Barnett, Earl W.

1890-1964 | Road Foreman of Engines, Alaska Railroad

Earl W. Barnett worked for the Alaskan Engineering Commission's engine service in 1921 and continued in this capacity with the Alaska Railroad until his retirement in 1952. When Barnett retired in 1952, he had been promoted to the position of road foreman of engines.

Railroader Earl Wilbur Barnett was born in Youngstown, Ohio on September 3, 1890, to Harry W. Barnett and Mary Leverne Steele Barnett.[1] He spent his youth there. His family moved to Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he and his father both worked in engine service for the Erie Railroad. When work became slow and temporary, the family moved to Jerome, Arizona, where they found work in the copper mines. Earl Barnett later moved to Ely, Nevada, where he operated an overhead crane in a mine smelter.[2]

Hedwig “Hetty” Classen was born in Essen, Germany on April 6, 1887, and immigrated to the United States in 1892 with her parents and three sisters. They proceeded to Corning, Ohio and lived on a farm with her grandparents while her father worked in the coal mines. The family then moved to West Virginia, where her father again found work in the coal mines. A strike in the mines occurred, so the family moved to O'Fallon, Illinois and settled on a farm. Hetty grew up there and worked as a housekeeper and cook.

Hetty Classen started doing some traveling and in Ely, Nevada found employment in the diet section of a hospital, where she later worked as a nurse. She met Earl Barnett in Ely, and they were married in 1915.  The smelter shut down, and he was out of work, so they moved to a logging camp on the outskirts of Gresham, Oregon, where his uncle was logging. Their first son, Robert, was born there in 1915.[3]  They next moved to Miami, Arizona, where their second son, Glen, was born in 1916. The mine in Miami shut down so the family moved back to Meadville, Pennsylvania. Their second son, Donald, was born in 1918 and daughter, Virginia, was born in 1920. Barnett, constantly looking for permanent work, then left for Tampico, Mexico to work in the oil fields.

After a year in Mexico, Barnett decided to go to north, as there was an opportunity to work for the Alaskan Engineering Commission (AEC), the federal agency in charge of construction of the Alaska Railroad. He landed in Anchorage in 1921 and went to work for the railroad's engine service. In 1922, he brought the family to Alaska aboard the Alaska Steamship Company steamer S.S. Northwestern, the ship that was later bombed by the Japanese at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in June 1942.  The Barnett family settled permanently in Anchorage. Barnett worked for the railroad until his retirement in 1952, when he was road foreman of engines.

Earl Wilbur Barnett died on September 4, 1964. His widow, Hetty Barnett, died on January 19, 1981 at the Anchorage Pioneer Home. Earl Barnett and Hedwig M. “Hetty” Barnett, and their son, Glen, and grandson, Gary, are all buried in Angelus Memorial Park in Anchorage.[4]




[1] Earl Wilbur Barnett, U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line], (accessed July 17, 2016).

[2] John P. Bagoy, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1935 (Anchorage: Publications Consultants, 2001), 206-207.

[3] Robert E. Barnett, U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current, (accessed July 17, 2016).

[4] Earl W. Barnett, U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current, (accessed July 17, 2016); and Hedwig M. Barnett, U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current, (accessed July 17, 2016).


This biographical sketch of Earl W. Barnett is based on an essay which originally appeared in John Bagoy's Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1935 (Anchorage, AK: Publications Consultants, 2001), 206-207. See also the Earl W. Barnett file, Bagoy Family Pioneer Files (2004.11), Box 1, Atwood Resource Center, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Anchorage, AK. Edited by Mina Jacobs, January 21, 2013.  Note:  edited and revised by Bruce Parham, July 17, 2016.

Preferred citation: Bruce Parham, ed., “Barnett, Earl W.,” Cook Inlet Historical Society, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940,

Major support for Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, provided by: Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Atwood Foundation, Cook Inlet Historical Society, and the Rasmuson Foundation. This educational resource is provided by the Cook Inlet Historical Society, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt association. Contact us at the Cook Inlet Historical Society, by mail at Cook Inlet Historical Society, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, 625 C Street, Anchorage, AK 99501 or through the Cook Inlet Historical Society website,