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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad Strike, 1946

In 1942, the TP&W Railroad was the first railroad to come under federal control after Pearl Harbor. The TP&W was involved in a strike, which was interfering with war operations. In October 1945, the railroad went back into private hands and the strike was back on. Of course it was hard for the public to remember why the union went on strike, so there is no telling how much sympathy there was for the strikers. The conflict was over the firing of 24 men for alleged violence before the walkout in 1942.

The TP&W was a tiny feeder railroad, just 239 miles in length that ran through Gridley, IL, and it was in Gridley that two railroad men lost their lives when they attempted to stop a TP&W train on February 4, 1946. The train had left Peoria and the strikers followed the train in eight or ten cars. After the train slowed down or stopped in Gridley, the men attempted to stop the train. Accounts varied, but it was said there were anywhere from 25 to 50 men at the crossing and that they were either shouting insults at the trainmen, or they were throwing rocks at the trainmen. At this point they knew that armed guards were on the train, because in Eureka the strikers had thrown rocks at the train and the guards had responded with gunfire, hurting no one, but a bullet went through the wall of a home near that crossing.

Two strikers, Arthur Brown and Irwin Paschon, were killed instantly and three others were injured. No one on the train was injured. The four guards were almost instantly arrested, and state police and McLean County sheriffs were at the scene. The guards were taken into custody in Gridley and transferred to Bloomington.

The Pantagraph reported that in 1943 a railroad striker pled guilty to having obtained dynamite to blow up a bridge near Eureka. A few days later the Pantagraph editorial criticized both the railroad and the union for failing to come to an agreement. The Pantagraph called on the two parties to resolve the matter in public court. The railroad had refused arbitration when offered by the War Labor board.

Deputy Lloyd Staley and a state policeman with weapons recovered at the scene of the killing.

The president of the railroad, George P. McNear Jr., when informed of the killings, said he "was terribly sorry that anyone had been killed. I don't know the circumstances of the shooting but I think it is a shame we cannot go ahead and run our trains." McNear had asked Governor Green to provide the state militia to protect the trains, but had had no response from the Governor.

The guard were charged with murder and Clifford Coolidge, State's Attorney and his assistant, Louis Probasco, began interviewing witnesses. An autopsy revealed that the men had been shot in the back. All the strikers denied having firearms. Statements differed as to whether the guards shot from a coal car or whether they had exited the train to throw a switch and fired from the ground. It would be an interesting trial.

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