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Railroaders' Nostalgia > The White Van


Date: 03/01/17 10:30
The White Van
Author: eminence_grise

This happened in the 1980's somewhere in North America. The people concerned are all still with us, but retired. It took place on a busy CTC main line with some double track.

​"J" was a locomotive engineer who liked to bend the operating rules, specifically the timetable speed limits. However, because he had family in the railroad management, he seemed largely immune from discipline. His co-workers were not, however this was the 1980's on a very traditional railroad and we accepted the fact that certain people did receive preferential treatment.

One glorious summer Saturday, many operating employees were waiting to go to work in the "bull pen" (booking in room) at the yard office at our home terminal.

​I was called as a locomotive engineer on a westbound coal train. "J" was called for a priority intermodal freight behind our train. Inevitably, his train would overtake our coal train somewhere on today's run, but "J" wanted that to take place sooner than later and was busy on the phone to the train dispatcher trying to make that happen.

​Our crew weren't too happy that "J" was jockeying to scoop us but knew his wish would be granted.

​I mentioned to my conductor. "Be on the lookout for a white van beside the tracks", he asked "Why".  I said that the Government Railway Regulator had been watching trains in our area, and that a crew on a competing railroad had been caught speeding and when the Regulator turned them in to their employer, they were dismissed despite many years of service. Everyone was all ears when I said that. It was the truth in part, the Government Regulator did use unmarked white vans at the time, and a general crackdown on speeding was taking place on the "other railway" due to a recent incident. "How do you spot the Government van" another operating employee asked. "It will have a roof mounted radio antenna" I said. Again, a truthful description.

​However, as it was a fine summer Saturday, I knew a well known rail photographer who owned a white van would likely be trackside somewhere along the route. He is also a musician who acts as the "roadie" for a band, and they lease a plain white van to carry their gear. He is careful not to trespass on railroad property and is selective which trains he photographs. So it is that often, he remains in the van and simply watches the train go by. Not just a fan of locomotives, he notes interesting cars in the train and at that time, dictated numbers and car descriptions into a small tape recorder. He also had a roof mounted antenna for his radio scanner. 

​As luck would have it, our coal train got out of town well ahead on the intermodal train, and we were half an hour ahead of it for much of the run. Our time advantage was eaten up by a long uphill grade, and by the time the coal train crested the hill, the intermodal freight was right on our "block" (following behind on approach or restricting signals) and "J" was toning up the dispatchers radio channel to have us put in a siding to let the intermodal freight by.

Just as we crested the hill, I spotted my buddy in his van and gave a friendly wave. I mentioned to the conductor in the caboose over the radio "White Van", and he replied, "Yes,I see him".

​The intermodal freight following us had more interesting power than our train, so my buddy decided to take photos of it at several locations. "J" had been listening to our conversation in the yard office. Immediately, the intermodal freight slowed down and followed our train at a respectful distance. The train dispatcher came on the radio and asked "J" what was going on, because he had planned to put our coal train into a nearby siding to let the intermodal freight go by, but if "J" couldn't make the time, he would leave his train behind ours until a long portion of double track.  Our coal train was speed restricted to forty miles on hour on the double track and the intermodal could go 50 miles an hour, so "J" finally scooped us, but his victory was tarnished because he felt he was being closely watched by the "white van" which was present at at least one location on the double track.

​At our away from home terminal, we were relaxing in the TV lounge, "J" said, "Thanks for the tip about the white van". I said , "It was meant as a heads up, poor old (fictional name of an engineer on the other railroad) has to work as a greeter at Wal-Mart to make ends meet since he got fired"

 



Date: 03/01/17 15:53
Re: The White Van
Author: CCDeWeese

Very well done; the entire scenario, not just the post.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/01/17 15:54 by CCDeWeese.



Date: 03/02/17 09:39
Re: The White Van
Author: jsbach

I think I'm the "guilty" musician driving the white van (one of a couple of Chev Astro vans I owned).    I'd be interested to know who "J" was.   You probably remember Phil, that I used to scare the bejeebers out of of certain conductor when I had the earlier full sized brown Chevy van.  The conductor will remain unnamed but you'll know who I mean when I mention he came from Illinois (Dixon wasn't it?).   He was convinced I was CRTC or maybe even FBI.     I remember you telling me he even suspected you of ulterior motives when you let it slip that you were familiar with his home town.

