Chicago & North Western Railway
Miscellaneous C&NW Information
C&NW Operations at Fremont, Nebraska
Interview with Irv Nieburn, a retired C&NW employee who worked out of Fremont, Nebraska. This interview was recorded by Dave Crammer in July 2006 at Fremont, Nebraska in the front seat of Dave's car while watching trains.
I started out as a young kid with the railroad and I'm 73 now. I started working for the railroad in 1951. That was back in the days of steam and they were all oil burners here. I used to work at Norfolk which is 81 miles by rail from Fremont. That was the division headquarters. I graduated out of high school in 1951 and my dad had some contracts with the railroad. He ran a coal yard and sold feed. He had a contract to clean stock cars when they had a lot of stock cars. We had to sand the decks and I did a lot of that. Single deck, double decks and he also had a contract to unload. When the cattle came down from South Dakota and out west like Wyoming and Utah and they would be running short of time because they could only be in the cars for 36 hours. Under government rules they had to be unloaded and watered and fed and rested. My Dad had the contract and he did that for years into the 60's. My Dad sold coal cars to the railroads and as a result I knew all of those guys who worked for the railroads because they bought coal from my Dad. They spotted the cars all over town and I knew them, hell I lived among them. I lived on a street on the north there. If you lived on the South of the street the railroad had a caller to come and get you if you didn't have a phone because a lot of people didn't have a phone. If you lived on the other side of the street and worked for the railroad you had to have a phone. Because as a result of a union agreement that was the way it was.
I hired on as a switchman/yardman for the Chicago Northwestern and UP took it over in 95. I worked for the UP for a year until I retired in 1996. I could have retired in 1995 but I kept working because I was hoping to get a buyout. Some guys did. The engineers did actually but the ground guys didn't. The engineer's union got them $120,000. The last three years I worked here with just the engineer and me and my radio. When I hired on there were five guys on my crew. I had two helpers, a fireman, and an engineer. When I quit there was just me and the engineer. Because we had the radio we did more work and we had a diesel instead of the coal burner or oil burner.
Working on a steam locomotive was dirty. They were real dirty. You couldn't ride the footboard either. You could ride it trailing getting on back and swing around but around the mid seventies they even changed that law because to many guys were getting hurt. Now there aren't and footboards on locomotives because they took them all off in the 70's.
We used to have passenger trains running through Fremont and at Norfolk they used to have a passenger train that would come in at 2:30 in the afternoon. It would unload the passengers and the mail and the merchandise and then we would take it around the wye and then it would go back to Omaha. It just ran Omaha to Norfolk stopping at all of these little towns in between. They also had a passenger train that ran early in the morning. You could get on a passenger train at 3:30 in the afternoon and go to Omaha and go o shop or go to the ball game. They had a lot of entertainment stuff and you could go to a play and then get back on a train there at midnight or so and it would get back to Norfolk about 3:30 in the morning. It gave you a lot of time in Omaha to do whatever you wanted to do in the evening. That passenger train came away from Chicago and went clear across Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and ended up in Wyoming. In the mid 50's they took the afternoon Norfolk to Omaha train off because they weren't getting enough business but they left the other one on until the late 50's.
When I started out as a switchman there was a lot of harassment from conductors because we were a different craft. Different crafts don't get along to good. You always thing they other one is getting more than you are. When they would call me I would work every job. A lot of guys would hide out if they knew a bad job was coming up and they wouldn't answer the phone. By bad jobs I mean like a local at 2:00 in the morning or something where you had to drive to Omaha or some distant place to get on the job. They would pay you mileage but it was about 2:30 in the morning. I'm talking about the 60's, 70's and 80's so there were the interstates but it could still be a long drive if you had to go to Omaha and then swing around to go to Missouri Valley. You could work 16 hours and it might take you the 16 hours to go 36 miles. First you would go to work and they wouldn't have your train made up or you wouldn't have an engine there. Somebody else would have to come in with an engine so you could use it. They kept those engines working all of the time. They never shut them off and they were always going. Sometimes you'd wait for hours and when you were finally ready you got out to the main line single track which was black territory with no signals. Try and move with train orders because everything you met was superior to you. It was get in the siding and get in the siding and get in the siding. It was 37 miles over there and 37 miles back and that is only 74 miles in 16 hours because you spent all of that time waiting for all of these hotshots to go by. That was terrible. We didn't have signals and rather than get orders over the radio we had written train orders and a scheduled time table so we had to be in a siding at a certain time. You could call them on the radio but they wouldn't answer you. The dispatchers were based out of Boone, Iowa which 162 miles away and at the end they were in Chicago and by then they had signals. You'd want to get out of a switch and you'd call somebody in Chicago and say, "I want to get out of the East end of Fremont ." You'd get a red signal and you'd sit there and the guy in Chicago would push a button when he was ready. Then you would get out there and of course you would want to get back or just move over to a different track or the north side of the yard to the south side of the yard if he didn't give it to you right away you'd have to call him again. You'd wait again and it was a joke. I'd always call them and get permission to throw it by hand and then lock it back and then call them and tell them I was done with it. He knew it of course because it would show on his board. All of the switches here are now run out of the Harriman including the ones at the coal fields. That's why all of the heaters are on the electric switches so that they don't freeze up or get full of snow.
Of course you can make them move. I'd do that occasionally and they'd send a guy out to check it and he'd come out and ask, "How did you get over there?" I'd tell him I didn't know but it had been aligned. He'd have a pretty good idea what I'd done but he couldn't prove it. You kept your mouth shut. You'd get over to Blair and you'd switch up above and they had a track that we used to call the "river track" way down by the Missouri River and the industries down there and we had two units hooked together. You could split them apart if you had a fireman or if you didn't have a fireman you could put one of your trainmen up there and you could have one switch down below and one switch up above. Of course they didn't know about that. That way you'd get done earlier and get the Hell out of there. We did that too and that's illegal but we never got caught.
