Laundry Day on the GNRP

The 3rd in a Series ~ Volume II

Prompt: Out of Place


The challenge with focusing on one side of the family tree is that the same names keep coming up. This is due in part to the many broken branches we’re continuously working to repair. The Scottish/northern England ancestors are proving most elusive, and the Irish keep teasing us with possibilities which we have not yet been able to solidify. By contrast, the United Empire Loyalists with their roots deep in Englands old and new have records that appear much more accessible. Still, even they have their uncertainties.

And so, once again we are delving into the Belton family, this time my great uncle, Harry Thomas Belton (1889-1973), who spent most of his working life with the Great Northern Railroad Project (GNRP).

Born 18 February, 1889, in Fremont, Newaygo Co., Michigan, to Henry Belton (1846-1931) and Mary Jane (Crouse) Belton (1850-1932), Henry Thomas (Harry) Belton grew up on the family farm in Fremont and later in the village of Ubly before joining the GNRP. He married Nellie Wagar (1888-1982) on 28 October, 1915, in Wagar, North Dakota.

The image below depicts uncle Harry on laundry day at the GNRP. Gone from home for days, possibly weeks at a time he would have needed to be self-sufficient. Based on the automobile to the right of the image and off in the distance, I hazard to guess the timeframe is some time in the late 1930s.

Great uncle Harry is doing his laundry the old-fashioned way with tin tubs, a washboard, and water boiled on a make shift wood stove. It’s the location beside the tracks that’s quirky. Freshly washed under garments and overalls languishing on a clothes line in a less than sanitary railroad environment look quite out of place. Still, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and if that means having to launder and hang his delicates in a railroad camp that’s what he’s gonna do.

There are other interesting features in this photograph. Behind uncle Harry is an “Outfit Car” used to house track maintenance and work crews while out in remote areas. Under the steps is a dog house. Uncle Harry was known to have a small dog with him wherever he went, so the kennel is an endearing touch to a rough environment. Perhaps his pup was in the kennel when this moment was captured.

The Final Word

Details of great uncle Harry’s life are lost with him, so it’s a treat that such a photo has survived the passage of time and that we have it in our archive. He’s remembered as a gentle man with an easy sense of humour. He and aunt Nellie were married for several decades, but lived separately for much of it. They had no children.❦

©DorothyE. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2023 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

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