A black-and-white photograph in the Norfolk Southern archives captures the moment in 1968: Herman Pevler, Norfolk and Western Railway president, shakes the hand of a grinning John A. Robertson as Robertson’s wife, Bertha, stands proudly by his side. A fourth-generation railroader, Robertson had just received his 50-year service pin.
The pin that winks in the lapel of his suit jacket was recently donated to the NS archives by his daughter, Sue Robertson Shepheard, along with two other service pins and a pocket-sized booklet from 1958 that describes and classifies locomotives. His initials are engraved on the back of the 50-year pin, which is decorated with a train and a diamond.
Robertson began his railroad career in his native Crewe, Virginia, where he worked 12-hour days as a yard clerk. He began work on a national holiday, July 4, 1918, during World War 1, when workers were scarce. “They needed me that very day, so I took the job,” he recalled years later in the Norfolk and Western Magazine.
Robertson later served as a stenographer in the Crewe superintendent’s office. In 1923, he moved to the superintendent’s office in Roanoke. By 1948, Robertson was working in the office of Norfolk and Western’s president, Robert H. Smith, first as an assistant file clerk, then as chief clerk, and ultimately as manager of the Pass Bureau, his last post before retiring in 1968.
The donated pins are reminders of his family’s railroad service. Robertson’s grandfather began working for the Southside Railroad in 1862 as a locomotive fireman, while his father was a train dispatcher in Crewe.
– Jennifer McDaid, NS historical archivist