From Pine View Farm

Old Times, Good Times 3

Before I got my current job, I worked for the railroad.

Now, make no mistake, I love my job. I get paid to muck about with computers all day, and I get to work with some of the nicest people in the world, not only my co-workers, but also the persons who attend the training classes I conduct (I R the trainer for my division).

But it’s not the same. I loved the railroad. There is no other industry like railroading. Sometimes I liked my job there; sometimes I hated it; but I always loved the railroad.

No experience I have ever had beats standing next to an Engineer watching the world go by at 125 miles per hour between New York and Washington; or standing on the rear vestibule, in the open air, watching the New Mexico desert recede behind the train at 79 miles per hour; or being in the downstairs kitchen of a double-decker dining car as the crew prepared meals to be sent upstairs to the dining room for the passengers; or waiting for the train, not in the waiting room with the civilians, but in the crew room with the train and engine crew, waiting for the train to pull into San Antonio from New Orleans to board it for Los Angeles; or pounding through a grassfire in the Humboldt Sink at track speed; or creaking at 30 miles an hour over the Donner Pass, under miles of snow sheds, remembering what happened to the Donner Party when they were stranded there in the blizzards.

During my years with the railroad, I traveled all over the country by train (being a trainer is and always has been a traveling job–you go to them far more often than they come to you). I have seen Independence Day parades in Chicago; waded through snow in Boston; held a safey investigation in a classroom in Lancaster, Pa., when a trainee uttered those words of import, “I’m hurt” (Rule A: Safety is of the first importance in the discharge of duty); watched the sun rise over Dr. Kildare’s hospital in Los Angeles.

It reached the point that I could wake up in the sleeping car, look out the window, and tell you within 20 miles where the train was.

And, when you boarded a train wearing 20-years-of-service pin, you got respect. The crew knew you were an Old Head; they didn’t play any games and they took you in. The word spread down the line and every replacement crew knew an Old Head was on-board.

This weekend, I will be reliving those times. We were a tight-knit group, the Amtrak training department, and some of our members have organized a reunion.

Most of us are no longer with Amcrap Amtrak. Those of us who are still there are no longer in the training department. Management changes came and went, and, ultimately, the incompetents triumphed, and the competents were scattered the winds. I took the money (severance) and ran–to another company where I could continue practicing my craft of designing, developing, and delivering training courses. Some of my colleagues fled to other departments within Amtrak, but most of them are in other places now.

It will be interesting to see who shows up and fun to catch up on where we are now.

Managements come and go.

But on the railroad, a clear board will always mean proceed at track speed. “Pulling the pin” will always mean retiring. “Highball lunch” will always mean “skip lunch, finish the job, and go home early.”

And “two to go” will always mean it’s time to pull and see what lies on down the road.



  1. Opie

    October 20, 2005 at 11:38 pm

    The Donner Party started its journey from here in Springfield.

  2. Frank

    October 21, 2005 at 10:30 pm

    They probably should have started earlier than they did.

    Even with an interstate highway running through it, the Donner Pass is an impressively remote place.

    When I first started at Amtrak, the head of my department was an ex-SP (Southern Pacific) guy. He once got charged with skiing into the Donner Pass to help dig out a train that got caught in an avalanche, because he could ski.

    They were afraid that they would find a train full of dead people, because the electric generators on those old cars were powered by propane.

    When they dug through the 10 feet of snow, they found everyone alive.

    He still said then, 20 years later, that it was one of the scariest assignments he had ever had.

  3. Frank

    October 23, 2005 at 7:22 pm

    A good time was had by all.

    I saw persons I hadn’t seen in seven years or more. I even saw some persons that I didn’t remember at all.

    And one or two I would rather not have seen at all, then or now.

    But we all had one thing in common: we had been a part of a group that did a damned fine job and had fun doing it.