By the 1920s, the protections afforded by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) were already well-established, but railroad work remained incredibly dangerous. Workers doing jobs in faraway locales couldn’t drive home for the night and they didn’t have money for hotels. So the railroad put them in “bunk cars” – unused rail cars sitting on track, usually in a yard.
The conditions were, no surprise, often horrendous. The bunk cars had no air conditioning and it was not uncommon for them to be rodent-infested and uncomfortable. One night, a worker couldn’t stand it, and decided it would be better to sleep on the hard ground outside. When he dozed off, a passing train in the yard kicked up sparks and set him on fire.