Thursday, March 10, 2011

Working On The Railroad

Shortly after getting out of high school, I had the opportunity to work for the I. C.  Railroad.
The job was nothing glorious like an engineer or brakeman, but was a job working at night in the switch yard, humping and tagging rail cars, so that they could be made up into out going trains. This was a dangerous job then, and still is today, someone still has to cut the cars loose, in all but the biggest switch yards The job of the switch man.  I found out later that the guy I replaced had lost a leg. It was a pitch black night and he thought he was between sets of tracks, but was standing right in the middle, when a loose gondola car got him. The yard was black except for your lantern and I could easily see how this could happen. You had to really pay attention, as a heavily loaded freight car, rolling by itself is almost silent! I had been warned to watch out for any freight car with the door open, as a bum could jump you and steal your money, or if you found a bum sleeping in a car, you let the railroad "Bulls" handle them. After witnessing the "Bulls" in action, I decided that if the bums left me alone, I'd do the same.
Back in the 60's, many of the older, grizzled steam locomotive engineers were transitioning in diesel electrics.
These old guys would argue steam vs. electric for hours, the steam guys usually coming out on top, because they knew steam would out pull the electrics all day long, unit for unit.
About the best thing I can say about working for the railroad, was that the money was fantastic for an 18 year old kid!  You grew up quick, you were given a job and no one was going to hold your hand, the money was so good, you didn't want to mess up.
Every job on the railroad is based on seniority, so with this in mind, I had a hard time realizing that being a "Yard Bird" could be my job for the next ten years. My mothers family all worked for the railroad, so I had no illusions from listening to those folks that it would be a long time,  for a better slot came open.  I was told that I could have been put on a track crew, "Gandy Dancing" my way through the MS. delta! So I should be happy.
After 6 months went past, I knew the job was not for me, and it was time to get some more education and look for a college to attend.
So I left the railroad and some great money behind. I admire the railroad folks here in the U.S.,
because it is a hard, dirty and dangerous job for the most part. Even for an engineer!
Looking back now, it was a great experience.

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