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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Does this guy even know what he's doing?

Date: 02/10/19 10:13
Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: santafe199

In 1987 my career in train service went through a major alteration. For the sake of steady employment (read: MONEY) I was forced to leave behind a railroad that handled 70 MPH freight & 79 ~ 90 MPH passenger trains. For the sake of money I was now working freight-only trains that were lucky to maintain 10 MPH all the live-long day. I went from an average on-duty time of 3-4 hours to get across a typical Santa Fe crew district to knowing I would be on-duty into the 11th hour every single time I worked my new Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern 79-mile crew district between Pierre & Philip, SD.

Yep, the change from the AT&SF’s elite physical plant to the DM&E’s not-so-elite ex-C&NW deferred maintenance plant was akin to undergoing a major culture shock. But there is insult added to injury: The crew district I was now working over ran over 50 rail miles between the civilizations of Ft Pierre & Midland, SD. And there are only so many times one can make an unscheduled stop to take walking tours of the lineside ghost towns of Wendte & Van Meter, SD. That’s 50+ miles of rural desolation where one might be damn glad to strike up a conversation with a grasshopper…

Unless one has actually worked both, it’s very hard to understand the mind-numbing tedium one suffers when moving on a train dozens of miles @ 10 MPH (or less) for hours at a time. When working in the the latter atmosphere -having once experienced the former- one begins to look for ways to break that unrelenting monotony. I won’t get into any compromising details, but one particularly handy tedium-busting item was a sun-tanning lawn chair that fits perfectly on the long nose of an SD9. Other items might include a boom-box that plays a small suitcase full of handy, custom cassettes recorded by a certain ex-college bar DJ. It goes without saying that a cooler or 2 packed full of sandwiches, snacks & liquid hydration is mandatory for the situation at hand. Diet “Apple Slice” was my hydration of choice during that long, hot summer. BTW: I sure wish they still made that stuff…

Another great way of breaking the monotony was to take turns behind the throttle. Pure & simple. It’s funny how an engineer gets a much-needed mental break when he gets out of a 10 MPH seat where he has to pay constant attention. It’s also funny how a non-engineer qualified conductor (pick me!) gets a much-needed mental break when he sits down in that very same seat. You might ask about pertinent engineer qualifications? Bah, humbug! It’s nearly impossible for an experienced train service railroader to get into trouble @ 10 MPH on a flat railroad with 50+ miles stretching between spots of civilization.

Been there ~ done that…

1. Yours truly is indeed that non-engineer qualified conductor behind the throttle of some patched, former C&NW SD9. This is DM&E train RCPR (Rapid City ~ Pierre) moving @ 10 MPH out in the wilderness somewhere between Midland & Ft Pierre, SD. It’s a scorching hot July 23, 1987. I am yet a third RR employer and 2+ years removed from entering MRL’s engineer training program. That wouldn’t come until the fall of 1989 in Missoula, MT…
(Photo taken by my engineer, Mark Larson)

Thanks for your patience!
Lance Garrels ~ DJ Sir L

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 02/10/19 15:57 by santafe199.

Date: 02/10/19 15:12
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: twjurgens

Neat story!  Can't imagine 10 - 12 hours of that.

Date: 02/10/19 17:43
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: trainjunkie


I can't wait for the statute of limitiations to run out on some of my adventures. LOL

Date: 02/10/19 17:59
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: Railbaron

It doesn't matter if you know what you're doing as long as you're getting paid for doing it!!!

Date: 02/10/19 19:30
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: santafe199

trainjunkie Wrote: > ...  statute of limitations to run out ...

(chuckling) In the 'funny you should mention' & 'pardon my pun' depts: That train of thought crossed my mind. The whole time I was conceiving & molding the text for this thread I was thinking there should be a place to insert the line: "What are they gonna do, FIRE me??" But I couldn't find a place that wasn't at least a little bit awkward. And I have NO doubt there are a whole (crazy) trainload of TO members out there who have self-tattling tales to tell out there, in much the same way I did... :^)


Date: 02/10/19 20:18
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: Trainhand

I refuse to comment on that to prevent self incrimation. I've only been retired 6 years.

