LeRoy Whitney Dixon: 24 April 1914 - 15 March 1988
Marcella 'Marcie' Montgomery Dixon 1 April 1922 - 25 November 2010
LeRoy Whitney Dixon was born in Tunnel Hill, IL on 24 April 1914. His father was a Station Agent for the New York Central railroad in Southeast Illinois. While still a very small child LeRoy's his father caught the measles while at work. That day was a very heavy snow storm. As his father walked home in the evening, the measles went inside and destroy his father health. Soon the family was living with his mother's parents and shortly his father passed away.
LeRoy's mother, Martha, soon found work with the Fred Harvey Hotel's which were building quality dining and sleeping accommodations along the path of the Santa Fe Railroad throughout the Southwest. It was no surprise then that LeRoy grew up in Deming, New Mexico. Martha remarried and once again it was a railroader. Lester Brown was a section foreman on the Southern Pacific. Martha eventually left Fred Harvey Hotels and opened a newstand in Deming. LeRoy attended all of his school years in Deming. He played football until a knee injury sidelined him and he took up playing the trombone in the High School band. Years later that knee injury would come back and cause him to be operated on at the Southern Pacific hospital in San Francisco.
LeRoy graduated from high school in Deming in 1932 during the Great Depression. Times were tough everywhere and he tried to find work but it was hard to find. After high school LeRoy started driving a truck for a firm in Deming. He hauled all kinds of produce throughout the Southwest. He hauled pinto beans to Colorado and potatoes back to New Mexico. He also hauled cottonseed cake and meal around the area. He and another fellow would drive to Phoenix and bring lettuce back. One truck would be packed with a square load and the other with a pyramid or rounded load. When they got to the tunnel near Globe (the tunnel is still there) the rounded load would go through the tunnel first and after getting to the other end it would block traffic while the square load came through the tunnel down the middle of the two lane road. Another short job he had was as a chauffeur for a family that wanted to be driven across the country. LeRoy drove there car and the only thing he had to show he was a chauffeur was a hat. Eventually he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps or three C's in Illinois. One of the supervisors asked him what he could do and he said he could drive truck. Because there were so many people wanting to drive truck that made the claim, he had to take a test. It was not an easy test. All over a test course LeRoy drove that old truck with the examiner with the hardest part being a requirement to stop on a steep incline and start again.
|LeRoy got the job and drove truck for the three C's for some time. From that experience he gained much. One was an aversion to peanut butter. He was fed way too much peanut butter in those encampments to ever enjoy the taste. He also left with a picture of himself as a skinny young kid standing next to the stake-bed truck that he drove. But most import was a letter of recommendation from his supervisor.|
With his stepfather working for the Southern Pacific Railroad LeRoy eventually got a chance to work for the company also. He hired on to a welding gang and soon found himself working in California. He was happy to have the work but it was very hard and dangerous. In those days, the rails would get flattened on the top where the two rails joined. The welding gang would cut a notch out of the top end of the rail and weld a replacement in its place. The steel was poor. Often it would flare up and molten steel would go slithering everywhere. Even with all kinds of protection on your hands, arms, legs and feet, it was impossible to prevent getting burned. As a result of that work, LeRoy was burned in all those places. The burns were so bad that the skin pigment has been removed and in the summer the blotches would sunburn while the rest of his arms would tan.
It was also as a young man that he happened to walk into a barroom as a fellow threw a beer bottle toward the door. LeRoy caught it in the face and lost several teeth. When he went to the dentist they removed all of his teeth. While that may seem like a loss there was an advantage. He smoked until that event but when he walked out of the dentist with his false teeth he "lit up" and it tasted like burnt rubber. He threw the pack away and never touched another cigarette.