I worked with both good and bad engineers and a lot of bad ones. In the 50's everybody drank and in the 60's and the 70's until they started having random tests. It was bad but who the Hell didn't? That was the first thing you did when you hired out. I was only 18 so I couldn't go into bars but there was plenty on the property. The company didn't bother you either. They just kind of closed their eyes to a lot of shit as long as we got the work done and everybody was satisfied. The superintendent didn't come around much but if he did come around we knew somebody had done something and he was watching now. You had to kind of pay their game too. The last ten years I was working here I bet I took a random test five or six times a year. I asked the trainmaster one time why it was always me. He told me they were random and I just came up on the computer. I told them I didn't believe that but I didn't drink after 1976 when I quit altogether. And I never took another drink and haven't yet. Before that every night I would go home and having had a nip at work I'd stop at a beer joint where everyone was playing cards and pool. I probably bought them a lot of new cars. Even when you'd get off in the morning at around 8am you'd stop for a beer and play cards for a couple of hours.
Right over there is a big warehouse we used to spot. When I first started here it was a little Quonset hut for Budweiser Beer. We used to spot beer cars there and he would unload kegs and cases. He got it all by rail. Every day you'd spot him a car or two of beer. Then we'd go inside and he'd tell us to help ourselves. We'd go into the cooler and sit there and drink a six-pack or two and then go back out and work and there were other places like that too. At the elevator down there they had a jug and we could always go in there and get a good drink. If you spotted them up when they really needed it they'd give you a couple of bottles of whiskey to take home. When we got out the door we'd pass them around. It was pretty wild but we had a lot of fun. We had parties. When you would lay over at different towns you'd get your work done and go to the different bars and dances and fairs. I liked railroading, I never turned a job down in my life and it was good money. I retired at 62 because I was old enough and the UP took over. All my buddies that stayed hate it and when they see me they say, "You lucky dog you're luck you quit you'd hate it now.' The officials are by the book and strict as hell as well as the government and they can only work twelve hours.
Before you had radios it was a different railroad because you had to know every track and he had to know where to slow down. Of course you very seldom had a train a mile long except those big long through freights but most of them were 35 or 40 cars. The through freights that went clear out West were a hundred or more. Stock trains were short too with 30 or 40 cars. Stock cars carried cattle and sheep because there weren't any hogs out West. Wyoming is all sheep and South Dakota cattle. They do have hogs in Montana but we didn't go there and Iowa and Illinois also had pigs. Nebraska is cattle and damn few sheep. In a forty foot double deck you could get a couple of hundred sheep. In cattle cars you could get 30 head of cattle on a deck. That was my job when I was going to high school working for my dad. I had to count them as they came out and count them going in. You don't count them "one, two, three, four" because they would come out the door two and a time or four or five at a time. You had to add them up pretty fast. You'd be off for eight hours and the yardmaster would call and tell you to get em on train. It takes awhile so you would try and get em loaded an hour or so before the train is called.
The best engineers I worked with could kick cars and some of them missed a lot of signals some because they were careless and some because they were imbibing. So your in a yard and I worked in this yard. You'd cut a car off there and put a brake on it and you have to remember that this yard is downhill Eastbound. The cars will go way out there past that plant when they get rolling. So when you kick a car all you've got to is start it rolling. In fact the slack would slam into the west when you put the brakes on and you could pull the pin when it bounced back and then it would roll down the grade. This one engineer we had was really dangerous. We switched with the engine backwards so he could be on the North side so he could see us. We'd say, "Back up John." Before he would even move I'd say, "That'll do." So you had about fifty or sixty cars and you are kicking out one, two, or three at a time. "Back up John, that'll do." He'd just get moving and would put on the brake and that was the way we switched all of them out here. A train came in the day before and came up the North lead under the viaduct and went on the ground with a load of gondolas full of steel. The rails spread and they were in that one track. This engineer was about a mile out there because we had about a hundred cars and I'm doing the "Back up John...that'll do...Back up John...That'll do." Well, he backs up and I said, "That'll do John." and he kept backing up "That'll do John." He kept backing up faster and faster and I thought "Ought oh!!" Either his radio was out or he fell asleep because he was a daydreamer. Another thing he did was that his mind had to click over about six times before he would even move the throttle. He was a slow sort of backward guy which was scary. You could give stop signs, jump up and down and holler on the radio and he would just look at you because it took time for his mind to click over. Finally it would sink in and he would do it. Anyway he was way out there about a mile and I said, "That'll do John ...that'll do...that'll do." and he kept coming even faster so I ran over and turned the switch where these cars were on the ground and he hit those cars at about ten or fifteen car lengths and the dust and the shit flew. Stuff was bent all to hell and buckled up. It stopped him alright . About a little bit later he asked, "Did you say something?" and I said, "Yeah you dumb shit abut half a mile ago I said ‘that'll do'" And he didn't say anything. Every switch crew in the yard heard it because I even switched channels thinking that maybe he'd bumped his radio and changed channels. Even the yard office was hollering, "Stop John...stop John!" And everybody was trying to get to him. He was out. When he got down there the trainmaster was on his radio and he asked, "What happened John?" "I don't know...I didn't hear him." I told the boss that that was what I had to put up with and he said he would just have to put it down as failed radio communication. He fell asleep and I had engineers do that when we didn't have radios. You'd have move down to pick up thirty cars and then he wouldn't move so you'd walk up to the head end and the engineer would be sleeping. I'd be pissed because I had to walk a mile to wake him up. Finally I‘d station a guy up at the head end just to wake him up. You'd learn what you had to do to get the job done. It was still fun and we'd tease each other about stuff like that.