Date: 02/10/19 22:04
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: Railbaron

Heck, I ran LOTS of trains when I was a brakeman, including a passenger train (Amtrak 11). I even was with one engineer who disliked his fireman so much that when we got to the turnaround location, where the fireman would normally take over, the engineer told ME to run the train home while the freman just rode - awkward! Of course this was all pre-certification days also and was a lot more common than known. 

And even within the last few years I had conductors, not demoted engineers, run for me. Heck, one guy did a better job than most of the younger engineers and I like the concept of the conductor having a basic knowledge of how to run the train - might save my life if I had a medical emergency.


Date: 02/11/19 09:05
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: Earlk

If your's like a real mind-number, do this AT NIGHT for 10-12 hours.... across an indian reservation where the locals heaved rocks and empty beer bottles (or empty bottles of something much stronger) at you.  That was life on the Arizona Eastern in around 2005.  There was one spot where we went down through a long sag and up the other side.  The headlight would catch the reflection of of the next 5 mile posts.  I kept thinking "there is the next half hour of my life right in front of me".  

Date: 02/11/19 11:43
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: 2720

I would like to relate something close to what Earlk posted!
Another Arizona Eastern railroad story but with San Diego & tied in front of it!
When we had to do an interchange with the UP in Seeley MP 140, on the
old SD&AE, we were gauranteed a 12 hour day. Leaving Jacumba MP 92.8,
we traveled through the Carriso Gorge, with it's winding, tight curvature, up to
20 degrees at a sedate 10mph. Once we got out of the gorge we ended up on the 2.2%
grade that would take us down to Coyote Wells MP 122.5. Part of this section of the railroad
had been brought up to Class 2 specs, so we could do 20 mph! Once past Coyote Wells we
trundled 8 miles to Plaster City MP 130. We had left the MTS owned portion of the SD&AE,
entered yard limits at MP 129.6, the official end of the MTS owned SD&AE. Once we stopped
at Plaster City, we had to contact the UP dispatcher for a track warrant to proceed onto UP
owned portion of the SD&AE (SP kept the railroad from MP 129.6 to 148 at El Centro, the Plaster City
traffic was the big money maker on the line at the time), once we had our warrant we proceed east
to Seeley MP 140 to swap empties for loads and then return to Plaster City, where we would clear
our warrant. The UP had been doing a tie replacement program on all their trackage in the
Imperial Valley and the line to Plaster City was the last stretch to finish. Once down, being dark territory
the track could have been upgraded to 49 mph but UP kept it at 10 mph!
It would be even more fun if we were loading sand that night at MP 129.4, we would drop the sand hoppers
for loading and continue east. On the return we would have an 8 mile shove back to Coyote Wells MP 122.5,
then shove west of the west siding switch, pull back into the siding and cut off 1 locomotive, shove out
of the siding then pull back east to clear the west switch, then began what we called the Long Walk Runaround!
Usually the siding would be full of cars stored for UP or later car leasing companies. Once we cleared the west switch,
I'd set the brakes and change the locomotive from leading to trailing, get out and walk to the west end, get aboard the
loco we'd set out, bring it out on the main and couple it to the train. Next we'd pull west to clear the switch, shove into
the siding, dropping the unit(s) on the east end of the cut, pull clear, shove east to clear the switch, set the brakes,
get out and set the handbrake on the unit. Get down and walk to the unit(s) in the siding, bring them out, couple
to our train and get everything set up to head west. Pump up the brakes, do an air test, release any set handbrakes
and away we'd go. We had to make a running start as the 2.2% grade starts about a quarter mile west, then we'd normally
between 1 and 3 am! Even more fun during a heavy rainstorm! We encountered one one night where the wind
was blowing so hard, it was blowing the rain back up past our train! Once clear of the gorge, the remaining few miles
were usually uneventful into Jacumba. Here we would stop, skate our train and tie down ALL the handbrakes on the cars
and locos and then shutdown the units! This was normally between 4 and 5 am. Earlier if we didn't do the interchange,
just ran the sand. The next crew would come on between 5 and 6 am and head to Campo to dump the sand and set out
the cars for the crew out of Mexico to pick up in interchange!
What was even more boring than these long slow rides to Plaster City and back, was to sit at Campo for 4-8 hours, dumping
the sand we hauled in from the desert! Once we arrived at Campo, we'd pull onto the house track, set out the sand cars,
pull west to clear the switches and shove the interchange cars onto the passing siding. Then return to the house track and
begin dumping sand, one bay at a time until the whole train was empty, sometimes 15 cars, sometimes more!  Once the train
was empty, we'd run around and couple on the east end. When the Mexican crew came to do the interchange, they would set
their empties on the east end of the house track, then proceed to the west end of the passing siding and switch out the cars
crossing the border that day! We'd couple any returning empties to the sand cars and do a terminal air test then proceed east to Jacumba!

