Checkers and Chess (part 1 of 3)

Back when I started driving Frontrunner trains for UTA, family and friends would question what there was to do in the rail yard, and why I would have to work so late. Comments like “I didn’t think those trains ran that late?”, “FrontRunner doesn’t start that early!”, and my favorite, “What do you do all night, when the trains aren’t running?”

No! Even though the yard can be that quiet at times, this story isn’t about how we sit and play Checkers and Chess all night.


They say that there are literally billions of possible moves in a single checkers game. I think it’s a fair comparison to the possible moves on any given work shift in the rail yard.

Even in our small rail yard, with only twenty-two tracks, and a shop with eleven tracks running into or through, the work that may be needed 24/7 is endless.

It’s certainly not an all inclusive, but here is a list of some typical yard work:

  • Trains entering the yard as they end service. (Usually in the late mornings and at night.)
  • Preparing trains to go into service on the mainline. (Usually in the early morning and afternoon.)
  • Trains leaving the yard in the middle of the night. (To begin service at the north or south end of our line.)
  • Moving trains into and out of the various servicing bays in the shop. (For cleaning, Inspections, refueling, etc.)
  • Moving various railcars and locomotives as required for the maintenance personnel.
  • Breaking up trains for (and building trains after) detailed preventative maintenance work.
  • Staging trains in the yard for the next pullout (beginning of service).
  • Testing trains, both on yard track and out on the mainline after certain repair work is completed.
  • All the associated manual switch lining in the yard for everything listed above.
  • On stand-by to go out in the mainline, with no previous notice, if a scheduled engineer is a no show, late, becomes sick while out on the mainline, etc.
  • On stand-by with replacement trains to bring out onto the mainline to swap out trains experiencing mechanical problems.

FrontRunner Shop

Like in checkers, some movements can only be made when doubled up. While some of this work can be completed by one engineer, other jobs requires at least two or sometimes three to follow all the safety protocols. Work directly in front of, behind, or under any part of a train requires some form of protection. For engineers, the mandated protection is to have another engineer guarding the controls with it locked into what we call “Set and centered”. When coupling or uncoupling a locomotive or railcars, the engineer needs to follow the directions of another engineer on the ground watching the move. Sometimes three engineers are required so both ends of the train can be watched while making the move. And always, any movement that is not forward, and with a clear view for the engineer, requires that another engineer is stationed to watch, and to “call the shove” movement.

Like in checkers, the various combinations of everything that might take place during a “report shift” in the yard can easily number in the billions. No two days are exactly alike.

The busiest “Overnight Report Shift” I’ve ever experienced occurred soon after I was licensed. My scheduled start time was 8:00pm. And in this case I was the only engineer scheduled for the yard that night.

Of course, like always, I was substantially early.

As soon as I arrived, I was asked if I wanted to start early because they needed me out on the mainline. I was immediately driven 20 miles south to meet a northbound train that was lacking a conductor. By the time the train reached our rail yard, they had a replacement for me and I was back in the yard.

Because I was the only one on report in the yard, I wanted to be ahead of the game on everything I could think to do, so I headed out to inspect and line the track for the “Pull in” which would start shortly after midnight.

I only made it halfway into the south yard when “Control” called me on the radio and told me to get the spare train ready for a northbound departure. This meant that a train on our north end was having mechanical difficulties and just in case they couldn’t resolve it, I needed to be ready to go out on the main line with a rescue train.

Getting the train ready included turning on power for each car, starting the locomotive, firing up the HEP (the train’s electrical generator), starting up the locomotive and building enough air in the system for operations, “Cutting Out” the Cab car (for Southbound movement) and “Cutting In” the Locomotive (for Northbound movement), and performing the required brake tests, which included a lot of walking back and forth to visually confirm that the brakes were doing what they should when brakes were applied and released.

By now Control informed me that they did in fact need my replacement train out on the mainline ASAP. I still had to manually line the yard switches for my northbound departure and go back into the operations room for my backpack (which has all my required paperwork to drive the train on the mainline).

It’s surprising how long all that takes to do when you have to do it by yourself.

Finally, I was back out on the mainline, this time driving the train. We made a “Train Swap” where the train crew and passengers continued north in the train I brought to them, and after all the needed brake tests, I “limped” that train back to the yard for repairs. In this case, the broken train could not proceed northbound, but by cutting out the locomotive and cutting in the cab car, I could still drive it southbound.

On my return, finally I was able to walk the rail yard and line the switches to start the pull in. And that’s when the fun began. For the rest of the night I moved as quickly as possible, from one thing to the next. Always there were at least three for four things patiently (and sometimes impatiently) waiting for me to get to them. To condense my story, a sampling of my activities that night are reduced to this bullet list:

  • Direct incoming trains where to go as they enter the yard.
  • Line the track for the next train as each one enters it’s designated track.
  • Help tie down each train when it comes to a stop.
  • Line track for each train to move out of the servicing bay and to it’s parking place.
  • Test the repaired “Broken train” from earlier with movement through the rail yard.
  • Move each train out of the shop and to their parking place as maintenance releases them.
  • Continually reline track as each train moves back and forth to reach it’s correct parking position.
  • After moving each train out of the shop, drive the next one waiting behind it into the shop so maintenance can service, clean, and inspect.
  • Each time I have a train to move, specific protocols must be followed including walking the entire consist and releasing several hand brakes.
  • Of course all of this is done in the dark of night and on hard to walk on “ballast” rocks that the railroad tracks sit on.

Like in my best attempt at playing checkers, I was always thinking as many moves ahead as possible. After tying down this train, here in the east yard, do  I have time to walk back and line the track of the east and north yards for the next train out of the shop? Or should I cut straight across to the south yard to line it for the next inbound train and then move the next train in cue to the waiting servicing crew?  Sometimes a little delay now will save a lot of time later.

Even for someone who’s not afraid to walk a lot, and in fact in the habit of running about 10 miles in my off duty time, this was a very busy night of work. By 6:00am, the end of my shift, I was dead tired.

Confessions of a Railroad Engineer – What I Fear

Back when I began my training as a railroad engineer, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the well developed safety culture. It left what I saw from the food processing industry, that I had just come from, looking rudimentary by comparison. But, I thought it made sense that 180+ years of trial and error, learning from past disasters, and literally generations of refinement would evolve into a very mature safety culture.

Railroad terms such as “The Red Zone” used to describe the immediate area in front of, behind, and under a train that requires specific protocols to be adhered to, paint a graphic picture in my mind of how they got their names.

Breaking certain critical railroad safety rules would cause me to lose my engineer license immediately, as mandated by the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration). So I need to be constantly vigilant in the many procedures that can easily become routine, then mundane, and finally forgotten just once. For example, the average passenger has no idea how many different types, and how frequently, brake tests are performed on each train in service throughout the day. If I forget one of them just once, I’m decertified.

A common cliché, passed along as one engineer takes over the train from another is “Be safe”.

But with all of this talk about what we need to do to “Be safe”, what I fear the most are the safety rules broken by our passengers and by the public in general.

What I Fear:


Unlike how it’s depicted in movies and other media, railroad engineers don’t like seeing someone in our space along the railroad track. Our anti-social behavior of blasting our horn and radioing in for the police instead of the friendly wave like I just watched again on a “Rocky” movie is meant to save lives. This is trespassing into dangerous territory. People who do this sort of thing do not understand the dangers.

For one, there is an optical illusion in play. The size of the train makes it’s speed seem deceptively slower than it may be.

It’s impressive to me, that from a certain angle, how a large jumbo jet that is landing seem to just hang in the air over the ground. It seems to me that it is hardly even moving, when in reality even the latest and greatest 747 jumbo jet with full flaps and slats deployed, it’s slowest speed in the air is still moving at 125 mph. Our trains only go 79mph. But that’s too fast for an unsuspecting trespasser who has misjudged our speed to get out of the way. The shear mass and power of our trains plow the air like a fast moving winter plow in deep snow. The resulting “Wind wake” may suck you into the train rather than blow you away.

For the railroad engineer, is also the fear that the person in front of me on the track is there to end it all. Suicide by train is more common than most would think, and is only reported in the media when the resulting transit disruptions impact and cause delays to many people. Whether they are just being stupid or are there to end it all, we don’t like seeing anyone even close to our danger zone.

Railroad Crossings

Crossings at grade (where surface streets cross railroad tracks) is another possible area that can cause me some fear. As my train approaches our South Jordon Station from the north, I can’t help but notice a street that no longer crosses the railroad tracks. Back in 1938 this street had one of these “at grade crossings”.
School bus crossing 5
The school bus driver, slowly moving through a bad winter blizzard with high winds and almost zero visibility had stopped here but still didn’t hear the train coming. The northbound Denver & Rio Grande Western hit that bus of 39 high school students, killing 22 of them as well as the bus driver. As the worst school bus – train accident in US history, this tragedy led to our nationwide laws requiring buses to stop at all railroad crossings and open the bus door so the driver can both look and listen for oncoming trains.
School bus crossing 6School bus crossing 7
Now as my train moves through the many crossings in our railroad alignment, the biggest crossing hazard isn’t the bus driver who has been trained and is following the crossing safety rules that were written in blood, but the unwary other drivers who like to play Russian roulette.

I fear the impatient driver who has seen too many movies where a stunt driver beats the train in a spectacular fashion. But just as scary to me, is the timid driver who is slowly entering the crossing when the gates come down. Please know, timid driver, that if you become “trapped” by a lowered exit gate, do not stop on the tracks. The railroad wants you to keep on going through it. The gate was made to breakaway in such an event and can be repaired surprisingly quick.

Any time I’m approaching a crossing that is occupied by another passing train, I hope there isn’t someone on my tracks waiting for the train in front of them to get out of their way. They wouldn’t be looking my way or hear me coming. Worse than that is the impatient driver who darts in behind the passing train just as it clears the crossing. I might just then enter that same crossing on another track going 79 mph. The possibility of those same impatient drivers in heavy fog scare me for similar reasons.


In my work in the food industry, we would have never considered allowing the general public easy access to our heavy active machinery with nothing more that a yellow warning strip to protect them. But in reality, when our trains are entering the station, the potential for disaster is greater then in those manufacturing plants.
Yellow warning strip
It seems that the more teens and young adults get together in social situations, the more they feel immortal, like nothing physically can hurt them. Their “bravery” scares me when my train is entering the station.

There’s a reason that horseplay is always banned in the first tenants of any workplace safety manual. This kind of rowdy behavior, which throws caution to the wind for just a few moments as part of having a good time, can turn a jovial carefree moment into a lifetime of regret and sorrow.

The curmudgeon in me comes out when a teenager’s attempt at flirting with his date includes pretending to shove his gal in front of the train and then saving her by pulling her back to safety. Darting in front of my approaching train in the station crosswalks, or bravely standing on the yellow caution strip and patting the railcars is dangerous. As my three quarters of a million pounds of machinery comes lumbering into the station, I may still be moving 30 mph while slowing to the proper stopping location. Their fool hardy antics scare me to death. As much as I’d want to, I can’t make a sudden stop to compensate for their miss-judgement. An emergency stop, where we dump all the brake system air and suddenly lock-up all the wheels on the train, will only stop the train 20% faster than our regular full service braking action. As the cliché goes, “It’s hard to stop a train.”

