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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Cab ride on the San Francisco Chief!

Date: 03/22/17 21:47
Cab ride on the San Francisco Chief!
Author: santafe199

Richard Stigall is a life-long railfan who was born and raised in Henrietta, MO. In 2000 he retired from Ray-Carroll County Grain Growers and is now living a few miles north in Richmond, MO. I came into contact with Richard through one of the great attributes of this railfan website called Trainorders.com. He replied to a thread I posted after chasing the BNSF main line on the east side of Kansas City a few years ago. We arranged to meet on my next railfanning trek east of KC. We have now met a handful of times for some lunch and/or some fanning. In one of our early meetings he told me a story from his ‘younger days’ when he was employed by the Santa Fe’s signal department. I found Richard’s story very amusing and have been gently urging him to get it written down and posted on TO’s “Railroader’s Nostalgia” forum.

Toward the end of my recent eastern US excursion I called Richard on the way back home to Kansas. We met for a bite to eat (breakfast, this time) and I put a sneaky plan into action. This time I had my lap-top with me and I persuaded him to dictate his story to me so I could write it up and get it posted. After a first-class breakfast at Daddy’s 10-13 Diner on East Main St in Richmond we drove the few miles down to nearby Camden on the BNSF ~ NS paired main line where I played the role of traveling reporter. Richard relayed his tale to me as fast (read: slow) as my 2-finger typing style would allow. Of course we had to take quite a few photo “time-outs” when trains kept appearing on this busy main line. Here is Richard’s story which I will relay for him in 3rd person. I think you will enjoy it:

When Henrietta, MO resident Richard Stigall was 21 and still single he hired on with the Santa Fe. He was now a Missouri Division signal department employee working in territory stretching between Fort Madison & Kansas City. In the 1950s Santa Fe had initiated a massive project at Fort Madison that would end with TCS (later known as CTC) being in service from there all the way to Kansas City. Richard came aboard the Santa Fe in 1957 and joined Gang #4 just as the huge project had advanced to MP 300 near Hurdland, MO. At first he worked as a “signal helper”. After building enough seniority he would be able to bid jobs as “assistant signalman”. Later he would become automatically qualified as a signalman by bidding in relief maintainer jobs. At any rate Richard would always try to bid a job close to home.

Approaching a long hard winter of 1961-62 Richard had been living in & working out of his home town of Henrietta, MO. That winter there had been LOTS of snow, with brutally cold temperatures. Richard was assigned to work the Sugar Creek (MO) Signal Maintainer job on a temporary basis. In such a situation Santa Fe was responsible for his food & lodging. But in those days there was another stipulation for signal department employees working temporary ‘outside’ jobs. Each man was required to notify the chief dispatcher and signal office where they would be staying on the weekends. This was in case signal related emergency call-outs were necessary.

One particular Friday in January of 1962 Richard made the routine call to his superiors in the signal office. But he was surprised to learn he was going to be held on duty for the entire weekend. A dire weather forecast had evidently prompted Santa Fe to be ready for the worst. He was not prepared for this news and he pled his case with (in his own words) a real sob story about not having any clean clothes. Santa Fe agreed to let him drive home to Henrietta for that purpose, but he knew he would have to stick to the telephone like glue. Meanwhile the weather got worse. At 3 in the morning on Saturday the Santa Fe dispatcher called Richard to inform him he was needed at his Sugar Creek assignment ASAP because the feared signal emergency had indeed arisen. But there was one slight problem: There was a raging blizzard in progress, and there was no way he would be able to drive to the Sugar Creek area. A short time later the DS called again and ordered Richard to report to the Henrietta depot NOW! There was a westbound freight train sitting there waiting on him, with the waycar spotted right at the depot.

Richard made it down to the depot and boarded the waycar for an uneventful ride west. The emergency situation had Richard now getting off at Congo instead of Sugar Creek. He duly went to work on the weather related signal problems. Around 9 in the morning his emergency work was completed so he called the train dispatcher to find out how he was supposed to get back home to Henrietta without any personal transportation. The DS had an answer: Santa Fe train #2, non other than the San Francisco Chief was just departing Kansas City Union Station. So, train #2 would make an un-scheduled stop at Congo to pick up lowly signal maintainer Richard Stigall for a cab ride home to Henrietta.

In due time #2 made its stop and Richard climbed up the ladder into the cab. He sat down in the normally unoccupied seat behind the fireman. He was not prepared for the funeral atmosphere in that cab: Other than calling out an occasional signal or track condition the engineer and fireman were virtually incommunicado with each other. Through no fault of his own Richard had an eerily quiet ride home. He remembers going through Sibley and crossing the Missouri River bridge on gauntlet trackage. As he recalls the gauntlet track was converted to single track when TCS was installed some time in 1964. At Henrietta, Santa Fe taxicab train #2 made another unscheduled stop to let Richard off. With the cab spotted right at the depot door he thanked the engine crew and disembarked from from one of Santa Fe’s premier passenger trains, the San Francisco Chief.

Even though his RR career was short, one of Richard’s favorite memories includes riding motor cars or speeders, which began to show up about 1957. Even so he figures he had walked every single mile between Hurdland & Congo at one time or another. In late summer of 1965 the Missouri leg of the massive TCS project was coming to completion. Richard realized he would have to relocate to Illinois to retain employment with the Santa Fe. So he decided to end his budding railroad career. He went right to work for Ray ~ Carroll County Coop as a maintenance electrician. He would make a fine career out of working for Ray ~ Carroll getting married, raising a family and finally retiring in 2000.

As he & I were happily transcribing his thoughts & memories into my lap top at Camden I jokingly asked him about the funeral atmosphere in #2’s cab that morning in 1962. With tongue in cheek Richard says those 2 enginemen are probably still not talking to each other…

1. BNSF scene looking west through the Missouri River bridge at Sibley. Taken from the rear car on Amtrak train #4, the Southwest Chief. 51 years earlier when Richard Stigall took his cab ride on the San Francisco Chief the only difference in this scene would be the presence of the gauntlet track that originally ran through the bridge.
Photo date: October 8, 2013. Borrowed from “STURMOVIKDRAGON” ( http://sturmovikdragon.livejournal.com/129614.html )

Thanks for riding along!
Lance Garrels (santafe199)
Richard Stigall (richmp412)

Edited 6 time(s). Last edit at 03/22/17 22:09 by santafe199.

Date: 03/22/17 22:00
Re: Cab ride on the San Francisco Chief!
Author: jcaestecker

Fabulous tale.  Thank you for sharing.


Date: 03/23/17 08:25
Re: Cab ride on the San Francisco Chief!
Author: TAW

santafe199 Wrote:
> A
> short time later the DS called again and ordered
> Richard to report to the Henrietta depot NOW!

A friend of mine was the Santa Fe maintainer at Willow Springs (IL). One night, there were a series of tornadoes pretty much following the Des Plaines River valley between Lockport and Willow Springs. The sirens were blowing at Willow Springs (in those days operated by the Santa Fe operator turning a hand crank generator as directed by the fire chief). The dispatcher phone in the maintainer's house rang. There are several signal failures between Joliet and Lemont. You need to get out there and take care of them. He explained that there were tornadoes moving up the valley and the weather was nasty at Willow Springs and getting worse. Spatch told him that at least the problem was narrowed down, get out there andd start taking care of it now.


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