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MailTribune.com
  • The Chinese legacy

    Immigrants from the Far East had a huge impact on the railroad in Southern Oregon
  • Of the 4,000 workers who labored long hours to build the railroad through the Siskiyou Mountains, more than half left little trace of their having passed this way.
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    • Historic Railroad Museum
      The Ashland Historic Railroad Museum is at 258 A St., Suite 7, near the corner of A and Second streets.
      The museum, which includes an exhibit of Chinese railroad workers and the local Chinese co...
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      Historic Railroad Museum
      The Ashland Historic Railroad Museum is at 258 A St., Suite 7, near the corner of A and Second streets.

      The museum, which includes an exhibit of Chinese railroad workers and the local Chinese community, is open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. There is no admission fee, although donations are accepted.

      For additional information, call the museum at 541-261-6605.
  • Of the 4,000 workers who labored long hours to build the railroad through the Siskiyou Mountains, more than half left little trace of their having passed this way.
    An exception was Wah Chung, one of the 2,400 Chinese workers who helped tie the California and Oregon Railroad line between the two states in 1887.
    "Wah Chung was very well-loved in Ashland — he was held in high regard in the community," says Victoria Law, director of the Ashland Historic Railroad Museum, which includes a section on the Chinese railroad workers.
    "One Daily Tidings newspaper article said that Wah Chung was a good American who would donate to every organization that came by his door," she adds.
    Wah Chung was the Chinese labor agent for Southern Pacific and the owner of a Chinese store on the corner of Second and A streets in Ashland's railroad district. He and his wife, known only as "Mrs. Wah Chung," had two children, Jenny and Sammy.
    The museum's Chinese exhibit includes historic photographs of the Wah Chung family, newspaper clippings and railroad artifacts such as Chinese rice bowls, opium tins, a soy sauce jar and gambling tokens excavated near Tunnel 13 in the Siskiyous.
    "The two-story Chinese grocery store stood about where this building stands now," Law says. "There was a Chinese laundry on the corner. And there was a Chinese home next to it. We know that Wah Chung lived in that house."
    An article in the January 1925 edition of the Southern Pacific trade bulletin told of the legacy of Wah Chung, then 82. He had been the Chinese labor agent for the company for 42 years, according to the article, which included comments by Superintendent E.L. King of the company's Portland Division.
    King described the "Chinese gangs" as loyal workers who could be depended upon to do any task.
    "Wah Chung keeps these gangs up to maximum requirements, looks after the welfare of the men, takes care of their commissary and has been a very valuable asset to his company," King said. "He enjoys a wide acquaintance and is always a welcome visitor in the office or on the line."
    Wah Chung hired Chinese railroad construction crews and served as their representative to the company. He even kept a pond near his home to raise fish and eels for the workers.
    A former computer programmer who later earned a degree in history, Law, whose grandfather and great uncles worked for railroad companies, became fascinated with the Ashland railroad district and its Chinese legacy while working with the Southern Oregon Historical Society.
    "The Chinese railroad workers were paid $30 a month in gold," she says. "They were paid pretty much what the Caucasian workers were paid, except the Caucasian workers had their meals thrown in for free.
    "The Chinese pooled their resources to purchase the food for their cook," she adds. "They were really not interested in having the food provided to the white workers."
    As a result, they had better fare than other workers, who often ate beef stew and beans and drank coffee, she says.
    "The Chinese workers ate healthier meals," she says. "They ate rice, fresh chicken, fresh pork and vegetables. They also designated one member of their work crew to be the cook."
    Bones found at Chinese work sites also tell the story of the food they ate, she says.
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