Sunday, June 16, 2013



My dad, Thomas Dowd, was born in July 1918.   He was the first child of Thomas Dowd and Gertrude O’Rourke.  My grandfather was a railroad engineer and my grandmother was a housekeeper, as 99% of the women of that time.

In 1920 another child, Richard Regis, was born.  My grandmother said that her husband drank too much alcohol and she had to meet him at the gate to get his paycheck or he would have spent the money at one of the local bars.  Finances were very tight for the new family. 

Tragedy struck one day in October, my grandmother had reported, my grandfather was intoxicated and fell down a flight of steps and then went to bed.   He was dead by the next morning, October 16 1921.   The death certificate listed a cerebral hemorrhage as the cause of death.

I think my dad always was angry about his father.  He said he spent his life living first with his O’Rourke grandparents and then with a step family after Gertrude remarried in 1928. 

Thomas talked about the poverty and everyone had to survive on their own because there was no assistance for widows.  She worked to bring in money as a winder at Westinghouse Electric in East Pittsburgh PA, and her parents took care of the children.  

One of his activities was to pick up the coal that had fallen from the freight trains that rolled by across the street from his grandparents home.   I suppose every bit of coal that he and his brother gleaned helped the family.  He spoke of eating soupy potatoes and how he hated apple butter because it was all they had to put on their bread.

His grandfather, Patrick O’Rourke,  worked as a street sweeper for the Borough, he had lost his job in the Homestead Steel Mill after the HOMESTEAD STRIKE in about 1892.  From what everyone said at the time the men who struck were blackballed from working in any steel mill again.

In 1928 Gertrude married again, it was the only option at the time and a lot of women married to have someone to support them and the new wife would take care of the children from any previous marriage.   My dad hated the situation, he and his step father never got along.  Thomas felt he was too strict and treated the step children different because HE was supporting them.  Her second husband, Peter Paul Graham died in 1938.   After that my dad had to drop out of high school in the 11th grade to support the family.  I think he always regretted that he never had the opportunity to graduated from High School, he told me that he had wanted to be a surgeon.

In 1938 jobs were hard to come by because of the depression but he found a job at the Union Railroad with help from some friend of the family.  Initially the company did not want to hire him because of the legacy passed on from his father (I think he might have had a slight mishap with a train.)    A woman spoke up for him and said “You are hiring the son, not his father.”  He got the job and continued to work there for forty two years.

This is getting to be a long post, I will have to divide the tale into sections and continue it in installments.

1 comment:

  1. This is fascinating and I can't wait to read the rest. All families seem to have shared many similarities back then. I remember my Mother mentioning all the apple butter they ate as kids.
    It's difficult to imagine how brutally hard life often was for our grandparents & parents.