Rowdy teenagers, seeking a good time out on the town, aren’t the only ones who seem to miss the sense of potential danger as trains enter and leave the station. Too often, I am scared to death for small children whose parents are on break from parenting at the train station.

I know common parenting practice now days includes more reasoning with the child then forcing behavior on them, however personally, I’d like to see the child live long enough to learn the consequences before making poor safety choices, like testing their limits at the railroad station.

Once a few months ago, on my way to work, I was waiting for the train along with the other passengers including a mother and her tween son. The rambunctious boy ignored his mother’s pleas to stay off the edge of the platform and down by the track. By the time my curmudgeon self stepped in, the train was approaching the station. My rant began with, “Your mother is right…” and ended with a condensed version of if he slipped and fell over the edge, that train right there couldn’t stop in time and you would be ran over. I don’t know if it was my gruff old man voice or the official looking uniform, but that kid lived to ride another train.

On another occasion it was night time at our Salt Lake Central Station. This time I was waiting for my ride home. I watched as several young families also waited for their train. They seemed to be extended family with the several couples seated on the available benches while the dozen small children ran and played some sort of tag game. People watcher that I am, for the next ten minutes, I paid close attention to how these small children darted back and forth from edge to edge of the island platform we were on. It made me uneasy to see the younger ones of the group, toddlers, teetering on the edge next to the track as they played. None of the parents seemed to look up or notice anything about what their happily playing children were doing. The clanking of the train bell seem to alert everyone except these parents and their children. The adult talking continued as did the now dangerous tag game. By the time I was finished reacting to that one, I should probably call my self “The Curmudgeon” instead of “The Story Teller”. Am I the only one who senses danger?

As engineers departing the station, we look back in our mirrors to ensure all is safe behind us. Too often, I see a late would be passenger, running along the platform banging on the door trying to make a dramatic entry like they’ve seen in the old movies. One slip in the 8 inches between the platform and the moving train would be a gruesome scene for everyone there. This futile attempt to open the locked doors is not worth it. I’m thinking that it’s better that they kill 30 minutes waiting for the next train than themselves trying to get on this one.

My biggest scare

To finish my confessional, I’ll tell about the time I have been most afraid while driving the train. It was just a routine morning commute. I was headed south, picking up my regular passengers who ride the train to work everyday. These passengers are mostly seasoned commuters who know the pattern of rail traffic flow every morning and night. Some of them rarely look up as they flow like water, and stream 9onto the train and off again. And that’s why this story got so scary to me.

There had been switching problems up ahead which cause my train to meet another train in a station instead of our usual siding. I thought nothing of it when my train was routed into the east side of the platform instead of our usual west side. As I approached, my regular riders were approaching the station like they always do. My lights and bell were on as usual.

One man, approaching the crossing onto the station platform, had his ear phones in and his phone in his hands. This was normal, but I did make sure we had eye contact so he was aware I was there, coming into the station. He looked at me and then back down at his phone as he stopped walking right in front of the crossing. Moments later as my train just reached the crossing, with his head still down looking at his phone, he started walking again. As I slammed my hand down for the horn button, I didn’t know if I had hit him or not. Then the flash of his shocked face in my mirror told me he was as scared as I was.

Why did he do that? He knew I was there. We made eye contact and he had stopped. I have wondered about that many time since. Was he so used to me coming in on the other side that he somehow thought I was on the west side even though he saw me on the east side? His brain was focused on whatever was on his phone.

Habits and mussel memory are powerful things. That’s why you don’t even think about what you are doing when you work the controls in your car or when you turn on a light in your own house. I’ve learned to change what I normally do whenever there are small changes to my routine. Then I’m even more vigilant in looking out for the safety mistakes others might make. I don’t care if I look like and old curmudgeon for blasting my horn for no apparent reason. I’ll do whatever I can to make my train safe to be around.

Fay Tillack Haroldsen – May 6, 1931 ~ April 3, 2016

In the height of the Great Depression, Fay Tillack was born on May 6, 1931 in Cardston, Alberta, Canada. She was Ernest and Gladys’ first child.
Baby Fay
A few years earlier, Ernie’s family farming future dissolved when the value their farm commodities dropped to nothing, and they couldn’t even give them away without paying the transportation cost. So with Glady’s encouragement, Ernie learned a new trade in barber school.

So at the time Fay was born, this young family was living in the small town of Cardston, where Ernie worked in a hotel barber shop. Fifteen months later, Fay’s younger sister, Winone was born. During the next year Winone had health problems, and business at the hotel barber shop proved to be poor, so when Fay’s Grandmother and Step-Grandfather, Tom and Sarah Burrill, decided to move to the greener pastures of the British Colombia Coast, Fay’s parents decided to tag along.

Struggling to get established in this new place, Fay’s family lived with her grandparents in Victoria, on Vancouver Island.

Happy memories Fay kept from that time include, going on walks with her Grandpa Burrill, playing in large piles of leaves that were everywhere in the fall, and searching for acorns and filling Grandpa Burrill’s pockets with them.

It was while living here on Vancouver Island that Fay was playing in a sandbox that Grandpa Burrill had made for the little girls. She saw a worm, and went running into the house yelling, “Snake! Snake!” Strangely, Fay was never afraid of spiders, but for the rest of her life, she did NOT like worms or Snakes!!!

After about a year, Ernie and Gladys moved from Victoria to Vancouver were Ernie could strike out as an independent barber. The young family arrived with 50 cents in their pocket, and a dresser drawer full of apples. The 50 cents was spent on a quart of milk, a box of corn flakes, and a loaf of bread.

Their three room apartment was behind the barber shop with no outside door. When the two little sisters wanted to play outside, Fay’s mother would lift them out the back window so they didn’t disturb their dad at work in the barber shop.
Ernest at work
Fay had never seen her dad cut hair before. She was totally fascinated as she watched. After a while, a lady came in with her little daughter. Ernie started to cut the woman’s hair while Fay and this little girl went outside to play. Fay had taken a pair of scissors with her, so she proceeded to cut the little girls hair. When it was all over, Fay’s mother was NOT a happy camper. Ernie couldn’t charge the lady for her haircut, and he had to trim up the little girl’s hair as well. It was probably one of the naughtiest things that Fay ever did.

They lived in this apartment behind the barber shop for about two years. From there they moved to a small house. Here Fay became friends with Pat Gregson who lived on the same street.

Both families were LDS. The only church members in the area. Gladys and Mrs. Gregson started the first primary in Vancouver. The only LDS kids were Fay, Winone, Pat, and her brother Walter. But other neighborhood kids joined in and so there were over 20 kids attending. Gladys and Mrs. Gregson weren’t called to this position. They just did it. It did eventually evolve into the first official LDS church primary in the Vancouver area.

Before the Tillacks began to feel a little wealthier, they would walk everywhere or take the bus or streetcar. Back then, Ernie sent his family on a street car and then walked the 5 miles to church to save the additional nickel.

Eventually they had a car, and the family purchased a home on McKay Avenue, near where Ernie owned a barbershop. This was about a mile from Central Park. These are the stomping grounds that my brothers and sisters and I later learned to love on our many visits to Canada and Grandma and Grandpa Tillacks place.
Fay's Curls
As a little girl, Fay had always been a little jealous of Winone’s curly hair. One day while Ernie was working in his wood shop, he pulled some curly wood shavings out for Fay and put them around on her hair so she could have curls. We have a picture of our mom in her wood shaving curls.

It wasn’t long after the family moved to Vancouver that Grandma and Grandpa Burril moved from Victoria as well. They bought a little 5-acre farm in Surrey, which is only about a 25 minute drive from the US border.
Tom Burrill Gardening
Fay loved to go to their place. They had chickens, goats, and all kinds of garden produce, cherry trees, raspberries, blackberries and boysenberries. It was a paradise. The first time that Fay ever heard the word irrigating was here. Grandpa Burril would hand dig little ditches around their 5 acers of crops. Grandpa Burril also made a little playhouse for Fay and Winone and a swing set.

Fay loved coming to this farm so much and taking care of the chickens and the baby goats that Grandma Burril made a five dollar bet with her, that someday she would marry a chicken farmer. Fay ended up losing the bet. But the family joke was that she was too poor to ever pay her grandma back, BECAUSE she had married a chicken farmer.

Fay also hated a snot nosed little kid in the neighborhood named Norman. She vowed she would have nothing to do with any Norman. Then later, after she was married to a chicken farmer named Norman, when she told us kids these stories, she’d always finish with the advise, “Don’t ever say what you’re NOT going to do”.

In 1940, When Fay was nine years old, her little brother Keith was born. Winone didn’t like losing her position as the baby of the family but Fay was delighted to have a little brother.

One of Fay’s favorite activities during the summer was to swim. She and Winone could almost always talk their dad into taking them to the beach when he got home from work at night. He was always willing. Sometimes, Winone and Fay would take a streetcar to the beach and spend the entire day. When Ernie got off work he would go and get them.

Attending school was never an enjoyable experience for Fay. In those days, the teachers were allowed to use straps on the students, and they were very strict with them. Although she never actually got “strapped”, Fay came pretty close because of not doing her homework. In spite of the harsh environment at school, Fay had the most beautiful handwriting, which has been envied by many, and she developed a love of reading and was an avid reader her whole life.

All of Fays friends were also church members, except one best friend named Pat Richards. Winone was also friends with Pat’s younger sister, and the four of them did things together like pajama parties at each others homes. Pat and Fay were friends all through school, and they occasionally double dated to high school dances. Fay and Winone were the only Mormon girls in the whole school and they didn’t really go to many dances there.

Most of Fay’s social life was connected with their activities in the church. It was a small Mormon branch looking for any excuse to have a party or a dance. These were the kind of dances where a lot of people would come, and everyone danced with everyone else.

When Fay finished school, she wanted to go into nursing. But when she realized how long the training period was, and how much studying would be involved, she decided this was too much like the school, which she did not enjoy.

Instead, she went to work as a telephone operator. She was the kind of operator that would say, “Number please? Thank you.” And then she would plug it in. She worked there for 2 years. She brought home a paycheck every other week of about $45.00. She would pay $20.00 per month out of that to her mother for room and board.

One thing that she used to do was watch for her own phone number on the board. She knew what the number was and where it was located.

Once while she was working, she got a phone call from a very panicky woman. The woman told her that there was a dead man in her basement. Fay wasn’t allowed to really “speak” to the woman. All she could say was “one moment please” and then she rang for her supervisor so she could get her some help.

It was about this time that Fay met Norman. She was attending one of the church dances with her Dad and Winone. Her younger brother, Keith, was too little and her Mom didn’t go either.

