August, 2002


Tales from the South, or Some Things Never Change Dep’t

(This with thanks to Billy-Bob, who continues to pass on some great retiree’s stories.)

One of my favorite "test" stories happened to me back when I was a brakeman.  Our new
trainmaster at Addis (Baton Rouge) decided to pull a test on us at Erwinville (MP 631).  We had a red block.  When the engineer stopped, I got down and went to the DS box to get a clearance, since our radio was bad order.  The dispatcher says "Proceed under flag protection."  You can imagine my shock at hearing this.  I went back and told the engineer.  He didn't believe me, and he got down to talk to the dispatcher.  Same story.

Well, I got my flagging kit, and told the engineer I was good for 3 mph, and to give me 20 minutes and then follow me.  He did.  Well, it was a test.  The trainmaster told the dispatcher to call us on the radio and relieve us from flag protection.  Well, guess what- no radio on the engine or the caboose.  At Erwinville, we left the proximity of the road and headed off into the swamp.  The next block signal was 10 miles away.  Quite a hike in the summer heat of south Louisiana.  But, walk it I did.  We didn't have bottled water in those days.  I loaded up on water before leaving the engine, but 5 miles down the track I was dry as a bone.  By the time I got to Anchorage Jct, exactly 10 miles away, I was severely dehydrated.  When I got to there, I saw we had a clear signal and tried to give my engineer a big come-ahead.  He was following too far behind too see with the
heat waves coming off the rails.  The trainmaster was waiting at the block signal, and he was cussing me out for us flagging all the way from Erwinville to Anchorage.  But, all I heard was buzz noises coming out of his mouth- I passed out right there in front of him.  I woke up in the hospital. They said I suffered a heat stroke and was near death when they brought me in.  My kidneys didn't work for a couple of days.  Not a drop of pee. Wouldn't you know it; they pulled us out of service for following the rules. The General Chairmen of the BLE and the UTU were fighting it out with management, but I saved the day.  I filed a personal injury report when I was well enough.  When the claims agent saw what had happened, he told the Superintendent he was going to have to pay some big bucks if they didn't beg us to come back to work.  Being young and dumb back then, I settled for lost time.  Since I was on the extra board, and my position would have never gotten out the entire time I was in the hospital, I got absolutely nothing!  When I got the hospital bill (the deductible was on me), I mailed it to the Superintendent.  He gave it to that new trainmaster and told him he expected him to pay my deductible.  A few years after that happened, I was an engineer, and we had a red block leaving Anchorage.  We had a radio, and I got a block clearance from the dispatcher.  For some reason, I acted like I couldn't understand the dispatcher and said, "Did you say 'Proceed under flag protection?'"  Before he could answer, that same trainmaster, who was pulling a block test on us, said "NO! NO!,  He gave you a block clearance! GO!”           Bob C., Retired and Free

Griever’s Corner

Last month’s region meeting in Reno was attended in force by the usual suspects.  Your faithful correspondent was there at the “corner bar” to, uh, soak it all up, so to speak. The corner bar is a strategically located watering hole at the Reno Hilton located at the junction of casino, hotel elevators and meeting rooms.  There were more cars switched on that bar than N. Platte does in a month.  Much business was conducted there and even more politicking.   I have been a critic of some of these meetings in the past and I still think the BS level is a little on the high side, but overall this was a pretty good meet.  This may have something to do with who was buying a round at the time. The Oregon contingent was especially well oiled.  Kidding aside, a lot of work got done and I was especially happy to see the post ’85 faces there.  Some of you union guys are getting a little gray at the muzzle, you know… Note to engineers: Colorado has already cited engineers when their trains start a fire along the tracks. In that state it’s up to one year in the can and a grand out of your wallet.  Think Dickie boy and Ike will back you up? ….After many cornfield meets, rear-enders, assorted near misses and other disasters the nation’s railroad managers are beginning to see that you gotta have some time off or you’re not safe. The real fix?  Jeez, this ain’t brain surgery; BRING BACK WORK-REST, you morons!  Problem?  They think remote control locomotives and one-man crews are gonna solve their manpower woes.  Take all the time off you want…Speaking of Remotes, my spies tell me the Canadians are backing off the “new” technology.  Gee, aren’t these the guys that thought of it in the first place?  The Feds said it wasn’t safe; then Cheney’s boy GW became their boss…. As I write this I’m listening to the news that the Feds are going to make corporate bigwigs personally responsible for their company’s financial shenanigans.  This could change everything.  See Dick run.  Run Dick, run!  Ike who?  Never heard of ‘em….The trains keep on running, though,  in spite of the bean counters.  As of a few weeks ago I hear that the departure time for trains from terminals will be set by the time they pass the AEI scanners.  There goes another great source of fiction on America’s railroads…We here in the Roseville Service Unit are doing our best to be the first to have a Superintendent who has pissed away a million bucks on penalty back pay for dismissals overturned by neutrals. (We’ll happily share this with El Paso) Damn, Just got another one!  Thanks, Dan!  Keep up the good work, I hear a couple of FELA law firms are looking for shoe-shine boys……Work safe and look out for each other,

