The young man passed his physical and was hired to mark up in Oklahoma City.  While doing his student training the friendly crew caller asked him,
   "Do you have a rain suit?  You're gonna need one.  Just tell me, and we'll get one for you.  The cost will be taken out of your check". 
Since the average annual rainfall for that region is 37 inches, a rain suit was requested.  Along came a yellow, two piece pvc rain suit made by Uniroyal, and it usually stayed folded up inside the brakeman's grip.  When needed it worked well and kept the brakeman fairly dry except for that day on a road switcher when a boxcar had to be set out on the Old House track in Lawton.  The clouds were low and dark. The weather was at one of those stages when the skies are threatening but all is dead-calm. After dropping off, stopping the train to clear and cutting away with the setout the first drops of rain started to fall. Then the wind quickly increased from zero to a point where you have to lean into it to keep from being blown over.  The rain is now falling sideways and stings where it hits your face.  Switches are thrown, derails are flipped, and the boxcar is set out and tied down...dang, if it wasn't an old car with a high brake wheel.     No radios were used in the process.  Bob Moore is a good engineer, and he wears a rain jacket with a gathered hood that enables him to lean out the cab window and take signals without getting drowned. 
The job is done, and while the train is building air the brakeman comes back into the cab.  The weather is starting to moderate.
   "Are you okay?", asks Bob. 
   "Yes, I don't have on a dry thread despite this rain suit, but what's up?"
   " I couldn't see it but I know a tornado passed right by us." 
(Oklahoma people know their tornados; don't doubt them).


Since I was a short-timer I don't have many stories, plus they're not that good.  But I like to post something from time to time because it usually gets the career guys in the mood to tell their really good ones. Let's see if it works one more time.



Images (1)
Original Post
Dan Padova posted:

Nice story, but it went right over my head.  What did I miss ?

The tornado, apparently.  ;-)  If you've ever been outside in the general vicinity of one, even the best rain suit isn't going to keep you dry.  

Reminds me of my first (inadvertent) experience with solo instrument flying.   Pattern altitude was 2000 feet, ceiling was a ragged 1500 feet.  I found myself in pea soup, kept one eye on the artificial horizon and gently eased the Cessna down to where the air was clear(er, this being the LA basin in the early 80s)...  


Rob, as someone from the Ozarks who also spent seven years living in Kansas, I caught it right away.  No stories here, but I would be delighted if you shared your stories often!  The ol' Frisco doesn't get enough attention!

Ship IT on the Frisco!

Here's one from a few years back (1938)

   “On September 21, 1938 darkness had fallen early.  I stuck my head out of the window to pick up a clear signal.  In the gloaming a very faint clear board shone.  We swished past Mystic at barely twenty miles an hour and were soon near the Stonington causeway, a strip of double track laid across an arm of the ocean on boulders and ballast. Creeping up on this structure I could see that breakers were hitting the rocks and tumbling across the iron.  As I distrusted those submarine rails, I brought #14 (The Bostonian) down to 8 miles an hour.  We had covered about half the causeway when Dennis Horan, my fireman, shouted, “Yellow board.”

  I repeated his call and cut down to the pace of a slug.  I glanced at the water, now boiling over the track. You could feel the train shiver as waves smashed against the car sides.  Just then it happened. We were about 600 feet from the mainland when a spot of read stabbed me in the eye.  I cut the air and let the brakes clamp down.  With the waves continuing to pound I pulled down the whistle cord but the signal stayed red.  There was only one thing to do: climb down and get to the tower.  I stepped off the cab rungs into knee deep, boiling, briny water. Surf spray blinded me and quickly soaked me to the skin.  I held on to the streamlined apron of the engine and felt my way in the dark until I reached the pilot. Then I walked out into the hurricane.

 I fought my way across the remaining causeway.  Three times I stumbled, storm-driven logs cracked me in the knee and threw me down but I kept going.  At length I slogged ashore. The tower looked like some gaunt ruin of No Man’s Land, for all its windows had been blown out. I found the towerman, H.F. Thomas, down on the floor out of the wind which hammered through the upper story.

  “You’ve got to give me a signal to get off the causeway,” I shouted. “Our train is about ready to topple into the ocean.”