When she first saw Norman, she thought he was a missionary breaking the no dancing rules. Then she realized that he probably wasn’t a missionary because he wasn’t wearing a suit and tie.

She had seen the four of them come in the door with the regular missionaries, and she wondered who they were. This was a small branch where everyone knew everyone, and they didn’t have strangers come very often.

Her father, Ernest, must have liked what he saw of Norman because when Fay asked if Norman could give her a ride home, he said, “sure”.

The next morning, Norman picked her up and they drove all over the city. Fay had to work that day so he dropped her off at the Telephone Company later on.

Norman would make the trip to Vancouver to see her when he had breaks from school. He drove up at the end of the semester in January in his 1936 Ford car. He stayed in a cheap motel on Kingsway and remembers going over to their house and playing ping-pong in their basement.

During Easter break, Norman went to visit Fay and they ended up going to Horseshoe Bay with Winone and Pat Richards. They paddled around in the canoes and had a pretty good time.

Then Fay and Norman sat in the car in the Tillack driveway having a pretty good talk and listening to the radio. Their favorite song was . During the course of their conversation, it was decided that they would marry. In the morning they both kind of wondered if what they thought had happened, really had happened.

Fay always had a wit and sense of humor that later we children, grandchildren and others enjoyed in person and on Facebook. A month before the wedding, Fay attended Norman’s college graduation. Fay’s wit and sense of humor was present as she sent a card to her mom telling of her safe arrival. “I’m here; he’s here; we met. I’m hungry; he’s hungry; we ate.” Then later she was already in bed in a shared rented room when she met her roommate, Betty, in the dark of night. Fay said, “I hope you’re Betty.” And Betty answered, I hope you’re Fay.”

After the Graduation they traveled to Idaho Falls to make wedding plans and then Fay returned home to Canada. Within that one month, the Korean War broke out, and the threat of Norman going to war loomed over them.
Norman & Fay Wedding
On July 28th, 1950, Norman V. Haroldsen and Fay Tillack were married in the Idaho Falls Temple. After a fabulous reception hosted by Norman’s parents, the honeymooners headed to Canada to secure Fay’s visa so she could immigrate to the USA. Getting the visa took longer than they had planned and while waiting, they took a side trip to Victoria where Fay lived as a little girl. They mostly stayed in the hotel because of the windy stormy weather outside at the time, but the lobby of the hotel, spread with big banners about the war which threatened to take Norman away didn’t bring much cheer either.

In the end, Norman wasn’t drafted, and they settled into their new life on Norman’s childhood farm in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Norman and Fay were now ready to start their own family. However, after the first few years of miscarriages, Norman and Fay were afraid they couldn’t have any children. Then finally, the stork started making deliveries. Brian was born in December of 1952, followed 11 ½ months later by Keith. Then a little later, Gary Kent was born in May of 1955.

So Fay gave up her “Big city life” on the temperate British Colombia Coast for the rigors of “Small farm life” in the sometimes harsh climate of Southeastern Idaho.

It was in this winter setting in December of 1956, that the unthinkable happened. Eighteen month old Gary Kent had been sick with the flu, as had the whole family. But he wasn’t getting any better so they took him to the doctor. The doctor treated his symptoms and sent him home to bed. The next morning after early chores, Norman checked on him. Gary had died in the night.

Even years later, when we as a family visited Gary Kent’s grave, a Memorial Day tradition, Fay’s raw tender feelings of grieving were fresh. Now almost 60 years later, as we feel the raw tender feeling of grieving, Fay’s joyous reunion with Gary Kent has finally come.

A year after Gary Kent’s death, in the end of November, a baby girl was born. Fay had planned to give her first daughter a name that she had always loved, and after having four babies, she could finally call her daughter Linda.

Linda was spoiled with many gifts because she was the first girl born into the family. Fay loved dressing her up and doing her hair.

After eight years of living and working the family farm with Norman’s dad, they realized that their future was going nowhere. In 1958, they purchased a small fledgling egg farm in Rexburg, about 25 miles north of the Idaho Falls family farm.

In the ensuing years, as the egg business grew, so did Norman and Fay’s family. Eventually, Fay became mother to four more of us. Ronald, Warren, Laurie, and later the family caboose, Catherine came along.

Our family life was great on the farm. We worked and played, and quarreled and prayed, on this little 28 acre world of ours, and our mom, Fay, was the center of it.

In the early days of our egg farm, Norman also worked at the sawmill. So Fay would get the kids up and going in the morning. Then she’d have older brothers Brian and Keith watch baby Linda while she went out to gather the eggs. Her city upbringing hadn’t prepared her for the odors associated with farm life, so she popped a couple of peppermints in her mouth to mask the odors and worked as fast as she could to finish before the mints were gone. Even in later years, Mom always had a bag of peppermints on hand.

This was their life all summer that first year. Dad worked at the saw mill and hated it, wishing he was working on his farm, and Mom worked on the farm and hated it, wishing she was at home caring for her family. Every two weeks, Norman brought home his $65.00 pay check and they would look at their finances to see if they could make it on their own yet. Then on Monday morning he’d go back to the sawmill, and she’d go back in the chicken coop.

Finally, at the end of the summer, when they reviewed their finances, they decided they could finally make it on the farm income. Dad had told me that was a happy day for them, and their celebrations ensued. I’m sure it was just a coincidence that I was born 9 months later.

While living on the egg farm, not all the perils of life were metaphorical, there were also real fires, floods, and earthquakes.

The big Montana earthquake, which damaged our house and messed up our egg production was just a few months after Ronald was born.

In the early spring of 1962, a heavy spring run off flooded the community. Our egg farm was included leaving our house sitting on the only “island” in sight. Fay was very sick and pregnant with Warren, who was later born in June. The National Guard actually paddled a boat up to our house with medicine for her.

Away from the mild temperatures along the Pacific Coast where Fay grew up, even the summer weather was sometimes harsh on her. A year later, late in July of 1963, while trying to watch an air show, Fay got sunstroke and became very sick. Two days later, Laurie was born.

I guess we could include Catherine’s birth in these peril stories with harsh winter weather after her birth, but that is just part of the normal Idaho weather that Fay hated but endured.

The earth quake of ’59, the flood of ’62, the big fire of ’71 (our largest chicken coop burnt down that time), and the Teton Dam flood of ’76 are just a few of our perils of living on the egg farm during those years.

In 1967, Norman and Fay started to build their “dream home”. Fay had told Norman that the longer she had to wait the more elaborate it would be. Norman was glad he hadn’t waited any longer. When it was finished, along with the 7 bedrooms, living, dining, family, and laundry rooms, the down stairs was a winter-time party paradise, with a ping pong table, a pool table, movie theater, a player piano, and a second fire place perfect for those summertime picnics held in the cold of winter.

Fay hosted many gatherings for family and friends in her nice big house. But it was also a very big busy place to keep clean which she worked at tirelessly.

As a family we worked hard and then played hard before it was cliché to say. A typically observed holiday would begin with the boys up early trying to do a whole days work by noon, while the girls worked on preparing a fancy picnic feast. We’d then breakaway to some exotic location like Jackson Hole, West Yellowstone, or Island Park, or just down to Taudphus Park, my personal favorite.

Besides our holiday picnic getaways, other family activities were also memorable, like our Saturday afternoon float trips down Warm River. Of course those always ended in a nice picnic spread as well.

Norman and Fay always loved to travel. Besides the countless road and rail trips to Canada and all over the lower 48 States, they traveled the world including: Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, England, Austria, Italy, Greece, Egypt, France, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.
Fay on Camel
Fay would say that you can never get enough of Hawaii, and she went back there several times. She also was quite the adventurer even later in life. Mom frequently said to us kids, “Don’t ask me if you don’t want, because I’ll always say Yes.” We always wanted her and she always said, “Yes”. Along with all the little things that she accompanied us on, just in the last year and a half, Fay went on a cruise, rode on a motorcycle, went parasailing, and rode in a hot air balloon.

One of Fay’s favorite hobbies was reading. Her favorite books were biographies, mysteries, and church books. She also liked watching movies, sewing, knitting, painting, all crafty type things, and IF she was REALLY bored, she liked to bake.

As a kid growing up, I never knew that she generally didn’t enjoy cooking. The way she fed us, it certainly didn’t show in her actions. But Fay was just that way in how she served others.

Fay had unwavering faith in God. Though she preferred to work in the back ground, her many years of church service included teaching in the Primary for 17 years straight. She taught and served in many other organizations though out her entire life as well. But Fay’s best service to God was her capacity to unconditionally and genuinely accept a person, with all of their flaws, without accepting the ideology represented in their actions. To put it simply, she innately loved the sinner without loving the sin. Fay was gifted with the pure love of Christ.

The egg farm was a great place for Norman and Fay to raise their family, but gradually the economics of the egg business changed, making the small family farm a thing of the past. By the time the last child left the nest, Norman and Fay also needed to leave in search of a better future.

After several years of back and forth to Alaska for work opportunities, Norman and Fay established a new home in Rexburg. Norman now had a new career driving buses, something he also did for Greyline of Alaska. Fay had a growing second and third generation of family to be grandma to.

For the next dozen years, along with work and enjoying their new home with family and friends, Norman and Fay still took road trips to sight see and to visit with family who lived far away. Then about 10 years ago Norman’s health started failing. Fay was right by Norman’s side in the year and a half that they had left together. Watching her at work with him, I thought, she would have made an awesome nurse if it hadn’t been for all that required studying. But selfishly, I’m glad she was home with us kids instead.

Norman passed away almost eight years ago, now. For the rest of her life, Fay continued to devote all of her energy to her large family. This was something that she was really good at too. She knew all 40 grandchildren and 64 great-grandchildren by name and by what was going on in each of their lives.

Literally to her dying day, Fay was as aware of and concerned for her family of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Only hours before she passed away they were coming to visit with her, and she was inquiring of those far away.
Fay’s big wonderful family is truly her legacy. In the end, it was the only thing that mattered to her. But wisely, even from the beginning of her life, her family is really the only thing that mattered to her. Where ever life took her, she lived it for her family.

Change Day


As we emerge from the cold of winter, I have a possibility of also emerging from the dark of night. On our upcoming Bid Day, all the UTA FrontRunner engineers line up according to seniority and choose our work for the next four months. On the last bid, I was number 46 of 46. That didn’t leave a lot of choices of work, driving me to continue my nocturnal life that began when I licensed eight months ago. This time I am bidding number 43 out of 52. A little better chance of seeing some daylight.

My Beautiful Wife thinks I make a lousy “night owl”. I have always thought of myself as an early morning person. I think I may get that from my dad who, as a kid on a farm during the great depression, was assigned the task of milking the cows before breakfast and school. He kept getting up earlier and earlier to do his work until his mother threatened him with, “Norman, if you don’t stay in bed until 4:00am I won’t let you milk the cows anymore.”

