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I was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1998 as a newly minted 2LT in Army Ordnance. I had two run-ins having to do with the NE Corridor (one involving a M-1 rifle and a Conrail police officer when he didn't realize he was not on RR property and was instead on Army land that could have ended very badly for him, I'll have to write that down someday), but one was pretty funny and I had no hand in any of it. I'm sure everyone involved has long since retired, anyway.

As a ROTC cadet the previous year, I was there for 3 weeks doing what was supposed to be OJT as an unofficial officer, but my assigned Captain was never around so it was a three-week vacation after advanced camp. At that time, I bummed rides off the Maryland National Guard unit at Edgewood Arsenal, riding on their UH-1 "Huey" choppers a few times.

Fast forward another year and I came back, and they remembered me (especially that I kept quiet and out of their way, things aviation types love in passengers) so I got up with them again a few times. As a LT, though, I was told I couldn't take a camera with me as I had as a cadet. I soon found out why. One Friday night after training was done around 1600 or so, I grabbed some chow at the Burger King in the PX parking lot and head south to Edgewood.

What was supposed to be a overland flight for training (I never knew where we went, the flights always went almost due west, I think we'd land for a few minutes near Frederick, at a small commercial airport), instead involved in zipping up and down the NE Corridor, up to just before the massive bridge at Havre De Grace, then south before anything near Baltimore, and back. We'd gone over the line at least 1500 feet the year before (I need to find the photos I took) and Metroliners could be watched zipping up and down the line back then.

Somewhere along the route this time, I can't be sure of the exact location, the crew decided to get low. Then lower. Then LOWER. I could see the pilots yucking it up and trying to look back to see if myself and a Chemical Corps Captain with me were bugging out. Seeing the smile on my face (knowing they wouldn't intentionally crash the bird, but not yet realizing how stupid Army rotor heads can get, which I found out the hard way later in my short military career), they weren't happy that they weren't freaking us out, I guess. With their external landing lights on, and being very low to the ground adjacent to the tracks and hovering less than a man's height right alongside the tracks but apparently with rotors far enough from the wires, we sat there for a moment, with the cockpit and landing lights facing toward the tracks, which were oriented left-right in front of is at a right angle, as we were on the outside of a curve.

I then saw the glow of headlights coming from around the curve to our right - fast, as all trains go through there - and as I couldn't tell the crew to keep an eye for the oncoming train without a headset, I realized I didn't have time to tell them anyway. Suddenly, an southbound Amtrak train with a AEM-7 zipped by very close to us. I can still see the two men in the cab hitting the deck, from their split-second sight from the curve, of a helicopter which must have appeared to them to be right on the tracks, and then the sudden fluttering of the helicopter as apparently the wind of the train disturbed the airflow of us hovering so close to the ground. I clearly recall seeing stuff lying on the floor of the Huey flying to one side of the interior, then back again. Once they got the bird steady, they turned 90 degrees (with the tracks now to our left), 'crabbed' the chopper further to the right, into the field and away from the tracks, then set her down with the engine still running at almost full power. The crew chief almost knocked me over getting past me to the door, flinging it open, getting out and looking all around. I looked over at the CPT and his face was solid white. With the crew chief satisfied that we hadn't hit or damaged anything, we were off, back to Edgewood.

Normally, the crew would talk with you after a flight, asking how you liked it (or more likely, hoping to hear how much you were impressed by them). They didn't say a word and each had a real deer in headlights look about them. I just chuckled and went to my SUV, eager to meet up with some LTs from my class who were going to the movie theater in White Marsh (I think to see "Armageddon," if memory serves). Then, I 'd be heading back to the BOQ for some shuteye as I was going to go to Gettysburg the next day to hit the antique stores in that area.

They never had us passengers (PAX, in military terms) sign in, so nobody called me later asking to give a statement, just in case someone got in trouble. I decided to stay away from a short while, and my weekends got busier after that and I never got back there for another ride.

I never got to ride in a Huey again.

Last edited by p51

I grew up near the village of Convoy, Ohio, which is about five miles from the Ohio-Indiana state line.  Convoy was on the PRR Ft. Wayne Line, about an hour east of its namesake city.  There were two grain elevators and a lumberyard that had rail service.  My friend, Pat, was a railfan and model railroader.  Pat's father was the manager of one of the grain elevators.  During the summer months, I would ride my bike the mile into town and hang out with my friends.  Pat and I would often sit on the railing outside the Farm Store and watch trains pass.  We especially enjoyed watching the local switch the elevators, and occasionally, the lumberyard.

It was the summer of 1976, the first year of Conrail.  The Ft. Wayne Line tracks were in desperate need of maintenance.  We knew that help was on the way as loads of cross ties had been delivered to the former station, which was now just a maintenance shed.  We were watching a westbound freight pass through town at about 50 mph when we heard this God-Awful noise coming from an approaching freight car.  As the car passed we could see that the brakes had stuck on one of the wheels.  The wheel was glowing cherry red.  We went into panic mode.  Our first thought was to try and signal the conductor in the caboose.  As the caboose approached we stood at the crossing waving our arms and shouting "FIRE".  The conductor obviously saw us as he gave us a friendly wave as the caboose passed.  As we looked eastward down the tracks we could see smoke coming from between the rails.  We started to run down the tracks toward the smoke.  After a short distance another friend saw us and joined us on our mission.  We ran as far as we could and didn't seem to be getting any closer to the smoke.  Finally, after treking about a half mile we found a severely deteriorated cross tie fully engulfed in flames.  The fire had to be put out.  We weren't close to a phone to call the fire department.  We had no water supply handy so we did what any 14 year old boy would do...we pi...,um, "relieved ourselves" on the burning tie.  Between the three of us we got the fire knocked down.  Thank God, none of us had gone to the bathroom recently.  As we started to walk back toward town we again saw smoke.  We all just looked at each other when one of the other two said "Screw it.  They're going to replace them anyway."  Besides, we had no water left in our tanks.  Apparently, the train safely made it to Ft. Wayne, as there were no news reports of a derailment.