JJ



Date: 03/02/17 11:52
Re: The White Van
Author: TAW

jsbach Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> You probably remember Phil, that I used to
> scare the bejeebers out of of certain conductor
> when I had the earlier full sized brown Chevy van.
>  The conductor will remain unnamed but you'll
> know who I mean when I mention he came from
> Illinois (Dixon wasn't it?).   He was convinced I
> was CRTC or maybe even FBI.     I remember you
> telling me he even suspected you of ulterior
> motives when you let it slip that you were
> familiar with his home town.

Was he a Milwaukee refugee, initials PMD?

TAW



Date: 03/02/17 12:43
Re: The White Van
Author: jsbach

No, his initials would have been "JM".    I didn't know his middle name.

 



Date: 03/02/17 13:04
Re: The White Van
Author: TAW

jsbach Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> No, his initials would have been "JM".    I
> didn't know his middle name.
>

Thanks. There are TWO guys like that (probably many more than that).

TAW



Date: 03/02/17 13:30
Re: The White Van
Author: Railbaron

TAW Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Thanks. There are TWO guys like that (probably many more than that).
>
> TAW

You have no idea; they exist on every railroad.

​I cannot remember all the times I have seen trainmen on the head-end with me freak out because they see people where they're not expected and immediately think they're managers and are out testing. Or they see the same vehicle at various locations, especially vehicles that resemble company vehicles. Of course I'm sure there are plenty of engineers who do the same thing. And, jeez, get a simple red signal and it's immediately "a test". I'd just laugh at how paranoid some railroad employees are; it added to the entertainment factor.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/02/17 13:32 by Railbaron.



Date: 03/02/17 19:50
Re: The White Van
Author: SD45X

One of my last Winterails in Stockton had us in a black Jeep rental. I didn't know UP was using them for their TMs:)
Those poor guys at Dunsmuir had 9 units to tye down...



Date: 03/03/17 11:29
Re: The White Van
Author: eminence_grise

jsbach Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> No, his initials would have been "JM".    I
> didn't know his middle name.
>
>  

​A far more complex tale. "3M" was a locomotive fireman for the GTW in the Chicago area in the early 70's.

Just as people now seek to "live off the grid" in Alaska these days, 3M sought to live the simpler life in Canada. Immigration between Canada and the US was simpler in those days, as witnessed by the many draft dodgers who moved to Canada during the Vietnam War. Although often asked if he was a draft dodger, 3M was not. 

​Initially he moved to Toronto to work for the railway, but took up an offer to relocate west to Revelstoke where there were crew shortages.

​"WR" was a freight agent, as was his father before him.  As a child, he grew up in a station in Manitoba, and since mom was a nurse who worked nights, he would stay with his dad in the station. He was raised on Official Guides and freight tariffs. WR is still with us, and has an incredible knowledge of all the railroads in North America. He is also an active photographer.

​One year, I made a trip to Chicago, where I had railfan friends and we did a comprehensive tour of the area. One evening was spent along the Illinois Central main south of the city. We watched the sun go down waiting for the "City of New Orleans" at a small Illinois town.

​Later, when talking to "WR", he pointed out that he knew of the town, and noted that it was the place where 3M's family operated a large "Bargain Barn" type discount store.
How WR knew that, I don't know.

​Some time later, I mentioned to 3M that I had visited his home town, and saw but did not visit the family business.

​3M's reaction was strange. He went very quiet. To him, the fact I knew where he was from in the States made him wonder if he was being "watched" by Secret Agents from Canada or the US. 

​Around that time, another operating employee was arrested by the RCMP for a "cold case" murder that had happened decades before across the country.

For many years, he was wary of trackside vehicles.


 



Date: 03/03/17 11:36
Re: The White Van
Author: PCCRNSEngr

Couple years ago NS H12 crew was making a shove move at Sayre, PA when the Conductor riding the last car saw a coyote run into the bushes. He radioed the Engr on what he saw and shortly some Weed Weasels drove up to chat with the crew since they were discovered. The conductor never told them that it was a real coyote that he saw.



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