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WNYRHS HISTORY - Warren Schutt

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Historian's Corner GIF This page is devoted to some of the many historical articles about railroading in the Western New York area. This installment was written by Edward Patton, one of our Heritage Discovery Centers Librarian's. As more articles are added, old ones will be archived. So sit back, or feel free to print out, and enjoy the rich railway heritage of Western New York.

"Librarian's Corner"
Warren A. Schutt
Erie Railroad Employee and Combat Engineer

by: Edward Patton
         If you haven't been to our Society's Research Library at HDC yet, you are missing out on a real treat. In the last year the volunteers have managed to organize, catalog and sort through thousands of books, magazines and maps. The Library is now set-up in an attractive manner and we have acquired new equipment paid for by a grant from Councilman David Franczak. This activity has also brought about a long-desired organization of our railroad paperwork holdings. The task is a work in progress. The working group, which includes, among others, Jim & Donna Shine, Diane Blaser, Dave Young, Bob Clancy, Christiane Roberts, Shelia O'Donnell, Tony Martinez and Barb Owens. The group has also included a few students that joined in their efforts. There is plenty of room for more folks and lots to do.

          One specific collection in the Society's archive that is currently being catalogued are old personnel records from the Erie RR, the Erie Lackawanna RR and the New York Central RR, some dating back to the early 1900's. The records were given to the society by Mike Connors and Devan Lawton. We are now approaching about 10,000 individuals with many thousands more to put in the database. We also are cleaning up some of the records that desperately need conservation.

          The project is a cooperative effort between WNYRHS (HDC) and the Buffalo Irish Genealogical Society (BIGS) that maintains and services the library. Very ably, I might add. Their efforts are now bringing national attention to our library and museum. has asked for a partnership with us and we are taking that into consideration.

          Some of you may be wondering why such an interest in old railroad personnel records. These old, musty, dusty records are one of the last large, untouched records left with significant genealogical value.

         Recently, why checking the progress of our team, I noticed a flash of color from one of the folders that Jim Shine was working on. He pulled out a postcard from Ft. Belvoir, Virginia dated 29 Feb 1943. It was sent by an Erie RR employee named Warren A. Schutt to friends in Hornell, NY. Warren was in training to be a Combat Engineer.

         That card, and one other piece of paper, more-of-which, later, were all that was included with his work record sheet. Warren was born February 9th, 1909 in the Halsey Valley of New York State about 33 miles north and east of Elmira. The record showed he had worked off and on for the Erie until 8 Nov 1943 with frequent lay-offs. The time was the height of the Great Depression and that is what folks had to do to survive. I looked at the scant documents for a few minutes and decided there was more to his story that needed to be told. I realized that the way to do that was to use our great genealogical resources at the HDC Library to find out more about Warren Schutt. I noted that in the card he mentions his training efforts but little else.

The research showed that he was from a large farming family that lived at 184 Hagadorn Hill Road in the Town of Spencer, Tioga Co., NY about 16 miles north of Waverly, NY. It was a really rural area. Even the cows needed a compass to find the barn. Warren was the 3rd eldest of the children. At the age of 20 years he started as a trackman for the Erie in Great Bend, PA in May 1930. Over the next 13 years he would hold jobs there as a mole operator, tie scoring machine operator, rail grinder, bolt tightening machine operator and bevel machine operator. He had an excellent work record with only one hitch. He hadn't oiled up the mole machine properly one day and it seized up. He was given 10 days off, a serious blow to his income and probably his ego. During his career on the railroad he would sometimes get only a few days work a month and then be laid off. Other times he would work for much longer periods. About 1927 his father , John Schutt, left his family and Warren's mother, Coral, divorced him. Since his two older brothers were married and had children, Warren became the family breadwinner for the rest of the family. The family farm was lost and the remaining children and mother followed Warren as close as they could to where the railroad sent him to work. Eventually he would be called to the Army, enlisting at Binghamton, 25 Oct 1943. The Army determined that he was a semi-skilled transportation candidate and placed him in the 308th Combat Engineers, Battalion 83, 3rd Platoon. After training two months at Ft. Belvoir he was sent by train to NY City and then on to England's east coast for further training.

On 6 June 1944 he landed with the Combat Engineers on Omaha Beach in France. Those who have studied that battle, or have been there, already know what is coming next. Omaha Beach was a God awful mess that day. Boats got lost, waves were high, German fortifications were very strong and the beach impediments were near impenetrable. Whole units got misplaced. The beach, 50 to 100 yards wide became a killing field. The Combat Engineers to a fearful toll in men trying to blow breeches in the beach obstacles that were preventing the troops and armor from getting to higher ground. Some units lost 2/3 of their men. There was chaos in the ranks, not from a lack of courage nor resolve, many of their officers were dead. There were only bits and pieces of units left. Groups of infantry, engineers, headquarters men and others fought together as a unit. By the end of the day they had secured two small footholds above the beach. The carnage on the beach was awful. Warren made it through the beach and onto the high ground.Over the next month he fought as an infantryman through the now, infamous hedgerows. Tree by tree and bush by bush they forged ahead through with close combat being the norm. In his final day as an infantryman his Lieutenant was killed and then Warren was killed in a bloody skirmish that left 9 men dead from the remains of his unit and 29 wounded on that awful day in Normandy. And so we return to that last piece of paper in his rail-road personnel file.

There in the Elmira Star Gazette on Thursday, Aug 10, 1944 on pg 29 was a small article on his death in France. Listed is his young wife Lois, alone in Deposit, NY, his grieving mother, Coral, living in Elmira, NY, his 2 sisters and 2 other younger brothers already in the Army. One had just returned from Anzio and Salerno in Sicily. The youngest was in training to become a Combat Engineer like his older brother. His two eldest brothers were working trying to support their families.

         The clipping in the folder was the only public mention I was able to find at this time in any newspaper concerning the family. Like many others they would become lost to time. So he died, surely an American hero, a poor farmer turned railroader, a patriot, a soldier, hidden away in some old work records in boxes in Buffalo, New York at the Heritage Discovery Center. Perhaps there are many more such stories in these records that are worth preserving, studying and relating to a new generation. If you want to help with that, Come on Aboard!

COPYRIGHT© 2016 by: Edward Patton, Heritage Discovery Center Librarian.

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