Marble Bean is not one of my direct ancestors – he’s my 1st cousin 4x removed. But I came across his name when I was researching his mother, who is a sister of one of my direct ancestors, and was intrigued by the name. Did these people really name their child Marble Bean – I’m immediately imagining a bean made out of marble, and today, I’m pretty sure this would end in merciless teasing on the playground for the poor boy. I can only hope that his middle initial W didn’t stand for White – I haven’t been able to find his middle name yet. Anyways, as I dug around a little bit to find out more about this boy with a strange name, I uncovered a tragic ending to his much-too-short life.
Despite his unfortunate name, Marble Bean’s life seems to have started out well enough – he was born in 1870 in Licking County, Ohio, the oldest (and only?) child of Dr. Homer Bean and Lucretia Jane (Bailey) Bean. On 9 Jan 1895, he married Bertha Carnes, and they soon had two children – Homer Bean, b. 22 Nov 1895, and Iris Martha Bean, b. 30 Aug 1898.
At this point in his life, Marble was working as a brakeman on the B & O Railroad (1) – by all accounts an exciting but extremely dangerous job.
Iron wheels, located atop cars, were connected to a manual braking system by a long metal rod. The brakemen, usually two to a train, would ride on top of the car. On a whistle signal from the engineer, the brakemen, one at the front of the train and one at the rear of the train, would begin turning the iron wheels to engage the braskes. When one car was completed, the brakeman would jump the thirty inches or so to the next car and repeat the operation to apply the brakes on that car. The brakemen would work towards each other until all cars had their brakes applied…In good weather, the brakemen enjoyed riding on top of the cars and viewing the scenery. However, they had to ride up there in all kinds of weather – in rain, sleet, snow and ice, as well as good weather. Jumping from one car to the next at night or in freezing weather could be very dangerous, not to mention the fact that the cars were rocking from side to side.
“Railroad Job descriptions“, NEGenWebProject
This job, in addition to a number of other dangerous jobs on trains, resulted in the number of employees killed or injured over the eight years prior to 1893 being equal to the number of people employed by the railroad in a single year (2). However, at this point in history, there was no need for railroads to even be using this dangerous type of brake – in 1868, George Westinghouse had invented a safer “straight air brake” that the engineer could apply himself to all of the cars from the locomotive, and in 1873, Westinghouse introduced an even safer automatic air brake (3).
In 1893, Congress passed the Safety Appliance Act which required that by 1 Jan 1898 (later pushed to 1 Aug 1900 as a result of lobbying by railroads) all trains have air brake systems equipped on enough cars that the engineer could control the speed without needing brakemen to use hand brakes (3).
If B&O had installed these safer brakes on all of its cars by the original deadline, there would have been no need for brakemen in 1899. Marble would have been out of a job, but his life would probably not have been cut so short.
Unfortunately, B&O had apparently not installed air brakes on all of their trains since Marble was working as a brakeman in early 1899. Then, around 4am on February 13, 1899, Marble was working on the second section of train 97 when he hit his head on the roof of a tunnel near Bellaire, which knocked him off the train. He died later that morning, leaving a young widow and two young children.
(1) “Railroad Notes”. 4 Jan 1899. Newark Daily Advocate. Newark, Ohio.
(“Baltimore and Ohio brakemen…M.W. Bean…have been reported on the sick list.”)
(2) “Railroad Safety Appliance Standards, Miscellaneous Revisions; A Proposed Rule by the Federal Railroad Administration on 07/02/2010″. Federal Register, The Daily Journal of the United States Government.
(3) Hutchinson, August. 9 Jul 2012. “A Dangerous Ride – Installment One”. From the B&O Railroad Museum.