Some of the cars still had brakes up on top of the roof that weren't any good because they were broken and rusty but now it's all brand new stuff. We had trouble with friction bearings . For the hot trains they had a car department at Norfolk A hot train (#117 and #256)would pull in and they would have car department inspectors open the lids on the journals and the guys behind them putting oil in them and shutting the lids. We'd push the packing in the journals. Then the rolling bearings started coming out but that was in the 60's and it was the mid 60's before they really started coming out along with better drawbars. Of course the stuff wasn't real heavy the way it is now. And the rail was light. That wiry rail. You would shove heavy cars in and see the rail bend. It never did break but it sort of cushioned. The big stuff now you can hardly get your foot over it. Yeah I had a lot of fun.
My wife and my boys used to ride the trains on a pass. The pass had their names on it and they would ride all the way to Chicago and up into Wisconsin. Now with Amtrak those days are about gone and it didn't cost anything. I'd just go down to the superintendent's office and they rode "The Rocket" (Rock Island) on a train from Norfolk to Omaha and then got on the "Rocket" that went into Chicago and then up into Wisconsin on the commuters. In the 50's all of the passenger trains were really slick. Fancy fancy. I kept the pass and a lot of other stuff and have books and books of it.
A couple of years ago I had them give me a new knee. I jumped on and off cars so long the knee was blown and the cartilage was all gone. It was fine when I was working for the railroad but when I quit I guess I wasn't using it enough but something happened and it got worse.
There used to be a lot of bridges over there but they took them out and put in culverts. When they had fires those damned bridges would catch on fire. You had to remember where they were to because you would be walking your train and walk off the end of the culvert and if you got off to far you'd break your neck. The bridges never did have railings but finally too many guys got hurt and I suppose the union got on them too so they put on railings for safety.
There a lot of things you used to have to do. Radio has changed things a lot. I doubt that they even have a time table anymore giving the actual times of runs because nothing runs on schedule anymore. It's all extra extra pool pool. When I left you might meet a hundred trains or you might meet none. They ran extra sections where the last guy was a white. You'd think you were only going to meet one train and here they would come. First section, second section, third section.
The Burlington line behind us runs up to Sioux City. When CNW took over the CM&O way way way back around the turn of the century they had a yard in Omaha. The UP had their yard on the East side closer to the river and CM&O had theirs day. You'd go up so far on the lead and you'd be on the UP lead. They were that close and it was the same way down in Lincoln. When you went down to Lincoln you'd run in there and had a joint yard with the Missouri Pacific. If their switcher was in there working you had to wait until they were done and then you could go in there. Of course the Burlington has a big hump yard down there on the West part of town. We worked downtown by the Nebraska Stadium. As a matter of fact CNW owned a lot of that property and the state condemned it and took it away from them and there are dorms down there now and a big post office. There used to be rails laying all over down there. Passenger trains used to run down there in the 40's, 50's and 60's. We used to run trains out of Omaha through here. We'd load up a train in Omaha when there was a football game in Lincoln and they'd all be drinking and raising Hell. They'd come through Fremont and you would go through Main Street and there was a switch right over Main Street right next to the blacktop and that was the junction to go to Lincoln and went out across the "Q" and went out about five miles West of town and there was a diamond where you went across a double UP and go across the Platte River and go to Lincoln. When you got across the river there was a junction there where you either went to Lincoln, Superior or to Hastings, Nebraska. There were three routes there and they'd take the football nuts right down to Lincoln. They'd take them down to the depot and kick them out and they'd walk right over because you were only a couple of blocks from the stadium and watch the ballgame and then they'd get them back on the train and they'd bring em back through here and back to Omaha. Of course you could get on here too if you bought a ticket. They did that for the games and man there was a bunch of drunken brawls. That was before I worked here but the old timers would talk about it and all the fun they'd have. Of course the crew would have to wait until the game was over in Lincoln but that was when you could work 16 hours. I loved working the yard jobs when you could work 16 because you could work a job on the yard job 8 hours and they'd be short on the next crew and you could double over and work another 8 at time and a half so that you would get 2 ½ days pay and then when they changed it to 14 hours you'd work your first 8 and then they would be short the next crew you could double over and get a day and a half's pay if you worked five minutes or whatever but after 6 hours you had to go home. We even did that on the 12 and they couldn't find anybody. Then they started paying the crews $10.75 if you worked a short crew. Instead of having three guys on the crew if they couldn't find anybody you'd get just two men, I mean two ground guys and they'd give each of you $10.75 extra. Big deal. They saved $150 and paid you $10.75. When they took the guy off for sure you got the $10.75 and you was working two men. The other guys offered me and the engineer $18 for a day because you were short again. The company made money there brother. Of course they had big buyouts. A hundred thousand bucks they give us for anybody that wanted to quit at that time. It was $50,000 the first time and then a year later $100,000 and they gave us a bonus too of $15,000 if you were a union man and you signed the agreement. Of course I did because it passed. You got $15,000 cash that year. I think that was in 1991. My kid was building a new house down in Lincoln so I gave it to him and his wife. Now his oldest boy is in second year medical school in Omaha.
