Oregon State University
Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection

Lawrence Alberti Oral History Interview


Audio: “Lawrence Alberti Oral History Interview” . 1980s

Location: Location Unknown.
Interviewer:  Michael Grice

0:16:23 - Download Transcript (PDF)


Lawrence Alberti: --would come in with all these ships, and they had a lot of black sailors on there, and boy, all the women, all the girls would all be flocking down to the ships, and I said—and I was a senior—I said "shoot, I think I'll join that Navy." All the guys around there, all the white boys say "heck, we going to join the Navy" and I said "yeah?" I said "shoot, I think I'll go down too." So they all, we all went down, they were all going in. So you take a physical and everything and got to me and I put on what I wanted and I said "I want to be in the [00:00:29 unintelligible] port. He said "well, right now there's nothing open in there for you people." I said "wait a minute, what do you mean?" I said—he says "they got some open in the mess department and the stewards." I said "what's that?" He said "well you know, waiting and working in the kitchen and things like that." I said "well no thank you, I don't think I'll care for that." So I gave that up. And then I looked around, I couldn't find no job, or I went out there at Cicero's [spelling?] and worked out there a little bit, and so I ran into Mr. Reynolds [spelling?] and he asked me what I was doing—no, I was told to go down and see Mr. Reynolds, and he was a supervisor of the Red Caps, and so I told him—

Michael Grice: Now, which Mr. Reynolds was this?

LA: Phil Reynolds. And so he said "well yeah, I think I can use you part time, nothing full time, but come on down and start up," and so I did. And so he—I used to work—

MG: And when was that? Do you remember what year was it?

LA: 1936. That's when there's social security, it was the first time we got the—social security came in that year and we had that big old number. So we signed up in 1936 and I worked there until I got to—was going to be drafted into the service. They started drafting for the service in the forties. And so I went down and checked my draft status and the guy got the book out and was looking through it and he said "yeah, you're going to be drafted in August." I said "what?" This was around June. I said "well," he said "yeah, we going to draft you, your name's in the book here." I said "well, is there any way to"—he said "well you get a little better status if you want to volunteer. You can go in there and pick out your own branch and stuff. I said "well, I didn't figure on going," but I said "I can pick my own branch of service?" He said "yeah, you can pick it out." So I said "okay, I'm going to volunteer then." So I volunteered and they sent me from sign up down at the post office, sent me up to Fort Lewis, and from Fort Lewis they sent me to Fort Lawton, Fort Lawton they sent me to First Avenue Cantonment down there in Seattle, and so I stayed there eighteen months. And I was a supply sergeant of that camp up there, and—well I got in good with—when I got up there at Lawton there was a guy who was first sergeant and he knew how to—he didn't have an education but he could really drill, and since I was living here I had a car, and so I got and brought my car out up there, and he found out I had a car. He says "hey, come here, you got a car?" I said "yeah." He said "well, you got a place off of base?" I said "yeah." He said "well, you can get a pass, tonight we'll go to town together." I said "fine" [laughing]. So me and him was—we called him Slick, so Slick, I'd get a pass to town, until we moved us down to the First Avenue. Then the First Avenue, I got in there and we was in the MP company, Company B detachment, and all we did was special service for the government, for the camp runner, so I got in supplies. And Captain Corn [spelling?], and he liked me, so I was in charge of supplies for the camp. And we had about eighteen hundred people and we were shipping out to Lucian's Islands, which fixing up these guys and clothing them and sending them up to Lucian's. And also we were fixing up guys and sending them out to do steward work. And what's his name, I can't think of his name now, he was up there—Lewis Williams was up there too; he came on up later on. And so we were all up there together for a while. And so I stayed up there until my captain, he got shipped out. They bussed me down once—see Captain went on two-weeks' vacation and I got, I had charge of special services. I mean I was in charge of anything I wanted to do in supply and he was in special service, he had special service and that kind of thing, so everything, all requisition had to come through his office, and so he signed me a bunch of requisitions saying well, every day that he'd be gone all day. And so when he come in he'd "well, what's been happening, anything going on?" I said "no, everything's okay." So he went on vacation, so I had all the vehicles. I charged up all the cars and everything, so I had me a carryall and I could roll about fifteen guys and we all went to the Washington football game up there. I come back, they busted me [laughs]. Colonel said for me to come to the office, I'm misusing a vehicle. So I got back, I was still in my job but he just take my stripes down. So my captain said "what happened?" so I told him; he said "well don't worry, I'll get your stripes," and he boop boop boop, he went to the Colonel, he said "well, it's going to be a little bit tough, but I'm going to get 'em, don't worry," he said "he ain't going to put you back right away," he said "I'll just put you up one at a time until we get you back up to sergeant." So he did, and in about three months I was back up to sergeant.


