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Adventuresome Life of the Railroad Engineer

Bert Kyger was an engineer on the Chicago Alton for several decades and had a few adventures during that time. One hundred years ago today, Bert was pulling into the station at Godfrey, IL when he saw a rail car on fire in the yard. Bert quickly went into action, detaching the cars from his engine. He then used the engine to pull away the cars that were close to the one in flames, saving the railroad a great loss.

In October of 1898 he had a much more exciting adventure when he was driving a load of strike breakers to the mines at Virden IL. The strike breakers were African-American miners brought from Alabama by rail to St. Louis. Kyger was driving the northbound limited to Bloomington when when it met up with the train from St. Louis. Kyger was ordered to take over that train and complete the run to Virden. Kyger had no idea at that time that he was driving into a mob scene.

As the train arrived in Virden, Kyger was to drive to the stockade and unload the strike breakers, but he could see the mob of armed men. As soon as the train came to a halt, the mob started firing on the train and men. Kyger was hit almost immediately in his arm. The train was riddled with bullets in moments. Despite being wounded, Kyger took control of the train and drove it away from the mob to the next station after being shot. He finally gave up control of the train to the fireman due to his blood loss. One account on Wikipedia states that he waited 20 minutes before "giving up" and driving the strikebreakers away.

Kyger, wounded deputies and wounded miners were taken to the hospital in Springfield to receive treatment. The ball could not be removed from Kyger's arm at that time, so he came home to Bloomington to see the doctor's at Deaconess Hospital.

The African American miners reported that they had been misled into thinking they were coming for legitimate jobs, and not as strike breakers. The mine owners did capitulate in November of 1898 and allowed the miners at Virden to unionize. Seven Virden miners were killed and 4 security guards were killed. Many many more were injured.

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