I get a good pension but I worked 45 years. I loved railroading. You meet a lot of funny people and a lot of good people. Iowa is kind of weird. The people over there are crazy. That's a big railroad town. There were a lot of parties and a lot of things behind closed doors. You learned fast over there. You don't want to take a preacher with you I'll tell you that. In the summer they would hire everybody and anybody and guys would come down here on vacation from college and there were guys who would come down here and they'd start cussing and one guy was studying to be a preacher. Well, it's like priests and nuns now. I'm a catholic and I went to Catholic school for 12 years but hell now the nuns and the priests don't even wear collars or habits and you don't know who you're talking to. Before all of the ministers always wore a collar or something on their shirt to let you know. You've got to be careful. Of course you shouldn't be doing that anyway but once in awhile it slips out. But I broke a lot of new guys in and they'd drive me nuts. Some of them weren't any good and I'd tell their bosses they needed to get rid of them because they were going to get killed or injure someone. But they didn't want to cause any trouble and the unions would raise Hell and they'd get in trouble and it would involve a lot of paperwork so you'd just put up with it. You learned to put up with it.
You'd get a new guy and put a torpedo in a knuckle and then kick a car. It would scare the living daylights out of him. They'd hear them banging and they'd jump every time they'd hear it. You had to watch it when you kicked a tank car because they could blow up. And you'd let a torpedo slip into the track and when it hit of course "Kaboom". A big cloud of smoke would go up and then that guy would be gone. It was just like a battlefield. One guy was a Korean War vet and you'd put a torpedo down and he'd run and hide. He was really shell shocked. He was a farm kid from up in Pierce, Nebraska. God damn he was shaky that war really shook him up. I felt sorry for him. He was jumpy and not the type of hands you'd want on a railroad. It was bad. I know people that really lost it.
They say 60 to 70 trains a day go through here. On the holidays they can't get anyone to work anyway or have a hard time anyway. You can't imagine all the trains that are sitting around waiting for crews to get rested. On the Eastbound track there are usually two or three trains sitting there waiting. A few years ago they CTC'd this so they can only run one direction. Otherwise to get on it you had to get permission and then it was 10 MPH but now it's CTC'd both directions. You never know which way the train is coming so when you cross the tracks you have to look both ways. Well of course you should anyway and they fly through here. We had trains that ran first class and piggy back trains and mail stuff doing 70 MPH. First Class on the time table. You'd have to get out of the way for them and this was the end for them. From Boone to Chicago to here. They'd come up that main line like crazy. You had to have it clear from the time you left Arlington. One time back in the 50's when these old crummy passenger trains were running this guy came up the main and you'd kick cars down the South side here. Well you could do it on either side because there are actually two yards along side the main line which runs down the middle and there are four each way. There was like a South Yard and a North Yard with two different leads. The lead on this end so you'd come off the main and throw the switch and go down any track you'd want. The lead down there goes out on the main just like the lead up here. So if you let a car go to fast or it gets away on you you can forget about it because it will go right out on the main. It will go right through those switches and jump right through them and usually they don't go on the ground. This one kid let a car of salt go one night and forgot to tie it down and this passenger train was coming up the main and it hit that car of salt and what a mess. The headlight of that passenger train was embedded right in that car of salt. That crew was out of Norfolk and this one kid, who was the fireman, is still alive. In August the union has a get together and I'd say, "Hey Lou remember that night? And he'd say, "Yeah, Jesus Christ." He had two brothers and their Dad raised the three of them. They were an ornery bunch. He's the only one still alive. He was a pilot too and could fly.
There was a guy out here one time when I was working. He was from Michigan and he said his Dad told him about riding the trains some place in Iowa and staying here in Fremont on the train finding work and stuff . His Dad told him these stories about when he had been a boy and he said he just had to come to Fremont to see what he had talked about. He said his Dad told him about the elevator which was built in 1917 and has a big date on it up above. I took him down and showed him the turntable down there and where the first tracks that went to Fremont went. There was only one track down here where they could drop passengers off at the depot. I have a book showing how it used to be and all of these roads that come down here used to go through the yard and up that way too. They closed them in the late 60's. When they built the viaduct they got permission to close those roads. All of those roads went across the tracks. Imagine how many people they hit. Way down under the viaduct it was just as bad and there were roads that went through that yard. Of course there weren't as many freights, maybe thirty or thirty-five. When the yard office was over there I took pictures of it and one day I came down and they were bulldozing it down. It's a good thing I took a picture of it. There was another building over there where they had lockers. They started having a lot of crews coming in here. They got inter-divisional trains. For a long time a UP hot train would hit in up here and they'd stop right here and they'd call me to be a pilot if there wasn't a guy on duty. I'd come down here and line the switch into my yard, there were no power switches, get on and take him down into the yard to where he cleared this end and cut his power and bring it back and I'd get off here at the switch. I'd line my switches back, go and fill out my time slip and get a day's pay for about 25 minutes of work. Pilot job. They did that for five or six years until some guy from Chicago and saw that and said oh no. UP got permission to bring their own trains in and bring their own power back so we lost that job which we had put in claims on for years and years. That was the beginning of these interchanges . Anyway the UP guy would take his train down there and cut it off and bring his power back and there would be power at the house with our train control. The train controls used to be different and they still are. They both no have changeovers to get through the signals, cab signals and whatever. Anyway that gave them permission so then they taught me and the union agreed to equalize out mileage. The Fremont guys would get to work so long and the Boone guys would get to work so long so it would equal out and looks proper but we got screwed but we were the smaller bunch of guys so we were the ones who took the shaft. Anyway they started that so these guys could take their power in and go clear to Boone and they were short of men because for some reason they wouldn't hire anyone. I worked more jobs. I'd get off a train down here in the yard and the trainmaster would come out and tell me to get my rest because I'm going to use you at so and so job. I'd ask him if I should go home and get my rest and sure as Hell they'd call me. He'd nail me before I could get uptown and get dressed up. I didn't mind it. I'd go right back over there. At that time there were five guys on some of the crews and that was when the fireman was disappearing because when they retired they didn't replace them. You had to have ten years to even stay. Anyone with less than 10 years in 1956 or so they just got rid of them. If you had nine years and ten months it was goodbye that ain't enough.