It’s an eclectic crowd that make up the FrontRunner engineers. Besides coming from other railroads, our backgrounds include bus and truck drivers, the aviation industry (helicopter pilot, air traffic controller, airlines), military, heavy equipment, mechanics, realtors, business managers and owners, social workers, continuing college students as well as those relatively new to the work force.

The supervisor who drove me to the station where I boarded the train to take my licensing “Check Ride” told me about this group of men and women that I was joining. “We are a big dysfunctional family here… bickering and fighting galore. But if anyone from the outside says anything against you, everyone is right there like a pack of wolves to defend you.”

I have since received a lot of advice from my “Big Dysfunctional Family”. Some is just overheard, because I listen more than I talk. I have found that learning from someone else’s mistakes is a whole lot easier than learning from my own. Those who have “been there and done that” have saved me more than once. I take in advise, direct and indirect from all sources that I can, and then mentally sort out what is useful to me. I just smile at the young 40 somethings giving me general “life advise”, thinking they are older and wiser in everything because they have driven the trains longer than me. I take these guys about as seriously as celebrities who are presented as “parenting experts” on a TV program because they are famous.

As I have worked closely with a few of these co-workers, and come to know some of their personality quirks, I feel more and more like a member of this big, likeable, dysfunctional family.

Back when I was training, one instructor was giving me a compliment on my work ethic. He said something like, “You go after the job like Keller. Do you know Keller yet?” When I said that I hadn’t yet met Keller, he added, “He’s an Idaho farm boy who really knows how to work.” Being an Idaho farm boy myself, I took the compliment as kindly as it was meant.

Later, Keller came into our operations room where my trainer and I were. So I was introduced to this very likeable fellow.

Me: “I heard you are from Idaho?”
Keller: “Arizona and Idaho, but I lived in Idaho for over twenty years.”
Me: “Where at in Idaho”
Keller: “Rexburg”
Me: “I’m from Rexburg”
Keller more thoughtful now: “Let me see… Haroldsen… Do you know Norman?”
Me: “He’s my dad.”

My trainer, Keller, and I laughed about this “Small World” coincidence and talked about the strong if not harsh work ethic we came from. I mentioned that you could almost tell an Idaho farm boy if his hands had at least one chopped finger. Keller smiled and held up one of his hands, proudly displaying four and a half fingers. He simply said, “Potato harvest.” I laughed and said, I’ll bet you didn’t take much time off of work for it either. Keller’s reply as he headed out the door to something more productive was, “I was back to work that same afternoon.”

I have worked with many different people from all walks of life. Everyone from kids with their first job to those retiring. From many varied cultures and backgrounds, from those with my same sub-culture (who think and talk like me), to those from exotic places around the world. Those who have part-time unskilled first jobs and “Top Executives” in large corporations. But I have never worked with a finer group of coworkers then I have the pleasure of working with now.

Maybe it has something to do with the “weeding out” process required to succeed at this job. It isn’t easy to jump though all the fiery hoops to get where we are now. Maybe it just takes a special breed of people to be willing to go through all of this for an average wage.

Whatever the case, it makes it a pleasure to come to work everyday. Change day is coming, where we are shuffled like a deck of cards. I’m looking forward to the new mix of coworkers that I’ll be sharing a chunk of my next 4 months with.

One comment I heard from an old timer, that has me thinking as this work shuffle goes down is, “It doesn’t matter if you really like your new work of if you really hate it. Because it only lasts four months and you will be bidding for new work again.

Helping Others

Rail Card

It was my trip of a life time. My dad and I touring Australia from top to bottom and from side to side on a one month Austrail rail pass that allowed us unlimited travel on all the railroads in the country. We were two weeks into our “Australian walk-a-bout” when riding a Melbourne commuter train toward their main station named “Spencer Street Station”.

Bouncing along eating an apple and enjoying a glimpse of this city of then 2.5 million people, I carelessly set my rail pass on the upholstered arm rest of my seat. Within moments a lurch of the train sent my plastic “credit card” like rail pass slipping into a small crack between the bench seat and the wall of the train. Our efforts were useless. There was no way we could get the rail pass back. The realization that this would effectively end our Australian travels filled me with dread and panic.

We wondered who could help us. What could we do? I wanted to send Dad for help at the Spencer Street Station while I just stay in the seat and ride to the other end of the line and back. I figured this was the only way to keep track of the exact spot where my rail pass lay hidden. But my dad wasn’t about to leave his teenage son going off to who knows where in this foreign city of 2.5 million.

We wrote down our train number and the railcar number. How could we identify this seat? Now the train was pulling into Spencer Street Station. We needed to get off here to go for help. I stuffed a wadded up train schedule into a vent above our seat as we stepped off the train.

The fellow at the information booth listened to us and then said we would need to speak to the station master. From my perspective, this was a very large station, and I wondered if and how long it would take to give my tale of woe to someone who could actually help. But within about 5 minutes, the station master came and heard my story of careless stupidity.

He expressed doubt that we could locate the exact car and seat where my rail pass lay hidden. We gave him our paper with the train number and carriage number that we had ridden. With continued doubt, he explained that we could have a maximum of 5 minutes when that train returned to the station. They couldn’t hold the train any longer. He could have a “Car Builder” there to pull one seat only. There wouldn’t be time for a second try.

The uncertainty of the next 2 hours waiting for the train’s return dragged. But just as promised, a few minutes before the scheduled time, this same station master and a mechanic with a tool bag arrived. As our train rolled into the station, our “car number” came into view. The four of us stepped inside, and I quickly looked for my ill-fated seat. Above was no wadded up train schedule. Was I turned around? Had the train turned around? Again I quickly scanned the interior. Over on the other side was my train schedule marking the spot.

I quickly stepped to the seat and pointed to the crack between the arm rest and the wall. “Right there!” I said with renewed confidence.

In a flash the “Car Builder” had his tools out and went to work. It took him less than a minute to unbolt the seat. As they lifted it away from the wall, my plastic green card lay right where I said it would be.

With a big smile and the “Aussie” accent that I had grown to love, the station master held up my wadded up train schedule and said, “Now that’s American ingenuity”.

This experience was back in May of 1977. So for almost 39 years, because of this one time that they helped me out, I have felt nothing but praise for all of the Australian rail systems. Things could have turned out so differently for me. And if they had, I could have only blamed myself. They had listened and understood what my problem was, outlined what they could and could not do to help. And then followed through with what they said they would do.

Since working for UTA as a railroad engineer, I have thought about this long past experience often. Every time someone makes a frantic inquiry about a lost cell phone, or needs help in some other way, I think about how I should respond. Do I really listen to the person who is asking for help (or in some cases isn’t actually asking, but needs a helpful response)? Do I blow them off “because their problems are caused by their own stupidity?”

I’ve been there, down stupid alley, as we all have. On the other hand, we clearly have restraints and guidelines on what we can do to help. But do I give the same respect that I, as a stupid teenager, received after I had screwed up? The station master actually gave me praise for my “American Ingenuity”. I can assure you that it feels better telling this story than if he had said to me, “What kind of dumb @#$ leaves his rail card out on the seat in a moving train?”

My lessons learned from that long since past experience that I hope that I incorporate into my daily work as a railroad engineer include:

• Am I a good listener? Like that great station master, do I really listen to understand the full scope of the problem at hand?

• Do I give clear communication of what I can and can’t do to help? As in my story, we also have restraints on what we can do to help someone. When that train returned to the Spencer Street Station, I knew we had one try and only one try to pull a seat to retrieve my rail pass. If I had failed to identify the correct seat, I would have gone away disappointed and dejected, but without ill feelings toward that Australian railroad. I would have known that they also wanted to find that rail pass and had done what they could.

• Do I do what I say I’ll do? I need to be careful not to make promises that I can’t keep. But I also need follow through with what I have agreed to do. Imagine the story I’d be telling these 39 years if that station master hadn’t returned with his “Car Builder” when that train came back into the station?

• Am I respectful in how I treat others? Whether it’s those I work with, or the customers that we serve, that station master of yesteryear helped me with more than saving the last two weeks of my “Walk-a-bout”. He was a great example of how to treat others, even when they screw up or do something dumb. Even when it’s just a dumb teenage kid.

As I get better at doing this, I’m creating a better quality of life. A better quality of life for me, for my co-workers, and for our customers. UTA likes to call this “Living the UTA Way”. I like to think that it is more just that way I am… the way I WANT to live.


People wait for Trains. Trains don’t wait for People.

Train Watch

“People Wait for Trains. Trains don’t Wait for People.”

Even as a small child, my father taught me well to be early to everything. Through my life I have assumed that this is a sign of respect to always be on time. Over the years, I’ve observed many who weren’t taught as well as me and seem to operate in a different time zone. Though it doesn’t seem to matter if someone is late to church, a ball game, or a family gathering, it makes a big difference when arriving late for any public transportation, including trains.

In fact, trains invented strict time schedules more than anything in our recent history. They had to for safety’s sake when many different trains were sharing the same track.

Back in the day… every town or city, large or small kept their own time, based in some way on the position of the sun at high noon and proudly displayed on something public, such as a church clock or in the jewelers display window. So one city may have said that the official time is 10:00am, and a town down the road fifty miles says at that same moment that the time is only 9:55am. This system worked just fine because with the slow mode of travel, time was such a relative thing.

When trains came along, with ever increasing speeds, and the need to time their travel with other trains using the same track, this less than formal time keeping system began to show it’s weakness. As the circle of travel continually expanded, the railroad dispatchers needed to keep a correspondingly expanding table of reference of the dozens (and then hundreds) of time zones, as they managed the train schedules. With the new communication technology of telegraph (usually ran along the railroad track), all of these many time zones needed to be referenced in real time.

The railroad’s solution was to implement standardized time zones. Of course you are familiar with these time zones because we still use them today.

So starting way back then, trains are always striving to run on time. Early on, a late train caused accidents. Now days it causes missed appointments and commitments for both people and products.

My morning commuter run is full of people depending on me to get them to work on time. Most of these people are lined up at the station platform before the train arrives. Of course there are always a few who are scrambling to the platform after the train stops. If I can, I’ll delay just a few extra seconds, but my mandate is to keep the train on time. Because of the hundreds who arrived on time and depend on me to get them to their destination on time, I can’t wait for the late comer. I think Star Trek’s Spock would say it this way. “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few.” So though it appears heartless and cruel to depart the station when a late comer is scrambling to make the train but is too far off, I am thinking, “Be kind to those on time.”

As my train is rolling out of the station, occasionally I’ll see in my mirror, someone running up and banging on a passenger door, expecting it to open on the run. It’s not like the old time movies with the drama of someone running to jump on the train while it is picking up steam. Now days the doors are locked before the train can move so once it is moving the drama is left behind at the station. Unless of course a passenger on the train is asleep or other wise distracted and is too slow getting off at his stop. The frustration is palatable as they pound on the door from inside while the station begins to move away. The next stop in the next town is now his only choice.

