January, 2002


Adventures in Oregon

Greetings from the north end...Here's a little adventure to relate.  After being begged to work off the cut-off board for the fifth time in one day, and after my fifth refusal to do so, our dear friends at CMS somehow managed to add one spot to the extra board for about 15 minutes so I would take a call for an "Urgent Patch Crew".  They lovingly had me "pended" back to the bump board by the time I arrived at the yard 90 minutes later.  So, upon reaching the office and gathering paperwork for my URGENT dog catch, we were out the door within 15 minutes with instructions to call the dispatcher upon arrival at the last town before heading into the woods; and we started our one hour 45 minute drive to the top of the hill where, it turns out, our ill-fated train sat in two pieces blocking both the main and
the siding, with a Z-train stuck at its rear, Amtrak staring it in the face, and the now 14 hours on duty crew enjoying the company of no less than two managers and, as always, non-functioning DPU units on the rear, and no helper crews around (oh yeah, we ABOLISHED them, didn't we?). So, en route after one hour of driving, nature began SCREAMING at our carry all driver as well as the hoghead, so we stopped off at a roadside rest stop for a quick download. As instructed, I placed a call to the dispatcher to check in to see how our train was doing; Yep, it was still dead, and where the HELL were we??  After making the SERIOUS mistake of informing the dispatcher that we were "stopped at a rest stop for a potty break, and we will be there in 45 minutes" we continued on our way. Now the fun begins. Upon arrival at the scene of the, uh, crime,  we were met hastily by a manager with an enormous look of sincere displeasure in his weathered face. He instructed us to "get ON the TRAIN!! Get it BACK TOGETHER!!  Then we are GONNA HAVE A TALK!!!!"  Must be a rough morning for all.  So we happily climbed aboard and found the now deceased crew awaiting us, ALSO looking less than happy to see we were finally there.  They greeted us with pity, expressing their sorrow for the fact that my engineer and I were "DEFINITELY getting Level fours for this one!!"  Obviously shocked at this statement, my
engineer asked: "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT??"  The crew went on to explain how the manager down below was happily headed for home knowing his faithful dog catch crew was en route, when he received a call from, you guessed it, our fearless leader the western region manager, DEMANDING that these two infidel patch crew members be assessed IMMEDIATE level fours for their deciding to, now get this, stop at a RESTAURANT for BREAKFAST prior to coming to rescue the train.           As it turns 
out, our now-under-the-gun-for-letting-a-Z-Train-AND-Amtrak-get-stuck-by-the-no-power junker-now-blocking-the-main-and-siding dispatcher, had, after my calling in as instructed, made a hasty call to the corridor manager, who called the local road foreman, who called the superintendent, who joyously called the western region manager to pass along this false report of high treason by the now not so faithful patch crew. Thankfully, my engineer, NOT being a rookie, went from the cab to about 2 inches off the manager's nose in three steps and DEMANDED to know who, what, where, when, and just how in the f___ they decided we stopped for food after we, despite stopping for the toilet, drove straight through from the yard to the train???  Upon being educated on the fact that the dispatcher had seriously mistook what this conductor unwisely informed him of, and had related to him the logistics that there was absolutely NO WAY we could have traveled one hundred and ten miles through the snow in less than two hours and still have time for a leisurely sit-down breakfast, the manager (much to his credit) was quickly on the phone to Omaha demanding to hear playback of the phone conversation that started all this.  Before we started our drag on south to Klamath Falls, we actually had apologies from the on-scene manager for the "misunderstood statements made by the conductor to the dispatcher", and, last we heard, there was a new dispatcher vacancy in the Harriman Dispatching Center.  Woke up one too many people that morning. So I guess the TRUE moral of this story is, you rookie conductors, DO NOT go saying more than needs to be said to ANYONE!!!  Although I must admit, it was enjoyable to see first hand just how fast decisions can be made, and action be taken by this company when it involves disciplining the help. Now if I could get my claims approved so efficiently.  Too bad I'm STILL cut off, I might have a chance to see this well-oiled machine in action again!!

(Erik sends this one in from the field in K-Falls. Many thanks)

Dumb-Assed Switchmen of the Month

This month's award goes to someone we all knew was a dumb-ass switchman but never managed to get caught in the act. Yes, its about time Vice-General Chairman L. B. Holder was honored with this coveted award. The facts of the case are that on a dark and stormy night, even the griever had enough sense to stay out of the rain, so who worked his job? You got it.  Not only did Bruce mark-up to work a night shift and it was pouring down rain, but he managed to turn a decent quit into overtime by doing his last move completely backwards. Just as he was finishing setting the train, the dinger noticed he had doubled it over backwards, proving the old adage, there's never time to do it right but there's always time to do it over.  First Runner-up Award goes to another union officer.  Jim Feickert, our local prez, found out the hard way that radios work better when they’re TURNED ON.  Shoved a $1.5 mil transformer into the mud on 301 while talking to himself.  Cheeseburgers and warm beer are on the way.