A few weeks later they started to replace the ties and grade the ballast.  We often wondered what the track gang thought when they came to the burned out carcass of that railroad tie.


Rich Melvin posted:
LLKJR posted:

Rich Melvin, and that is why steam locomotives captured one’s imagination, that is until diesels and the space race. However, stories like “The Hole” and “The Ruling Grade, The Hill” bring it all back.


Thanks, Larry. There will be a book with more stories, published sometime next year.

I will pre-order one, if that was an option!

Tom, you might be interested in this book - Sam Johnson: The Experience and Observations of a Railroad Telegraph Operator (1878) - Clippinger.  The book is available in reprinted hardcover.

  Clippinger’s book details the work experiences of a railroad telegraph operator in the late 1860’s. It has chapters grouped into four “Epochs” corresponding to the four major towns/locales where Sam Johnson worked: Princeton, Indiana, Wasatch, Indiana, Newtown, Indiana, and Poverty Flat, California.

Based on my knowledge of railroads it appears the first epoch in Princeton was working for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The author gives the reader an excellent picture of the grueling hours and exhausting conditions a station agent/telegrapher faced working in a local train station in the late 1860’s. In Johnson’s case the work was made even more arduous because he contracted malaria shortly after he arrived at Princeton.

  It is obvious the author has changed the names of the towns but a little checking of Google maps reveals the following: 

  There is a town of Princeton, Indiana, however, the description of the towns on the rail line to the east and west of Princeton match the towns to the east and west of Pierceton, Indiana. The town of Wasatch, Indiana is a deliberate pseudonym; details in the book indicate it is west of Fort Wayne which would suggest it could be the town of Warsaw, Indiana. As a guess I think the author may have chosen a pseudonym for Pierceton because of his having contracted malaria there and the name Wasatch because of his very poor opinion of the place.

There is no town of Conroy, Ohio but there is a town of Convoy which matches the book description of its location and there is a Poverty Flat, California however, it is south of Sacramento and not in the eastern foothills. I would guess that the Poverty Flat of Clippingers book is now known by some other name just like the 1860’s town of Hangtown, California is now known as Placerville.


In the early 1970s, the Union Pacific's General Traffic Agent in Cincinnati was Farrell Beggs.  Sharp dresser, his suits did not come off the rack.  The railroads furnished off line agents with a list of missing cars.  Those cars were either owned by the railroad, leased by the railroad or had a customer's freight on board.  By nature of the market, the Union Pacific hauled a lot of PFE/UPFE/SPFE refrigerated cars with plug doors.  Farrell was driving on the east side of Cincinnati area, possibly between Norwood and Madera, when he spotted a lone 'PFE' car on a siding normally used by coal hoppers.  The car was on the 'missing' list. He stopped, ascertained the refrigeration unit was not running and the seals were in tact.  He proceeded to the nearest grocery store and borrowed a few milk cases which would allow him to get high enough to break the seals and rotate the handle to open the plug door.  Unbeknown to Farrell, the car had been loaded three months before with 90,000 pounds of cabbage.  Now stop for a moment and imagine what 45 tons of cabbage would look like after three months of Summer.  As soon as the plug door popped out, gallons and gallons of liquid poured out, ruining a very nice suit. 

John in Lansing, ILL

Last edited by rattler21

John, That reminds me of the night  I was working at Buckeye yard in Hilliard, Ohio.  Conrail had just become Norfolk Southern and our respective computers were not talking to one another from the NS side to the Conrail side. I was inspecting cars in the receiving yard on third trick. I noticed a foul smell much worse than the normal foul smells in a rail yard. As I approached a reefer car the smell was getting much much worse. I noticed a trail of an oily substance in the ballast that ended under the plug door track. I shined my lantern on the door and noticed it was shimmering. I though that maybe something was leaking so I looked a little harder at the door. Much to my surprise the plug door and a few feet on either side of the door was covered in maggots! The shimmering was hundreds of thousands of the squirmy worms. I called the car number in to the yardmaster and found that that car had been missing for several weeks. The fuel tank was empty and the car had a load of meat. The car was directly across from the engine house fuel pad and those guys were throwing a hobo fit about the stench. The yardmaster spotted the car on the shop lead and eventually the haz mat company they use came out and removed the rotted meat and steam cleaned the inside of the reefer. After that any refrigerator car that came into the yard had to have at least 200 gallons of diesel in the tanks, if not, they were switched out and spotted on the caboose tracks for fuel.  Doug

I guess I’ll throw a story in, since I (probably) can’t get in trouble for it now lol.  I was working the NS Conway yard not long after the Conrail split, probably spring of 2000.  I was a student on a hump job on 4 Hump (eastbound), “pulling pins”.  The hump operator in his booth had a list of the cars being sent over the hump, and would line the switches according to where the cars went.  He would then announce the “cuts” on a loudspeaker.  Instead of reading off numbers, he’d say for example “cut three, then two, then four” and so on.  