The experienced traveler (and commuter) avoids these anxieties with a readily available schedule and a good watch. Of course back in the day, the train engineer needed a good quality watch that kept time in sic with the dispatcher and all the other trains. Back then the quality, and corresponding accuracy, was measured by its jewels. The officially approved Railroad Watch had at least 19 and as high as 30 jewels in its mechanism. Soon “Railway Time Keepers” were marketed to the general traveling public. These fake imitations were cheap watches that weren’t jeweled. They looked like the real McCoy, but were less accurate. So the savvy traveler cushioned his departure time to compensate.

Even though most watches today are much more accurate then the best of yesteryear, our fast paced lives are filled with unexpected delays. We frequently miss calculate how long it takes to go and do the things of our lives. So like the wise Old Timers, we need to cushion our schedules to compensate.

The one rule that is as applicable today as in the early days of railroads is that people wait for trains. Trains don’t wait for people.

I know that many times a person is running late because of unforeseen delays. Weather, traffic, or numerable personal problems can easily mar the best planned “Just in time” scheduling. The only fool proof answer is to plan to wait for the train a little bit.

As train engineers, and other railroad workers, we wait for trains more than anyone. For the trains to run on time, we must be there early every time.

I live 45 miles from where I report to work. Regardless of how I get to work, I have to leave early enough to be there on time even in the worst case scenario. For me, because of train schedules, that means if I ride the train to work, I generally arrive an hour early… and wait. If I drive, to compensate for unexpected traffic and weather, I arrive about 30 minutes early… and wait. (Waiting is great writing time for me.)

During the course of my work shift, I am frequently waiting on the train. After the required pre-pullout inspection, I wait for the prescribed time to pull out onto the mainline. At each station I watch my pocket watch (because I’m old fashioned that way) until the exact departure time. At our terminal stations (the end of the line each way) I wait for the exact time my train begins its next run back the other direction. When another train is late arriving at our meeting point (the short double track where we can pass each other), I wait. If there are problems along our alignment, with switches, crossings, mechanical problems with other trains, etc… I wait.

So everyone involved, (passengers, rail workers, cars and pedestrians at crossings), end up waiting for trains. Of course our goal is to keep that wait to a minimum. But if people didn’t try to make trains wait for them, everyone would have to wait a lot less.

Years ago, I observed a wise Greyhound bus driver counseling a young man who had arrived late. “You will have a lot fewer problems in your travels if you will just learn to be a little bit early.”

What I’ve taught my children applies to trains:

“If you’re early, you’re on time.

If you’re on time, you’re late,

And if you’re late you’re forgotten.”

So it’s true that people wait for trains, but trains don’t wait for people. But ironically, as they watch the train pulling out of the station, the people who try making trains wait for them; end up waiting the longest because they now have to wait for the next train.

If I Drove My Car Like a Train

When I first started driving trains, I couldn’t help draw comparisons to how I drive my car. Some train rules are the same (or very similar) to the rules of the road for cars and trucks, though the consequences for breaking them may be much more severe.

For example, if caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 MPH in my car, I may or may not get a speeding ticket, depending on the circumstances. But in a train, I would have my license revoked even if the speed had just reduced, and I was in the process of slowing down to the new lower speed.

However, most of the rules for driving a train aren’t that similar to cars or trucks. For example, when I first started to drive trains, and then drove my car again, I had to fight off the impulse to turn on some sort of warning bell or honk my horn when passing through intersections.

If we drove cars like trains, I imagine that a quick trip to the store would go something like this.

My Beautiful Wife: “Honey, would you run to the store and pick-up a gallon of milk?”

Even though she’s a licensed driver, like all moms, she is always over her “Hours of Service” and so she can’t actually drive anywhere. Anytime someone with a license works more than 12 hours in any given day, or more than 13 days in a row, whether they are actually driving or not, “They go Dead” as we call it. Meaning that they can’t drive until they have the prescribed rest period. Since mothers never get any rest, they are always “Dead” and can’t drive.

Our closest grocery store is Walmart, which is two miles away.

Me: “Sure, I’ll go right now. I’ll go start my pre-op if you can you come out to the garage in five minutes to help me with the brake test and call my shove out of the to the street?”

I then go out and do my walk around the car to make sure everything looks good. I open the trunk to check that all the emergency equipment is in place. I then get in the drivers seat and test all the controls such as honk the horn, check that all the lights work (This includes getting out and visually checking them.) and checking all the paperwork to verify that all proper daily maintenance inspections have been performed. Fortunately, earlier today I had already spent the several hours completing these daily inspections and so the paperwork was in order.

In addition to the inspections paperwork, I need to have copies of all state, county, and city driving laws and ordinances in my possession when operating. Like everyone else, I keep a copy of these things in a backpack that I just carry with me when going anywhere. As I review this paperwork, I realize that I haven’t got a copy of the “Daily Highway Bulletin”. So I run back into the house, log into the State Highway website, and print it out. I then need to review it before proceeding.

Also, I not only can’t use my cell phone, or any other electronic device while driving the car, but these things must be completely turned off and put away in my backpack along with my operating rules books. Of course our car doesn’t have any other radio besides our special CB radio that connects us with the UHP Control Center. Music or any other type of entertainment is prohibited. Also any type of food or drink must be stowed away while I’m driving.

My engine is now running and headlights on. Specific lights need to be on anytime the car is moving or even parked out in public.

My Beautiful Wife, decked out in the proper safety vest and other gear, now comes out. She has a handheld CB radio which she uses to provide me with the “radio check” that I need to make before moving the car. Next, with a flashlight, she gets down by the rear wheels where she can see the brake shoes engage and disengage as I apply and release. On her command I work the brakes so she can verify that they are working properly.

She now stands back and waits while I contact the State Patrol Control Center (via CB radio on a specified channel) to get authorization to enter the street system.

Me on CB Radio: “Automobile operator #152569419 to USP Control – Over”

USP Control on CB Radio: “USP Control – Over”

Me on CB Radio: “Operator #152569419 requests permission for Auto # UT 375 HSP to enter the road system at 1428 N Reese Drive, Provo and proceed to Walmart Supercenter at 1355 Sandhill Road, Orem. – Over”

USP Control on CB Radio: “152569419, University Parkway is currently congested at Geneva Road. You have permission to proceed to Walmart via 2000 South Orem to Sandhill Road. – Over”

Me on CB Radio: “Auto # UT 375 HSP has permission to enter the Utah road system at 1428 N Reese Drive, Provo and proceed to Walmart Supercenter at 1355 Sandhill Road, Orem via 2000 South Orem to Sandhill Road? – Over”

USP Control on CB Radio: “Auto # UT 375 HSP, that is correct. USP Control out.”

Me on CB Radio to Beautiful Wife: (Who is now standing at the end of our driveway.) “152569419 to #152562871, Auto UT 375 HSP is ready for a westbound shove onto Reese Drive. – Over”

Beautiful Wife on handheld CB Radio: “Auto UT 375 HSP, the driveway and street are clear and you are clear to shove westbound 100 feet onto Reese Drive. – Over”

Me on CB Radio: “Auto UT 375 HSP is clear to shove westbound 100 feet onto Reese Drive. – Over”

Beautiful Wife on handheld CB Radio: “Auto UT 375 HSP, that is correct. – Over”

Before I begin to backup, I sound my horn with two short burst to indicate that the car is about to begin movement.

After I proceed half way down our driveway, my Beautiful Wife must call out that I am clear 50 feet and then count down my progress to a stop. Of course she is back behind me observing my backing process.

I’m now clear to proceed forward, of course only taking the route cleared by USP Control.

Before I speed the car past 10mph, I need to test the brakes again to make sure they are responsive in the moving vehicle. If I forget this “Rolling Brake Test” I could lose my license. As I pass 1440 N (just past my house) my headlights must be on “Brights” and I sound my horn. Turning west on 1520 N, I of course sound my warning horn. These many subdivision side streets have me sounding my horn more than not. As I come to Geneva Road, I must stop before the white painted stop line. Of course when the road is covered in ice or snow, I just have to know where this line is. Over running a stop sign or stop light will get my license revoked immediately.

Just down Geneva Road, I turn right onto West 1680 North. As I round onto this small side street, an state patrol trooper flags me down. He asks to see my operators license, checks my cell phone to make sure it’s turned off and tucked away in my paperwork back pack and then climbs in the front seat of my car, informing me that he will be riding along with me to observe my driving. (This is common enough that every driver can expect it once in awhile.)

We proceed through the short connector streets culminating in the round-a-bout that dumps us onto Sand Hill Road. Soon we are at the red traffic light waiting to turn into the Wal-Mart parking lot. Again, I must stop before the white line at the intersection. Also, I can’t proceed with a right turn into the parking lot until the light changes. Any of these things will get my license revoked.

Eventually, we arrive in the parking lot. I now have to sound my horn while moving about as I find a parking space in the far reaches.

The space requirements between parked cars make for a full parking lot even though there are relatively few shoppers here today. The cars can’t be parked closer than 20 feet from another car (front to back) and walking paths to the store, between cars requires at least a 100 foot space. So I feel lucky that I can park at all, instead of having to just leave and come back later.

Of course in order to exit my car and proceed through the Wal-Mart parking lot into the store, I have to wear the proscribed safety vest and move about the parking lot so that I don’t get too close to any parked car.

Once I’ve got my gallon of milk, and I’m back at my car, I need to wait my turn for the parking lot worker to call my shove as I back up out of my parking stall, just like my Beautiful Wife had to do to get me out of our garage back home.

In due time I’ve complete my radio calls to USP Control and gain permission for my return trip home. As I’m headed down Sand Hill Road, suddenly there’s a reduced speed 1000 feet a head sign. However at the prescribed distance there is no reduced speed sign. Of course I recognize what’s going on and slow to 10 MPH before I reach the 1000 feet distance. This is an efficiency test. If I don’t slow from the posted 35 MPH speed in time I will lose my license. These efficiency tests can take any form and can happen at any time.

As I approach a car stopped along the road, I honk my horn as a warning that I’m passing. I am also required to report any problems that I see along the way, including trespassers.

When it’s all said and done, I’m back with the gallon of milk in an hour and a half. As I close the garage door and carry my gallon of milk into the house, I think to my self, “Next time I’ll just walk to the store.” But then I realize, “I can’t do that. Walking along the public roadways is prohibited, and I’d be arrested as a trespasser


The first time I heard the expression was in my job interview. I was answering the question, “Why do you want to work for a railroad?” I had addressed the query with examples of my favorable past experiences and interests in trains, finishing with something like, “I want to make a career change and think I’d like to work with trains.” From his follow up question, “Are you a Foamer?” my blank stare was all the answer he needed. He moved on to a different line of questioning. Apparently I wasn’t a Foamer.

Through my training, I heard many more references to Foamers. Finally, the expression was explained to me. A Foamer really, really likes trains! He is passionate about trains! In fact, he presumably “foams at the mouth” with excitement at the very mention of trains. They know trains like an avid sports fan know their team and players stats.

