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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Bill Cotton - SP Conductor

Date: 05/05/23 14:00
Bill Cotton - SP Conductor
Author: Westbound

Just read about Bill's passing on the Passenger Trains discussion Passing of a legend (trainorders.com)

I first encountered him in 1982 when he was off duty and I needed some information from him concerning an emergency on the SP. I apologized for calling him during his rest but he was as nice and helpful as could be. One day I was driving toward Benicia, CA on the long, high 680 Freeway bridge over Suisun Bay. A freight train was rolling by in the same direction on SP's parallel lift bridge. Just as I passed the caboose, I heard Bill's voice on the road channel, calling out to me by name and saying "...is that you? I need to speak with you". I responded and in our brief radio conversation, I  agreed to meet later with him where they turned their train at Davis. To this day I don't understand how he recognized my unmarked company car on that busy bridge.

 Over the years, everyone seemed to like him and I certainly understand why-  He was a real prince of a man!

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/05/23 14:01 by Westbound.

Date: 05/06/23 08:28
Re: Bill Cotton - SP Conductor
Author: spider1319

I am sorry to hear this sad news.I remember him from my Amtrak days.RIP.Bill Webb 

Date: 05/08/23 08:31
Re: Bill Cotton - SP Conductor
Author: ExStarlightHog

I remember Bill.  Sorry to hear of his passing. 

Date: 05/08/23 12:31
Re: Bill Cotton - SP Conductor
Author: Highspeed

So sorry to hear of Bill’s passing.

Bill was a prince. Quite nice. I knew him his last years on Amtrak before he retired.

He held a regular Capitol Corridor job out of West Oakland. I would catch jobs with him when I was on the engineers’ EB.

An early memory comes with a lesson that changed a small aspect of how I work at Amtrak.

We had an early morning eastbound trip to Sacramento one day. After tying down our train in Sacramento and going into the crew room, my stomach was dreaming of a fresh breakfast before going back on duty in a few hours for our turn back to Oakland.

As we put our grips down in the crew room, Bill asked in the friendliest tone if I could help him for a moment with his delay report (still paper at that time). I said sure thinking it would be 2 minutes…. then breakfast!

He asked me why we lost a minute between Oakalnd and Emeryville. So I reminded him that we ran around a train.

OK, breakfast!

“Mike, what about the time between Emeryville and Martinez?” he asked his slow, measured pace.

Followed by every segment all the way to the final terminal.

Maybe 45 minutes later he said “Thanks Mike”. I might have missed a breakfast but I could never be frustrated with Bill. He had a heart of gold…. but gawd he couldn’t do a delay report while enroute…. even as I called every crossover and opposing engine number over the radio.

What did I change? Ever since that early lesson I now keep my own records of delays so that I can quickly answer Bill’s questions. And I bring a few PowerBars no matter what my plans are for beans; won’t go hungry again.

Highball Bill! We’ll miss ya!

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/08/23 12:35 by Highspeed.

Date: 05/10/23 08:18
Re: Bill Cotton - SP Conductor
Author: irhoghead

That's a good story, Highspeed. Memories for sure. I've had my share of conductors who were pretty much the same way. Too busy talking with the pretty ladies or whatever.

Date: 05/10/23 23:24
Re: Bill Cotton - SP Conductor
Author: BCHellman

Bill "Rotten" Cotton was a big A's fan and had season tickets. I and Jamie Schmid, former SP dispatcher, were invited to  join him for an afternoon A's game at the Coliseum. By then Bill was retired. After the game, as we were leaving the stadium, groups of woman and family would stop once they recognized him. They were his former passengers and they all squealed with delight and were so happy to see him again. He was even asked to pose with a mom and her kids because the mom  wanted her kids to remember the best conductor ever. He was like a rock star with groupies.  It seem to take us forever to get out of there. 

He also shared a story as when he was freight conductor on the SP out of the Oakland Pool. He carried tide tables of the San Francisco Bay in his grip. If he was called for a run to San Jose or Watsonville, he knew he stood a good chance of going the Alviso line. In this particular time frame, high tide tended to flood the line, so he timed his train, as best he could, to get stuck behind the tide so he could get a delay pay.

The world needs more Rotten Cottons...

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