On this particular cut, he announced “cut four, then one”.  Coming over the hump were a boxcar, then four MOW camp cars (which shouldn’t have been humped in the first place, but they were).  Following his instructions, I watched the boxcar and three camp cars go by, then lifted the cut lever on the fourth camp car.  I immediately realized I’d made a big mistake- the power cables between the cars were still connected.  I won’t repeat what I said.  I began frantically shaking the cut lever up and down, trying to drop the pin which wouldn’t have stayed up if I’d wanted it to, and radioed the engineer to stop the move.  The pin didn’t drop but my stomach did.  I watched helplessly as the cars separated, and in what seemed like slow motion, the power cables pulled out of the boxes at the ends of the cars as the cut rolled slowly down the hump.  A telephone wire dragged along behind as they disappeared from my view.  

Needless to say I was sick.  My conductor was laughing his *** off, and assured me it would be fine.  We got on the last camp car, rode the shove over the hump, and coupled the cars back together.  He threw the cables back up on the deck and said “it’ll be fine!  These cars will probably get sent over to the westbound hump and classified again before they even go anywhere!”  Still, I didn’t sleep much that night...  I was sure I was getting fired.  Thankfully I never heard another thing about it but I can see those cables pulling apart in my mind to this day!

Last edited by mlavender480

Here is another story.When I went to school.The school was real close to the Seaboard Air Line rr.By this time it was the Seaboard Coast Line.All one had to do is look out the window to see a fast freight go by.Some time I would see 6 to 7 gp7 or 9 pulling a long train.Man the railroad names that I saw.I recall seeing penn,cnw,up, wp santa fe ,great northern.mkt kcs.Another thing is that the boxcars still had their roof walk ways.Some were even wooden boxcars with outside steel bracing.Of course this got me into trouble with the teachers.I was just a kid who liked trains.I meant no disrespect toward them.I recall one parent teacher meeting.My teacher told my mother how I acted when a train was going by.She said I could tell he was really tried to keep his mind on his work this time.I just could not bring myself to get on him this time.Because he tried and did not even look out the window.Later my mother had a smile on her face.She told me she knew how hard it was for me.As we waited for a train at the railroad crossing.Its a big time surprise we learned any thing there.Because on the other side of the tracks was a rock quarry down the road was the airport.A huge charlotte pipe company.And the airforce fighter jets would some times make a sonic boom!

The Kroger Company is a retail grocery company based in Cincinnati. In addition to calling on division traffic managers, railroad agents paid what amounted to courtesy calls on general office traffic people.  Sometimes the railroad agent would be with a man from their general office.  On one occasion I met Harry Bervort(sp?) from the Union Pacific in Omaha.  If he had a title on his business card, I do not remember it but I do not think his title was shown.  Several months later I made an appointment to call on him in Omaha and he was kind enough to walk me through several of the floors of their building - ten foot high doors with the UP shield on the faces of the brass hinges.  The control room had three very tall wall boards with lines on them and lights in segments, very much like some model railroads have on their control panel.  If I remember correctly, on that day there was less than 50 miles of track on Slow Orders. Truly a first class operation. I thanked Mr. Bervort for his time and left for Cincinnati. 

A Kroger tradition is to have low priced oranges For Sale the week before Christmas.  To be in the stores a week before Christmas, the oranges had to be received by rail at least by the 16th.  In 1973, oranges were ordered and shipped in PFE reefers from California to various distribution centers north of and east of St. Louis.  Obviously, these would roll through Bailey Yard.  Some where along the way, two PFE cars were on the same eastbound train to Bailey Yard - ab67cd and ab76cd.  One was a load of oranges for The Kroger Co in Grand Rapids and the other was a load of grapes for a consignee east of Harrisburg.  Bailey Yard would batch cars for movement beyond Chicago.  Generally the trains ran UP-Fremont-CNW-Chicago- and then batches of cars were handed to the eastern railroads.  When Kroger at Grand Rapids opened the door of what should have been a load of oranges they found a load of grapes which they neither ordered nor needed.  With the help of a few people at the UP and the PRR, the other car was found in Enola Yard.  There was no way to get that car to Grand Rapids in time for distribution over the dock and truck the oranges to various stores to make the sale date.  I placed a call to Mr. Bervort, left a message and he returned my call within two hours.  I explained the situation and all he said was something to the effect that he didn't know a thing about moving oranges by truck and if I could solve the problem, he would appreciate it and to send the bill for all the charges to his attention.  I called the Cincinnati PRR agent who placed an order for the car of oranges to be placed on a team track at Enola.  I called a truck line who had insulated trailers and explained the situation to them.  The truck line sent three semis to Enola yard and the next day the oranges were delivered to Grand Rapids.

Anyone may make a mistake, any corporation can have problems.  One way to rate a company is to watch how they handle problems caused by their error.  In this case, the Union Pacific Railroad immediately took steps which led to a solution.  You cannot ask for anything better than that.  They were a first class operation in 1973 and I haven't seen anything in the last 46 years that would change my opinion.

