ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


George W. Webb

1852 - 1934


(Picture George W. Webb)


GEORGE W. WEBB  Passed That Mark

With the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Road on January 12 –



Forty-eight years continuous railway service with the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad is a record in which Station Agent George W. Webb takes much pride.  It is a record of service equaled by few if any men now in the employee of this company and from Mr. Webb’s appearance today there is little doubt but that he will continue for several years to come as he’s as hale and hearty as he was thirty-four years ago, when he succeeded the late Jonas Sleeper as agent at Watertown and Watertown Junction, with supervision as well over freight and switching yards.  It was on January 12, 1875, that Mr. Webb entered the service of the St. Paul Company as a student operator and since that time until the present he has been a familiar figure in local railway circles.  During the forty-eight years Mr. Webb has not lost a day of work.  He claims that he has sold tickets to most every person residing within forty miles of this city during these years.


It was through A. J. Earling, until recently president of the road, then train dispatcher of the division, that Mr. Webb got his first connection with the road.  He was put at work “learning the key” and it was not long until he had mastered it, and was a full-fledged operator.  For a couple of years Mr. Webb worked at various stations along the line, as far east as Milwaukee and as far west as La Crosse, finally being assigned to a regular “trick” at Watertown Junction. At that time the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad was well named.  The map of the road of that period trims down the big 10,000 mile system one-tenth.  “North to Minneapolis, west to Glencoe on the H. and D. division and to Algoma on the Prairie du Chien. That’s about all to the north.  And south, nothing but the Chicago division, just built.  Never counted it up, but surely not more than a thousand miles,” says Mr. Webb.   


Of all those who were in active service of the company when Mr. Webb began his railroad career, but few remain, among them, John J. Moulding, who previous to Mr. Webb’s entry held the position of clerk to Superintendent C. H. Prior, who at that time resided in Watertown and the business was done in the same building now used as a freight office. A. J. Earling, the late president and general manager of the road had previous to that time resided in Watertown and it was through his influence that later Mr. Webb entered the local office to learn telegraphy, which he mastered in four months, when he was assigned as night operator at Reeseville, going from there to Sparta and La Crosse.  He was the first operator stationed at Bridge Switch after the completion of the new iron bridge across the Mississippi river.  He was then transferred to the Milwaukee stockyards and then to Watertown Junction.  At that time the late Joseph McCabe, a Watertown boy, was then day operator at the depot.  Later he was made night operator at the depot when the late D. C. Cheney passed, afterwards superintendent, had the day “trick”.  From that position he was appointed chief clerk under the late Jonas Sleeper and upon the latter’s death was appointed agent on July 18, 1888, and his long years of service in that position shows that his capability was recognized by the higher officials.


When Mr. Webb entered the service the wood burning locomotive was still in use and was named instead of being numbered.  In speaking of that time Mr. Webb said:


“Of course we had no air brakes.  When the train approached a station, the whistle blew and brakeman and conductor turned out to set the hand brakes.  The old pin and link system of coupling was used.  It was almost an everyday occurrence for me to hold some brakie’s hand while the doctor trimmed up a smashed finger or two.”


“The old wooden coaches, too.  Sure they were funny.  But we thought they were fine, and we were mighty glad to have them. We only wished we had more. When we made up a train for a Sunday school excursion there were always as many box cars with board benches for seats as there were coaches.  And the box cars weren’t like those we haul now.  A ten-ton car was a big one.  Twenty thousand pounds was the top load.  Now these big steel gondolas and steel trussed box cars that carry from 80,000 to 100,000 pounds, even 110,000 pounds if we load ten per cent over nominal capacity as we are allowed to do, carry as much, as half a dozen of those cars of the ‘70’s.” 


Came Here a Baby


Mr. Webb came to Watertown as a baby two years old with his parents.  He was born in Conesius, Livingston County, New York, May 31, 1852, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Salah Post Webb.  His father was a physician and lawyer and the family settled near Oconomowoc, his father having a subcontract for the construction of the railroad between Watertown and Oconomowoc.  That was in 1854.  His father afterward practiced law in Watertown and later removed to Fond du Lac, where he remained until the beginning of the Civil War when he enlisted in the 6th Wisconsin, a part of General Bragg’s Iron Brigade.  He died in the fall of 1861 and lies buried in the national cemetery in Washington, D. C.


Mr. Webb was united in marriage with Lillian L. Gibbs, of Eldora, Iowa, February 4, 1878.  Four children were born to the union, three of whom are living, Mrs. John Chapman, Menasha; Mrs. R. J. Blaire, Hillsboro; Lieutenant Walter W. Webb, U. S. N., now stationed at Philadelphia, who was recently assigned to the new destroyer, Tracy.  He affiliated with the Masonic order forty years ago, being a member of Watertown Lodge No. 49, F. and A. M. and Watertown Chapter No. 11 R. A. M.


In speaking of former days, Mr. Webb recalls that when a boy horses were so scarce that when a new team reached the city there was a rush to see the animals.  Oxen were the methods employed to do the farm work and for transportation, a great change to the automobile of the present day.  He also recalls that when horses became more plentiful after the Civil war that a half mile track was built on what is known now as Duffy’s pasture across the way from St. Mary’s hospital, where races were held at intervals.  But few of the present day can recall these events and live over again the life and conditions of that period.


Is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery

Webb, George W., b. 1852, d. 1934, Sec 19




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History of Watertown, Wisconsin