 “Okay,” he yelled back, “but don’t go beyond the station. Too much risk!”  I came back out of the tower and the water had turned into a waist deep torrent. I waved a signal to Denny to come ahead, but nothing happened – apparently he couldn’t see my signal.  I plunged out onto the causeway and I could see that several of our coaches were leaning over toward the seas.  I fought my way back to the engine, climbed aboard and was confronted by Conductor Barton who had fought his way up to the cab.  I told him we had to move and I was afraid I couldn’t take the entire train.  I told him to herd the passengers into the deadhead baggage car so we could cut off the rest of the train.  The crew went through the cars chanting, ”Everybody up front and make it snappy!”

  Two hundred seventy-five passengers poured into the aisles and climbed out into the four feet of moving water. I saw a Negro porter wading waist-deep with a small child on each shoulder and a woman clinging to his coat tails. He got them safely aboard the baggage car.  One of the dining car employees lost his life when he plunged into the ocean to save a drowning woman. The name Chester A Walker has been added to the long list of railroad heroes.

 Up to the cab came John Greenwood, the flagman. “We’ll have to move fast. The roadbed is gone from under the three rear cars.  Meanwhile my fireman and a trainman were boosting more passengers up on the engine since there was no more space in the baggage car.  People were everywhere – cab, tender, coal pile, and holding on the handrails.  While Barton was taking a head count Dooley, the car inspector was trying to unlock the couplers but there was no slack and he couldn’t lift the pin.  Several others floundered about trying to loosen the coupler. Finally the general chairman of the Engineers’ Brotherhood for New Haven (who happened to be on board) had three men hold him over the coupler. He gripped the pin, gave a mighty heave, and the pin came loose.  Barton gave me the highball and I started to roll.

  Large hunks of debris were slamming into the pilot and the train.  We had just started to roll when – bang! A booming to the rear was followed by a jolt as the emergency brakes kicked on. Some floating junk had slammed into us and fouled the air lines. As I turned I felt my back being pummeled by fists – an elderly, gray haired lady was pounding on my back and yelling, “Please make him go mister!”  We couldn’t do anything about the air so I shoved the throttle, the engine bellowed an angry staccato as her drivers churned but the locked brakes held.  I dragged the throttle back as far as it would go.  The big engine boiled, groaned, and to my great relief slowly moved dragging the car in spite of its locked wheels.

  The storm continued to throw things at us – a light rowboat, telephone poles and wires, and a house.  I kept right on going.  The water was rising close to the firebox and the drivers were churning like an old time steamboat. We pushed up against the house.  The engine began to labor and then, suddenly, the gale winds shifted and the current caught the house and pulled it out to sea.  I thought the worst might be over when, out of the gloom, a full-sized sailboat loomed up and was pitched across the tracks.  It was stuck fast. I nudged it with the engine.  Wood groaned and creaked.  The drivers started to slip and we were going slower when suddenly there was a rending crash, the boat split in two and the two pieces began drifting shoreward. The boat started a rumor, which preceded us down the telegraph lines, that #14 had been struck by a ship and demolished with heavy loss of life – this threw the general offices into a panic until after the storm when wire services were restored.

 With all obstacles out of the way the big engine nosed ashore and passed the signal tower, now pierced with holes.  We were on dry land again and when I looked back I could see sparks streaming from the wheels but I kept going until I reached the crossing by the station. None of us will ever forget the kindly people of Stonington, Conn., blasted though it was by the elements. They threw open their homes, halls, and churches for us. In a few hours the winds had died, but the storm had made such a hash of the roadbed between Providence and Bristol that no trains could run for three weeks.

  I’ve been the object of many kind comments since to causeway run and I’ve been given credit for much of what happened but to tell the truth the credit really belongs to an old lady who kept pounding me on the back and urging: “Please make him go, mister!”

  From A Treasury of Railroad Folklore – Botkin and Harlow


Don't think any of us railroader's here can top that one.

As for me, I think I'll stand on the sideline and watch.


Dan Padova posted:

Nice story, but it went right over my head.  What did I miss ?

Hey Dan,

I have this condition where I understand myself perfectly while everyone else is trying to make sense of my statement. (Just ask my wife).

palallin posted:

I love that book; one of my favorites!

Out of curiousity I Googled "stonington causeway railroad hurricane" and came up with an excerpt from "The Great Hurricane of 1938" that retells this story in a bit more detail.

