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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Howard Holmes Oellig

The building of the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railway has been the means of bringing much progress and improvement throughout the section of Sonoma county which it traverses and the maintaining of the traffic is of still more importance, so much so that the managers for some time looked about for men of ability, aptitude and originality to place in charge of their mechanical department. In doing so they selected Howard Holmes Oellig, the present master mechanic, who has brought the machine shops and marine equipment to its present high standard of excellency.

Mr. Oellig’s paternal grandfather was R. John Oellig, a native of Hesse Darmstadt, Germany, where he was a graduate physician and surgeon. Subsequently he located in Waynesboro, Pa., where he was a successful practitioner, and of his four sons, three became physicians, and of his grandsons four entered the profession of medicine. Dr. Francis A. Oellig, the father of our subject, was born in Waynesboro and was graduated from the Jefferson Medical College, after which he practiced medicine in Martinsburg, Blair county, and later in Upton, Franklin county, where he died. His wife was Margaret Byers, also a native of Waynesboro, Pa., the daughter of James Byers, of an old an honored family of Pennsylvania. She was the mother of eight children, five sons and three daughters, Howard H. Oellig being the youngest and the only one of the family to come to the Pacific Coast. He was born in Chambersburg, Cumberland county, Pa., September 4, 1867. After graduating from the Upton high school he was apprenticed to A. M. Good & Bro., of Waynesboro, manufacturers of building material. He completed the trade of woodworking machinist in three years and during this time received a salary of sixty-five cents per day with $100 bounty at the end of his apprenticeship. However, during his summer vacation of four weeks he went back into the farming community, where he worked in the harvest field at $1.50 per day and board wand this helped him out materially. After completing his trade he went to Tacoma, Wash., arriving there May 21, 1888, twenty years of age, and great was his satisfaction when he obtained a position with the Tacoma Manufacturing Company at $3 per day. He applied himself closely and a year later became foreman for them with an advance to $3.50. In 1892 he entered a partnership with F. H. Massow (a large contractor of San Francisco), M. C. Hall and others of Tacoma, purchasing a mill and engaging in the manufacture of building material in that city until the panic of 1893-94, when building operations ceased and they, like others, were forced to quit, thus losing all. The fall of 1893 found Mr. Oellig in San Francisco with his wife and baby, no money and nothing doing at his trade and seemingly no opportunity of making a living. Nothing daunted, he applied for a place with the street car companies and secured a position with the old Market street railway as conductor, accepting it as a makeshift, thinking it would tide him over until business would revive so he could again find employment at his trade. This proved the turning point and started him in a railroad career, in which he has been so successful and where he is so much in his element.

When the United Railroads acquired the Market street line Mr. Oellig was promoted to dispatcher’s clerk, then to superintendent’s clerk, later nightcar dispatcher and then inspector, serving until August 1, 1906, when he was tendered the position of master mechanic of the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railway, which he accepted. Removing with his family to Petaluma, he at once entered upon his duties with the same ardor and zeal that had always crowned his efforts with success, and the confidence and esteem in which he is held, not only by his associates but by men of affairs in Sonoma county, show how well he has accomplished it. Since coming here most of the shops and equipment have been built, having an up-to-date machine and car shop enabling them to build box cars, oil-tank cars and freight motors, besides caring for their rolling stock. He is also in charge of the marine equipment consisting of the steamers Gold and Petaluma, besides being in charge of all overhead construction.

In Tacoma, Wash., Mr. Oellig married Miss Elva Harbaugh, who was born in Waynesboro, Pa., and they have one child, Ruth. Mrs. Oellig is a member of the Presbyterian church. Mr. Oellig is a member of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks; Junior Order American Mechanics, of which he is Councilor; and the Daughters of Liberty. He has contributed liberally to railroad and electrical journals. In the Electric Traction Monthly of November 19, 1910, is an article on “Car Lubrication” and the same paper of August 20, 1910, an article on “Special Tuyere Iron or Firepot,” both having received favorable comment. While still a young man, Mr. Oellig has acquired the success that often takes a lifetime to acquire and there is no doubt that with his ability he will climb to a still higher place of importance and responsibility.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011