Hugh Vallely Railroad Man:|
By Tom Vallely
Hugh Vallely, my father's uncle, spent most of his life working for the
railroad. The following is a transcribed interview with him in a
Birmingham paper in 1960. The copy of the article was not clear enough to
post but it is typed verbatim. The article never explains what TCI is;
check the related links at the bottom.
|| Uncle Hugh Vallely
left in the 1960 newspaper interview
right before 1900
Retired in 1935-
85 Year Old Hugh Vallely
Recalls Early TCI Railroad
One of the best living authorities on the railroad history of TCI is Hugh
Vallely, who retired in 1935.
Sporting the first "butch" haircut he ever had in his life, Mr. Vallely is still
quite active for a man of 85 and continues to be a handyman in the Pratt City
home he shares with his two daughters. He's lived in the same house for 50
When he retired, he underwent an operation and at one point wasn't expected to
survive the night. But he fooled everybody and has gone on to a full
retirement which, until recent years, included a lot of hunting and fishing.
Mr. Vallely, with his mother and brothers, joined his father in the Birmingham
area in 1888. They came down from Ohio.
He, his father and two brothers started to work for DeBardeleben Coal & Coke
Company at Johns, Ala. This was in No. 4 Mine at Blue Creek.
The family moved to Adger in 1891 to work in the mines there, and
his father was
killed in a mining accident there a year later.
Mr. Vallely returned to Ohio in 1892 with a brother to work in coal mines there
but returned to Pratt City where he worked briefly as a bartender.
Mr. Vallely speaks with fond memory of his first job at TCI: "I went to
work at 9:30 a.m., Sept. 5, 1894 as a switchman."
He recalls that in 1899 the Louisville & Nashville and the Southern Railroad
Company bought the TCI Railroad and operated it for a time. Later TCI
bought the railroad back and operated it as the Birmingham Southern.
Another interesting point is brought up here by Mr. Vallely. From 1901
until 1906 TCI and Republic Steel mines and furnaces were operated jointly under
the J.W. Gates Syndicate of New York. It was in 1907 that TCI became a
part of U.S. Steel.
That was also the year that Mr. Vallely became yardmaster. In 1918
Birmingham Southern Railroad split up, giving part of its crews to the newly
established TCI Rail Transportation. From that time until 1935 Mr. Vallely
worked jointly for Birmingham Southern and for Rail Transportation.
Mr. Vallely's memory of those early TCI years is vivid. When he moved to
Pratt City it was known as Coketown, not becoming Pratt City until New Year's
Day of 1893 when it was incorporated.
He recalls that five or six saloons immediately sprung up and a distillery
called the "Will Majot Distillery", made whiskey right there in Pratt City.
He also remembers coal being hauled from Edgewater and Docena to the big oven
washer between Ensley and Pratt City. From there much of the coal went to
the old Semet-Solvay Coke Works, the first by-product coke works in the area.
Pipe-puffing Mr. Vallely was a part of the railroading ear in which links and
pins were used to connect rail cars, and each connection had to be made
manually. This was before air was used for this purpose.
"All cars were made of wood then," he further reminisces, "and the engines used
oil headlights and mechanical brakes."
There has been a Vallely with TCI since Mr. Vallely took his first job with the
company in 1894. Mae Vallely, one of Mr. Vallely's daughters, retired from
TCI's Employment Office in 1958 after 39 years service. A son, Hugh Jr.,
is an employee of the Machine Shop at Fairfield Steel Works.