A harrowing tale, indeed


When I was hired as a Fireman by Santa Fe, there was a 17-year gap in seniority between myself and the man four numbers above me.  As a result of that and the hiring of a number of men junior to me, I was able to hold road freight assignments at San Bernardino after less than a year.  The railroad had not hired me for charity purposes.  A change in the Railroad Retirement system was going to allow earlier retirement, and Santa Fe saw that they did not have enough Firemen to promote to Engineer, which then required three years of road service.

So, I frequently worked the Wilmington Turns, which went to Los Angeles Harbor and returned immediately, and the SDX/SBX, a daily pair of trains from San Bernardino to San Diego and return.  These trains frequently encountered thick coastal fog during part of the trip, at any time of the year, and it was a nightly occurrence in spring and fall.  As a result of Engineers who were willing to help me learn to run an engine, I got experience running in fog and not getting lost.

I was holding a regular assignment on the SDX/SBX with an Engineer who had seniority dating to 1936 -- it took as much Engineer seniority to hold that assignment as it did for passenger service  -- when he went on vacation and another 1936 Engineer named Joe Sutton filled the vacancy.  Sutton was a friendly fellow in his late 50s with a much younger wife and young children, and was often not well-rested when he came to work.  He was always willing to let a Fireman run the engine for him so that he could get some rest.  About halfway to San Diego, he offered to trade seats with me and we arrived in San Diego at dusk.  The SBX was made up and ready, so, while a switcher handled our waycar, we changed ends on the locomotive consist and tacked it onto our train.  "Well, young man, ya wanna take her home?" asked Sutton.  I had no objection to that and we were out of San Diego with enough time to make the trip as long as we moved right along.

The head end Brakeman went immediately to the second locomotive (which meant he was going to sleep), and Sutton, in the Fireman's seat was "out" before we hit Old Town.  About 45 minutes later he came to, and realized that we were in pea soup fog.  He sat upright and asked where we were.  "By Solana Beach two minutes ago, Joe," I replied.  He was still little edgy about being in the fog with a Fireman with whom he had only worked a couple of trips.  "How fast are we going?" Sutton wanted to know.  "Sixty," was the reply as I dimmed the headlight just before a block signal appeared out of the gloom and whizzed past.  "Oh, fine, fine, young man.  Just let me know if you need anything," said Sutton, as he drifted back to sleep.  

All he cared about was that we were making the full authorized speed limit in the fog.

Last edited by Number 90

While at Fort Sill, during basic training, we were on the North Range for rifle qualifications. We learned at this time , we were to do a road march back to the barracks, which didn't make us happy in the least. I was watching the skies, and was hoping the gathering thunderstorms would cancel it, and for a time it did. Then the clouds moved off, and the march was on again, sooo we fell in and off we went. About 3 miles into the march, the weather came back, and guess what, an F-3 tornado!, The stories about the sky turning green are absolutely true, we got beat to **** by the hail, drowned by the rain and of course 2 people lost their weapon so we couldn't leave till they were found. No one was injured, but what a miserable day.

" Along came a yellow, two piece pvc rain suit made by Uniroyal, and it usually stayed folded up inside the brakeman's grip. "

That was a good place for it, other than the fact that you had to lug it around in your grip! 
Yes, they would keep the rain off of you, however, it didn't make much difference as you sweated so much wearing it that you still wound up soaking wet inside!!!

Re:  #90's great story...

It is 165 miles from San Berdoo to Fullerton, and another approx. 103 miles on to San Diego.  This is off-topic, but I can't get a question out of my mind:

In timeslip terms, how many miles were you guys claiming?  That must have been a sweet paying job which usually got you back home in 12 hours.  Amazing.

Rob, the milepost at Fullerton has that number because the mileposts are numbered from Barstow, through San Bernardino (MP 81), then over the Second District via Pasadena, through Los Angeles onto the Third District to Fullerton (MP 165), where they continue ascending down the Fourth District through San Diego to the end of the line at National City. 

The SDX ran over the Third District through Riverside and Corona to Atwood, where it diverged onto the Olive District to Orange, where it entered the Fourth District to go to San Diego. It paid 144 miles each direction. There were two crews which alternated days 7 days a week. So every other day was a day off. Sometimes we had to go to the hotel in San Diego, but we flipped more often than not.  We turned out onto the Olive District before we got as far as Fullerton, which is only 46 miles from San Bernardino via the Third District. 