The Boone guys would come here and tie up and we'd go over and tie up over there and that was when we started shooting across Iowa. 162 miles and you could get on those hotshots at 70 MPH. If there were bad snow storms that phone would always be ringing because a lot of guys lived out in the country and they couldn't get into town. On weekends I worked the yard jobs. I had Saturdays and Sundays off and a guy would come up and say, "Irv can you cover me on my job?" I'd say, "Hell yes." I'd come on down and get on a Boone job and go to Boone and come back and Monday morning I'd go to work on my job. It was a good deal for me. One of those jobs they called the "Madam X" and you can imagine what that was. It was a hair puller at 16 hours. By the time they called you and you came down here and got on the train , which was a you name it manifest with all kinds of junk and friction bearings up the ass. You'd go to Missouri Valley or Cal Junction and set out 50 or 60 Sioux City cars. You'd then go to Missouri Valley and pick up a hundred cars and so you'd probably have 150 every trip. By the time you did all that and got out of here and got the Cal set out and got to Missouri Valley and picked up and got your train together and air hoses all coupled it was eight hours right there. 37 miles and we'd go uptown and get something to eat and we'd still have about eight hours of work. We'd hurry up to get back on the train and start and didn't make it to Boone because we were in the hole all the time with single track and single track. There were just certain places where there were double track. They had some double track and the bridges were still there and they didn't keep the bridges up so you couldn't use it. In 1996 UP put all of that back in and upgraded the bridges and put track back in. They use that now. You could only get 150 cars on the track and that was the longest track that was in this yard. It went out to first street without blocking a crossing. From here out to there 150 cars equaling a mile and a half. Then the cars started getting longer and longer. Some of the trains would come in with 2 units and some of them would come in with 8 units. Another thing was that half the units wouldn't run. Junk junk junk and nobody took care of them. UP was the worst. The UP guys would come over and say, "What kind of engine are we going to get?" "Two Northwesters.""Good."
The North westerns were in bad shape but they were a Hell of a lot better than the UP's. They had the noisy big blowers sitting here and the trainmaster came down one day and he said, "I can't stand that. How the Hell do you guys stand it?" We told him it was hard so he made them park them way out about a mile and told them not to park them by the yard office anymore because they were going to blow everybody's eardrums out. Gees they were noisy. Inside the cab you didn't notice it but around it was bad. They didn't run them very long because I guess it didn't work out. Junk! About like those Fairbanks/Morris. When they first came out in the early 60's they didn't last long. They were trouble. It was like buying a lemon car. They got rid of them fast. Wish I had some pictures of them though. They had the long nose on the front and you sat way back. Finally somebody figured out, "Hell why don't we put the cab on the front?" They had a double control and you could sit on either side to control it. A lot of tem tried that but that didn't work out worth a damn either.
I've done about everything you can. I worked in the roundhouse doing rinky dink stuff like putting brake shoes on and lubed em and stuff. I wasn't there long and actually I worked on the rip track for the car repair shop. In Norfolk in 64, I worked there from 1954 until 1964 and then things kind of slowed down and the passenger trains came off and they were losing business and the business was going to Hell. They took off a switch engine which I was on as a regular for years. When I started we worked seven days a week and then we worked six and then we worked five. Anyway I went to work for this guy at the roundhouse at the car department. He asked me if I wanted to come work for him and I said yes. I went down there and worked and I knew the superintendent and he said it was alright so I worked both jobs. I worked with the switch engine on weekends and when they needed me and then he'd run an extra engine and when I was rested he said he'd work with me and that worked great. For two years, 1965 and into 1966 I worked for two different crafts and some of the train men told me I couldn't do that . You know, jealousy and greed so I said, "Well, OK." So I came down here and bumped a guy and went here. I could hold a regular job here. Well then they started bitching because I left and they couldn't lay off because I had been functioning as the extra board. I told them tough shit because they had been the ones that caused it. They ended up having to put up with their problem and I was down here.
I was on a Hormel job over there top icing cars and stayed over in their yard. They had their own yard with a lot of business over there. Everything was railroad with the tallow and the lard and bones. That's all gone too now. It was a big plant. A lot of fun though. Then I came back in our yard. That job over there was switched back and forth. CNW would get it for a year and then the Burlington would get it for a year and then the UP would get it for a year. That way no railroad had a monopoly on it. That was a good job. Seven hours a day usually even though it was scheduled as 7am to 7pm and it paid good. I hardly ever did anything. We had a Way car over there and they would call you on the telephone. We stayed there and read books or slept there or did exercises. There was a telephone in there and they'd just call and say, "Get so and so car and spot it at so and so." We'd do it and then go back in there and set around. On hot days like this we'd go and push the Way car up to the chute and fill the Way car full of ice and we'd sit in there and it was nice and cool with the breezes blowing through like this and with all of that ice in there it was just like air conditioning. It was a good job. They had a cafeteria where you could go in and eat. You couldn't beat that job. You didn't have to lay off either. If you had a doctor's appointment or something you'd come to work and then the other guys would take care of the job while you ran up to see the doctor or whatever you had to do. It was almost like being on vacation.
