The Railroad Car Works and Machine Shops, De Soto, MO, c. 1880

Having information such as obituaries and brief accounts of family history passed from generation to generation on scraps of paper may not seem like much, but with the internet as your library, you can still construct a semblence of the life of one of your ancestors.  Take my great, great, grandfather, E.T. Stone who I’ve been blogging about.  From his obituary, I know where he was born, who he married, what he did, and where and when he moved.  From there it’s possible to research one or all of these facts, and with some time and luck, possibly discover more details about their lives and times. 

In the case of Grandpa Eli, as once of his occupations, his obituary record states:

“In 1882 he moved to De Soto, Mo., where he was engaged as a machinist.  in 1886 he was transferred to Belmont, Mo. where he served as foreman of the machine shops.”

After a short time of internet research, I came across a publication of Godspeed’s History Of Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Crawford & Gasconade Counties, Missouri, published in 1888, by The Goodspeed Publishing Co., Chicago, which had been uploaded to  In the chapter entitled “Towns and Villages“, there’s a short history of the city of De Soto, Missouri, it’s “early years” (relative to 1888!), it’s official corporation as a city, and it’s occupational makeup.  In particular, there’s a brief account of occupations pertaining to railroads, which Grandpa Eli was engaged in:

“The buildings of these shops, which are very extensive, covering several acres of ground, were erected in 1879 and 1880, and were put in full operation in 1882. In the “car works” department 150 men are employed, and the pay roll amounts to $8,000 per month, and in the “machine shops” department 250 men are employed, and the pay roll amounts to $14,000 per month, thus making the total number of men employed 400, and the total monthly pay roll $22,000. In addition to the men employed in these works there are about 150 road engineers and firemen who reside in the city. In these works passenger and freight cars of first-class workmanship are built from the ground up. From twelve to fifteen passenger cars and from five to six hundred freight ears are run through the car shops for general repairs each month, entailing an expenditure of about $5,000. The principal work in the machine shop consists in repairing locomotives, entailing an expenditure of from $10,000 to $12,000 per month. A great many of the employes have their homes in De Soto, and are interested in the welfare of the city. The officers in charge prefer to employ such men as come to De Soto to live instead of the transient class…The railroad machine shop and the business portion of De Soto and some of the residences are located in the valley, while the schoolhouse and the churches and the greater portion of the finest residences are located on the heights west of the main business street. On the whole the location of the city is romantic and pleasant. Standing on the heights, by the schoolhouse, one obtains a magnificently grand view of the city in the valley beneath: and of the residences and native forests on the hills surrounding. De Soto, with its population of from 3,500 to 4,000, is certainly a pleasant place in which to live.”

Eli and Ursula met and married in Syracuse, NY in 1875, then 7 years later moved to the St. Louis area, where Eli worked as a machinest, and later, the foreman of a machine shop.  I don’t know if he was a machinest in Syracruse; I don’t know how and why they chose to make the big move to Missouri.  But a few generations of Eli’s decendents remained in the St. Louis area, calling it home and making their mark.  My mother, who was Eli & Ursula’s great granddaughter was born and raised in St. Louis, as were her father and mother.  So I have some relatively deep roots in St. Louis, a city through which I’ve only passed through once. 


  • Alan Chapman

    September 20, 2007

    I don’t know if you’re intertested or not about it, but the railroad shops in Desoto where your great grandfather worked is there – well not the same buildings, but there’s been a shop there since the St. Louis and Iron Mt.RR built it in the 1800’s. In the early part of the 20th century (I think before 1920) Mo Pac RR acquired the SLIMRR and I believe in about 1982 Union Pacific took over MoPac. I’ve got some old pictures of the old shops, it’s hard to realize it’s the same place. I’ve worked there since 1972. You mentioned Belmont, I think the Belmont brach ran from DeSoto to Belmont which was in South East Mo. along the Mississippi Rivesr; someone told me that at one time the train crossed there by ferry.

  • Melissa Wrozier

    October 7, 2017

    I bought a old big yellow house on 2nd street that someone in the railroad builtt around 1860-1892 Trying to find out who built it. The railroad hand houses are smaller. Trying to find a historic reason not to tear it down. Any help would be appreciated.

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