My first good exposure to this was when I was doing my training in our railyard. During this overnight shift, as we were preparing our trains for the early morning pull-out, I was watching the larger locomotives in the Union Pacific yard across from us. They were “kicking” freight cars through various switches as they made up their trains. I said to my trainer, “I wonder how many horse power those locomotives have?” He noted their six traction motors (as compared to four on our locomotives). But he really didn’t know the difference in horse power. Then he said, “We’ll just ask Paul. He’s a Foamer.” Later that night when we caught up to him, this was Paul’s answer. “It depends on whether it’s a SD45 or if it’s been rebuilt into an SD45-2. He then started into the history of the EMC (Electro-Motive Corporation) SD45 that Union Pacific rebuilt into SD45-2’s which increased the horsepower. As my trainer and I walked away to our next yard duty, he just smiled at me and said, “That’s a Foamers answer.”

I’ve observed many subsequent examples of the passion Foamers have for all things Trains.

While working with the other railroad engineers, I’ve become familiar with many who share their passion for trains in many additional ways besides just working for the railroad.

One fellow has a vintage locomotive tattooed across his back that is almost larger than life. It truly is a work of art. From him, I’ve learned of such things as the Hostler Model Railroad Club of Ogden and the Evanston Roundhouse Restoration Group who jointly sponsor the Roundhouse Festival in Evanston, Wyoming. Of course that Train Festival is an annual pilgrimage for him.

One fellow Engineer works to restore some of the old vintage railroad relics of the past. I heard that he once purchased an old locomotive of his own to restore. How do you do that? It’s not like you can just tow it home and rebuild it in the garage. His foaming passion can be seen in some of the retired work horses of the past on display at the Historic Train Station at Ogden’s Union Station. He’s made a mark on the Heber Valley Railroad as well. This is a railroad that was established in 1899 that now offers the train travel experiences of yesteryear.

One fellow Engineer is a kid younger than half of my own children. He is so new to FrontRunner that I’ve been here longer than he has. Yet he can talk trains with the best of them. “Did you know that there are actual Foamer Clubs where they go play with model train sets, but everything you do (including proper radio calls) have to follow the G-Core rules or you could be De-certified?” All that Foamer practice makes for a great start as an actual Railroad Engineer. I’m sure when he answered that job interview question, “Are you a Foamer?” his answer gave very high marks on the interviewing panels score cards.

Those Foamer Clubs reminds me of when I was a Cub Scout. We visited the Eckersell Funeral Home in Rigby Idaho. Mr. Eckersell had the whole basement of this place laid out in model train tracks running everywhere. The walls were murals of scenic mountains, valleys, and such. And he had a railroad control center that operated his many trains, switches, crossings, and everything else in his little foaming world.

Rivet Counters… Foamers of a higher order.

In chatting with some of these Foamers, I’ve learned that a Foamer’s Foamer is called a Rivet Counter. The expression has to do with detail to the smallest minutia. The Rivet Counter puts every possible detail into making their railroad passion accurate. A Rivet Counter’s model train would not only have all the authentic logos, numbers, and equipment to make it real enough to function as a miniature in film making, but even the little things, such as how many rivets are needed to show holding the train’s body together are to be perfect.

Foamers at large.

Some of the passengers get in on the action as well. A couple of commuters from the north end wrote a FrontRunner song, recorded it, and submitted it to UTA. They were hoping that we would incorporate it into our advertising. In its own goofy way, the tune was catchy and the lyrics clever (including made up nonsense phrases like “Incremental Power Glide”). But I think it would have only been an effective advertising jingle if everyone were true blue Foamers.

There is also one fellow who rides the train who dresses up like a railroad engineer of the Steam Locomotive era, with the coveralls, hat, and all. Some people like this we have to keep an eye on to make sure they don’t try to sneak onto the Locomotive at the station stops.

While driving the train, I often get to give a little toot by special request to excited little kids (and some not so little) along the way. Seeing the happiness on the faces of small children when acknowledged by the train horn draws me back to when I was just as small.

I think my childhood train experience surpasses anyone else.

I grew up on a small farm in Southeastern Idaho, but my Mom is from the very metropolitan Vancouver, BC, Canada. When we were a young family, it wasn’t always easy for Dad to leave the farm for an extended Canada pilgrimage back to Mom’s old stomping grounds. Somewhere in the mid 60’s, Mom and all us kids got to ride the Union Pacific passenger train to visit Grandma & Grandpa Tillack in Canada. The photo is of us boarding the train in Pocatello, Idaho. As kids, we loved running from car to car, exploring the limits of our train access. I also loved riding up in the dome car, getting a bird’s eye view of the changing scenery. For a young guy, the 800 plus mile trip actually seemed short to me.


When I began first grade, the PTA had a competition to get the parents to sign up for their organization. The winning class got a real train ride. Of course the first grade won, and our whole class of 30 or so students rode a school bus 15 miles to the Rigby train depot. There we all crammed into the caboose (Yes they still had cabooses in use back then.) where we rode the train back to the Rexburg train depot. I felt like an old pro here, because I’d already taken the train all the way to Canada. The highlights of that short ride for me were riding over the old Lorenzo Trestle Bridge and of course my only chance ever to ride in a caboose.

I rode trains a lot as a child. Several trips were also taken to Colorado. One of those trips was with my next older sister. We were going to stay with our Aunt and Uncle while Mom and Dad continued on to visit the New York World’s Fair. This was a true whistle stop for us. The train rolled into Greeley, Colorado where a man helped lift us down from the train. The conductor handed our two small bags down and waved to the engineer who blew the whistle and then the train was rolling again. We stood there with our aunt and uncle, waving our abrupt good-bye to our shocked parents as they quickly rolled away. Dad said that he doesn’t think that the train even actually quit rolling. Mom was very glad that our aunt and uncle were standing right there to receive us or she would have gotten off as well.

One of my Dad’s pipe dreams was to build a small railroad around our egg farm. Our 28 acre farm seemed just the right size and several of us boys got involved and investigated the logistics of such a project. But our busy lives got in the way and that pipe dream is now just a happy memory.

My Beautiful Wife and I rode trains all over Italy a few years back. There we experienced everything from the regular trains, to the commuter trains, to the high speed trains.

But my most fond memory of riding trains was back in May of 1977 when I got to take a trip to Australia with my dad. Dad studied world maps like Rivet Counters studied train trivia. And his idea of traveling to see the world had more to do with racking up mileage that he had previously traced with his finger on the well-worn maps then actually stopping and sightseeing. Just ask my Mom who has been to many world landmarks but hasn’t actually see them some of them. After my Beautiful Wife and I visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Mom told of her experience there. They rode the train to Pisa, but never left the train station which was a short ride or 15-20 minute walk to where you can actually see Pisa’s tower and its other landmarks. So when Dad wanted to make a second trip back to Australia, Mom wasn’t excited about going along this time. I was in the right place at the right time and got the job.

So for the month of May, 1977, we traveled Australia the way Dad liked to travel.

The only thing that was prearranged for our trip was our air travel and a month long Austrail Rail pass that allow us first class passage on any public transportation in the country.

The Indian-Pacific

Within hours of landing in Sidney, Dad had us booked on the Indian-Pacific. At the time it claimed to be the second longest train run in the world (behind only the Siberian Express). Thus named because it runs between the Pacific Ocean (Sydney) and the Indian Ocean (Perth), totaling over 2700 miles. This first week of rail travel was real classy. We had 1st class sleeper berths with a conductor who waited on us hand and foot. (Yes, literally… frequent snacks in our hands and shined shoes for our feet.) He attended to our every assumed need like an English Footman, but he also hung around and just chatted, telling stories for an hour at a time. I loved listening to his accent, not realizing that around here we were the ones with accents.

This train had a formal dining car with fabulous meals served three times a day, on fine dinner ware like you would expect in a nice restaurant. It was movie moment memorable to be dining in such a nice place with waiters bringing each course under a covered silver platter, while watching wild kangaroos bouncing across the Nullabor as our train rolled westward.

Cook… Broken Hill… Kalgoorlie… These relatively small towns, each so isolated that they are named on a small world globe back home. The landscape shifts along our route gave glimpses into this wonderful country that is almost as large as the Continental United States. This railway alignment includes the longest run of straight railroad track in the world. I swear that those 297 miles are so straight that there isn’t even any curvature of the Earth going through there.

Riding the rails day and night.

After our luxury trip across to Perth on the Indian-Pacific, we roughed it for the rest of our month long pilgrimage on the rails of Australia. We logged a total of only three hotel nights the entire month. Mostly we traveled through the nights from city to city. And the day was spent touring each new area on the local rail transit. This worked well to see Australia up close and personal.

Headed for the Great Barrier Reef region

By the last week of our month of Australian railroad travel, we were riding up the northeast coast of Queensland. Our goal was to make it to Cairns before we were forced to double back for Sidney for our flight home. We now couldn’t take the time to ride around in the cities along the way or we wouldn’t make it to Cairns. Before my 18th birthday on May 25th, we had run out of Australian cash and couldn’t leave the train long enough to find a bank to exchange our American bills. I don’t know why we didn’t use credit cards? But we had run out of money and chose to just go without food rather than miss our chance to visit Cairns.

The Kuranda Scenic Railway

After another night sleeping in our seats, we arrived in Cairns early in the morning. It had now been two days since we had eaten anything. But before the bank opened, and we could get cash for food, the Kuranda Scenic Railway would depart for a day trip into the Australian mountainous rainforest.

We had to choose. Either take this bonus train ride on a very historic narrow gauge railway that was built in the 1800’s. A ride that includes 15 dark tunnels, over 40 skinny bridges, and 98 sharp bends clinging to the rugged mountain side, while climbing up the mountain rainforest with jungle so thick and dense that anything short of just being there can’t give justice to the experience… or we could spend the day in Cairns and eat something.

We were really hungry by now and Dad asked me what I wanted to do. Without hesitation, my answer was, “Let’s take the train, we can always eat later!”

Yup after starving for two days, and after already riding maybe 12,000 miles on trains in the previous 3 ½ weeks, as a starving teenager, I chose to wait another 7 hours to eat anything so I could ride another train.


Groundhog Day

In the months since licensing as a railroad engineer, my work block has mostly consisted of overnight work on the northern half of the FrontRunner alignment. This work shift includes taking the last train of the day to Ogden at night where I perform necessary safety tests and inspections. I then tie down with the train for a few hours, before taking the two early morning trains farther up north to Pleasant View on Union Pacific alignment. (This requires two of us, one serving as conductor and the other one as the engineer.) I then bring my train back south with early morning commuters headed for Salt Lake and other points south.

My second Tri-annual bid for work has now left me with this same piece of work at least until April. And the repetition of going through this same workday, day after day, has mentally placed me in the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day”.

Being caught in the “same day loop”, Phil Connors eventually out grew his bungling, self-centered; second rate self, into a very talented and rather nice guy. I’m hoping for something similar as I relive my own Groundhog Day… day in and day out… week by week… month after month.