Over here it wasn't bad either except at night because that was when all of the trains came and all of the industry work had to be done. The day job didn't have to do industry work and it seemed like all the trains ran at night. Maybe it just seemed that way to me because I worked nights so long. Then you had the locals. The locals would go out one day and then they'd get down to the other end and the next day they'd come back and when they got back you had to switch them that night. You had to make them up the night before, switch them and block the stuff to get on trains and then block their cars for the towns when they'd go back the next morning. That kept you busy as Hell. It wasn't just one local. You had the local that went to Omaha every night and it came back. Of course they would make a turn going to Omaha and North Omaha and turn and come back. Then the day crew would never get them switched. Well, I don't think they tried so when you came you had to switch it and make it ready to go back again plus the locals would be coming in and you'd make them up. The night crew was busy busy busy. Then all of these industries with these damn elevators. There was an elevator four miles West of town that we had to go out and do also. We'd run out there clear across the Burlington four miles out by the lakes with forty cars at a time. You had to pull them out and shove them back. You had to take the empties out and shove the loads back in.
This is a busy place. All of the coal trains go to Council Bluffs, Sioux City and beyond. They won't take them over the Northwestern between here ant Missouri Valley because there are some bad hills over there around Arlington and Blair. Bad bad bad. They bring empties back that way but they won't run them loaded because they've had derailments. When they first tried it they had derailments where a guy would be making a run for the hill and derail. Of course that was before they got these new cars. They had these junky old Northwestern cars. When the coal business first started back in the early 80's the Burlington used to bring their coal up from Lincoln from Wyoming and come up this branch behind us and this goes to Sioux City. There was a transfer track about a mile West of here and they'd pull up there, cut the Way car off and we'd put our power on the coal train and pull down into our yard a hundred cars of coal and put a Way car on it and the crew would make a run for it. That didn't work out either. That didn't work out either. At one time they were going to put in a junction where the coal train could come up and the guy could cut his power off and run around it and get on his Way car and go back but they never built it. They figured it would cost to much. In 1984 and 1985 the UP loaned the Northwestern some money and actually they just bought them. That was the merger right there. It looks like it took place in 1995 but they did it long before that.
I used to go into Council Bluffs when there was a lot of railroading there. The IC and Rock Island...lots of railroads there. I used to go down to the Union Depot and watch the passenger trains when I was in high school when I was 16 I'd take people down there to take the train. From the Union Depot you could go any direction you wanted. I'd drop off and then go down to get em at that big depot at 10th street which is a museum now. That's where I saw my first television in 1949. They had a television set in there in the restaurant part. They had a tank there as big as this car full of lobsters where people would come in and say I want that one and they'd take it out and fix it for you. They had a television set in there which had a round screen probably seven or eight inches. It was a great big box with this tiny little screen with this picture in it. When you walked in the door it was right there. You can't all the people who would come in to see that and I did that too. Damn a picture on a screen. When I started working on the railroad and I worked a couple of years and then I bought my folks a black and white 16 or 17 inch and my Dad about flipped. He sat there and watched that and he was only 55 years old. It took a long time to pay for it because I only made $14 a day which is what when I first hired out. When I quit I was getting $179 a day forty-five years later. That job they called "foot-board yardmaster" and you had to direct trains and stuff but a regular foreman got $165. You got $1.81 if you coupled air hoses whether it was one or a thousand. I've still got pay slips from way back.
In January of 1976 I decided I'd had enough of drinking and it's a good thing or I'd have been gone a long time ago. I quit and there were two clerks and a guy I worked with that was my helper said, "You really quit?" and I told him he was goddamned right and he said he was going to try it too because if I could anybody could. By God he quit too. Then another clerk quit and another clerk went to Council Bluffs to a treatment place for thirty days and he never drank again. I got those three guys to quit and one day the trainmaster called me and asked me to talk to Billy because he was trying to protect him and I told him I didn't think so because I knew Billy and if he wanted to quit he would but I didn't want him mad at me because I had to work with him and I couldn't bring it up like that. I told him if he brought it up I would. I never did talk to him and he got fired two times. The last time he was fired he was off long enough that he signed something and he got his pension because you could get your pension at 62 but if you weren't active you had to wait until you were 65. They had some sort of clause in there so he got his pension quicker by signing that paper. Like they hired him back and he quit the following day or something like that to make it legal.
I've got lots of keys too and brass locks off of switches that they used to use. I've got locks from the South Omaha stock yards. It's gone now. We used to take cattle down there. There used to be a railroad down there South Omaha Terminal Switch Engines. You just delivered stuff and they took it and unloaded the cattle and brought the cars back. There was a big elevator on Dodge Street at 73rd and Dodge. We used to spot where Nebraska Furniture is. Yeah that was a busy place. A buddy of mine was running a passenger train one night . He was a fireman and this engineer let him run it and he came flying out of Union Station and that was the way they would run through South Omaha across Dodge Street. It was prom night and there were four kids, two girls and two guys, who drove in front of him and he hit them and killed them all. That guy by the time he filled out all of the papers and answered questions for investigations it was driving him nuts. He'd lay off and take a leave of absence and then he'd come back to work and he'd work awhile and think about it and then they'd have a trial because all of these people were suing them and he'd have to go to trial and take another leave of absence. It drove him nuts and he started drinking a lot and he finally died. That killed him. That was the problem it brought it on sooner. I knew him at Norfolk. Right there on Dodge Street. It was two lanes then and now I think it's six lanes now. I told that to a guy one day and he told me I was crazy. I said, "Yeah I used to walk out there and flag cars." Try and stop em? On Dodge Street you'd get killed. That was before they had the lights, I mean flashers, and you had to walk out there and flag before you went across. Norfolk was that way too. They had crossings where you had to stop and flag before you could proceed and those cars weren't going to stop they'd run right over you. Crazy nuts...especially at night because they don't even see you.