Last edited by Number 90

“ In the winter when the snows lay thick on the Alleghenies, the whole shop was called out to keep the railroad tracks clear. Each man was given a scoop shovel and ordered to dress warmly. A long train of passenger coaches dropped gangs of men at strategic points. In a short time two thousand men were strung along the road from Norcross Cut to the Gallitzen tunnel, every man shoveling for dear life. They had to shovel or freeze to death.

  Every four hours, two baggage cars equipped for making coffee and broiling beefsteak, were hauled up the mountain. At each stop the men crowded into the warm cars and thawed out while devouring huge beefsteak sandwiches and scalding cups of coffee. The stops were short; there were many men to feed. The bitter wind howled down the mountain gales, opaque with frozen particles that cut our faces and drifted the tracks almost as fast as we shoveled it away.

  One night, just as we had cleared the tracks and were waiting for the train, a fresh storm swooped down, shrieking in fury. It caught the railroad authorities unaware. The food cars had been shunted onto the home siding, the crew had started on the road home. The relief train ran into a drift and stalled before it had gone a mile. 

  Strung along the mountain in small groups, the men groped blindly, the snow drifting faster than it could be shoveled away. Our party was stationed near the top of Horseshoe Curve where the wind had a clear sweep. It was impossible to stay there so we struggled down the tracks to the lee of the mountain shoulder. Here we dug holes in the drifts and huddled together for warmth. We had heard that one could be quite comfortable in the coldest weather under a snow bank but the bitter wind searched us out and chilled our very marrow. It had been a long time since the food train had visited us and now we were ravenous.

  “We will freeze to death if we stay in these holes,” shouted Jim McConnell, our leader. “Get out and shovel. Come on!” Guided by the tracks, we shoveled a path down one and up the other. Then we dog-trotted in single file, arms swinging and feet stamping to start the blood circulating. When we had warmed up, we again huddled in the holes until the cold drove us to monotonous tramping. The long night passed with some of the men refusing to come out of the holes. These were dragged into the open and manhandled until they staggered with the rest.

  Toward morning we heard a long, drawn whistle across the ravine around which the tracks curved. The storm, if anything, was raging worse than at the start. We could not see fifty feet into the murk but we stood facing toward the sound and shouted. The whistling became almost continuous, evidently there were a number of locomotives at work. We could hear the sharp “Off brakes” whistle; the mighty coughs of the exhausts as the engines gathered speed; the gradually decreasing tempo as they struck the drifts; and then silence.

  Nineteen hundred feet across the ravine, a long mile by track, was warmth and food. We had been cheering madly but the silence sent a shiver of fear through us. Suddenly we were cold and disheartened. All signs pointed to the probability that the rescue train was stuck in the drift. Again we started our dogged tramping. Back and forth we plodded until a faint light told that the dawn was near. Some of the men were completely exhausted and no amount of prodding could stir them to effort. Jim McConnell started down the track in an effort to reach the train but came back reporting that the tracks were drifted level with the mountain slopes.

  Two long whistles followed by a roaring flurry of exhausts broke the silence. Again, we flogged our waning hopes. We would hear them drive into the drifts, stall, back off, and drive again. Nearer they came and before we realized their nearness, five big freight locomotives pushing a short snow plow broke through the drifts below us. They had crossed over to the eastbound track where the drifts were lower and roared past almost burying us with snow as we huddled against the mountain side. Back of them, two engines dragged a long string of coaches, the windows bright with the new Pintsch gas lights. The train came to a stop and we wearily climbed aboard.

  The car seats had been laid lengthwise, making a bunk of sorts on which the exhausted men lay. Doctors worked over them while hot food was served to those suffering only from exposure and hunger. Very few of the men escaped frost bite. The train followed the snow breaking engines, picking up men until the last one was loaded.

  We had been out twenty-eight hours, fifteen without food, in the worst blizzard in the history of the road. As we were paid straight time, I drew the sum of one dollar and ninety-six cents.  When the train arrived in Altoona, the men, crippled and uncrippled, pulled out of the cars and dragged their shovels over the brick pavement in a clangorous din.”

From: No Royal Road – Custer - 1937

Last edited by Robert S. Butler

Add Reply

OGR Publishing, Inc., 1310 Eastside Centre Ct, Suite 6, Mountain Home, AR 72653
Link copied to your clipboard.