B&O Railroad Museum TV Network: Dining on the B&O (February 2014)
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B&O Railroad Museum TV Network: Dining on the B&O (February 2014)

August 31, 2019


Hi, I’m Michael Gross, host of the B&O
Railroad Museum Television Network. African-American waiters and commissary staff who worked on B&O dining cars were renowned for their top-notch
customer service. The B&O’s employee magazine
was constantly filled with complimentary letters extolling their qualities and the B&O’s reputation for elegant
cuisine and high standards of service. The compliments were well-earned and well-deserved when one considers the physical conditions of a cramped dining car racing down the tracks and the challenges faced by the
B&O chefs and waiters. The opportunity to work as
a waiter or chef for the B&O provided an avenue of
advancement for black men not widely available to African-Americans
in general in the early 20th century. B&O waiter Reverend James Kearse considered it a “privilege to assist
passengers” for the railroad. He received impeccable training
and worked in an “exacting world, where the railroad waiters were expected
to keep their shoes polished, pants pressed, hair groomed, and fingernails clean.” Many served as career employees with 20, 30
or more years of dedicated service. The courteous, reliable, and precise waiters of the B&O also served as a recognizable face of
the railroad’s advertising campaign. The friendly smile of the staff in the neat, clean, pressed white linen uniforms, offered the finest fair the B&O had to offer. Their smiles were seen as part of the uniform and often hid the long hours spent on their feet serving thousands of hungry travelers. In addition to waiting tables,
waiters were responsible for: cleaning and setting tables before
and between meals; placing table cloths, napkins, and place settings; and ensuring the dishes and silver
were clean and free of fingerprints. Additional duties included prepping
salads and washing dishes. Preparing food for passengers
was always difficult, at best, but dining car chefs faced
the added challenge of cramped quarters, rocking tables,
and a kitchen on wheels that moved at speed of 80 to 100 mph. Just imagine preparing and
serving Thanksgiving dinner for countless travelers in a kitchen
the size of a closet being shared by several cooks, much less carrying a tray full of food at high speeds with the rhythmic motion of the car under your feet. This is exactly what B&O waiters had to do
all along the railroad’s line, often serving as many as 450 meals on one train. Stay tuned for information on upcoming
events at the B&O Railroad Museum. Thomas the Tank Engine’s visiting
B&O Railroad Museum, April 25-27 and May 2-4 with a trainload of family fun! Kids of all ages can enjoy a ride with
Thomas the Tank Engine and meet Sir Topham Hatt! There’ll be storytelling, live entertainment,
and much, much more. Tickets are on sale now at ticketweb.com/dowt or call 1-866-468-7630. Don’t miss Day Out With Thomas:
The Go-Go Thomas Tour! Promotional opportunities were few for
African-American waiters. The dining car stewards were all white men who oversaw the operation of each B&O dining car. African-Americans could be promoted
to Waiter in Charge with the responsibility for running Club Cars, Observation Cars, and smaller dining cars. Waiters in Charge could have as many as three waiters and cooks under their supervision. They waited tables as needed and if working the Club Car also served
as bartender and short order cook preparing a light fare such as
breakfast and sandwiches. Waiters and chefs on the B&O
faced discrimination, derogatory comments, institutional racism,
and had very limited privileges. They were not admitted to the
African-American Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters for many years and had no representation for salary issues, seniority,
and other working condition protections. Benefits could be arbitrarily taken from them. Waiters often had to sleep in the dining car and received 8 hours of pay,
even if they worked longer shifts. When they finally could join the Brotherhood, they were given access to sleeping berths and received extra pay for working longer hours. These conditions began to change
during the Civil Rights era as America was forced to confront racism; however, conditions remained less than ideal and doors that remained closed to
African-Americans took some time to open wider. When factoring in their ability to work
in a racially charged environment and handle their duties African-American dining car staff of
the B&O made the adage “Dinner the Diner, Nothing Could be Finer”
a reality. When visiting the B&O Railroad Museum, be sure to visit the exhibit on
African-American dining car service as well as the elegant collection
of dining car china on display. This is Michael Gross, and thanks for watching the B&O Railroad Museum Television Network. Interested in learning more about the
B&O Railroad Museum and Ellicott City Station? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter! With daily updates on upcoming events, coupons, photographs, history, and things to do in Baltimore, you’ll never be off track.

3 Comments

  • Reply flywelder January 1, 2016 at 8:18 am

    These are all excellent videos! I have watched them all, and was never disappointed ! Please continue to make others!

  • Reply Johnny James April 20, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    I feel the dining car staff were hero's. Working in that cramped, non air conditioned kitchen was arduous at best. They made eating in the dining car, which is the greatest pleasure of travel by train, a reality.

  • Reply Bryan Williams April 17, 2019 at 9:28 am

    Its BurtGummer !!!!

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