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Out of the Depot

Metal Clothes Box Was Railroad Necessity

By J. K. Gurner


If I was going to guess, I would say that the clothes box is one of the most asked about artifact in the museum. We have on display a box belonging to my father, B. G. Gurner and several others, including one belonging to W. H. “Skinny” Hartwell, a young aquaintance of Casey Jones.
The clothes box in general is a tin box about 24 inches long, 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep, with a hinged top, and a removable tray for small items. No two boxes are the same because each box was handmade by the tinsmith in the railroad shop, or by a privet shop.
The boxes were built on order and to the specifications given by the man who was going to use it. The only thing that the boxes had in common was that they were built to last for the length of service of the man who used it, be it thirty days or thirty years.
Mr. Sam Dalton, a tinsmith who operated a small shop located on Wagner Street, probably made most of the cloths boxes used by the old engineers and firemen that worked out of Water Valley.
Because of the way the trainmen worked they had a layover of several hours at the end of their run. The fact that their job was so dirty, they had to have a change of cloths. There was no place on a steam engine to carry a hand bag or a suit case with out damaging it, engineers and firemen used a metal clothes box that was stored on the front of the engine that kept your cloths safe and dry.
I am sure that in the early days of railroads when there were so many head on collisions, a few clothes boxes were damaged. Business was probably good for the tin shop.
Operation of a train was serious business on the railroad and the chain of command was strickly adheared to. This was most true with the old engineers. At the start of the run, the engineer would place his clothes box on the ground at the front of the engine and while the engineer did his walk around inspection, the fireman would place the clothes boxes up on the front of the engine under the smoke dome. At the end of the run, the fireman would climb up, bring the clothes boxes down and place them on the ground while the engineer made his end-of-run walk around. You could tell how well the engineer and fireman were getting along by how far away the fireman placed the engineer’s clothes box.

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