Eventually LeRoy moved from the welding gang to the signal gang. He lived in a boxcar on the rails that had been converted to living quarters and moved from siding to siding as the work progressed up from California into Oregon on the mainline which ran through Klamath Falls up to Oakridge before coming into Eugene. That's what he was doing at the beginning of the1940's when he went home for a visit to Deming and met Marcy Montgomery from Alamogordo, New Mexico. While he returned to Northern California to he continued to write and then on the day after Christmas of 1941 they married in Las Cruces.
|After marriage in 1941, they moved to California and their first home was a boxcar with curtains. Part of the time they lived in the boxcar and then they bought a small travel trailer in which they lived. They kept the trailer until LeRoy received his draft notice to report to El Paso, TX for a physical prior to going into the Service for World War II. When he got to the draft board they discovered that he'd had Rheumatic Fever as a child and was also flat-footed. They sent him back to the railroad. In 1945 LeRoy and Marcy were living in a boxcar with lace curtains parked on a siding in Camby, OR. On April 30th of that year Marcy was rushed to the hospital in Portland and their only child, Howard Lee, was born. When they brought him home his first bed was a clothes basket in the outfit car. But it wasn't long before they moved out of the outfit car and bought a home in Eugene. LeRoy was still working on the signal gang which was headquartered in Eugene and working on the SP mainline towards Crescent Lake and beyond but he could be home on the weekends and sometimes during the week.|
Within a year or so of Lee's birth a job opportunity opened up as a signal maintainer in Glendale. People bid on jobs on the railroad and I'm sure LeRoy would have been very agitated during the waiting period to see if he got the job. But LeRoy had the most seniority and got the job. In 1946 they sold their home in Eugene and moved once again into a railroad car....but this one was on the ground. The Southern Pacific had placed three Pullman passenger cars on the ground adjacent to the home that had been built for the Roadmaster near the Glendale depot. The other two were for the SP Clerk and SP Agent at the depot. The third was for the signal maintainer. Improvements and repairs to the structures were carried out by the Bridge and Building, or B&B, gang that came through from time-to-time. Initially, the back of LeRoy and Marcy's carbody had rooms added for utility and a bathroom. But other than that, one walked into the kitchen and then into the living room, then their bedroom and finally into Lee's bedroom at the back. One only wonders what would have happened if they had had more children. While it would have been cramped, the main reason that they didn't, was LeRoy had been scared by the Great Depression. He was always very cautious about expanding his environment beyond what he could support. He had seen long breadlines, poverty, and sadness and he was always very apprehensive about the uncertainty of the future.
|When LeRoy began working as the signal maintainer his district extended from the tunnel between Wolf Creek and Glendale down to a place called Byers near Riddle. To cover this area he was provided with a motorcar. This motorized version of the old 'handcar' would go about 20-30 miles an hour down the tracks. His first one had no top on it and so you froze or got very wet in the Winter months.|
His responsibilities included taking care of the silver painted semaphore signals along the tracks, the wet-cell batteries buried at the base of the signals, the overhead wires that connected the signals together and finally the bonding wires that connected each joint of the track together. It was a never-ending job of building the batteries; cleaning, painting, and lubricating the signals; removing the underbrush from below the wires, and bonding the ends of rails when a piece of rail was replaced by the section gang. An example of what went into one of the tasks will illustrate why he often came home in the evenings 'tired to the bone'. To bond the two rail ends together four holes had to be drilled into the rails. A drill was provided that clamped to the rail. A handle was connected to a wheel and bicycle chain and one turned the wheel by hand until the holes were drilled. There were always a bunch of dull bites around LeRoy's tool house that he had used on the tracks.
When he wasn't working down Cow Creek canyon he would be doing paper work in the tool house. This was where he also prepared the materials to make batteries along the tracks. The battery making material to make the wet-cell batteries came in a heavy cardboard box and everything had to be taken out and put together before being transported to where the batteries were made. When Lee got old enough he often would spend time with his dad helping him in the tool house. The nuts and washers that connected the wires to the top of the cathodes would rust over time, so Lee would rub them across a piece of emery paper until they were like new. There were porcelain plates to put on the lead plates, washers to polish and all the materials to be repacked for later use.