John in Lansing, ILL



Last edited by rattler21

This actual event happened in 1981 on a chat train on the west end of our division of the Frisco (it was BN, inc. by that time, but you could not tell us that).  I do not recommend the behavior, but it gives insight as to how it used to be.  Or could be at times.
After working for one day with Road Foreman Wilson Jones and his track crew putting out ballast between Lawton and Snyder, OK we headed home with our empty open hoppers.  The engineer was going at track speed, 40 mph, when he put his head out the open cab window to watch the wheels on a right hand curve. That is when his newly prized possession, a Rolling Stones cap, blew off his head.  (You know, the cap with a logo of big lips and tongue out.)  His immediate reaction was to look at me and say, "I gotta have thay cap!".  So he makes a suppression application and the train quickly comes to a halt.  Then he radios the conductor in the caboose and simply makes the statement, "Dewey, I need to back up".  The only reply he gets is, "OK".  No nothing. It was a remote area with no crossings, so we back up the entire train whatever distance it was until his cap comes into view, and I drop off to fetch it. 
At the time, I found it curious that this type of running could occur, but I was a new hire and all I did was keep my mouth shut and do what I was told.  Over the years I lost track of the engineer, but Dewey went on to promote to engine service and kept on working into his early 70's. He always kept a set of dominoes in his grip, and we played in the caboose on several occasions while waiting in the hole at a meet.  That is him on the right in 2018:



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My Dad grew up in the 30’s in the town of Hampton, NJ - at a junction of the CRR of NJ & the DL&W. He was always exploring his surrounding countryside. So one day he has to watch his younger sister, so off they walk down the DL&W to the little village of Changewater, NJ. The Lackawanna had a pretty high bridge over the creek there, I think it’s the Musconetcong. Anyway they chance a crossing of the bridge & of course a train comes. Dad told his sister, Ruthie, to get down off the tracks & hold on to a bridge support like he was. Well I guess the steam engine scared her & she lost her grip & fell 30 feet or so to the creek below.  Providentially, she landed in a gravel bed and was basically unhurt ! My Dad has passed ,but my Aunt Ruthie is still alive & blames him for her need for a hip replacement today !

Last edited by Rich Melvin

We had a Communications Technician on the Santa Fe, at Brownwood, Texas, and part of his assignment was to inspect each radio tower and its transmission equipment, at prescribed intervals.  The radio equipment was in a metal bungalow supported off the ground by short, concrete pylons, just like is seen at CTC control points, except that many of these are not on the railroad right of way.  Instead, they are located on hills and bluffs to give maximum transmission and reception distance.

One of these was up on a hill, in the cross timbers region, grassland peppered with oak and cedar trees.  At this location, there was a large diamondback rattlesnake who lived under the bungalow.  Jesse had seen him on numerous occasions.  The snake would coil and rattle, and Jesse would stop approaching.  After a minute or so, the snake would crawl away into the grass or back under the bungalow, and Jesse would go inside and take care of his business (always checking around the inside before entering, and the outside before leaving).  Rattlesnakes are part of life in west Texas, and you have to always be aware of your surroundings.  This snake was a big one, 5 or 6 feet, probably 35-40 lbs.  But Diamondbacks can be lived with.  They're cranky, but their best attribute is that they do not enjoy human company and will make an exit if they can . . . usually.

On one occasion, Jesse visited the bungalow and the snake gave his usual warning, but, this time, he refused to leave.  Jesse threw stones at him, and he did not budge.  Jesse went to his truck and thought about using his pistol to shoot the snake, but he had some admiration for the serpent, due to their long acquaintance.  Instead, he got a can of wasp spray (Comm Techs deal with lots of wasps) and shot a stream right into the snake's face.  The snake went wild, writhing all over the place.  Jesse retreated to his truck and decided to do this work on another day.

A few days later, he returned.  The snake was, as usual, outside the bungalow, and he coiled and rattled as usual, but his eyes had a cloudy film on them.  The snake slithered into the weeds and Jesse did his work.  After that, when a periodic inspection was made, the snake gave his usual "welcome", but his eyes were back to normal, and he never again stood his ground against Jesse.  And Jesse never again used wasp spray on a snake.


There has been a recent thread about hood units with high short hoods, which brings to mind a period when we had a number of them on the Santa Fe.  Here's a little everyday railroading from that time, now over 40 years ago:

In the 1970's, N&W endured a months-long strike by its Mechanical Department employees.  As their locomotives were still subject to Federally-mandated scheduled inspections, they were in a real spot, trying to use supervisory forces to both maintain and inspect their fleet.  Santa Fe was short on power, and made a deal to take some N&W diesels, use them as trailing units, and perform required maintenance and inspection.  The actual units were rotated back to the N&W and we got all kinds of high hood second generation EMD units from GP30s through SD45s, and even a few GP9's.  Rarely was an N&W unit used in the controlling position, as they did not have ATSF radio channels, so, when this was (rarely) done, all that was available was the Head End Brakeman's handheld packet radio.  It was extremely unusual to have an N&W unit leading in long hood forward configuration.

During those months, I made one long hood forward trip.  I was called as Engineer for a 3-unit helper at San Bernardino, shoving the rear end of a drag freight to Summit, and then running light to Victorville.  The Victorville wye was out of service that day, so we had to return by changing ends on the consist.  The controlling unit was now an N&W GP38 facing west (long hood forward).  TheN&W unit had dual controls, with 26-L air brake schedule, and it was a simple matter to cut in the controls on the side of the cab that would allow the Engineer to sit on the right side, no mater which end was leading.  

The DS had us double-head a drag freight which had lost power on one unit, from Victorville to San Bernardino.  We coupled on, made an air brake test, and off we went, up the east side of Cajon Pass, making pretty good speed for an old dog of a train like that one, as we had significantly increased the horsepower of the train.  It was hot, and, unlike today, there was no air conditioning in the solid black cab.  

