Railroad underwent turmoil during early 1920s

By Don McAlavy: Columnist

On Oct. 30, 1921, some of the workers in the railroad yard of the Santa Fe Railroad went on strike. Back in May of 1921 the railroad had ordered a 20 percent wage cut.

Dr. I. D. Johnson, a retired Clovis dentist, in 1982 said he went to work for the Hammond Supply Co., a dispenser of food and drinks at the railroad, about then.

“The railroad hired some cowboys from down in the sand hills to ride around a high wooden fence topped with barbed-wire, to protect railroad property,” said Johnson.

The Santa Fe Railroad had had several families of Japanese immigrants since 1911. But in 1921-22 more Japanese machinists and machinists helpers were brought in, and it was these workers who broke the strike as they didn’t have to cross picket lines.

Why? Because the railroad had built a private compound for all the Japanese workers and their families in the middle of the railroad yard here in Clovis. A few lived in town and their kids went to school here. The railroad valued the Japanese as dependable and loyal workers.

One old railroader said they, the railroaders, were told not to go into or around the Japanese compound. He said they had gardens, yards and a little town there.

To many it was called the 1922 Shopmen’s Strike, as most of the workers were machinists and machinist’s helpers in the shops. They finally ended the strike as they took over the jobs held by union machinists and their helpers who went on strike.

One has to look back a couple of years to know the source that caused the discontent among railroad union workers.

We have to go back to 1918-19 and World War I. There was what was called a 26-month seizure by the federal government during that war. It meant the federal government took over running the railroads.

The unions had nothing to say about it.

“The railroads operated on a cost plus 10 percent while under government control,” said an old railroader in Clovis.

“When the war was over the United States fell into a severe recession that lasted approximately two years and a little over,” said another railroader. Yes, in 1921-22 the union railroad workers were angry and up in arms, because the railroad reduced their wages 20 percent.

“There were a lot of hard feelings about this strike,” another railroader told me. “I don’t think the unions were very strong back in the 1920s. Many, on strike, never came back to the railroad.”

Louisa Foster of Clovis told me a while back her father, John Graves, came to Clovis from Hereford, Texas, in 1921 as he heard the railroad in Clovis needed workers. My father got on, and worked four days a week for about $4 a day.