While the maintainer's job required LeRoy to be available within 2 hours unless he made other arrangements, he still found time to work at additional jobs. One of the first jobs he had was working with Bob Jones in repairing much of the telephone lines around Glendale. Because LeRoy was comfortable with climbing telephone poles on the railroad he helped Bob Jones with that job on the weekends. Bob had an old Army truck for with an "A" frame on the front. He fabricated an auger to drill large holes for the poles and then they would use the same device to lift the pole into place. While they both would be up the poles Lee would often go along and work as the "grunt" bringing tools and running errands on the ground.
A few years later, LeRoy found his real enjoyment....cutting fire wood for extra money. When he was growing up he had to dig mesquite roots for firewood around Deming. And now he lived in Glendale where there was so many trees and so little time. The first opportunity came when Harv Duncan offered to let LeRoy cut the Madrone on his property up near tunnel 8 near Wolf Creek. Harv and Jane had sheep and once the Madrone trees were down and limbed the sheep loved to eat the leaves from the branch piles. The trees were turned into firewood that LeRoy and his son sold all over Glendale. LeRoy started his son out working for him at 10 cents an hour. Lee had to keep a careful record of how many hours he worked in a small tablet and every so often they would review the tablet and Lee would be paid. Over a period of years large pieces of the hillside were cleared of all madrones. LeRoy even bought a very small tracked vehicle to pull trees down to a clearing near the pickup. This 2-cylinder vehicle was hand started with a rope. With the difficulty he had in keeping it running it wasn't long before he got rid of the tractor. Another device he had was a home-made dump bed on his pickup. He fabricated an inner pickup bed out of plywood. It was hinged at the back and a pipe frame extended above and behind the cab. A chained sprocket 'coffin hoist' was used to raise and dump the load. (Mr. Close, the shop teacher at GHS, was so fascinated by the dump truck that he took a picture and sent it to "Popular Science" magazine where it was published.) And they were always huge loads. LeRoy always prided himself on making sure that there was more wood on the truck than the folks had paid for.
As LeRoy and Marcy's son got older he was more interested in sports and then it was off to college and he wasn't around to help cut wood. Over the years he stopped cutting except for themselves. But then with just a few years before his retirement they noticed a play for sale near the junction. Realizing that they were going to have to move out of the railroad carbody when he retired at 65 they bought the 20 acres and once again LeRoy had a wonder place to cut lots of wood. He loved that piece of property. He'd show people the piece of corrugated road that remained from many years gone by and walk them all over the place if they were interested.
LeRoy's job on the railroad had really changed over the years too. He now had a ton and a half truck with a winch that carried his motorcar to where he needed to take it. His district extended from downtown Grants Pass to the Dole siding past Myrtle Creek. He still liked to eat at many of the truck stops and got to know many of the truckers that drove I-5. The signals had changed a great deal also with the advance of electronics. LeRoy was always concerned that they would become too complex for him to continue to make repairs. But he was watching the railroad change too. LeRoy's son went on to a career in the Air Force but as he was growing up people would ask him if Lee was going to be a railroader too. To which he would reply that if he thought that he would he would hit him in the head with a baseball bat and put him out of his misery now. While this may seem harsh he was just trying to make the point that the railroad had changed and was changing so much that it was not as pleasant a place to work as in years gone by. And he was probably right. He never lived to see the demise of his dear 'Sufferin' Pacific and that is probably just as well.
He was always very pleased that Lee chose a military career and had many opportunities to share that fact with people. In 1981 Lee flew to Phoenix and met his dad who had come down from Oregon on the Amtrak. LeRoy continued to receive a pass for travel. Part of the trip he had spent in the engine talking with the train crew. From Phoenix they took the train to Deming and attended LeRoy's 49 reunion. In Deming for many years they have had a weekend celebration in April called 'Old-timers' day with parades and an evening of reunion fun for all of the classes. LeRoy and his son attended that celebration and had a wonderful time. Unfortunately for both, it passed so quickly. While there they visited the grave of his mother and stepfather and as they walked together they paused at a number of military markers in the graveyard. Deming had several members of the New Mexico National Guard that had seen service in World War II and most had perished in the Baton Death March in the Philippine Islands.
