Whitesburg KY
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Working for the railroad




As I wrote in one of my previous articles, I was discharged from the Army on Friday morning, January 6, 1966 and started work for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (ATSF) on Sunday night of the same week from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

I was a hostler helper (brakeman) in the Barstow, Calif., switchyards. We had seven tracks we used in the yards. What fascinated me quite a bit was the machine they used to turn the wheels to get the flat places out of the wheels.

I had served six years in the Army and I’m not a bit selfish. I figured I would let someone else have my place at roll call since I already had a civilian job waiting for me. I was never on American soil while John F. Kennedy was President.

Anyway, I started on the freight engines and bid on the passenger engine job and got it. The Silver Streak was a train which ran from San Francisco, Calif., to Chicago, Ill., with only a 15-minute stop in Barstow to switch engines, and nobody got off the train there.

The first night on the job I plowed up the cinders with my nose and a few other places. They used cinders instead of gravel in the yards. I had gotten used to just stepping off of the freight engines which were about a foot above ground on the bottom step. In the darkness all I could see were the reflectors telling me the location of the switches. We did our communicating with flashlights.

The first night on the passenger engines I saw the reflector at the switch to the track I needed and just stepped off as I usually did on the freight engines. But the trouble was I was about eight feet above ground. I hit the ground hard enough to jar my ancestors. One time was all I ever did that. I didn’t forget again.

Our job was to put six engines together for the run. They gave us six numbers and we had to hunt them and service and refuel them, then put them on a siding just off the main track and they would pick up ours and leave their six to be serviced. On the run they normally used two and dragged four. When they came to a steep grade they just kicked in some extra horses till they got up the incline, at which time they shut them down to an idle until needed again. I think each engine’s tank held 600 gallons of fuel.

Sometimes we got lucky and finished our line-up in four or five hours and got to lie around till our shift was over. Then again, sometimes we barely made the deadline without our 20-minute dinner break. It all depended on what service the engines needed and on what track they were located.

I enjoyed working there but I got a civil service commission which paid a lot better. So my railroad job couldn’t compete. Dad made it 17 years before becoming disabled, but I fell far short of that. Dad died two months before his 49th birthday. So I have been well blessed. I am 66. I have a few extra parts installed in me, but hey, I’m not complaining. I can still put both feet under me instead of in front of me.

Well, that’s all from the funny farm till next time.


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