In Run-8, going up the mountain, the force of the exhaust was enough to lift the smoke and vapor high enough to be blown away by the desert breeze.  However, going down the 25 mile grade on the west side of Cajon Pass at 15 and 20 MPH, in dynamic braking with the engine running at the equivalent of Run 3 and cooling off, the exhaust drifted back and was quite noticeable with the cab windows open.  The hot breeze from the dynamic brake resistors also came right back to warm up the cab a little more.  But that was railroading then, and nobody complained about things like that.  We simply blocked the rear cab door open with the broom, and let everything flow through.

I made a couple of other trips with an N&W unit controlling in short hood forward position, but Santa Fe almost always used a home road unit on the point. Once, I had just three N&W SD45s on a train to Los Angeles, and then got the same consist back to San Bernardino.  They were not beauty queens, having not been bathed in a while, but they sure did run!  We found them to be very reliable and enjoyed having them.

Last edited by Number 90

This story happened about ten years ago. My boys were very young, probably two and four years old. We had just taken our first trip to Asheville, NC.

It was August, and even in the mountains, it was blazing hot. On our last day, my wife and I decided to take the kids and drive around the area a little to look around. I somehow got on a road that seemed like it was heading out of town. Grass and low-lying shrubs replaced buildings. Coming out of a sweeping right hand turn, I looked to my left and noticed we were now pacing a Norfolk Southern freight train, about a 100 feet way. We were going maybe 35 miles per hour, but the train was a bit slower.

As I looked up ahead, I noticed that the road curved to the left, and eventually crossed the tracks at a guarded grade crossing. I raced ahead a little and pulled the car off the road well behind the gates. The train continued to slowly approach the crossing, but eventually rolled to a stop maybe 300 feet away.

While the locomotives idled, I figured it would be a fun idea to get the kids out of the car so we could watch the train pass when it started up again and waive to the crew.

Now, I was well aware how real railroaders perceive foamers, and I did not want to appear as one. We were all sanding well behind the crossing gates, off the road, trying not to give any hint of foaminess (even though I was standing, foamer-like, outside my car with two young boys and my wife).

As we waited there in the glare of the hot August sun, I noticed that the front door of the lead diesel started to open. Out came a large man, maybe 6’2”, wearing blue jeans, dark leather jacket and dark sunglasses. He climbed down the engine steps and started striding purposely directly toward us!

He continued his methodical trudging along the right-of way, getting closer and closer. There was no hint of emotion on his bearded face, his eyes invisible. Was he going to chew me out for trespassing on railroad property? Chastise me for endangering my kids somehow? He got closer and closer. I started to panic, and was preparing to load everyone back into the car. But before I could make a move, there he was, standing directly in front of me!

He glared briefly at me from behind the sunglasses before he spoke. “It’s awful hot out here,” he observed, with no emotion, as he brought out four ice-cold bottles of water, and handed them to me and my family!

I was speechless. I mumbled something about what he did on the train, and he said he was the conductor. We thanked him profusely for his kind gesture, and he shook the kids’ hands. I asked him if the train would be moving, and he said yes, in a few minutes. We thanked him again. He nodded, turned and silently marched back towards his train.

A few minutes later, with the blast of the horn, the locomotives revved up and started heading toward us.  The gates came down, and the train growled past. The boys waived to the crew and were rewarded with waives back. The last car eventually slid past us silently, and the gates went up. It was quite again.

We all packed back into the car. Alice and I couldn’t stop talking about what had just happened—a true example of Southern Hospitality the likes of which we had never experienced before, and might not again.

We had an Engineer at San Bernardino, named Lloyd "Gabby" Stratton.  He had originally been a Gallup Engineer and had traded seniority from the Albuquerque Division to the Los Angeles Division around 1960.  At one time that was the only way, other than re-hiring at the bottom of the list, to change Divisions.  He hired out in 1940, and so was an experienced steam Engineer.

And he looked the part.  He always showed up at work, in a clean pair of ironed blue Oshkosh overalls and a pressed blue serge work shirt, with a clean white pleated Kromer cap.  He was further identified by his aluminum grip and and the cigar in his mouth.  If you had handed him a long-spout oil can, he'd have looked exactly like the steam man he was.

You can tell from my description, that Gabby was a no-nonsense railroad man.  There were never problems when he was running the engine.  He gave the rear end a good ride, stayed right on the speed limit, and was respected by everyone.  In the early 1970's, the railroad saw a coming need for Engineers.  However, most of the Firemen had been severed in 1964, by action of Arbitration Board Award 282.  Thus they began hiring Firemen so that we could get our required three years in road service and  be examined for promotion to Engineer.  Because they were hiring in rather large numbers, there were a few times that they could not be choosy.

One young fellow who had family on the railroad was hired.  He had a habit of talking and talking and talking.  He was called for a freight train to Los Angeles with Gabby, who soon tired of the ratchet-jawed Fireman.  Gabby reached down and depressed the Call button, which rang the alarm bells in all the units.  "Say, young man, I think you had better go check those trailing units.  Something must be wrong."  After the Fireman went out through the rear cab door, Gabby locked it behind him.  The Fireman walked through all the units, which were operating as intended.  He returned to the leading unit, but couldn't get the door open. Gabby got up and rattled the door handle from the inside, but the door remained locked.  He gave a "bad order" hand signal to the Fireman, who rode the rest of the way in the second unit, and Gabby enjoyed the relative quiet.

Another young Fireman, also with family on the railroad, caught a trip with Gabby.  This guy was never one to exert himself, but, because Gabby knew his family, he invited him to run the engine.  It was disastrous.  This guy had slept across the road whenever he could and he knew very little about how to handle a train.  They got to Los Angeles in one piece, but the Conductor and Rear Brakeman changed ends in their caboose a few times.  Shortly after that, I overheard Gabby telling another old-head Engineer about the trip and he concluded with, "He'll never run an engine for me again.  That boy is not even fit to run a power lawn mower."