So I stayed there until he left. In about eighteen months he left. Two weeks later I was on order to ship to go to Louisiana. And so it's fourteen of us as a coterie for my company; we're going to go down there and be a coterie down in Louisiana. So we were going to ship out of Seattle to Chicago and then go south from Chicago. So we got in Chicago, the guy said "well you know when you get in Chicago they going to—after you leave Chicago they always make all the soldiers go back in the dirty car, so we said "well, we ain't going to move." So we all made our mind up so that when the conductor comes and says "you fellows going to have to move up to the front," we said "we're okay right here." So I went to the toilet and we made a stop, so we didn't say no more, so the train stopped and I come back out, I seen all these guys pulling bags, said "hey, what's happening?" He said "we're moving." I said "what's happening?" he say "you see them [00:06:40 unintelligible] out there, they went out there and the both of them got them forty-fives laying down, we moving" [laughter]. I said "yeah, I guess we are." So we all moved to up to that dirty car and we got on to Louisiana. And so we got into Camp [unintelligible] in Louisiana and it was a white and black, white on one side, black on the other side. And we stayed down there for about—I stayed down there about six months. Well, they didn't have nothing for me to do, so I got me a clipboard, every day I'd take my clipboard and walk up and down and they thought I was checking something [laughter]. So I did that over about three months, and I knew a guy in the office and they were shipping, they were training all these black ones to go over in South Pacific and be stewards to [00:07:28 unintelligible], and if you went to anywhere to Georgia or anywhere south, you going to ship down to one of the them islands; you're going back up to where they's going to do some work, but if you went east, went to New York or anywhere back there, you're going to Europe. So I told this clerk, I said "say, what's the possibility of me going east?" He said "well it's good, if you want to go." I said "I'll tell you, the first time you can put my name on that list anywhere going east, put it on there," because they were getting ready to ship all the—so they been training all the—so I got my name on that list. He said "I got you on that list." I said "you have?" He said "yeah, you'll be probably going out next week," and sure enough, next week came, they shipped me up to New York. So I got up there and I had my rank and the guy said "well, I'll make you a chow checker, you can check the chow line every day," so that's all I did for two weeks up there in the chow line. So they—after about two weeks I was going to town, I got my pass every weekend, I met me a couple of little gals up there in New York, and I had a fine—one the of them had an apartment to pull stuff, so I was doing real good [laughs]. Then they got the orders that we were going to—they were going to ship us out. So they, we was in New Jersey then. So they had this dry run; we'd get on, they'd take us up like we're going to go, we didn't know where we'd live, like a big warehouse, but there was a ship on the other side of that warehouse. So about three times they'd take us up there and they'd bring us back. We know about that fourth time it was going to be the real thing, so one night we all sneaked out. They couldn't—well no, we got quarantined, and when we got a quarantine it means that the next day you were going.

MG: It's all over.

LA: Right. So I said "we got to go to town." So we sneaked out, I guess I ran across one of them bridges, Washington, one of them, boy, I don't know; I ran all over New York, I mean every time I'd look up I'd see [00:09:18 unintelligible, laughter]. Finally, I ran all night and finally I had to run back to camp and sleep. They didn't catch me. But anyway, we got in. So, we made that run, that night they marched us up and so that time we got inside the building, we walked through the big old door, and then I said "shoot, this look like a ship." It was the Queen Elizabeth. So they had—I went in there, and so there was one master sergeant, first sergeant, and me. We had a hundred and sixty-five guys we'd taken over to Scotland. We were in charge, we had no officer, we were the only two. So we take them to Scotland and from Scotland went to France, then we, from there, we went on up to Belgium, and then on into Germany. We got our officers and when we got up there to our destination, we'd taken them all the way in to—


MG: All the way to Germany.

