Saturday, October 19, 2013

The 8th Son

Louis, ca. 1890; taken in Ft. Wayne, Ind.
In a nutshell, Louis Napoleon Metzner was    the 8th and last son of William and Barbara Metzner.  He was born 26 May 1872 in St. Louisville, Licking County, Ohio and died in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan on 4 March 1930.  His only son, Albert, was my grandfather.

I remember as a young girl the first time I heard Grandpa Al say his father’s name – he included the middle name of “Napoleon” and I thought that was so funny!  I also remember at that moment everyone kept shushing Grandpa for having revealed it -- or shushing me for thinking it was funny – it’s not really clear anymore.  But all that shushing made me think there was something forbidden about Great-Grandpa Louis’s middle name. Silly! Nevertheless, I don’t recall we talked about Louis Napoleon too much after that.  He died when Grandpa Al was 28 – my dad, Gordon, was just 5 weeks old.  Makes me wonder what he was like, and since I don’t remember anyone talking about him, all we can go by is records we can find.  This is what we know…

Of the eight Metzner boys, Louis and an older brother Jasper were the only brothers that worked for the railroad for any length of time – Jasper for 22 years before going into the laundry business -- Eagle Laundry in Fort Wayne.  But Louis was a railroad man all the way – 39 years total.  He began working for the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad out of Fort Wayne in 1891, starting as a fireman. By 1902 he was an engineer. 

Probably the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, ca. 1920. Louis is pictured in the top row, 3rd from the left, 
and his brother Jasper is in the 2nd row, far right. 

According to “America on the Move” from the National Museum of American History, the fireman and engineer operated a steam locomotive as a team. The fireman managed the output of steam. His boiler had to respond to frequent changes in demand for power as the train sped up, climbed hills, changed speeds, and stopped at stations. A skilled fireman anticipated changing demand as he fed coal to the firebox and water to the boiler. At the same time, the fireman was the “copilot” of the train who knew the signals, curves, and grade changes as well as the engineer. The engineer, in short, was in charge of driving the train, and that's the role Louis had for most of his career.  

Louis got some press occasionally for his work on the railroad -- these railroad men seemed to be big news! The saddest event was reported in two Fort Wayne newspapers on January 8 and 10, 1906. The headline from January 8 and excerpted text from January 10 are presented here:

He even got news coverage for ordinary events in his life.

Fort Wayne News, Dec. 21, 1894

Newark Daily Advocate (Newark, Ohio), Feb 24, 1900

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Nov 14, 1907

In the end, these articles don’t give us a clear picture of his life. Except for the dangers associated with working on the railroad, Louis’ life was probably rather ordinary.  In 1911 he moved his family (wife and two children) to Grand Rapids, Michigan, continuing his railroad work from that location.  If you’ve read earlier posts in this blog you’ll recall that Louis may have been a bit of a dreamer – telling family tales of connections to Jesse James and Buffalo Bill.  Maybe the few photos we have of Louis speak for themselves – what do you think they say about the man?

These souvenir postcards were popular from about 1905 to 1920.  There is nothing written on the back of them so we have no idea where they were taken.  I think they speak a little to Louis' sense of humor. I wonder if he was a fun guy? 

The search to discover more about Louis and his life is high on my list of genealogical pursuits. Keep your fingers crossed for me. 

Read more about Louis in the posts from July 11 and July 21, 2012.

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