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Railroaders' Nostalgia > I'll be home for Christmas, You can count on that.

Date: 12/24/20 08:14
I'll be home for Christmas, You can count on that.
Author: eminence_grise

It was 1990's something. A freshly promoted regional vice-president on the railway I worked for was flexing his management muscles.

"Trains will continue to run through the Christmas holiday, no exceptions. We are a 24/7 service provider"

Prior to that announcement, the railway had shut down just before midnight on Christmas Eve and opened up at three AM Boxing Day.

Working pool freight (chain gang), we always tried to be at the bottom of the list of crews available on Christmas Eve, but sometimes that didn't work out because every other crew was playing the same angle.

So it was that we went to work on the evening of Christmas Eve, lined up to come back midday Christmas on a freight train of low priority empties. I remember my conductor saying "Sure, the shipper really needs these cars. They probably won't load these until after New Years".  There was a trainmaster hanging around the yard office, checking to make sure we all went to work. He was full of enthusiasm and we got a little speech about being competitive and showing some loyalty to the enterprise".  He was going to have Christmas at home after he had seen us off to work.

We went on our way to our away from home terminal. On the way, we met several eastbound freights, ever hopeful that the train we were lined up for had miraculously come ahead a few hours and had run with another crew. No such luck.

The opposing traffic ceased as we reached our destination. As we passed by the suburbs of the town, the Christmas lights on the houses made us homesick  for our own houses far away.

So it was that we arrived at our destination. The yardmaster there beckoned us toward the clerks lunch room. "Come and have some pizza", which of course we did. All the staff on duty that night were there as well as the taxi driver who had delivered the pizzas.

It had been raining heavily at the coast, and a bridge had washed out on the railway, closing the line for at least a day. No injuries or anything, but a bridge gang would be working Christmas Day.

Our train was on the other side of the washout, so the decision had been made not to run it. With no paperwork to process, the yard office clerks were going home, and so were we. The taxi driver who delivered the pizza had volunteered to drive us back to our home terminal.

We would be home for Christmas.


Date: 12/24/20 10:11
Re: I'll be home for Christmas, You can count on that.
Author: spider1319

Thanks for the post and reminder .Sometimes the cards fell right other times not so much.One of my Christmas tales was being called out of Needles on late Christmas Eve afternoon  arriving Barstow and finding out we stood 25 times out for Christmas day.Going to bed and thinking surely they will  deadhead and  get the number closer to the lineup and being called out of Barstow in the morning of Christmas day.But no,I woke  up and found  out I was  still  16 times out.Getting on the phone and crying to the Corridor Manager produced zero results .I finally got out late Christmas Day afternoon and arrived home that night. Bill Webb

Date: 12/24/20 10:59
Re: I'll be home for Christmas, You can count on that.
Author: JGFuller

A slightly different slant - working on Christmas, but being home, as these were yard crews.

At Benicia CA is a [then] Exxon refinery, the final output of which is petroleum coke. Some of that product is exported. The dock is 2.4 miles from the loading silo, making this probably the shortest revenue move on Southern [and now Union] Pacific. It is a profitable move. Customer-owned cars, and an incremental cost to the railroad, as the move occurs as part of the job's normal work.

Like most refineries, Exxon ran 24x365, holidays notwithstanding. The coke needed to be turned each shift: 6 loads down; 6 empties up. Even on Christmas.

In its continuing efforts to 'save' money, SP shut down at 2359 on the 23rd, and fired up again at 0001 26 Dec. No Holiday Pay for those entitled to it by Agreement!

This policy was in conflict with the needs of one of our largest customers, who needed the coke turned each shift, or the refinery would get ... constipated. And possibly shut down.

Our approach was this: a Yardmaster each shiift. He would contact Exxon to determine if indeed a coke turn was needed. On some occasions, one turn could be skipped. If a turn was needed, the Yardmaster would notify the Benicia Flyer crew, who would show up at Benicia, turn the coke, and go home. About 1 hour needed.

One Christmas my diligent Asst. Superintendent took exception to this procedure. "Tell 'em to use trucks!", he roared, which was an alternative but very expensive option.

I replied, "But Sire, do we really want to tell our customer to use the competition??"

After some thought, he grumbled, "Well, OK this time ... but ... but ... just keep the cost down!"

Jack Fuller
Lafayette, CA

Date: 12/25/20 10:42
Re: I'll be home for Christmas, You can count on that.
Author: Shafty

When I hired out in 1955, on Christmas and New Years Day there were few jobs working in the yard and not many trains running.  It got quiet for the railroad. 

By the time I retired in 1999, the U.P. had been running little if anything on Christmas and New Years Day for quite a few years. 

The last Christmas I worked at Hobart Tower was 1998.  The U.P. was entirely shut down, it was eerily quiet.  I heard the diesel foreman talking to a helper, most likely we three were the only ones on duty in the whole terminal.  I don't know about the trailer dock side. The ATSF was doing little if anything, the only thing moving was Amtrak, with few of them on the midnight shift.

Hobart Tower was in Vernon, CA, an entirely industrial city.  There was very little traffic on nearby streets, no one was even out stealing pallets. Hardly anything happened during the whole night, I never even saw Santa Claus. 

Eugene Crowner  

Date: 12/25/20 15:16
Re: I'll be home for Christmas, You can count on that.
Author: JGFuller

Another SP vignette ... when the railraod shut down for the holidays, at Roseville the only person on duty was a Yardmaster on each shift, in the Tower. He was essentially a fire lookout - just in case.

SP was pretty good at ensuring the road men were home for the holidays. Trains would be staged at yards, wherever they'd be at shutdown. So West Colton, Bakersfield, Yuma would stash trains. It's as if the RR hit the 'pause' button.

Crews were deadheaded home from Yuma on connecting westward trains, or by Greyhound. At 0001 26 Dec., a train consiting of 1 unit and 4 or 5 cabs would be called at WC, and run nonstop to Yuma. The crews had sufficient time left that most could work back within their hours on trains stashed at Yuma. This was a much less expensive scenario, compared with running yards and locals on the 4 days of holiday pay: 24, 25, 31 Dec, and 1 Jan. That's a lot of double-time-and-one-half!

And the road crews [which got no holiday pay] were home for Christmas!

Watching the Santa Fe on the Belen webcam, it appears that those days are gone. Trains have been running like streetcars!

Jack Fuller
Lafayette, CA

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