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How to
Use the Activities


Inquiry Question

Historical Context




Table of

Putting It All Together

Thurmond enriched the communities it served and made important contributions to the nation's economy and identity. Through the following activities, students will experience the responsibilities of rail workers in the early 20th century, explore the role of transportation workers today, and use imagery to honor those who have served our country in the transportation field.

Activity 1: Role Play
In 1911 Thurmond handled 71,546 passengers and 3,697,277 tons of freight. Rail workers’ experiences indicate how complex and dangerous daily rail operations could be. Have the class look again at Readings 1 and 2. Then divide the students into groups of five or six. Cut copies of Reading 2 into separate job descriptions. Each group of students should have one copy of each job description and each student should take a role. For groups of five eliminate the position of the call boy. Read the following sequence of scenarios to the class, and ask each group to consider what actions might occur as a result of each one. Then ask each group to role play that action according to their assigned roles. In parentheses following each scenario is a possible response to the situation that the students might act out.

Scenario A: Several requests are telegraphed to the train depot for pickup of full coal cars and drop-off of empty cars. (Telegrapher may relay information to car distributor, who may relay it to chief clerk, who may prepare a list of available cars and pass it to yard master, who may give the list to the yard conductor, ask the telegrapher to contact other stations for empties, and call for a yard crew.)

Scenario B: A special excursion train is bound for a resort town. This is not a regularly scheduled train. It is due to come through Thurmond at 2 p.m. using the main line track nearest to the rail yard. (Chief clerk may tell the yard master who would check schedules and make sure the line is clear, and would warn engineers who might be using the line; yard master would keep the yard conductor aware of the change in the normal schedule.)

Scenario C: It is very difficult to assemble freight cars in the long, narrow rail yard without using one of the main line tracks. This causes a safety hazard, but the cars must be assembled and leave the station by 2:30 p.m. (Yard master may or may not decide to use the main line track. Yard master may ask the telegrapher to signal incoming trains to slow, stop, or switch to another track. Telegraph operator may signal the excursion train to use another track, throw the track switch, or request another station on the line to signal and switch tracks.)

Now tell the students to assume that it is 1:55 p.m. and they need to answer the following questions and discuss the results of this activity:
1. Does the yard crew have any cars on the main line track?
2. Who knows about the excursion train? How did they find out?
3. Will the freight cars be assembled in appropriate order in time to depart at 2:30 p.m.?
4. Will the excursion train rumble through Thurmond safely on its way east, or will it meet with disaster?
Conclude the activity by having students discuss the complexity of running a train yard that was busy 24 hours a day.

Activity 2: Recognizing Others
Ballads about railroad disasters memorialize the people and the events in a specific style. Ask students to identify examples of characteristic elements of the ballad found in Reading 3--rhyming, repeated phrases, focus on specific individuals, emphasis on speed, foreshadowing, colorful descriptions, and ending with lessons or warnings for others.

Then have the students research a recent transportation disaster such as the Exxon oil spill at Valdez, Alaska, or the plane explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland, gathering information about the people involved if possible. Ask the students to write a ballad about the calamity they researched, using the typical railroad-disaster style. Remind the class that through ballads, writers can commemorate important events, help victims deal with tragedy, and honor the contributions of others. Read several of the completed ballads to the class or ask students to recite or sing their ballads. Then have a general classroom discussion in which students discuss the appropriateness of using ballads to memorialize the role of a particular hero. What other ways can such people be recognized (epic poems, eulogies, inscriptions on tombstones)?

Activity 3: Transportation Then and Now
Remind students that transportation workers of all kinds have contributed to the development of the nation by serving their communities. Have small groups of students contact and interview transportation workers in major transportation centers nearest their community (airport, bus station, ferry port, railroad freight yard or depot, etc.).

Then have each group prepare a class presentation which addresses the following:
1. Identify and describe the center of transportation they investigated.
2. Describe its similarities and dissimilarities to Thurmond.
3. Describe the duties and equipment of the transportation workers they interviewed.
4. Compare those job duties and the equipment used with the jobs and equipment of the rail workers of Thurmond in 1910.
5. Compare the length of workday, levels of responsibility, required education, and safety and danger in the transportation system today and in the past.



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