For anyone who thinks working for the railroad is romantic, try the track
department. I was one of four white guys in "Big Al White's" Production
gang. I was one of two college boys. That was much worse. After track school
I was assinged to Al White's gang operating out of Harmon. This was good for
me as I lived nearby. It also did not last very long. I was bumped inside of
Because some of the people I am going to talk about are still on the
railroad, I will avoid mentioning names going forward. But during the course
of the summer I worked for T.E Small (deceased) at 125th Street, Bruce Koch
at North White Plains, Big Al White out of Harmon and our gang was
occassionaly loaned out to Foreman Carl Mason. Nick Monteleone was Assistant
Supervisor of Track.
At this point, I will mix up the stories so as to protect the guilty.
One day we were working on the south end of the Hudson Division and the gang
I was then assigned to had an M Form for this track. The assistant track
forman grabbed four of us to hand tamp some ties within an interlocking.
This particular place was just below a curve in the right of way. We had
several track jacks in the switch and were busy with stone forks trying to
bring up the ties. We were at this for about a half hour when suddenly we
heard the horns of an FL-9 that was barreling down upon us.
The Assistant Foreman looked up at the same time that we all did and then
yelled at us to get out of the track. He then grabbed a lining bar, and
being a big man he was able to take that lining bar, swing it like a
baseball bat and knock the track jacks out of place. He then jumped over the
third rail and out of harms way.
When I got out of the way I did what could be termed the stupidest thing you
could think of, and believe me I was not thinking. I was more like panicing.
I jumped over the third rail and into another track without any thought that
there could be a train coming on that track. The Assistant Foreman was a
good guy. I believe he though that the Track Foreman was too tough, to the
point of taking unnecessary risks. More on this in another edition.
Anyway from what I gathered from the Assistant Foreman's remarks the Foreman
had given back the track without ascertaining that the track was indeed
clear. It was not. We were in the gauge with track jacks and were physically
moving the track structure. The Assistant Foreman was mad. Very Mad. I did
not witness the conversation between the Assistant Foreman and the Foreman
but I am certain it took place.
I gotta believe that the engineer reported the incident to the dispatcher
but the Foreman remained the Foreman. If the engineer had not leaned on the
horn, we would not have been aware of the train until much later.
I have in the past on these pages, romanticized the railroad. In the MofW
department at least, it was a dangerous place. You were necessarily going to
work in places that were designed for the passage of large machines not for
people. The environment itself is not Human friendly. Tripping hazards
abound and of course, there is the ever present third rail, 660 volts of DC
electricity that will fry you to a crisp so fast that you won't feel a
The Human factor can not be overlooked. As we all noted I ran a red on the
Sperry Car. That would not have happened if the railroad guy had been up
front with me but that was not the way things worked back then. In the case
of the train bearing down upon us coupled with the Assitant Foreman's
remarks put a reality check into me that has stayed VERY CLEAR in my mind
all these years later.
And that's another edition of From The Archives, in this case the not so
foggy rememberances of a guy who once was on the bottom rung of the
employement ladder on the railroad..............