In my last week as a trainmaster for the Colorado & Southern Railway in Denver, I realized I was finally leaving the railroad. And while driving down little dead ends in Denver, I happened upon this old tired F9 unit, one that I had worked as a brakeman years before. It was sad like I was .

I had such high hopes when I went to work for the Burlington Northern in 1979. My father had always preached to me the importance of getting a “permanent” job that would give me a place to hang my hat for 30 years or longer and provide a pension and gold watch when I retired. Those were the good old days that everyone talks about but that now just don’t exist. When I went to the railroad extra board as a novice brakeman, I was excited and looked forward to a prosperous career with the BN. When I was given the choice of either being a locomotive engineer or trainmaster, I felt like I had finally been given the opportunity to follow my dad’s advice.

Those were the good old days. In the crazy times today, where people aren’t looking for jobs and careers it seems, but for statues to topple because of some sort of perceived grievance, I wish we were back in the good old days.

Of course, the good old days are hindsight. Sitting up in the caboose cupola gazing out at a vibrant multicolored Minnesota forest on a warm fall day was a time not to be forgotten. But pleasant hindsight is not riding a cut of cars down a narrow sidetrack in a 30 below blinding snowstorm straining your eyes to see how far away the boxcars are that you are supposed to make a joint with. And at the last minute discovering that the handbrake on the propane tank car you are riding doesn’t work.

It’s all in perspective.

I can think of many pleasant memories of my years with the railroad and I wrote about them in my book. And some not so pleasant memories but memorable for sure!

3 views

In an article today in PJ Media, they report that the bullet train is facing dire times and has laid off the majority of its staff, at least partly because of the coronavirus. They have also applied for federal coronavirus aid. Is it doomed?

For those of you not familiar with the Texas bullet train, legally known as the Texas Central Railroad, it was set up to build a roughly 300 mile line between Dallas and Houston with at least some of the right away being built in the median of Interstate 45 which runs between Dallas and Houston. Good idea so far, right?

Not so fast! When the railroad decided to deviate away from the interstate and run the line through the Texas countryside, it ran in to big-time snags. All of a sudden, people on farms, ranches and in small communities did not want a train blasting through at 200 mph destroying their serenity and providing no perceived value to them. Lawsuits ensued.

Some time ago, I met with the general counsel of Texas Central to discuss possibly helping them with right-of-way acquisition. Nothing came of it however, but I was intrigued. I thought it was a good idea then and I still do today. It’s a nightmare to drive to Houston from Dallas and return, and not much better flying. A high-speed train could really fill a market niche.

What does everyone think? And welcome aboard to my new subscribers!

Here’s a link to the article about Texas Central. https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/bryan-preston/2020/06/20/texas-privately-funded-bullet-train-project-seeks-taxpayer-dollars-n556973

11 views

When I worked for the Burlington Northern Railroad some 40 years ago, We encountered hobos frequently. The above picture is one I took on a long freight train across western Nebraska but there were many more all across the system. The railroad police always tried to get rid of them but it was a losing battle. I happened to look up the word hobo to see how it is defined today and believe it or not, the word is considered "politically correct". People tend to have fond memories of hobos if they ever encountered them and I certainly encountered them not just in my railroad career but as a kid bumming around the railroad in Atlanta.


My brother Steve and I were very close as kids, as we were "Irish twins". I was born on January 1, causing my father to lose the tax deduction for the previous year but he made up for it by producing Steve the same year on December 30. Hence the term Irish twins. Steve and I loved to explore the railroads around Atlanta, primarily the Southern Railway and the Seaboard Coastline Railroad. One day, while walking along the Seaboard tracks with a friend, Walter Huber, we spotted smoke back up off the tracks. Curious, we walked several hundred feet down a well-worn trail until we came to a group of hobos sitting on rocks and stumps underneath a canopy of pine trees. They had a big campfire going and a large can in the center of the fire.


"Come on boys, come sit down with us and visit" cried out an old disheveled man with dirty red hair and missing front teeth. I looked at my brother and Walter and the fear in their eyes told me they wanted to run but I smiled at them, turned to the old man, and said "sure". I had always been curious about hobos and now was a genuine chance to find out exactly who they were.


Walter and I were both 12 years old and Steve, my Irish twin, was 11. There were several old logs nearby that we were able to drag up near the fire and the three of us sat down. There were three hobos, one for each of us, and while they looked rough and smelled a little ripe, even with the wind blowing through the pine trees, they didn't seem threatening. "I'm Red", the red haired hobo identified himself, "and this here's Slim", pointing to a scrawny man stirring what looked like beans in an old rusty can. "That just leaves Laredo, who doesn't speak too much because he comes from South of the border". "We all get along though and we've been traveling together now probably three years, is that right boys?" Slim and Laredo both nodded.


"Want some beans boys?" Red asked, and I spoke for our group and told him yes. I figured it would be bad manners to decline and Red scraped some beans out of the main pot into a smaller tin can and handed me the can with a rusty spoon and said "you boys will have to share because we don't have too many bowls and saucers here". I introduced Steve, Walter and myself to the hobos and asked Red where they were going next.


Red scratched his head and pondered my question. I took a bite of the beans and thought I tasted a little sand, and handed the can and spoon over to Steve. He looked horrified. About that time Red cleared his throat and responded to my question, "Well Bill, (talking to me) I guess where the next freight train takes us, as long as it's going in the right direction, isn't that right boys,?" Slim and Laredo grunted yes and continued eating their beans.


"Where will that be?", I asked. "Fall is coming soon so maybe we'll head toward Laredo's way down to Texas or maybe even over to Florida where it will be nice and warm. We might be able to get some jobs down there picking grapefruit or something like that". Red continued, "we sure don't want to go to Minnesota do we boys?"


I blurted out "gosh, I'd like to go with you guys, could I do that? Red just laughed as Steve grabbed my arm hoping he could pull me back from making a terrible mistake. Life on the rails sure sounded much better than daily drudgery at school, being berated by the nuns for not applying myself like they thought I should. And then there was my perpetually grumpy father. Yep, life as a hobo sounded great. I couldn't wait.


Red punctured my balloon. "No boy, you'll need that school and trust me, the life of a hobo is not all that great". I didn't believe him. But he clearly wasn't going to take me and it was starting to get dark. Time to go home and get ready for school the next day.


We never saw Red or his traveling companions again but to this day, I'll always have that sense of adventure I learned from Red, who was always ready to go where the next train took him.



14 views