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December 21: Working on the Railroad

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On this date in 1907, the Great Northern Railroad laid off 150 workers in Devils Lake and Minot citing poor business. In a similar move, and under the same circumstances, a rival company, the Northern Pacific Railroad, let 45 workers go two days before.

It would not have been out of the ordinary for a railroad to lay off workers during the winter. One motivation for seasonal dismissals was the weather. The cold ground wouldn’t be suitable for track construction, and freezing conditions increased the danger for workers.

The 1907 winter hadn’t been overly harsh, at least not at that point, perhaps explaining why the layoffs came this late. But an additional possibility is that the companies genuinely needed to save money, in part because of a decrease in traffic. In the case of the Northern Pacific, this motivation makes sense because the personnel released primarily worked aboard the trains.

Adding to the financial stress, the Great Northern had recently spent 1 million dollars, the equivalent of nearly $32 million today, on improvements near Devils Lake, including a new station considered the finest on the line.

So, in addition to construction workers, engineers and trainmasters were also getting laid off. It was an unusual situation for the railways. Both companies had been evaluated as being in good condition only a week prior, which made the financial troubles even more shocking. Due to industry troubles, Christmas of 1907 was a tough one for many railway employees.

Dakota Datebook by Colby Aderhold


  • Minot Daily Optic Reporter December 21st, 1907, page 1
  • Minot Daily Optic Reporter December 24th, 1907, page 1
  • Minot Daily Optic Reporter December 20th, 1907, page 1
  • Fullerton Farmer December 12th, 1907, page 7
  • Pierce County Tribune December 19th, 1907, page 4

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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