Currently, a small piece of my repeating Groundhog Day is as follows. Whereas the movie character Phil Connors nightstand alarm clock clicks from 5:59am to 6:00am and Sony and Cher start singing “I’ve Got You Babe”, my watch is sliding from 3:59am to start the last active portion of my work day. Mine is to the rumble of the waiting locomotive instead of Sony and Cher singing their signature song.

4:00am – I look across the Ogden Station Platform from my locomotive to the locomotive for Train 3. James stands up, dons his safety vest, gathers up his gear and climbs down out of his Locomotive. He is headed back to release the hand brake at the other end of his consist and make ready for our departure. I likewise gather my things together, climb down from my Train 5 Locomotive, enter the back door of Train 3’s Loco and release its handbrake. I then proceed up to the cab and settle into the Engineers seat and begin the preliminary paperwork.

4:10am – James joins me in the Loco cab and we complete the Union Pacific Job Briefing Checklist, review the daily UP Track Warrant, and begin the Conductor Report. This daily routine doesn’t take long and we are soon down to small talk while waiting for our departure time.

James tells of his latest weekend – Surfing on a California Beach (his flight attendant wife gives him travel perks), while I desperately struggle to think of something from my “weekend” that I can mention so he doesn’t realize that I have no life. In the pause in dialog, James brings up sports. I finally have to admit that I don’t follow sports… have always just worked. I’m thinking, “I do actually have a life… it includes long distance running on empty 2:00am city streets… trying to write… playing my harmonicas…” But those seem like awkward conversations as well. What kind of eccentric runs up and down city streets in the middle of the night for fun? And it is assumed that anyone who plays the harmonica, plays “Blues Harmonica”. I don’t… can’t… OK… the truth is I play ON the harmonica more than actually playing the harmonica. So I don’t bring it up.

4:22am – Time to go… bring up the cab signal… get a door loop… headlights… gen field on… radio call to Warm Springs control… bell on… reverser forward… throttle notch one… and we move forward toward the end of the platform where we lose our cab signals and have to stop to reset them for movement in Union Pacific territory.

I’ve made this same trip to Pleasant View many times. It is all exactly the same except it’s always different. The different trains vary in how they handle… some more power than others… they all brake differently than how the last train braked… I’ll have to quickly get a feel for this one and make adjustments accordingly.

4:25am – As I approach our first control point… CP G001, I need to slow down to 25mph… Both James and I call out the signal (as required) “Clear”. I give the brakes a minimum set… they seem to glide along too far and then grab a bit later. I’ll have to make adjustments to how I brake with this train. I call out my speed to James (the conductor) who makes the necessary notes in the Conductors Report. He is recording the required info on the UP radio for this signal. We both call out our next signal as it appears in the distance… “Advanced Approach”. I reach my landmark (an electrical box along the alignment) and notch up to speed the train to 55mph.

4:27am – James makes his UP radio transmission… “UTA Train 11 at CP G003, Advanced Approach – Out”. My speed is now 55mph and I drop back to “notch 2”. I know that this exact timing and combination of power will maintain our speed at exactly 55mph until we come around the corner and can see our next signal, “MP 4.6”.

4:29am – We both call out “Approach Restricting” at the same time. James makes his radio call and I make a minimum brake set. “It took me a long time to get this one right. (Kind of like Phil Connors repeatedly stepping in the slush filled pothole in Groundhog Day.) I need to slow to 40mph very quickly but was always slowing too much because the track runs steeply uphill here. I have finally learned to apply only a minimum set and release at 45mph and then immediately go to notch 4 on the throttle. As we roll up to the control point we always seem to be going too fast, but the train continues to slow and now the speed is always exactly 40 as we pass it, with enough momentum to maintain this speed until our next control point. (This is where I really start to feel invincible like “Groundhog’s Phil” stepping in to save the pending wedding or the choking man in the restaurant.)

4:32am – At CP G005, I need to be slowed down to no more than 15mph. This one should be easy, but the variation in braking from train to train gets me when going this slow. This time I cross the signal going 13mph. This is well within the speed requirement, but I wanted perfection at maximum authorized speed… that’s the game I play over and over. That and the perfect station stop. I’ve got a ways to go on that one too. Since licensing, I have never had to make the radio call of shame to tell control that I’m a door long, but too many of my stops could be classified as sloppy.

4:34am – This station stop was perfect. We now perform the needed operations to “turn the train” which means that we will be operating from the other end of this same train as we depart south bound in 18 minutes.

I will pass this same 12 minutes of Union Pacific track another 3 times, doing the same thing before arriving at Ogden Station where I begin collecting the masses of commuters headed south.

6:03am – I bring my “Train 5” to a stop on the Ogden west platform to the gathering group of southbound commuters. My conductor, from our just completed “Pleasant View” trip has gathered his bags and the special UP radio, and exits the train. As a southbound train, I am operating in the “Cab Car”, which is on the opposite end from the Locomotive. Down here, I am more visible to my passengers, and they to me. While passengers are boarding, I open the operator’s window to greet my newly boarding Train Host, who will be back with my passengers as we proceed south. “Good morning Joan.” “Good morning Ron.” I watch from this opened window while passengers continue to board. Though I don’t speak to these people personally, I know these passengers very well by now. The same man in the dark business suit (now also with an overcoat) who always carries a newspaper under his arm gets on in the Cab Car and takes his seat behind my operators compartment. He always sits facing away from me, and spreads in his lap newspaper as if to share with anyone looking over his shoulder. (He will ride to North Temple Station). The woman, always wrapped from head to toe, (even in warmer weather) takes her seat right behind my operating compartment. This seems strange to me, because this is the coveted seat, the only seat on the entire train where the passenger can see what the engineer sees while the train is moving down the track. But she never looks up. Her face is always buried in the broad collar of her coat, so that only her eyes and nose can poke out at her cell phone which is the continual focal point until she exits the train at Salt Lake Central Station.

I could go on with each passenger within my view every day, but you get the Idea.

6:07am – It’s time to depart, and I am standing at the open window telling the last three commuters, who are still off in the parking lot but scrambling to make the train, to hurry to the nearest train door. It’s always the same three people, and they always seem surprised that the train is ready to leave at 6:07am. (These 3 commuters don’t know this but if I haven’t started to move the train yet, AND they are hurrying… like running if capable… I will wait for the latecomers. But if it’s time to go and they are just walking along in no hurry, I’ll leave them behind every time.)

6:08am – Finally, the last late comer has boarded the train and I close and lock the doors. Now I need to try to make up for my late departure. My first three station stops are rather tight on the schedule, so now I feel like Scotty from Star Trek fame trying get all I can out of the locomotive as we build momentum and climb the Ogden “Flyover” which bridges over the top of the many Union Pacific tracks below.

I know the exact power setting and adjustment as I at first build speed while climbing the “Flyover” and then descend, all while maintaining the maximum authorized speed. A speed which keeps changing as we proceed south.

6:15am – I’m still creeping toward Roy Station on my 15mph cab signal. The same late comers are cutting in front of my train at the platform. I’ve got my hand over the horn button ready to “warn away” any more attempted crossing in front of me as I near. The same man stops and waits. Once he was too close when he crossed. I had tapped my horn. He first completed his run in front of me and then turned and shook his fist at me. I’m sure he had a few choice words for me as well. Now he still comes late as my train approaches, but he waits… glares. I’m thankful that he is alive and well and can glare at me every morning. I’ve heard stories from other engineers where the outcome wasn’t this happy. Of course I make sure he is on board before I depart.

This is the first of three “train meets” I’ll have before arriving at North Temple station. On our single track, we have to meet the trains headed in the opposite direction where we have sidings or at stations where we have two tracks. Some engineers make it a competition to beat the other train to the “meet” and others not so much. I guess I’m competitive that way. Everything I do as I move south is all about beating the other train to the meet.

6:24am – Clearfield Station… I depart almost one minute late at nearly 6:25am… still trying to make up for my departures from Ogden and Roy.

6:30am – Layton Station… train meet with the northbound… depart on time.

6:38am – Farmington Station… I arrive 2 minutes early and can relax a bit. We depart on time at 6:40am.

6:46am – Centerville Siding waiting for the oncoming Northbound train.

6:51am – Woods Cross Station… one minute late because of waiting for northbound train at the Centerville meet.

7:01am – North Temple Station. This is where I am relieved from duty. I just take a seat on the same train and as a passenger now, and let my replacement engineer take me home.

It takes a little less than an hour go from Ogden to North Temple Station. Of course I could tell all, detailing my awesome train handling skills as I meet difficult sections of track, how I can manage the brakes and throttle ahead to provide perfect timing in the trains delayed performance. I could tell stories of passengers from each station. Like how at Clearfield Station, everyone is lined up in perfect single file at each marked spot on the platform for a door. Yes, those are 8 perfect single file lines waiting for me to stop a door directly in front of each one. (No pressure there on making a perfect station stop!) I could brag about rolling into the “Centerville Siding” early enough to get my train out of the way so that the “Northbound” train won’t get a “Cab hit” which would slow it down. But, this is enough… you get the idea.

At least up here on the north end of the FrontRunner alignment, I feel more like the Groundhog “Phil Connors” at the party (after he has honed his talents, as well as his social skills, to perfection) when Rita (who is surprised at his suave interaction with everyone at the party) asks Phil, “What did you do today?” Phil nonchalantly replies, “Oh, same old same old.”

If I ever get to drive the trains on the south end of our alignment, I probably won’t remember what to do. I’ll be like the bungling Phil Connors on his first few days of his Groundhog Day loop again. But for now it’s looking like that by next April, I’ll be operating my Train 5 on the north end like Groundhog Phil playing the piano at the Punxsutawney Celebration.

Driver’s Training – Train Edition

A few weeks ago I took my youngest child down to the DMV to get her learners permit. This is the 9th and final time that my Beautiful Wife and I have to go through teaching our child to drive a car. Way back when, I blogged about teaching my first child to drive (here).

But this time, as my Baby’s driving instructor, I expect I’ll be more patient than usual as I remember my most recent experience of “Driver’s Training – Train Edition” with me as the student.

Let me start out by saying that there are very few similarities between driving a train and a car. Almost everything you do while driving a train is time delayed. They say that with a freight train you are driving 3 miles ahead and 2 miles behind. The reality is a freight train often needs to react 3 miles before an anticipated event. Of course a freight train can be up to 2 miles long. So the engineer’s immediate area of concern can be this 5 mile range. Our short consist passenger trains don’t operate in this wide of range, but they are closer to that than they are to the operating range of a car. For example, our Commuter trains generally start slowing about a mile before making a station stop. If we were to wait to see the station before hitting the brakes, we’d miss stopping at the station almost every time.

And just the brakes themselves are completely different animals then the brakes on your car or even an 18 wheeler. The train brake systems include; Dynamic Brakes (like the noisy engine brakes on big trucks only different). Air Brakes (With many settings that have descriptive names like Minimum Reduction, Service Zone, Full Service, and Emergency. It also has a few non-braking settings with less descriptive names to the layman like Release, Handle off, and Suppression.) Blended Brakes incorporates both Dynamic Brakes with Air Brakes into the same braking action. Independent Brakes and Hand Brakes are also completely separate braking systems utilized constantly on any train in use.