I always enjoy thinking about Gabby Stratton and his dry humor.

It's cold and windy in the Texas Panhandle today, so it seems like a good time to tell a story.

In 1993, I was sent to Sweetwater, Texas as Assistant Superintendent, with primary responsibility for the lines lines from there to Temple; Brownwood to Fort Worth, and the trackage rights trains over the former Texas & Pacific line from Tecific to Fort Worth.  After several months, I was given more territory consisting of the former Slaton Division from Sweetwater to Clovis, and from Lubbock to Amarillo.

One of the Slaton Division Engineers holding a regular freight turn between Slaton and Sweetwater was F. E. Judie.  Among my duties was reviewing about 20 event recorder charts furnished to me weekly, and Mr. Judie consistently had almost no variation in speed on his trains, in spite of the fact that the railroad had mild undulation all the way.  This showed that he had exceptionally good knowledge of the road, anticipation of what the train would do at every location, and great skill in controlling the speed.

I had an opportunity to speak with the Brotherhood ofLocomotive Engineers Local Chairman at Slaton about another matter, and I mentioned my admiration of Frank Judie's work.  He did not hang around at the depot, and I had yet to see him face to face.  "Oh, Frank," the Local Chairman chuckled, "yeah, he takes care of his business, and still has the second dime he ever earned."  I asked if he could take a joke, and was assured that he could.  So I told the Local Chairman that I would put out gossip that I was looking for him, and see how long it took for him to find me so that I could pay him a compliment about his work.  I casually mentioned to a couple of Slaton crewmen that I was watching for Frank Judie, but that he came and went so quickly that I had not yet encountered him.

After about three days, the Slaton Local Chairman called me and told me that Judie had talked with him and was fretting about why I would want to see him.  He assured the Local Chairman that he had not violated any rules that he was aware of, and wanted desperately to keep his job.  With a straight face, his union representative told him that, whatever it was, Frank would have to ask me.

After a couple more days had passed, I saw that he was en route to Sweetwater and managed to "coincidentally" be near the crew lobby when he arrived.  He introduced himself and nervously informed me that he had heard that I was asking about him.  "Come on back to my office and we'll talk," I replied.  When he came to the office, I had three of his event recorder charts unrolled and displayed.  "Mr. Judie," I said," I just wanted to compliment you on your consistently exceptional train handling, and would like to buy lunch for you."  There was an audible sigh of relief from him.  "That's all?" he asked.  "Yes, that's all.  I really appreciate knowing that you take care of things every trip."

Frank Judie was an interesting personality.  He rarely took a day off, and was the highest earning Slaton Engineer.  He was a life-long bachelor who was not a cheapskate, but lived modestly, in a decent, but not fancy, apartment.  He had over twenty years of service and, since his only known concession to comfort was a nice automobile, which he bought gently used, he had a boat-load of money both in the bank and invested in a brokerage account.  He put his nephews and nieces through college, so that they could start adult life without the burden of student loans.  He helped individuals who had fallen upon hard times, and most people knew nothing about his kindness with his money.  When I would ride the train on his engine, we passed through two heavily producing oil fields, and I would always pick out a different well and ask him how much that one was producing, and why didn't he paint his name on the pump jack?.  He would he an aw-shucks look on his face and tell me, "Now, Mr. Campbell, you know I don't have any oil wells."  I'd always reply that my daughter, who was a student at Texas Tech and worked in Lubbock National Bank, said that this fellow F. E. Judie must have oil wells, as he was on a special list of depositors that the bank President was aware of.  (Actually, she didn't know Frank.)

He was one of a number of very fine people I encountered in my 37 years of railroading.  

Last edited by Number 90

My mother grew up in the northern section of Arlington , VA,  two miles from DC, in the 1930s and 40s.  Arlington had/has a huge station and trainyard, with commuter trains, so riding trains was a big part of her life.

When I was about 4 and my sister about 6, we lived in Springfield, VA, about 10 miles from the station.  (This was in 1959).  We told my mother that we had never been on a train before and wanted to take a train ride.

She seemed shocked to realize this, and put our coats and hats on us and immediately drove us down to the station.

She bought 3 tickets roundtrip to Baltimore, and we waited in the huge station for about 30 minutes.

Then we walked down a big set of steps into an area where  lots of trains were coming and going.

We all got an a train, and road it to Baltimore and back.  It took about 45 minutes each way.  I got to feeling sick, because I was sitting in a seat facing the rear of the train, and everything was going backward.  So, she made my sister change places with me.

When we got back to the Arlington station, she took us to a lunch counter, and we sat on tall stools and we each had a grilled cheese sandwich and a Coke.

(That was the first time I was ever on a train, and I was not back on a train again until 1976, when I took a train from the same station to Philadelphia.)

Those were in the days when Mom's had enough time to do stuff like that for their kids. ' :-)


My Dad and I would go to the Amtrak station and Ozol yard in Martinez California on Saturdays to get a line up of freights for the day. While I was watching and photographing the local work train do a pick up, my Dad was talking to the yard clerk at the Ozol office, the brakeman from the local motioned for me to come over....he had me climb up on the rear platform of the SD45 and told me to hold on tight to the stanchion.

Meanwhile, the yard clerk is motioning for me to "Get down from there" - which I did.  The crew thought I was still on the locomotive........the air was charged and with a few cars in tow the two SD45 locomotives accelerated like I've never seen (I guess they were going to give me a ride I would remember).