LeRoy had a heart attack while driving home from Canyonville in 1987. He continued home and when he got there had the wonderful folks at the Glendale Rescue take him to the hospital. He lived another year but his life was substantially changed after his attack and he soon grew weaker and was never able to return to his active life of cutting wood and enjoying the out of doors. His doctor said that the rheumatic fever that he had as a child had affected his heart, but he told his son that he felt that his body had simply wore out. After his death his ashes resided in the orchard on the property he loved so much for a number of years until finally they were scattered along the railroad tracks between Wolf Creek and Pollard on lower Grave Creek. A request that he had voiced before his passing. While he didn't attend church on a regular basis there was one hymn which he always enjoyed... "The Old Rugged Cross" which is playing as background music as you read these words.
LeRoy had many friends around Glendale and probably some whom might have been considered as less than friends. As a rule he found it hard to forgive someone for something but would do anything for someone if he thought he could help. Along the tracks he would see many Christmas trees in the summer and would wait until the season before cutting them down and giving them away to anyone that wanted one. Not only did he give trees away in Glendale but took them as far as California, New Mexico, and Virginia to family and friends. As a signal maintainer, he considered himself to have a special bond with the railroad that went beyond a job. Perhaps that's why some folks thought he was a great railroader. I, for one, agree but also know that he was a great dad!
Montgomery Dixon crossed over to the other side on 25 Nov 10.
She was born on
April Fools 1922, married on Christmas Eve 1941, and welcomed home on
Thanksgiving 2010. She
was born in Oklahoma, travelled to Alamogordo, NM as a small child eventually
marrying my dad, LeRoy in Los Cruces.
A few years ago her older sister convinced her
to leave Glendale and move back to Alamo where they lived together for a time
before her sister, Lillie moved back into an apartment.
Mom had an uncle
who was wounded in WWI in France.
He was left for dead and only when his
Commander noticed he was still alive was he treated. The Commander would become
the Governor of Texas. When
the uncle returned he helped name the Montgomery children…mom after Marseille,
France; Lillie after Lille, France; and Leo Metz Montgomery after Metz, France.
a very spiritual person and worked hard to look nice, keep a nice home and be
pleasant to all she encountered.
As many of you know our home was a Pullman
passenger car on the ground next to the Southern Pacific tracks.
She always kept
it nice and made sure I always had clean clothes and enough to eat as a child.
Many of her dear friends from years ago have long since passed such as Shorty’s
mother Florence Clayton, Mrs. Patterson, and Lucille Harris.
She and my dad
were very close to Mike Blomme’s folks for many years.
While my dad had
trouble with organized religion, mom (with me in tow) first attended the
Prebryterian Church in Glendale and later the First Christian Church across from
the old mortuary which has since been torn down.
Together we were
sprinkled at the first and immersed in Cow Creek in the second.
I still have a
New Testament she gave me from the when I was 10.
I carried it on
many of my travels over the years including Vietnam. In it she wrote, “Walk with
your hand in Gods and your feet will never stumble”.
Unfortunately eventually her body outlived her mind and she slowly went down hill. We moved her from New Mexico to be with us and things were fine until she fell and broke a hip. Her last few years were in a nursing home where she felt she was in a large beautiful home. While there she was always in good spirits and would respond to “I love you” with “I love you too”. Her caregivers never failed to comment on what a beautiful disposition she had. Her face would light up when she saw Donna or I but could not say who we were. For example, she didn’t know whether I was her son, husband, brother or father. Toward the end she would respond to a comment for a few words and then evolve into bable. That’s when we realized that part of her had already passed and the Lord was simple searching for a special place for this angel to use her many talents. I have traced her ancestors back to 850 royalty in Monaco and then through France to England during the Norman invasion. Clan Montgomery is from the Lowlands of Scotland. Her ancestors owned a plantation near Topelo, MS until the Civil War when they moved to Arkansas. Her granddad was a deputy marshal for Judge Issac Parker in Fort Smith, AR, made famous in the Clint Eastwood movie, “Hang’em High”.
She will be missed but what will be missed most is the love and attention I got when growing up. Those are the things that will stay in my heart until my passing, as it is for all things living.
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