We Get Letters, Part 1

Dear Snake,

This is for the hundreds of post 85 guys I hear sniveling all the time. Don’t like the direction your union is going? Now is the time. Local union officers getting long in the tooth and ignoring your whines?  Now is the time. Want to take over and make a difference? Now is the time.   Interesting that once every so many years, all local UTU offices are up for grabs. Come to think of it, a lot of BLE lodge offices are up for grabs, too. Its time to pass the baton.  The youngsters have had a chance to collectively whine since 1985 but it seems that recently, their numbers have reached critical mass. 

But, if you want to play the game, you have to know the rules. How does one get nominated for office? When are the elections? What does it take to take control? Better get access to the constitution and the local/lodge by-laws. Don’t make the mistake of coming to the meeting ready to kick-ass only to find out you missed the filing deadline. 

The 3-step Plan (works for either org)
1. Take over your Local
2. Take over the General Committee
3. Take over Cleveland.
We’re talking grassroots here. You have to start somewhere. Stand up or shut-up. Put your vote where your mouth is. The journey of a thousand votes begins with a single ballot. If you want to make a difference, you’re going to have to unite and take the plunge.      Organize. Get a solid group. Talk to each other (in your craft - not the person you are locked in the cab with for 14 plus hours).   If you young pups don’t get your shit together, you’ll get what you deserve. Tired Old Fart

Quote of the Month

"Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest."
(Mark Twain, 1901)

Moron Manager of the Month

This month’s award goes to a new "hired gun" in Yuma referred to as "General McArthur.” This guy just transferred down from Denver (Mountain Standard Time) to Yuma (Arizona time), LOVES efficiency testing, a totally BY THE BOOK individual. Poster boy for "Anal
Retentive."  On his first day at work in the Yuma Yard Office, he was frantically looking for a West Colton Conductor who "the General" was loudly accusing of being AWOL. One of the bewildered TE&Y employees looked at this representation of UP's "finest" and said something to the effect that "He's not on duty for another hour..."

Seems "the General" forgot to reset his watch when he moved 1000 miles (and one time zone) to his new stomping grounds... What does this guy do for an encore, land on the wrong beach on D-day?  Hey General, do you know what Timetable and Special Instructions we're using down here in ARIZONA?  Isn't there a RULE that says employees are supposed to compare their watches at the start of their tour of duty?   Maybe you should put yourself in for some KP duty!!! Just a suggestion...   Knows what time it is

We Get Letters, Part 2

Dear Editor,

I know by now that you and every other troublemaker in the railroad press have the picture of the BNSF crew mooning the photographer around Ludlow, CA.  I must admit I enjoy the spirit of these happy-go-lucky guys and cannot find fault, or a rule violation, in their actions.  However, I do take exception to the fact that several major stockholders in BNSF have identified the butt on the right as mine.  Even though I have convinced many of our major stockholders to kiss my ass on several occasions, and it is quite recognizable, this is a pure fiction as I have never been on a locomotive in my life and certainly do not wear white underwear.  Perhaps a complete interrogation of the crew, with torture, would find someone on the BNSF who is as big an ass as I am.   But I doubt it.
Yours Truly,
Rob Krebs

World Class Railroading, UP Style

The hump at Roseville got shut down around 8:30PM on April 13th on account of a bowl switch that wouldn't work. In typical UP "step over dollars to save pennies" fashion, they would not call a Signal Maintainer out on OT (no one was on duty) in order to save money on that budget and waited until the regular Signalman came on duty at 11:00 PM. So the 150 million dollar hump sat idle for over 2 hours.  Hey, screw the shippers, it ain't in the budget.  Forget that the receiving yard is plugged and that trains are dead in four directions because they can't get into the yard so have to be recrewed (patched, loused, hogged, it all adds up to an extra crew per train), the signal department budget came in on target. By gawd, the budget guru at Signal should really get an attaboy, he really saved the company a ton of dough on that decision.  World-class railroading.

Local News…

Congratulations to two old snakes.  SP Switchmen Jim Cree and Phil Jump are retiring next month.  We’d like to wish both these guys a long and happy retirement as soon as they finish their psychiatric treatment.  This place won’t be the same without ‘em.