Where we'd start the whole cycle over again, we were running 3 crews, 24 hours a day, to move 15 to 18 cars of sand a day!
Later it settled into 2 crews doing the work plus interchange! Lots of Fun!


Date: 02/11/19 14:47
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: tehachcond

   I guess I can tell this story now, since I've been retired since 2006, and the other guilty party has long since left the railroad.  I worked the Los Angeles-Bakersfield district on the old SP for many years as a brakeman and conductor, and as a result, I knew every clickety-clack of that 172 miles of that railroad.
   One night, I was called for a hotshot out of Los Angeles about midnight.  My engineer was a notorious sleepyhead. and sure enough, before we even got to Burbank Jct, he says, "Brian, I've been up all day.  Can you help me out for a few miles?"
   "Sure," I replied.
   Well, that few miles consisted of all the way up Soledad Canyon, across the Antelope Valley through Mojave, and all the way up and down the Tehachapi grade.  A few miles outside Bakersfield, it was starting to get light, so I woke up Mr. Engineer Sleepyhead, and he ran the rest of the way to Bakersfield.
   When we got to the crew change point, here comes the Road Foreman with his little ladder, and he pulled the event recorder tapes  "Oh crap!!!"
   Later that night, we were called for a train back to Los Angeles, and when we got to the Bakersfield yard office, one of the clerks told us that the RFE wanted to see the engineer to review the tapes from the trip up. "Double oh crap!!"  When he came out of the RFE's office, I quietly asked, "Well, are we fired?"
   "No, he said "I" did a fine job, and the tapes were 100%.
   Some of the old heads that believed everyone on the engine should have an idea of how to run it trained me well.

Brian Black
Castle Rock, CO.

Date: 02/11/19 14:54
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: santafe199

tehachcond Wrote: > ...  he said  >>> "I" <<< did a fine job, and the tapes were 100% ...

I'll bet the farm that you can find versions of that confessional from all over the country...  ;^)


Date: 02/11/19 15:10
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: tehachcond

santafe199 Wrote:
> tehachcond Wrote: > ...  he said  >>> "I"
> <<< did a fine job, and the tapes were 100% ...
> I'll bet the farm that you can find versions of
> that confessional from all over the country... 
> ;^)
> Lance , I think you're 100% correct.


Date: 02/11/19 16:27
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: trainjunkie

santafe199 Wrote:
> I'll bet the farm that you can find versions of
> that confessional from all over the country... 

I'm invoking my right to go full Sergeant Schultz.

Date: 02/11/19 18:39
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: ironmtn

Does this guy even know what he's doing? Running  a 10 mph Land Barge? I'd guess "maybe". No wait, I'll notch that up to "sorta kinda", maybe even "probably". The lounge chair on the front walkway makes it highly doubtful, though. (Of course, just some friendly joshing).

Actually, I admire the dedication and the patience. As close as I've come were a bunch of all-nighter data conversion runs, and they about drove me bonkers. But a very poor match indeed to your days on board the DM&E Land Barge. I can only imagine how you must have ached for those fondly remembered trips parting the seas on Santa Fe's 199.

The fortitude-building would all come to the good when the MRL years came around. So, when you get off the Land Barge and to that point of your career, you gotta tell how you educated me, silly GE fan that I am, in a very (shall we say)  spirited fashion about the many sins and shortcomings of B-Boats. Testing the patience of Job himself. That should engender some spirited repartee.

