When Anna Mae Was a Cook on the B&O

Anna Mae Ramatanes (1908-2000) was the stepmother of the late Akron Railroad Club member Eli Rantanes. This article is reprinted from the November ARRC Bulletin.

When you are sitting at a crossing, impatient to be on your way, the railroad holds little romance or appeal. You just wish this mass of dirty, noisy metal would pass a lot more quickly.

There were days when the rails were a popular mode of travel and the transport of materials and products, but the invention of airplanes and automobiles have taken their toll.

Anna Mae Ramatanes shared some of her experiences as a young woman, wife and mother, while working on the Baltimore & Ohio, more recently known as the Chessie System and CSX.

In some circles, live steam is an engine that’s actually powered by steam. This is thought of as an oddity in the day of diesel.

Live steam in Anna Mae’s time meant steam locomotives on a 1-to-1scale.

At an age when some girls were finishing high school, she married, had a small son, and started working on the railroad as a cook.

Her husband was a foreman of a railroad construction crew that built bridges and water tanks.

He was wise enough to know that these crews would travel and work best with good food. So what better way to feed them well and have his little family with him, than to hire his wife as camp cook.

Early each Monday from their home in Lodi, the train would take them to various construction sites along the pike.

Warren was the first camp where Anna Mae worked. There was a lot going on in the steel mills in Youngstown. The railroads were hitting their peak years.

With the absence of prepackaged foods, a typical day for the cook meant a 4 a.m. rising and firing up the stove to feed 18 to 20 hungry men.

Lunch and supper were repeats of the breakfast scene. Eggs, mush, oatmeal, biscuits and cups of hot coffee passed through Anna Mae’s pots and pans in countless numbers.

The “boys” were helpful in any way they could to make her hard work a little easier. They would help put in wood or coal for heat and cooking.

It wasn’t the greatest place for a toddler to play in. They lived in a box car during the week and it wasn’t filled with the luxuries of home. Toys were few.

In the summer heat, the temptation of ice cream hid the danger of crossing tracks close to some heavy construction equipment.

Shortly after Anna Mae and her small son had passed by, some of the construction fell. None of the workers were seriously injured.

For three years this cheerful, strong, smart and lovely young woman continued as a cook on the B&O.

The approach of her second child meant retirement for her although her husband thought that she should have stayed on. But she had more important tasks to complete.

Anna Mae later made her home in Clinton (Warwick), a railroad town that in its peak years saw 120 trains pass though its area.

I was taught by my daddy that it is rude to ask or tell a lady’s age. However, I must say that Anna Mae Ramatanes wore hers very well.

Article by Alethea Rantanes


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