LA: Right. Yeah, we're just this first sergeant and me. And then after that they put him in another outfit and I got into this chemical outfit, and so then I got shipped around over there, and finally they shipped me to a little town, [00:10:37 unintelligible]. So we had this lieutenant and she was saying, I told him "oh, we got a lot of guys here who need some ratings," I said "they're doing the work but they're not getting no pay for it," and he said "well, give me a list." I put my name right on the top of the list and put all my friends who I knew who was doing their job, and the cooks and everything. I put myself first there and he looked at the list; "well, this is it?" I said "yep, that's it," and he said "well okay, we'll see what we can do." So he set it over there and I come back out, I said "I'm one of"—he said "I'm making you the acting first sergeant" and I said "the acting first sergeant?" that's my [00:11:15 unintelligible] listed. I said "well, I'll do it for a while but if I'm going to, I want the pay." He said "you do?" I said "yeah," so he said "well I say give me your list," and that's when I made my ratings to first sergeant. Well man, I stayed over there till '46 and I shipped back home. And then I came home, I come back to the working as a Red Cap down at the Union depot, and—

MG: What about the crew, did you work with down at the depot, was what they dispositioned about their work, and what did you do down there each day?

LA: Well when we first started down there, when I started working down at the station, we would work split-shift. We'd meet a train and we'd come in around seven o'clock and we'd work till about eight-thirty and then we'd come back in about two. And then we worked about two hours and go out by four, and sometime we come back in the evening, but most of the time we'd just work maybe two shifts and that'd be it. It depends on how the—if it was heavy then he'd say "well, you guys come back" and Phil just assign us to different ones.

MG: He was doing the assigning down there.

LA: Yeah, Phil, he was in charge. Clarence [unintelligible] was the assistant and Phil Winters [spelling?] was the supervisor, and we had all these old guys and all these young guys running around down there, and so it was quite a thing. One guy named Mr. Smith, he used to always have his umbrella, sunshine—I'd say "Mr. Smith," and the guys like "What you doing with that umbrella?" He said "well son, I'm telling you it's better to have and not need than need and not have. I carry my umbrella all the time" [laughter]. And that was true. And they had quite a problem with us, and then finally we used to just go in the baggage room and get a big box of checks, stamp ten, my number's ten, all over, and that was it. Finally, the guy named Ferguson [spelling?] from the Southern Pacific came in, he's going to show us how to make more money. And public relations guy, oh, and he questioned us, he'd say "hey, what about, how much do you guys make a day?" We got this old guy: "well, I'll tell you, some days I make a little bit more, some days I make less." He said "well how much average, could you say? Was it a dollar, two dollar?" "Oh no, no, I couldn't say that." He said "sometime I make a dollar, sometime I don't make hardly nothing" [laughter]. So he never could pin. And then we'd already been schooled; "don't be telling what the guys make," so he could never figure out what we—at least he couldn't, you know. But he is slick, and he'd talk—so about six months later they got this check in charge in South Pacific, put that in [00:13:58 unintelligible]. So in the meantime I've been looking at this mail guy come down here, old guy walking in, dropped the mail and walk off, so I decide I think I'll go to the post office, and so—but after they put the check in charge in, the special agents used to watch us. We'd put a—we'd have to go to the baggage room and give them five dollars for a bunch of checks, fifty checks, and so we gathered slick, they put, tag up the bags out there in the front and then we'd—if you had two you was wanting to go the train with, you just put the checks on and the guy we'd be walking by when we go to get in there, the tags would be loose, you just take the tags off and put them back on a bunch and come on out and there'd be no tags. The guys was on the train, see. So they started even checking that, and a couple of guys got laid off because they were stealing the tags, and that's what give me the idea as to where I've had my day here. I liked railroad, I liked working for the railroad, because every now and then I'd get a little trip to Seattle as a chair car porter, and it was fun, and we'd ride up to Seattle or Napa or somewhere. But when they did that, that broke our playhouse, at least it broke mine up. I said well now, if I'm going to get caught stealing it's going to be my own money—it was my money and I'm going to get fired to steal my own money, I just want to get me a steady job where I can just make a steady salary. So I went up there and went on into carrying it to the mail, to the mail service, post office.


MG: Anything else, anybody? We're about out of tape, and out of time too. I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated you making contributions to the tape recordings that we've had, and I know that it's been a patient thing, you've been waiting right through all of it. So anything that we've overlooked that we should take a look at, say in the next group that we talk, or something I should pay attention to as I summarize?

Unknown Speaker: Well I don't know, I think that most of the fellows will tell almost the same basic story, as far as railroading is concern. Some of us had different experiencing. I think I could say this: my last three years on the railroad were my best years, because I worked on a different side of the railroad from the side that Murray and Jimmy worked on.

MG: What side?

LA: I worked in [audio cuts out].

[end of interview 00:16:23]


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