The yard clerk exclaimed "Those young guys are always hot rodding".

That's a topic that never comes up ~ how quick can these 3,600 hp locos accelerate?

Here's the duo, circa 1983....after Sacramento rebuild and renumber.

My photo:SP_7419_Ozol


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  • SP_7419_Ozol

I was a Signal Maintainer for the Norfolk & Western just before the new name of Norfolk Southern working the Chicago Ridge South territory.  It was Holloween night, 1981 and the wife and I were at home watching horror movies.  Around 11:30 that night, I got a call that there was a track indication at Palos Park.  Well crap.  I went to my office, the old Chicago Ridge train station at that time, and gathered a track battery along with a meter and drove out to Palos Park.  I knew my territory pretty well so I decided to start checking the voltage on the tracks at 131st street and walk south to Orland Park.  It was a cool and windy night with little moonlight.  Since the flashers were not flashing when I approached, that told me that the north and south bound grade crossing approaches along with the island circuit still had power so I would have to walk a little ways to clear the north bound approach circuit to take a voltage reading across the rails.  Oak Hill  cemetary is on the west side of the tracks and I was thinking to myself, of all nights to be by this place after watching several horror movies already.  As I discovered the insulated joints with my flashlight, I knelt down to take a reading.  Setting my flashlight down on the ground in front of me, I reached around to get my meter.  All I heard was the wind blowing and the rustling of leaves.  Just as I touched the meter leads to the rail, from behind me, a hound dog let out one heck of a wail.  That wail was matched and beaten by my wail.  I am not sure what went higher, me or my meter.  It took me a few minutes to recompose myself just to see that stupid dog sitting there looking at me.  My first thought was to ring its neck.  Especially when I saw that my meter was broken.  But, I love animals to much so the worst I could do was kneel down and pet him.  Then I cursed at him and then pet him some more.  I walked back to the car and got my old meter and started over again.  This time, the dog and I walked together.  The track battery had failed and had to be replaced on the circuit where I was attempting to take the reading the first time.  The hound stayed with me the whole time for whatever reason.  I lost it when he put his paws up the edge of the battery tub where the track batteries are kept and looked in while I was replacing the battery.  I got the feeling he thought he was my supervisor.  He walked with me back to the car and as I was packing away my stuff he gave a muffled bark, turned and walked away.  I left Chicago Ridge and the railroad in 1983.  I do feel, at times, that was one of the biggest mistakes I made as a young man.  But then again, I would not be where I am today if I had stayed.

I'm not a railroader, but I can tell you an interesting story from a railfan passenger perspective.

It's sort of long.  So the readers digest version...  The Amtrak police almost arrested me on the Acela, and then they didn't.   Enjoy some short video's below.


For those still interested, here is the rest of the story...

It was the Spring of 2014 and I had to go to Providence RI for work.  The thing about traveling to Providence from Central PA.  It's 6 hours by Plane (Counting all of the ancillary travel, waiting, transfers),  6 hours by car or 6 hours by rail.

So, being a railfan I was able to show my boss that it was most cost effective to travel by rail, since I would not need a rental car as my business and hotel was right near the train station.  He agreed.

The trip started out great.  In Harrisburg there were not many passengers in the station where the train was originating.  I boarded and went all the way up front to the first row of the cab car (The engine was in the rear).

The Engineer boarded and started to talk with me.  He told me stories of his early days with Amtrak and starting out on GG-1's.  We got to chat for about 10 minutes before he went to work and we departed.

It was a pleasant trip to Philly where I had to make a train change.  I was changing to the Acela.  I was super excited as this was my first Acela trip.

Now I know 2014 wasn't that long ago, but I still had a flip phone.  So I brought my Sony Camcorder with me to take video and still shots.  It's not an enormous beast, but bigger than a cell phone. 

I started taking video as we departed Philly.  One of the conductors came by and told me the NJ corridor had some of the fastest speeds as it had the straightest rail from Philly to NY.  He said most of my video would just be a blur.

I tried anyway shooting video outside at various areas and also inside the car.  On this train, I was in the last row of my car.  I was hoping to point the camera down the aisle and see the car tilt into a curve.  Looking at the video, I couldn't tell if we we tilting or just rocking.

Still in NJ as we approached NY, we slowed down quite a bit.  I was able to get some really nice skyline shots before we entered the tunnel to cross the river into NY.

Now arriving at Penn Station NY, nearly everyone got off the train.  But no one was getting on.  There were a lot of people on the platform but they were all just standing there.

I looked down the aisle and a fella in plain clothes is approaching followed by 2 police officers in full tactical gear.  Body armour, helmets and AR weapons. 

The fella in plain clothes ID'd himself as the Amtrak Police and asked me for ID.  He wanted to know why I was taking all of the video on the train.

I am a Federal employee, so hoping to diffuse the situation instead of my driver's license I showed the Officer my Federal ID.  Sort of frustrated he said, "What is this?".  I told him I was a Fed on official orders and thought he might like to know that.  He flipped it back to me and said, "Get out your driver's license".  So I did.

He started asking routine questions, the typical Who, What When, Where, Why.  I was starting to get frustrated, but I was on the clock on official government travel.  So the last thing I want to do is get into trouble or worse get arrested.

With questions continuing, he asked, "When was the last time you were on a train"?  Again, now me being frustrated, and somewhat of a smart*** I replied, last week.  He said, "Where were you going?"  I said I was in Middletown PA on the Easter Bunny train (That is true... Here is the proof).