BNSF Management School Axiom #26

“The man who smiles when things go wrong has thought of someone to blame it on.”

Griever’s Corner

As usual, the geniuses at the semi-upper level of railroad management (you know, the real smart ones) figure they could cook up some kind of phony numbers to fool the people who know they are idiots but can’t get anyone else to take the jobs.  So they cut every yard job they can under the pretense of savings and budget.  Then us union guys charge them twice for the job they shouldn’t have cut off in the first place since these same (real smart) guys haven’t got a clue about our agreements and don’t notify the crews right, and then: gee, guess what ?  They call ‘em extra right into another agreement violation.  I expect this sort of stupidity from our local bean counter and his keeper, but I know this nonsense happens all over the place.  Do they think they can run a railroad for free?…I also hear the dummies are planning to “centralize” yard operations by moving all the Hub Yardmasters to Roseville.  Gee, that ought to work real well. Can we see what’s happening from 300 miles away? Oh, hell yes, we got cameras! Way to go! Piss off another group of employees who can destroy you. Good thinking….Good News Dep’t. Now that our so-called leaders in DC have passed RR Retirement reform, some of our more ancient, well-worn members are considering pulling the pin.  Some of these guys haven’t smiled this much in years…If the UP opens a pest control dep’t, Sr. MTO Sam Kephart is a natural for Director. After several complaints about swarms of gnats in the bowl, Sam decided to show us how harmless they are by eating a handful. Oh, well, he used to be a switchman…We hear the BLE is asking for a dues assessment of $25 a head.  UTU folks are used to having their money spent foolishly, but we can offer office space in our new building in DC if it doesn’t work out…Sarge’s Laws of Railroad Discipline, #23: ‘The probability of someone watching you is proportional to the stupidity of your action.’
So let’s be careful out there. Work safe and look out for each other.

We Get Letters

The Twin Cities Service unit of the U.P. is run by Oliver Cromwell (no joke!). This man has done all he can to live up to his name. Daily bitching at his Trainmasters and other officers has had the predictable results on morale. Ollie's management style of "test till failure" and "Employees work safer on a Level" have pissed off the best of employees. We now have trainmasters hiding in the yard with a radar gun testing YARD VAN DRIVERS! (I'm not making this up) This kind of asinine behavior has become common practice on the old C&NW properties. Morale continues to disappear and customers are following suit. Jobs are being cut in the belief that deteriorating service somehow improves business/customer satisfaction. If I have one piece of advice for you boys, it’s this. Don't borrow out to the Twin Cities Division. 

Help Wanted Dep’t.

Union Pacific is looking for managers for the “new” Central Region.  The regional VP’s position has already been filled by a former Emerson Electric exec. (What a surprise)  There are still openings for experienced number-crunchers, cheap shot disciplinarians, and other misfits.  Preference will be given to former Enron managers. 

Political Science, Snakebites Style

(From time to time we stumble onto some profound and useless information about politics.  We will print it here-ED)

"Democrats are ... the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it." 
-P J O’Rourke


(Editor’s note: From time to time we receive some great cooking tips from our kinfolks out there on the main track. Herewith a sample from north of the border.)

"Section Coffee"
Here is a recipe for genuine BCR section gang coffee. I have experienced it. An entire package of Rolaids is recommended as a whitener for those with weaker constitutions!
1/2 handful of road salt
1 Lining bar
1 Large tin camping pot (about 4 litres)
Many shovelfuls of (preferably clean) snow
Two one pound packets of ground coffee
Three or four used ties
Matches or fusees
Four cups Diesel fuel from your machine or gas from your speeder
Have one man arrange the well used ties into an improvised campfire.  Soak well with the diesel fuel and light using the fusee. Don't worry if the ties are sun bleached or still well creosoted. The ones with lots of creosote that are relatively new from train wrecks burn best. They also add to the flavour!   Using the shovel that you just cooked your "Shovel Lunch" with, have another man start melting snow into the big pot. Make sure that it is not yellow from bears, rutting deer, or wolverines. This can add a harsh disagreeable flavour. Droppings need to be sifted out too.  Once the pot is full of boiling water, add the two packets of coffee grounds and stir with the lining bar. Make sure the bar is relatively clean, and was not recently used for prying open rail lubricator reservoir lids.  Let the mixture boil for a few more minutes, add salt, and serve. The salt offsets some of the diesel soot and creosote taste. It is a gourmet experience that your belly will never forget. And, at -40C after working hard outdoors it tastes even better!  (Thanks to Adrian from Fort St. John, BC)

From the Editor’s Desk

Thanks to all who responded to my request for new material.  Keep up the good work! Snakebites is about all of us in railroad land, from the lowest bottom-feeder to the dumbest manager.  So, keep it coming, and thanks again!