Among my many interests is railroading. Or as some folks mights say, trains.
How did it all start? Genetically. That is, family. Specifically on my fathers side.
One of my great grandfathers was born in a mining town (Eureka, Nevada) on October 7th, 1881. At a somewhat young age (12), his father informed him it was time for him to go out and make his own way in the world. That led to 8 years on the back of a horse working at ranches up and down the Pine Valley. His life changed the first time he saw a steam locomotive. He knew that was what he wanted to do. And in December 1900, he started a career with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Never rode a horse again, either. 51 years later, he retired. Number 1 in seniority on the Salt Lake Division. His usual assignment, running the fastest train, the streamliner City of San Francisco between Sparks and Carlin.
My first ride in a locomotive was with him. Not a very long ride, but around the railroad yard there in Sparks. I may have been all of 3 years old at the time, but it was a very special moment for me. Indeed, the start of something big.
Yes, as a child, I had model trains. My own Lionel railroad. And my mother’s father helped, too as he had his own classic Lionel collection. Many happy memories recall times setting up the railroad with him. And in full size trains? Some memorable moments include a ride on that City of San Francisco over Donner Summit on Labor Day of 1963 and several trips on the SP’s commute service between Mountain View and San Francisco. In high school in Walnut Creek, I joined a model railroad club and kept right on going. Was a member there for almost 30 years.
Things really ramped up in the late 70’s with a visit to a railroad museum. Here was the chance to learn about railroading and get involved. Over the next 20 years, I did all kinds of things. Inside and out. Worked on locomotives (steam, electric and diesel), passenger cars, freight cars, electric street cars and interurban cars. Worked on track. Sold tickets and souvenirs at the museum store. And finally, railroad operations. Moving trains of all types.
I got the chance to connect with my heritage as a steam locomotive fireman and engineer. While I wasn’t running the same locomotives or same route as my great grandfather, I was doing much the same thing he had done at a younger age. I did consider a career in railroading, but went to school instead; something that everyone I spoke to about a job on the railroads advised me to do when I graduate high school. Instead of a career, I had a hobby.
That hobby has taken me places that I never would have gone to if not for the interest in railroading. I won’t call it love or passion of railroading, for I know that hard work sometimes is what is called for. Even for a hobby, there is never a free ride. One way or another, those end up being paid for.
So I have a great respect and admiration for the men and women who have made it their careers. Many miles traveled to get passengers and goods over the railroad safely. Often long hours under difficult conditions. But that’s what they were there for and they did it.
Today when I don the uniform for a role such as conductor, I do so in their honor. Sure, it can be fun. But if folks hadn’t done it before, I wouldn’t be doing it today.
Railroading has been and always will be about people. Without people, railroads are just so much cold steel. You cannot enjoy (or understand) the technology with the people who use it.
In a coming post, I’ll share the next phase of my interest in railroading and the direction it has taken. Stay tuned!