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Railroaders' Nostalgia > "Can you lend me a pencil?"

Date: 12/10/19 07:49
"Can you lend me a pencil?"
Author: eminence_grise

Bill worked over forty years as a trainman and conductor out of a small terminal in the mountains of southern British Columbia. His career started just after WW2 and lasted until the mid-1980's. Such was his choice of run and his seniority that for a big part of his career, he had the same wooden bodied caboose. He was a steady and reliable worker who rarely missed a trip.

When "Booking Out" at the yard office (filling out the train register and other paper work), he would always ask the office clerks for a pencil. It could be brand new or a tiny stub, he would take it and say "thank you". Because he was a friendly co-worker, the yard office never begrudged him his daily pencil. The clerks were intrigued by this habit, however.
They asked his fellow train crew members if he borrowed pencils from them, and they said no. They asked if he made a practice of throwing the pencils from the train or into the coal stove in the caboose, again the answer was negative.

Back in the 1960's, I worked as a junior clerk for the railway at the head office in Montreal. I was a classic "gopher" job, but it did include one administrative task. Every month, I would order office supplies for the eight other employees in the office. They would fill out a requisition form and I would forward the requests to the stores department. The person filling the order at the other end had decided to take the task of inventory control very seriously, and sent back a strongly worded letter that our department was using far to many pencils for the number of employees and that we had to be stealing them for our personal use. I showed this strongly worded letter to the chief clerk and he wisely suggested I reply detailing the many duties our office fulfilled. He must have known that as an 18 year old, I would defend our intergrity of our brave little group, and the stores clerk got a three page letter on the good letterhead outlining what our office did and why we needed ample office supplies. I didn't get an answer, but the pencils kept on coming without question. I always wondered if a clerk in the office in BC had to justify the unusual number of pencils supplied to that office.

Bill did have one other curious habit. His run included several sawmills and in the days before center beam lumber cars, flat cars were used to haul packaged lumber and loading such cars included "dunnage", wood and nails used to secure the lumber to the deck of the car. Several railroaders collected dunnage in the form of scrap lumber left on the cars when they were unloaded, however Bill collected the three inch nails used to nail the dunnage to the flat car decks. He would often comment, "Such a waste, hundreds of dollars in scrap thrown on the ground" The pockets of his coveralls were stretched under the weight of salvaged nails.

Finally, Bill retired at age 65 and lived for many years in retirement. His son continued the family tradition and retired recently. Although Bill kept in touch with his co-workers in retirement, he never went back to the yard office.

Some time after he retired, his old caboose was donated to a community. The car department cleaned up and repainted the caboose. In the storage lockers inside the caboose, they found hundreds and hundreds of pencils and many pounds of nails.

Those familiar with the Slocan Lake barge job, where a CP train was loaded on a barge to serve a remote branch line will be familiar with Bill's caboose.

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 12/10/19 08:52 by eminence_grise.

Date: 12/10/19 08:08
Re: "Can you lend me a pencil?"
Author: trainjunkie

Ha! That's cool. All those pencils and nails should become some sort of exhibit. 

I know a guy who built an entire house mostly from dunnage he collected at his railroad job. House is still standing too. 

Date: 12/10/19 10:03
Re: "Can you lend me a pencil?"
Author: OldPorter

Reminds me of the old Johnny Cash song- One Piece At A Time. He built a whole Car, out of individual pieces "collected"
to his pockets, each day from his Job.

Date: 12/11/19 07:20
Re: "Can you lend me a pencil?"
Author: rob_l

Q: "Can you lend me a pencil?"

Answer should have been: "For how long?"


Rob L.

Date: 12/11/19 08:18
Re: "Can you lend me a pencil?"
Author: trackplanner

>I know a guy who built an entire house mostly from dunnage he collected at his railroad job. House is still standing too.

I know that house and was just there for a visit recently, beatiful home...

Date: 12/16/19 09:52
Re: "Can you lend me a pencil?"
Author: Arved

rob_l Wrote:
> Q: "Can you lend me a pencil?"
> Answer should have been: "For how long?"

"2 or 3 inches should do." (GD&R)

Arved Grass
Fleming Island, FL
Arved Grass

Date: 12/18/19 13:52
Re: "Can you lend me a pencil?"
Author: aronco

For the entire year I oversaw the Santa Fe operations at La Mirada and Santa Fe Springs near Los Angeles, we had four or five road switchers serving the customers.  One of the jobs came to work about 200pm and worked until about midnight.  The conductor was a strange character who kept a fire going day and night in his caboose.   Because it was difficult to get the coal Santa Fe furnished ( in 50 lb. bags ), Tonkin liked to get the fire even hotter, so he collected old tires, and cut them up for fueling the stove in his cab.  If I was wandering  the huge industrial area I never had difficulty finding Tonkin's crew - the stink of burning tires and the smoke gave them away.


Norman Orfall
Helendale, CA
TIOGA PASS, a private railcar

Date: 12/29/19 17:59
Re: "Can you lend me a pencil?"
Author: fbe

Deer Lodge was a railroad town.  You could always tell the kids from railroad families in the schools account they always carried round yellow pencils with red MILW heralds.  These beat store bought pencils in every way.

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