Of course on your properly operating passenger car, the primary instrument gauge that you monitor while driving is the Speedometer. Besides that, there are many other instruments that need to be monitored (and complied with) on the locomotive. Two Duel air gauges with four needles (all displaying something different yet very pertinent to the condition of the train’s braking capability), along with an amp gauge reading the dynamic braking or power being applied to the train – all must be understood and utilized in the proper handling of the train.

Like I said, it’s a little more involved to stop a train than a car. As you might imagine, accelerating and steering a train don’t have any similarity to operating a car either. For example, our trains also have cab signals that can be more brutal than the toughest backseat driver you have ever experienced. (It nags at you all along the way, and if you don’t comply as quickly as it deems reasonable, it will activate a separate braking system and shut you down immediately.)

I might not admit that the first part of actually driving the train was stressful. (I’m sure that my 56 year old wisdom teeth, which have never bothered me, that now became infected and needed emergency extraction after being clenched in a death grip for too long is just a coincidence.) But it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done. Here is real life dialog (and my thoughts at the time) from just a few of those training runs.

The operating ends are changed at the end of the line and we depart Provo Station northbound:

Instructor: Lock up your doors… got a loop? (We get “a loop” when all passenger doors are properly closed, closing the lockout circuit and illuminating a green indicator light in the control panel.)

My thoughts and actions: Reverser forward… notch 1… release the Automatic Brakes and the Independent Brakes… Bell on… (I’m fumbling because I just switched operating ends and now the brakes are in my right hand and the throttle is in my left… opposite of 15 minutes ago.) … I need to just creep out to activate the crossing gates, but I can’t proceed into the intersection until the gates lock down.

Instructor: Make your radio call to control. Come on you need to learn to multitask.

Me on the Radio: “Train 8 to Warm Springs Control”

Instructor: You are UTA Train 8… and what Warm Springs are you calling, Warm Springs California? Also you need to say “over” so they know you are finished talking. You need to work on your radio protocol.

Me: “UTA Train 8 to UTA Warm Springs Control – over”

UTA Warm Springs Control on the Radio: “UTA Warm Springs Control – over”

Me: “UTA Train 8 is departing Provo Station with operator 8050 and LPI 4151 – over”

Instructor: “Departing Northbound… You need always state the direction of the train… come on, didn’t they teach you anything in class? Come on we need to get going… notch up.”

Me: I’ve now got the train up to about 11mph as we move through the intersection and out of the station.

Instructor: Don’t forget your running brake check… you could get both of us decertified.”

Me: While all of this is going on, I’m also thinking about not exceeding my 15 MPH cab signal speed, which has shut me down at 14mph before.

Instructor: You’re only going 11… your cab signal is going to upgrade right up there. We need to get going to the full cab signal speed or we’ll never make the schedule.”

Me: As we move through the many crossings on this south end of our alignment at progressively increasing speed, I’ve got to turn on the bell for each crossing, and then off again. The Locomotive is so noisy, especially while accelerating, that I can’t hear if the bell is actually on. Meanwhile, each time the cab signals upgrade with it’s associated “Beeps” from 15 to 30, then to 45 or 60, and finally to 79, I need to quickly speed up to those speeds. My instructor wants to hear the “happy” slower beeps. These beeps are from the Cab Signal system warning me that if I go any faster, the Penalty Brakes will automatically apply, shutting the train down completely.

My lack of experience makes it difficult to know when those “Happy” slower beeps become “Angry” faster beeps that will stop the train and require me to make the radio call of shame. (This is especially tricky going over the top of a slight ridge in the alignment, thus starting downhill. The Cab Signal alarm can go from “Happy” to “I’m shutting you down fool” before I can adjust my power setting if I’m not anticipating it.)

Me (over the radio): “UTA Train 8 to UTA Warm Springs Control – Over”

Control (over the radio): “UTA Warm Springs Control – Over”

Me (over the radio): “Train 8 was shut down with a penalty brake on a 79 Speed. We have recovered and are proceeding – Over.”

Instructor: “DIRECTION AND LOCATION… You have to state your direction and location!”

It’s stressful enough to go shooting down the rails, chasing the Cab Signal beeps, approaching grade crossings (Bell on), knowing if someone pulls in front of me, I won’t be able to stop (Bell off). Shooting around blind corners at 79 miles an hour, hoping there are no trespassers to surprise. All while the intensity of the Cab Signal alarm beeping in my ears is increasing my internal stress. But for me, making proper station stops caused my tightest lock-jaw death grip against my former wisdom teeth.

Since we have to begin slowing so far in advance of the station, landmarks are used to know when to begin slowing. At additional landmarks, speed is checked to ensure that I am on track for a proper station stop. It all sounds easy, but my hang up was keeping it all straight. Before I knew the entire rail alignment by heart, many of what we would use as a landmark to “Set Air” to begin the mile long breaking process would look like many other “Non-landmarks”. For example, I could easily confuse a power pole or a highway overpass that is our landmark location to set air with many other power poles or highway overpasses that were not landmark locations. So as I wiz past a distinct pole along the alignment at 79 miles an hour, I’d wonder, “Is that my spot to set air? Isn’t it too soon? Or did I pass it already? Am I now going to blow past the station? That was S-T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L. There are 16 Stations, 14 of which I needed to learn landmarks to approach from two directions. Plus there are several non-station slow-downs for curves that could have an even bigger potential for disaster than just blowing past a station.

Instructor: “You’d better give it a little more air or you’ll miss the stop. This station is downhill.

Me: I increase the pressure on the air brakes while fretting about where exactly I need to bring the train to a stop so that passenger doors line up with the marks on the platform.

Instructor: “Not too much, now you’re going to stop short!”

Me: I back off on my break pressure.

Instructor: “Release the brakes completely. You’re stopping too soon.”

Me: I release the brakes completely and begin notching up the power to get the train moving again.

Instructor: “Not too much! Now you’re going to miss your stop.”

Me: I swing the brake valve handle into “Full Service” and then watch in humiliation as the train ignores my feeble command and cruses passed the door locations painted on the station platform, along with all the people who were expecting to board the train. The train eventually stops about 50 feet beyond the intended marks.

Instructor: “You used up all your air with all those releases and applies. Look, your Dynamics didn’t kick in because you weren’t in Idle. You’re still in Notch 1. Come on, go to Idle, center your reverser, and apply the independent brake. ‘Set and Center’ and make an announcement to your passengers before you enable the doors. Then you need to call control. Hurry up! Oh, and your bell is still on.”
Me: Now frustrated and fumbling, I complete the process to “Set and Center” and key up the PA system. “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention please? Please watch your step as you… I fumble for words.

Instructor: “Exit the train…”

Me: “… As you exit the train.” (This announcement is needed because our platforms are split leveled to accommodate the two different styled passenger cars within our consist. Some passengers stepping off the train will now have an unexpected deep step down.)
I then make the other radio call of shame (besides the Cab Signal System shutting down the train for going too fast).

Me: “UTA Train 8 at Lehi Station to UTA Warm Springs Control. – Over”

UTA Warm Springs Control Room (over the radio): UTA Warm Springs Control. – Over”

Me: “Train 8 stopped one door long. – Over”

UTA Warm Springs Control Room (over the radio): “Did you make an announcement? – Over”

Me: “affirmative – Over”

UTA Warm Springs Control Room (over the radio): “Copy… Control out.”

Training in the dark.

Just when I thought I was getting my bearings straight and could do everything right, I was quickly humbled once again with my first experience of operating at night… well actually in this case it was at 4:00am, but visually it was the same difference.

Nothing on the alignment looked the same. All my reference points of where I needed to speed up or slow down seemed to be gone. I was once again unsure of where the “At grade crossings” were. And inside the Locomotive itself, I once again lost my way around the controls panels. I fumbled in the dark to turn the bell on or off.

When I try to “Notch up” the power, my wrong hand activates the Air Brakes instead.

Instructor: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Sorry”

Instructor: “Dim your lights for that train.”

While fumbling in the dark over the side control panel for the correct switch, I’m also looking up ahead trying to see the train he is referring to. The rail alignment ahead is splattered with various lights shining back at me. I can see street and yard lights, headlights from the interstate beside us, and lights on building and other structures up ahead. But I don’t see the familiar four light pattern and resembles a triangle with it’s top chopped off that I’m looking for.

Instructor: “See! It’s right there.” (He points off to the distant near-left.)

Me: The Train had already dimmed his lights for me. So now it looked just like the many industrial yard lights that spatter the sides of the alignment. I wonder how he even picked out that relatively dim light as an oncoming train, I couldn’t fathom. As I twisted the switch two loud clicks counter-clockwise to dim, my new stress was trying to remember how soon I would need to switch back to full bright for the next crossing. If I missed this, it was a DE-certifiable offense… one of the 6 deadly sins that can get my license revoked.

UTA Warm Springs Control Room (over the radio): “UTA Warm Springs Control to Train 4. – Over”

Me (over the radio): “UTA Train 4 northbound at… (long pause while I try to figure out where I’m at.)

Instructor: “North 5.5”

Me (over the radio): “At North 5.5 – Over.”

UTA Warm Springs Control Room (over the radio): “Train 4, UP is in Emergency Stop at North 5.5 – Over.”

Just as this information is coming over the radio we come upon the Union Pacific train on the rail beside us. (The one I had just dimmed my lights for.) My brain is now going into over speed trying to remember all the G-COR rules suddenly in play.

• Sound “Men and Equipment” warning sequence on the train horn.
• If a train is reported in emergency on an adjoining track proceed at ??? Is it restricted speed?
• The long UP train in emergency stop may be de-railed because of the excessive slack action caused in emergency braking with their long consist.

Instructor: “Remember the rules? We’re the first train through, so we move at restricted speed and inspect the train in emergency.”

The instructor quickly pushed me out of the Engineer’s seat and took over as we now proceeded to move along at 20 MPH, looking for men or equipment, or any of a whole list of things that would require us to stop for. All the while, sounding the “Men and Equipment” horn sequence. At the end of the train inspection, my instructor made the call back to Warm Springs Control to report the condition so they could continue with the established protocol of dealing with “a train in emergency”. I knew that there were additional rules for how fast the second train through could go, and what he should be doing. I would need to review this part of my G-COR training. Out here in the real world, I needed to know all of this stuff by heart in the heat of battle.

There were many more “firsts” in my training. In time even these additional “first time experiences” seemed routine as my confidence increased.

So at the beginning of my training, I was totally dependent on my Instructor to know what to do and where to do it. But just like my other children that I’ve taught to drive cars, and as will happen with Julianna soon enough, before my mandatory training hours were completed, I could easily do all these things that at first seemed so hard. And I wished that the trainer would just go to sleep and let me drive the train.