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 John Gillon “Saginaw John” Owston

John Gillon “Saginaw John” Owston

Ontario, Canada
Death 8 Mar 1901 (aged 74)
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Burial Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Plot Division 2, Section D, Region 26, Lot 11
Memorial ID 30726641 · View Source
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Born at Asphodel Township, Peterborough County, Ontario.

Died at Allegheny City, Allegheny County, PA.

He was the youngest child of William Owston and Frances Wilson.

He was married to Martha Newton French circa 1851. The couple had two children:

Frances J. Owston
Newton French Owston

He married Permelia Conden on or before 1863 in Detroit; he left her in 1868 and they were divorced by 1873. They may have had one child that did not survive infancy. This is not conclusive. She later married Lester Seldon Clough in 1873.

He was living with Sarah E. Smith in 1870 and they married on 12 FEB 1873. They had at least one child, James Humphreys Owston, who was born illegitimately to Sarah in 1860 and was originally named as James Meyers. It appears that John fully adopted James as his own son. There may have been two children that were born to the couple and had died as adolescents. It is not known whether these two children were born to John and Sarah or to Sarah Smith prior to her relationship with John in 1870.

Forty-eight Years of Railway Experience
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Monthly Journal
September 1900, pages 568-569

EDITOR JOURNAL: Bro. John G. Owston, the subject of this sketch, and whose likeness appears with this article, is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) engineers in active service in this country. He was born in Canada on the 8th of December, 1827 [actually 1826], and came with his parents to the United States when quite small and located in Pittsburg, Pa., in 1848 [actually he was 21 years old and his parents remained in Canada].

In 1852, when the Pennsylvania Railroad first pushed over the Allegheny Mountains and on west to Pittsburg, he secured a position with the company as brakeman, which he held for about six months, when he concluded to go west, and, locating in Michigan, he secured a position on the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad as fireman.

In 1860 he was promoted, and had the honor of running the first engine that ever went into Lansing, Mich. He continued with the above company until 1863, when he resigned, to go with the F. & P. M. as an engineer, and with which he continued until 1868, when he resigned and came back east to Pittsburg, Pa., and secured a position with the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railway as an engineer, and with which road he has been ever since. Coming, as he did, to the P., F. W. & C. Ry. from Michigan, the boys, possibly to distinguish him from some other John, prefixed his given name with "Saginaw," and for years he has been known among the railroad boys as "Saginaw John."

Joining the B. of L. E. in 1868, he has ever since been closely identified with all her interests, serving on different committees and boards, and also as Chief of his Division, 293, and was chairman of the representatives of the local Divisions that entertained the biennial session in Pittsburg in 1890. He is known and respected by representative B. of L. E. men throughout the United States and Canada, as well as by our Grand Officers, who seldom fail to call and see him when in Pittsburg.

He is now in his 74th year, and actively engaged each week day running a shifter locomotive, which he took some years ago in place of his road run. He still looks hale and hearty, and is apparently good for many years to come, which we sincerely hope are in store for him. R.D.C. Div. 293


John G. Owston, one of the oldest engineers on the pension list of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Rail Road, died at his home at 215 Bidwell Street in Allegheny. He was 74 years old. For 35 years, he was a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. The funeral will be held tomorrow afternoon at 2 pm.

Gravesite Details No stone




  • Created by: Dr. James M. Owston
  • Added: 20 Oct 2008
  • Find A Grave Memorial 30726641
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for John Gillon “Saginaw John” Owston (8 Dec 1826–8 Mar 1901), Find A Grave Memorial no. 30726641, citing Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Dr. James M. Owston (contributor 47059231) .