Railroader vs railfan
Date: 01-10-2018 - 13:49
Lots of discussion recently about whether a true "rail" can be a fan, or whether a fan can become a competent railroad employee (in train/engine service). Some thoughts: I grew up just west of Chicago on the then-C.B.&Q. triple-track main. Dozens of trains, especially on weekdays, ran daily through my village that was bisected by the railroad. They still do. My grandparent's house was literally at the spot in River Forest where the then-Soo Line crossed above the four-track C.&N.W., and spending time there on occasion further exposed me to big-time railroad action. A move to Hayward, CA when I was 12 allowed me to ride numerous times on S.P Consolidations and Moguls (and "Mallet" 4179, setting out) while they switched what was then a busy location, as well as on brand-new WPRR GP-9s on the Oakland-Stockton road switcher. My folks took me and my brother to Oakland Pier on occasion, where engineers let us up in the cab many times and we rode around on the high-hood Alco switcher there.
So no surprise that upon high school graduation I went to work on the railroad. I've been a brakeman/switchman on several roads, and safety (and obedience to the rules, Bob 2) was always drilled into me. I learned the rules (originally by writing the Rulebook) and worked by them. If cutting off the power of a train being left in the inbound Roseville yard called for setting five handbrakes, then that's what I set, even if the hogger (who had to wait for me so we could take the engine up the yard) would sometimes be a little annoyed.
I knew what I was doing, including knowing the signal systems and the subdivisions where I worked. I believe that I did an excellent job for the company and for the safety of my fellow railroaders. I met a lot of great people...conductors, trainmen, engineers...who were great to work with and did a fine job. Was I (and still am) a rail buff? Sure. A foamer? No. I took the job seriously at all times. I eventually left to go into another field that also interested me but allowed for less time away from home, which pleased my wife. Any job, especially one as dangerous as railroading, can only be done well if approached with the right attitude. My impression was that most of the rails I worked with did enjoy the job, even if they groused about it at times.
One last item, tangentially off-topic: Steady yellow signal in advance of a tight curve. My recollection is that on the Santa Fe's Harbor District main, where it curves 90 degrees from southward to westward as it lines up with Slauson Avenue in the city of Vernon, and where many buildings block the view ahead, and where at least one head-on occurred, a single steady-yellow signal was put in place approaching the curve. That was many years ago but I'm pretty certain it was there at one time. Just sayin'.