Oregon State University
Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection

Otto Rutherford Oral History Interview. August 12, 1983

Otto Rutherford Oral History Interview

Interview conducted by Michael Grice.

August 12, 1983

Location:  Location Unknown.

Otto Rutherford was born in February of 1911. His parents had come to Portland in 1897, his father and uncle coming to Portland as hotel barbers. Rutherford began working for the Union Pacific in 1934 as a summer job between school sessions. He describes the tall and short crews and uniforms on the railroad and relays an incident where a white woman temporarily lost her diamond ring and investigators searched the crew, but not the passengers. He noted that the crew was always seen as guilty, and defending yourself could get you fired. Rutherford was a member of a union of cooks and waiters that met secretly in Holiday’s Barbershop in Portland. He discusses the values of organizing and the fear of being fired for union activities. Rutherford also discusses work hours and income and describes several unpleasant incidents on the railroad, as well as the family-like bond among co-workers. Also in this recording he describes growing up in Portland when there were very few black residents.