Wednesday, March 27, 2019

1922 Railroad Strike and J F Thorington Jr

In 1922 the shopmen of the railroad went on strike.  The shopmen were the metal workers, machinist, boilermakers, electricians, carpenters, painters and laborers,  who maintained the locomotives, boxcars, passengers cars and equipment of the railroad.  It was perhaps the last great nationwide strike.  At it’s peak during the summer of 1922 it had over 400,000 workers on strike.  The railroad maintained shops to work on their equipment and they were usually in rural areas at halfway points on the line.  Perhaps the largest for the Pennsylvania railroad was Altoona in Pennsylvania but there was also a small one in Delmar.  The one in Delmar had about 39 workers and they all went on strike when the railroad decided to cut their wages by 12 percent.  They did not cut the wages of the firemen, enginemen, brakemen and conductors.   In Delmar the railroad fired the striking workers and replaced them with new hires or men who had not gone on strike and were transferred into Delmar.  Near riots occurred as the replacement workers were refused housing and restaurants refused to serve them, even the two banks in town refused to cash their railroad checks.  The Railroad sent in a large number of guards to keep non railroad people off their property.  The railroad also had the state and county officials on their side so state police and county constables were sent in.  The strikers and supporters of the strikers cut air hoses, dumped sand into the car journals and misapplied switches. 

It was a difficult time for the farmers in the area as their crops had been picked and they used the railroad to transport them to the cities.  They had to cross through the crowd of strikers.

Delmar was a town where almost 90 percent of population worked for the railroad or were supported by railroad workers.  Most of it’s elected officials were employees of the railroad.  On the night of the 24th of July a small mob of from 300 to 500 people had gathered downtown Delmar on the Delaware side of town.   The Maryland State police had heard that someone was being molested by the crowd on the Maryland side of town and three motorcycle state troopers, Led by H P Thompson, arrived in town. They went to the railroad depot on the Delaware side where they were surrounded by the strike sympathizers.  Mayor Thorington was called out.  He asked them if they had been deputized a process by which the railroad police could deputize anyone from in state or out of state to protect railroad property.  The state troopers said they had been deputized.  Mayor Thorington chaised them them for being meddling in the strike and told them to get out of Delaware or he would have the Delaware policemen, George E Hearn,  arrest them .  When the police mounted to motorcycles to leave the crowd pushed them a little. 

The Mayor, John Franklin Thorington, Jr ( 1884-1954), was born in Pocomoke City Maryland to J F Thorington Sr (1851-1926),  The Thorington family came from the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  The senior Thorington married Nancy Peyton Colona (1860-1927) from Stockton, Maryland .  The senior Thorington was a drover, Grocery store operator, barrel manufacturer, fur trader and constable/ Deputy Sheriff for Worcester County. 

J F Thorington jr started working for the railroad in his teenage years.  In 1909 he married Florence May West , daughter of James H West.  He moved to Delmar after marrying.  About 1920 he was elected Mayor of Delmar Delaware, he also worked as an engineer with the railroad and belonged to the local lodge #473 of the Brotherhood of Firemen and Enginemen.  He had two daughters; Margaret Elizabeth (1911-1928) and Louise West (1918-2005)

The strike eventually ended and the 39 men fired when they went on strike in the Delmar shop were never hired back.  Mayor Thorington by 1930 had left the railroad, was no longer Mayor, and was an insurance agent and real estate salesman. It is not known if his action in not supporting the railroad more lead to his new employment.  Thorington and his wife would go to live with his daughter in Pennsylvania where he would die in 1954. 

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