Whitesburg KY

From the Army to the railroad

I wrote about this topic before, but a little more won’t upset the applecart, I hope.

Railroading was all I knew about as a youngster because Dad worked for the L&N Railroad. The name has changed since that time. I decided I would like to try it upon leaving the Army so I applied for a job and passed the exam. I got the job with the ATSF ( Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe) Railroad in San Bernadino County in California.

I left the service on Friday morning, Jan. 6, 1966, and started working for the ATSF Sunday night of the same week, from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. I never could get the hang of sleeping during the day and working at night.

I was a ‘hostler helper.’ In other words, a brakeman in the switching yard, which had seven tracks leading into the shop where the engines were serviced. We received a list of engine numbers each night and the track number to put them on, in the order they wanted them. Most times it took all night to get them all switched around to where they wanted them.

Many times I wondered which engines would be the most powerful — the diesels, which had 16 cylinders that powered the electric turbines to provide the power needed since the run by electricity, or the iron horse or steam engine with a full head of steam.

One advantage of the diesel electric is that it can go as fast and pull just as much in either direction, and the iron horse couldn’t. So they had to take them to a round house to turn them around to go in the direction needed. They were not very good at going backward, even for short distances.

The last time I rode a train pulled by a steam engine was Dec. 1963 in Germany on m way to Bremerhaven to board a troop ship bound for the good old U.S.A., which was the USS Darby, and took 10 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean. I spent Christmas Day, 1963, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

A good many of the 1,500 troops on board were still seasick after 10 days on the water. I felt really sorry for one guy because almost every time I saw him he had his upper half in a trash can, vomiting. Most of us had flown over there and didn’t have the pleasure of all that fresh air we had on the Darby as long as we stayed up on deck.

I lost 10 pounds in 10 days myself, because all I could eat was dry food such as peanuts and crackers. But I did get over being seasick after a day or two.

They kept telling us to eat to keep our stomach full so as to keep it from rolling with the ship. It didn’t work for me, because the more I ate the sicker I got. Then I found out about eating dry foods and it really worked.

Well, I better get back to the funny farm and lie down, I am feeling a little woozy . . .

Until next time.

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