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Railroaders' Nostalgia > How do ya stay so clean?

Date: 10/20/22 06:14
How do ya stay so clean?
Author: santafe199

In the summer of 1978 I spent 2 months as an extra-board switchman out at Dodge City, KS. I had been furloughed from Middle Division seniority district #1 at Emporia, but with the wheat rush still going strong further west Santa Fe needed a few extra hands in seniority district #2. As I got to know the new guys I was working with, one of the senior switchmen stood right out. His name was Ralph Watkins and he had the nickname: Grandma Ralph. When I asked another man about this I sorta got the following explanation: “Ralph is extremely careful to never get dirty while working”. I watched him a while and the story was absolutely correct. Ralph could hang on the side of a carbon black car and only his gloves would get soiled. You couldn’t find even a hint of a smear of grime on his overalls. You could easily attach a Sunday-go-to-Meetin’ necktie to his button-down shirt. Even his work boots went through a switch shift and came out spotless! It was utterly amazing. When I asked about this I got a further explanation: Ralph grew up in a very poor household. He literally grew up in a house with a dirt floor. And once he became an adult and was out on his own with the RR job, he vowed that he would never get dirty again. The explanation has to be accurate because I never saw Grandma Ralph anything but spotless the entire 2 months I was out there! I can’t begin to imagine how distressed he might have been if he had actually gotten dirty. True story.

As I was writing this story out I realized it was another RRer’s Nostalgia candidate. So the UP image below was diverted from a routine GP30 Thursday thread for obvious reasons...

1. UP 804 sits squeaky clean in an otherwise muddy and filthy, grungy Marysville, KS setting on March 7, 1979.
Original Kodachrome slide by James W. Watson.

Thanks for looking back!
Lance Garrels
Remembering the late Jim Watson, aka ‘UP6900’

Date: 10/20/22 07:53
Re: How do ya stay so clean?
Author: Atomicpunk

What a great story and photo Lance.  Those clean units are quite the contrast to the gloomy weather and dirty unit beside them. 

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/20/22 08:27 by Atomicpunk.

Date: 10/20/22 09:08
Re: How do ya stay so clean?
Author: SanJoaquinEngr

I too worked with a conductor that wore white starched overall s. He worked a job that spotted primarily tank loaded with petroleum products. By the end of a 12 shift he never had a speck of grease or soil on his overalls.

Posted from Android

Date: 10/20/22 10:09
Re: How do ya stay so clean?
Author: trackplanner

Looks like 3150 spent some time on the SP, lol!

Date: 10/20/22 11:30
Re: How do ya stay so clean?
Author: King_Coal

Dramatic difference. Good photo for Thirty Thursday.

Date: 10/20/22 12:30
Re: How do ya stay so clean?
Author: Notch7

I had crewmen that stayed clean and dressed up too, even on heavy yard switchers.  Then I also had guys that came to work dirty and got dirtier immediately.  I had two guys that would wear the same T-shirts for days until they got nasty, and then they would turn them inside out and wear that T-shirt for a few more days.  I had guys that would hang on the side of cars eating a sandwich with their nasty gloves on.  I had guys that managed to carelessly step in every blob of leaked traction motor packing, and then track it all over the engines.  Some of them couldn't climb on a pig flat without getting fifth wheel grease all over themselves.  Then they sat down in the engines and got the grease on the cab seats.

The clean guys knew how and where to stay clean.  I sometimes fired on a SCL pig train where the conductor and the flagman were oldheads that wore business suits with ties and business hats.  They had new gloves each trip to climb up on the caboose with and sometimes do a doubleover.  My longtime yard conductor "LG"  knew how to work smart and stay clean.  He knew how to plan work ahead, make every move count, and not break a sweat.  He could be the slowest switchman on the yard, and also the fastest.  He stayed clean enough to go to happy hour with me where he would put on his immaculate white NS safety Panama hat.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/20/22 12:32 by Notch7.

Date: 10/20/22 19:10
Re: How do ya stay so clean?
Author: Trainhand

There was an engineer in Savannah that was firing when I hired out who could be spotless. He could go through the engine rooms on E units and not get a speck of grim on him. When he was hostling same thing and in Savannah we had to make the mu hoses and cut them in. On geeps the handles would be every which way. He stayed spotless. He had been a machinst and they said he could change the main bearings on an engine and not get greasy. I always wanted to trip him just to see if dirt would stickto him.


Date: 10/22/22 18:39
Re: How do ya stay so clean?
Author: RetiredHogger

We had a trainman that would remain clean no matter what.....almost. I did hear of a mishap that overtook him one evening.

This guy was working a refinery job...old concrete block yard office with "radiator" heat. A can of chili that one of the crew had left on a heater to warm up "popped" as my always clean coworker was walking by. My formerly clean coworker not only disliked dirt, he also disliked chili. Which he was now wearing. So he called the trainmaster, and told him he had to go home and change clothes. Which he did, and then returned to finish his tour of duty.

I saw the man wet...I mean really wet. But I never personally saw him dirty.

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