Keep the stories from the north country coming, my friend. Liking 'em a lot. Many thanks. -- Mark

Muskegon, Michigan


Date: 02/11/19 20:07
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: santafe199

ironmtn Wrote: > ...  lounge chair on the front walkway ...

Hey now, we didn't fool around with our mobile sun-tanning adventures! Like I said up above, that lawn chair/beach chair fit RIGHT ON THE NOSE of an SD9. And I'm here to tell ya there ain't nothing quite like sitting in the engineer's seat, being treated to the singular sight of a hairy goon sprawled horizontally over the nose of an SD9. On a folded-down lawn chair. Lumbering along at a rip-snorting 10 MPH. Through a wilderness call "Outback, SD". While listening to Jon Bon Jovi singing "...you give love a BAD name!" or maybe Kenny Loggins singing about some "Danger Zone"... 

> ... I can only imagine how you must have ached for those fondly remembered trips parting the seas on Santa Fe's 199 ...
Try to imagine sitting in a 5-star restaurant in front of a prime rib so perfect you need NO au jus. Then yank yourself out of heaven and go to McDonalds...

> ... Keep the stories from the north country coming, my friend ...
I'm sure I'll remember to spin up another adventure from time to time... :^)


Date: 02/11/19 21:20
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: roustabout

Portland & Western's Toledo District, after 2004, provided me with a similar experience:  Seventy-five miles, sixty-four of it at ten mph and at night, usually, and then turn at Toledo, leaving time to drive ourselves back to Albany so that every night was a twelve.  At least I had the challenge of a hill to descend to keep me awake.  But I would usually start having troubles staying awake around Eddyville.  I was lucky to have a conductor who was a certified engineer and would often have her run for an hour or two.  But the company quit handing out student cards to the career conductors (a number of them refused to take the promotion and were covered under our contract). Once in a while I would get one of those and I felt that I did not want to risk it by having him or her run.

Date: 02/12/19 09:42
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: Exespee

Was firing for Cecil Val in Pool 6 of the San Jose Locals way back 60 years ago.  We were on #106 out of the City at 12:30 am and had all of
the local stops to make. Cecil occupied the fireman's seat on this leg of the trip.  After a short layover we were signing the register for our return
trip and the first thing Cecil said to me was, "Did you stop at Palo Alto last night?".  I said, "I did and I suppose you did too as I didn't see you 
down the road ahead of me". I made many, many trips on 106 and it was always one of the least favorite weeks in that part of the pool. 

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/12/19 09:45 by Exespee.

Date: 02/15/19 07:12
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: hogheaded

Hell Lance, you went to DM&E for the money, and overtime pays the most!  (-:


Date: 06/06/19 20:06
Re: Does this guy even know what he's doing?
Author: Frisco1522

We (1522) were booked to appear at Galesburg RR Days.  The engine had just had a lot of work done on the running gear and one of the other engineers took the engine and our support cars from the Museum of Transportation up to North St. Louis ex-CB&Q yard where we would depart from the next morning. There had been talk of taking the engine over a track scale at an elevator up that way, which would require turning the engine and running back down a few miles to it.   I had left instructions that taking the engine over the track scale would NOT register weight on each axle.  I was at work that day, so they decided to do it anyway.  Well, the engine turned over a rail on the wye and both engine and tender were all ver the ground.  It took us three days to replace the drawbars, fix the bent up pilot and fix other crap that was out of kelter.  This is the long lead in to the heart of the story.  We were obligated to show at Galesburg, so off we went.  I had run about 30 miles when one of the driving box bearings started running hot.  This meant running 100+ miles at 10-15 MPH.  Went in the hole every 20 miles, stopped and worked on the bearing.   We made our appearance and started the long trip home.  I caught the leg from West Quincy MO to STL.  Left W Q at about 1 AM and ran along at walking speed.   Imagine the cool night air coming in the cab windows, the warmth of the boiler and the gentle motion of the engine.   Damned hard to stay awake.  A true Death March.
1522 had all the running gear work done AGAIN and went on to live a happy life until retired in 2002. 

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