When they first opened the coal fields I bet ten or fifteen guys from Fremont were paid a bonus and they all went out there in 1985 to go to work and they had to stay a year but you could stay a year and then if you decided you didn't like it you could come back without losing your seniority here. Yeah some of them were working for the UP right here. About four of them.
They used to do everything by paperwork. Pencil... pencil...pencil. All sorts of reports and then they got the IBM punch cards. You had to have a way-bill for every car on your train. There was this car of lumber from the state of Washington and it was going down to a lumber company in Lincoln, Nebraska. The way-bill with the IBM card clipped to it must have fell down behind the desk in the old yard office over here and the car sat there in the yard for a long long time because nobody knew what the Hell it was and there wasn't any computer to bring it up on. So they traced it and traced it and finally they found out it belonged to somebody in Lincoln and they slip billed it to get it down there to that guy months and months after it had arrived. One day I was in there hanging around and I reached behind the desk and here was a way-bill so I just kept it and I've still got it. It's probably twenty years old now and the IBM card is still pinned to it with that little silver clip they used so you didn't damage the IBM card. Most people wouldn't even know what it was.
You see that flag up the street? Well the UP used to have this big flag, which they do today, and they had the American flag and the UP flag and one time the CNW president, Jim Wolfe, who used to ride out here on business cars, he'd snoop around or whatever they do and I met him one day. We shoved his business car up there on the track where there used to be an island East of that brick building. The track would go way back there near a fence for people like him for privacy. Anyway we shoved it up there and he was standing on the platform and I was winding up the brake and we got to talking. He was a real nice guy and he looked up there and he said, "How come there isn't a Northwestern flag on that pole?" I told him they were pretty cheap and probably didn't want to buy one. He kind of took it as a joke and we talked some more and about a week later here came a flag and the agent put that CNW flag up there. When they would get raggedy and frayed on the ends they'd take em down and change them. When they started taking them down they were throwing them away. I asked the agent what he was doing with the flags he was taking down and he told me he was just throwing them away because nobody wanted them. I told him I wanted them so I started taking them home and I've got three or four and then everybody wanted them. Whoever was in there when he took em down would take em or I could have had a bunch of them. I sold one for $40 and it was the worst one but I've still got some other ones and UP ones too. They're big because they are 6' X 9'.
Back in the 50's in Norfolk there was this guy that I knew who owned a tire shop and sold tires. I had a truck and I used to take my Dad's trucks up there. One day there was a big warehouse that they built in 1952 and laid track into the plant where they could put 4 or 5 cars inside. Anyway we were spotting them and Chic was there and I asked him what he was doing in there and he said he had his troop of little cub scouts and he was showing the scouts the warehouse and the track and fork lifts and how they stored the stuff and kept it stored. I asked him he really wanted to give them a thrill. He asked me what I meant and I told him I'd put him on the engine and I'd give him a ride out on the main line and down to the yard and he could go down thee and pick them up. Those kids got on that engine and the engineer about flipped and the kids rode all the way out on the main and way down in the yard and to the yard office where they got off. Actually they didn't want to get off. They were thrilled. I gave a lot of kids rides. Where there is the yard office used to be a Coca Cola place where they made pop. If you went in there at night they'd give you a free bottle of pop. These kids would come down there and then they'd stand there and watch the engines switching there. This one kid watched and every night he'd be down there so I went over to him talking to him and he told me what school he went to. He told me his teacher and I told him he lived across the street from me. He said, "You know Mr. Meyers?" and I told him I did. I invited him up on the switch engine and put in the position of the fireman, which we didn't have anymore, and told him to duck down when we were up by the yard office so no one saw him because he was on the South side. We went back and forth and back and forth. I figured maybe he wanted to get off to go home so I called up to Eddy (the engineer) to ask him and he said, "No no." I had a Hell of a time getting that kid off. He came back down another time and was just standing around and I let him ride again. He told me his Mom and Dad were getting a divorce and his Dad was moving to Texas and he was going with him and I wouldn't see him anymore and that was the last I saw of him. That was thirty years ago. Maybe he's an engineer somewhere.
Back when I was working I knew every guy that was on here. They'd all whistle at me and wave. I never considered the railroad a job. I couldn't wait for the phone to ring. Sometimes I'd call them up on a weekend and say, "Hey, I'm here what job do you want me to work?" They'd ask me if I could do this? And I'd say, "Hell yes." I was a brakeman and a fireman though never an engineer but I could run an engine. Most railroad people can really. There isn't that much to it. You of course have to be qualified and now everybody is going to be from the ground floor up.
Back in the late 40's I wasn't in railroading yet but I was helping my Dad and Jesus it used to snow here. I've bled cars in the Norfolk yard many and many a winter where we walked on top of the snow and had to reach way down and you could walk right into the car because the snow was so high between the tracks in the yard because there was no place to put it. Before you even started making a train up in there you had to run your engine through it with the plow on the front and then hurry up and get the cars in there. Sometimes they guy would get on the head end and try to pull and you'd have to go behind the rear end to give him a helper to push and then make damn sure he wasn't on the ground. Damn they were bad winters.
