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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Yours truly on training wheels!

Date: 04/07/19 15:18
Yours truly on training wheels!
Author: santafe199

On the 12th of May 1990 I took promotion to locomotive engineer while in the employ of Montana Rail Link in Missoula, MT. In 1979 I had made a colossal career mistake by passing up a chance to enter engine service for the Santa Fe. Back then I told Middle Division RFE George Guthrie I wanted to “have fun braking another year”. And that I “would go firing in 1980”. Of course, when 1980 rolled around I never came close to getting another chance…

Had I not been so immature I would have spent my whole career with Santa Fe/BNSF. I would not have had to uproot and make 2 major moves chasing the almighty dollar. I would have been able to run trains through my beloved Kansas Flint Hills. And I would have had a front row seat to see Mike Haverty usher in Santa Fe’s second round of Red & Silver Warbonnets with his introduction of the “Superfleet” era. Most importantly, I would never have been so deeply affected by the approaching reaganomics recession. I would likely have worked most of the way through those harsh early 1980s. If this 63 year old could go back and talk to that brash 23 year old version of myself, what would I tell me? Something like this: “Listen dumbass, at your age you’ll never get another career opportunity like this. DO NOT screw it up!!!” But with a golden opportunity knocking, I foolishly slammed the door shut…

So when MRL gave me a second chance at engine service a full decade later I jumped all over it. I entered their LETP school in the fall of 1989 and spent all winter learning to be a locomotive engineer. By May of 1990 I had completed all of the schooling and passed all of the required written exams. With the trip below I was making the first of 3 qualification road trips. RFE Mark Van Orman was along on this first trip. The regular engineer on the turn was Mike Ihde (pronounced: E-dee). I knew both guys from the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern back in South Dakota. Ironically Mark was one of the engineers I made my spring 1987 conductor qualification trips with & Mike was then a Trainmaster/RFE for the DM&E. And to take the irony even further it was like ‘old-home week’ with Mike: In May of 1978 I had attended Santa Fe switchman/brakeman class with Mike’s brother Mark, AND his father Carl. Carl was ship-jumping his life-long career in train service with the Rock Island 2 years before the bankruptcy. He could obviously see the handwriting on the wall.

The images below are of BN (bridge) train 196 in a couple of different locations. In image #1 we were stopped at Garrison, MT for a meet. I gave my trusty Canon A-1 to Mike so he could grab a photo record of me at the throttle. Then I hit the ground and grabbed a train shot. The main line/siding arrangement was a bit on the unusual side. In this photo our 196 is sitting on the main and the siding is just out of frame to the left. The old BN Garrison depot sat in between. In the third image RFE Van Orman is getting off our 196 at Townsend, MT. We had changed crews at Helena and wanted to know if Mike & I would drive his company vehicle the 30 some-odd miles over to Townsend and pick him up. He was giving a Laurel-based engineer trainee a short test ride. If memory serves, Mark took us to a nice lunch on his company expense account.

1. OWY (EMD) 9047, 9096 & BN 6814 are at the point of train 01-196-04 at Garrison, MT.

2. That’s me in the engineer’s seat trying to look serious for the shot. I sorta-kinda remember wondering if I gave Mike the correct exposure settings so all he would have to do is focus and shoot. Close enough, I’d say…
Photo taken by Mike Ihde for engineer trainee Lance Garrels.

3. The 196 has slowed to a near-stop at Townsend, MT to let RFE Mark Van Orman off while I’m playing Johnny railfan, getting another shot. When the train cleared I rejoined Mark & Mike, whereupon Mark inquires as to HOW I got trapped on the other side of the train. I told him somebody had to give the 196 a roll-by inspection. Whereupon RFE Van Orman looked right at my Canon A-1 and teasingly said: “Yeahhhhrrrrrigghhhtt!!!
Photo date (all): May 5, 1990.

Thanks for lunch!
Lance Garrels

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 04/07/19 15:31 by santafe199.

Date: 04/07/19 20:33
Re: Yours truly on training wheels!
Author: ATSFSuperChief

Certainly is a serious look. Would normally make rail fans apprehensive.

Don Allender

Date: 04/08/19 09:15
Re: Yours truly on training wheels!
Author: tomstp

Yah, you found out that "if" is a big word didn't ya.

Date: 04/08/19 09:19
Re: Yours truly on training wheels!
Author: 90mac

I did the same thing.
I had a job at the Santa Fe back in 79 if I wanted but I stayed with the bus Company.
I have my regrets.
I always wanted to be a Locomotive Engineer.
Oh well.


Posted from Android

Date: 04/08/19 10:51
Re: Yours truly on training wheels!
Author: Frisco1522

My instructor at the BN Engineer's school at Overland Park migrated to the MRL.   Brian Hekkila.   Seemed like a great guy.  He was a good instructor.

Date: 04/08/19 11:15
Re: Yours truly on training wheels!
Author: santafe199

Frisco1522 Wrote: > ... Brian Hekkila ... great guy ...

I concur! My LETP -Locomotive Engineer Training Program- class (#8?) was the very last one under instructor former BN Cliff Jacobsen. Brian sat in on our class as Cliff's heir-apparent. I always enjoyed having Brian around...


Date: 04/09/19 20:50
Re: Yours truly on training wheels!
Author: ironmtn

Great story from the MRL days, Sir L. We all have to start somewhere, and sometimes "the start" is a delayed one. But when it finally happens for you, it's all good. Thanks for posting this. You know my mantra...keep 'em coming! -- Mark.

Muskegon, Michigan

Date: 04/18/19 15:54
Re: Yours truly on training wheels!
Author: CCDeWeese

Thanks for your insight.  My active railroad and railroad-related career involved five railroads (IC, NYC, B&O, CRIP, TRRA), three transit agencies (SEPTA, DART, CMTA), and two major engineering firms (Parsons, HDR) plus a couple of independent gigs.  We all make decisions in our early and even later years for reasons that we think righteous at the time and then in retrospect see were not optimal.  I am chronicling mine in an autobiography I have titled "My Third Shot Went in the Trap", a golf reference, I have let one person read it to edit it, and it has a long way to go.  And if it is correctly edited, it will likely be boring.  But I labor on and still play golf.  

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