He screamed at me..."NO!  When were you on a REAL train?"  So I explained that last summer (2013) I took an Amtrak train to Pittsburgh.  Next question, "What were you doing in Pittsburgh?"  I said our Family took our vacation there (Again... true story).

Now he lost it.  "NO ONE TAKES A VACATION TO PITTSBURGH!!!  He threw my drivers license back at me and in a screaming voice said, "You're gonna sit down and you're gonna put that **** camera away.  Don't make a sound and don't get up.  When you get to Providence you are going to immediately exit the train and exit the train station".  Understood?"  Feeling like an idiot and holding up the Acela for what felt like 15-20 minutes, I said, "Yes Sir".

I certainly felt like a few of my rights were violated, but again, I don't want to get in trouble while on official business.  So I do as he says.

And so what did I miss getting video of?  Hellgate bridge leaving NYC.  Arrrg.

In Providence, I exited the train.  Figuring I was safe from the Amtrak gang, I did take out my camera and videotaped the train leaving the station.   After it departed, I put the camera away and headed toward the escalator to exit.

At the top of the escalator where two different Amtrak police officers (Again in full tactical gear and AR's) waiting for me.  As I got to the top, one said, "Mr. Fevola come with us".  They walked me out the exit on out onto the sidewalk and told me to leave the area. 

Enjoy some of the video.



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Easter Bunny Train

The recent West Texas wind and dust storms (so typical of every April) reminded me of a story of which I wish I could somehow see a replay.
Mr. Coleman was an insurance salesman in Plainview, TX during the 1950's and 60's. He enjoyed the convenience of riding the Santa Fe passenger train which operated daily between Lubbock and Amarillo, TX. This unnamed train connected with the California Special in Lubbock and the San Francisco Chief in Amarillo. I cannot remember his destination that particular day, but I do remember him telling me he had some fun with one of his amusing talents. Using only his voice and lips Mr. Coleman could do a very convincing train horn. He entertained me with this talent every time we saw one another.
The story begins on a day when the wind on the South Plains of Texas was blowing hideously and the air was darkened by blowing sand. This portion of Texas was famous for dust storms so dark it would cause the street lights to turn on. Several people were in the waiting room of the Plainview depot waiting to catch the train, and the train was running a bit late. Impatient people were occasionally getting up to go outside to see if they could see the train approaching. This was fruitless because visibility was poor. At this point Mr. Coleman thought he would have some fun. He raised the newspaper he was reading high enough to cover his face and proceeded to "sound his horn".  As he recalls, everyone jumped up to run outside into the nasty weather to board the nonexistent train. After the passing of several minutes they all started coming back into the depot one by one, each of them muttering, "I swear I heard that train coming..."

I always admired Mr. Coleman's little amusing talent, and was determined to gain the ability myself. I considered myself successful in this on the day I was doing my prescribed practice driving with my Drivers' Ed instructor. Upon stopping to look and listen at a FW&D grade crossing in Vernon, TX I started moving forward and "sounded my horn". The vehicle we were driving had a brake pedal on the passenger side (the instructor's side), and he stepped on it so hard it was torn from its mounting and rendered inoperable.
"What's wrong?", I said.
"I hear something honking around out there!", he said.
After looking carefully several more seconds he told me to go on.
There was one other student with us in the back seat. He never snitched on me, but some 40 years later will not let me forget it.ATSF_Lbk2

Photo by Joe McMillan of inbound #93 at Lubbock, TX


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  • ATSF_Lbk2

Back in 1980 or 81 I was on OJT as an Engineer Trainee working the Pennsy side of Conrail out of Enola going to Morrisville, Pa. We ran over the Atglen & Susquahanna branch down the Susquahanna River to Washington Boro then up over the mountain to Quarryville and down to Thorndale were we went onto the Amtrak Harrisburg Mainline down to Thorndale. Back then we had the Pennsy side and the Reading. Though it was all Conrail it was still ran like two seperate RR's. My Engineer's name was Pete. He came off as a hard-nosed SOB and first thing he said was "hey sonny boy, I am losing $4.00 a day when you ride with me, so if you want any training you need to pay me that $4.00."

I road for a couple of round trips standing over his shoulder watching his every move. On about the second or third trip out of Enola he turned to me and said that I coughed and breathed over him the entire way on the previous trips and should know everything I need to know. At this point he told me to get in the seat and show him what I can do. Now remember this was on the Pennsy side and the old heads ran like he**. We were heading past Washington Boro when the train got up to the the Timetable posted speed. I reached the throttle and backed it off a notch at which point Pete Screamed out "What the he** are you doing, we have a mountain to climb." My reply was to Pete that were up to 50 mph and was told if we got caught speeding we would be terminated. Pete response was, "Hey sonny boy, Let me tell you about Speed limits, THEY ONLY Enforce Them When You WRECK." I smoked two packs of Marlboro's that trip.

He later told me a story about another Engineer that ran this route. He was going down the Coatsville hill on track 2 at a rather fast rate of speed when he went past a commuter train on track 1. The Engineer on the commuter train called Thorndale tower and said there was a run-away freight on track 2 at which point the Freight Engineer cried out, "Hey sonny boy, you run the Kiddy Car, I'll run the Freight. Thorndale came back and replied to get it slowed down he was going to be held at Thorndale, at which the freight engineer replied, " If I put it in the hole Now we won't get stopped till Downingtown.

Thorndale's response was "You will be held at Downingtown."

If you tried anything like that after NS took over it would be instant Dismissal.

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