I was single back then and wild. I'd get my paycheck and say, "I'm not coming back." In a coupe of days I'd be broke gambling and drinking and raising Hell. I'd say to myself one more paycheck and it was paycheck to paycheck and pretty soon until I got married when I realized it was too late now. Great times though. We had snow fences on the North side but it was wide open and boy the wind would blow across there. During the bad winters like that when it would start snowing they'd start running a light engine up and down the tracks to keep the snow off. It kept the drifts from piling up. That's another thing I'd do. They'd call me for a number so and so train with an engine added to it because it's headed West so I'd go to the roundhouse and get an engine to put on the point and then make out a time slip and get a days pay and go home. The next morning it would come back and since it belonged in Norfolk I'd take it off and take it down to the house and get a day's pay. Just taking it off and taking it to the roundhouse. Those were good paying simple jobs.
Going West the Black Hills were 132 miles out to Lone Pine which was the final terminal. The Black Hills would put their power on. There were big roundhouses all over. Chadron, Nebraska was a big terminal and from there there was a junction you went up to Rapid City and Deadwood and the big air base Ellsworth up there. During the cold war when they had those missiles floating all over the countryside they used to come through here and guards were on them. As soon as they would stop anywhere the guards would be off and the MP's would be on the ground with 45's walking around. They use to come in here and then they would put them on a different job and they had a coach like with it. That's another thing about the 50's when the Korean War was going on those troop trains used to come down with these National Guard and reserve guys when they would come into Norfolk because they were headed up to the air base where they would train them. A lot of troop trains and they would come into Norfolk and they would be full of soldiers and they wouldn't let them off of those cars either. Because they weren't getting off we'd have to ice the cars and put those big chunks of ice in there and fill the tanks with water because all of those guys were drinking water and showering. We'd sit there with the switch engine and move them up so they could shove those big chunks of ice into the holders beneath the cars. 300 pound chunks. I had a contract for that too when I was at Norfolk in the late 50's. Ice cars and putting salt on them and stuff. I think I got $6.25 per ton. I'd put it in that bunker on top.
Some of these guys are on a long pool from Missouri Valley. They don't stop they just sail right through to North Platte. That's a long pool. They get on at Missouri Valley and go clear to Clinton that way which boy that is a long ways. This (train going by) looks like a junk manifest train. That's probably ethanol and they take that to Blair to the big plant there for Cargill. It's dangerous.
When the UP took us over in 1995 they had boxes of the new timetables with the Northwestern tracks in them. Every time I'd walk by I'd take a couple so I've probably got about 25 of them. All of the towns East of Fremont are on them. Of course in a year or two they throw them away anyway but I've got the original first ones. (commenting on coal cars going by) Those are really old DR&W cars. Those probably had friction bearings and they changed them out. Gees those are really old. They use them now mostly for ballast but now the ballast cars have covers on them so they don't get snow and water in them. They've got different doors on them. You can unload from the center or the side. The company finally thought of that too. When I was on the rip track in Norfolk we upgraded box cars for grain on the Northwestern and they were in bad shape. Cracks in the floors and holes in the sides. We patched all of them. My foreman told me to just get them good enough so that they could make one load. I don't know how many tons of sheets of tin we used to patch all of those holes. I smashed my fingers pounding short little nails into that hard tin and cut my finger off once. I had gloves on and brought my hand up against a piece of tin and then end of my finger was off. I went up to the hospital and they sewed it back on and in the winter time you can still see the scar. In the winter time that thing hurts when it gets cold. When you are out in the cold quite awhile it's too late. You can't warm it up. I got the day off when it happened because my boss took me up to the hospital and they sewed it back on and they put a guard on it so I didn't bump it. He said, "Come on I'll take you back to work." I told him I was going home and he said I could stand around and pretend I was the foreman. I told him OK so I came to work the next day and stood around and after about a week of that he told me I couldn't do that forever so I threw the finger guard away and went to work. He was a good foreman. I liked working, even that job. Some people told me I was crazy for liking to work. I told them, "You like to play golf and I like to work. I get paid and you have to pay them." You could make the job real easy if instead of trying to walk away from it you'd just do it and it was over with.
This elevator down here the guy who used to be the manager and I got to know him and I'd do him favors such as when their little "donkey" had problems and he'd ask me if I could help him out. I'd help him out. He wrote Chicago and I've got a copy of the letter he wrote to the labor relations promotion deal to brag and told them how much he appreciated the help from the railroad here and he named me and the agent who was up here and said he never worked with someone so easy to get along with and who would do anything they could for you. Of course come Christmas time he gave us plenty too. Anything I wanted. Booze, turkeys, hams. He went to the big office in Kansas City after he had been here a couple of years. He was a great guy to work with. Of course if my boss had known all of the things we did for him pulling cars or something. All of the cars they load they have to grade before they ship. If the grade is bad they have to unload it again and add a better mix on top and the mix it in so that the grade comes up. He'd get a whole bunch loaded and it would come up on the end or something and he'd have a hell of a time having to switch it out to improve it and I'd go over there and do it for him because we had that big engine. We could grab anything like thirty cars and he could only do about five and there was no place to put them so we saved him hours and hours of work. On the elevator way down there we did the same thing and that guy is still there. He's always giving me hats and stuff like calendars. A bunch of he guys I worked with belonged to this rod and gun club and there are all of these hundreds of wild turkeys out by the lakes. He'd fill up his pickup with crushed grain and take it down there for the turkeys.
At Norfolk there used to be a lot of hoboes. There was a jungle down there by the yard and they lived down there. There were different guys coming and going and anyone who had a garden you could see along the edge where those guys would run over there and dig up the potatoes but they didn't really hurt anything. We had a pump by then yard office and they'd come up there and fill their jugs full of water. That's what they had down at the rip track too because we didn't have any running water there. When we used to sleep in way cars you took your bed roll and whenever you got bumped you rolled up your mattress and moved to the next way car.