some order or fraternal group in those days. This night he had attended a meeting of some sort, and drove by the shops.

Now at this time we were still in the throes of that bitter Depression, but were coming out of it nicely. No extra burning lights, no wasting of materials were permitted. An order was out telling us we were to "treat all materials as if it was their own property". The grammatical error coming from from many who considered themselves better educated than us caused a lot of smiles.

The lights over the lathes were a necessity, but elsewhere in the shop they were on only when someone was working. Fred spotted the lights on in the middle of the shop, squirted a pint of tobacco juice out the window of his car, turned around and hightailed it back to the shop. I was running one of the planers under these lights. The Master Mechanic told me to go to the tool room and get a candle. He produced a match from his pocket, lit it and handed it to me, after having me turn off the overhead lights. Holding it near the tool, he asked me "See how much better you can see your work now"? My working by candlelight saved Tommy Duff a bawling out. Like all good SP soldiers we left the lights off for a couple of nights.

As it turned out, we used candles until the war years for extension lights, not having any electrical ones. It seems odd to look back and remember doing even large jobs like wheeling an engine by candlelight.