Saturday, July 5, 2014

Train Conductors and Their Hats

 I like trains.  On a train I am in a different reality -- train reality.  There's no sense hurrying or hoping the train will go faster than the rails allow.  The train is in charge.
On a recent train trip to Washington DC I became fascinated by the conductors' hats.  They all wore them and I wondered why.
It can't be that they are so attractive because they aren't.  So what was it with the hats which, in all honesty, are pretty odd looking.  Off I went, as soon as I got back home, to the computer to find out the story behind those hats.  Come to find out, there isn't much of a story there.  They wear them because that's what they wear.  Here's what I found.  The people wearing those hats are easily recognized as passenger train conductors.  Ok.  Got it.  The hat is a variation on the military cap called a 'kepi'.  Okay.  A 'kepi' in various spellings means 'cap'.  So noted.  More familiar than what they are called is the cap itself.  It's worn by French military and police but more familiarly was worn by soldiers fighting on both side of our Civil War.  Railroad conductors started wearing them in the 1870s.  Back in 'the day' the conductor on all trains both freight and passenger supervised the train and its entire crew.
 Because all crew reported to the conductor (except possibly the engineer) and because all crew often wore the same style hat, each hat had a badge on the front indicating the crew person's job.  Conductor.  Trainman (brakeman).  Sometimes passenger agents, freight agents, freight agents and redcaps wore the same style.  Of course, the redcaps hat was red.  All of the other hats were black.
From the late 19th century until the middle of the 20th century conductors on trolley cars generally wore the same style hat and generally it was black.
I was impressed by the detail and hard work of the conductors on my very short ride to Washington DC.  They do, indeed, keep the trains running. 
Hats off to the conductors!

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