Stories

The Calm Before The Storm

by Betty Anne Strawn

The year would be 1986, and the location would be the UPRR, North Platte Bailey Yards, North Platte, Neb. Steven M. Strawn was an Electrical Foreman, 8-12 shift, service track. Foreman Strawn was an over-enthusiastic employee and could not understand why everyone else was not as enthusiastic.

This particular evening, Steve was working with a friend, well-liked Machinist Foreman Dean Hickenbottom. The inbound/outbound service track crew was waiting on the arrival of locomotives. It was basically the calm before the storm, and pending the arrival of the locomotives, all service track employees were sent to the lunch room to eat. No sooner had they left, than oodles of locomotive consists arrived. Steve telephoned the lunch room to notify the crew of this, but his call went unanswered.

In the meantime, Steve was setting switches, hooking up handrail safety chains, setting up headlight control switches on each locomotive (lead, middle, or trailing unit), setting up air brakes for the locomotive's position in the consist (lead or trail), and if a locomotive rolled in dead, checking to see if it would have to be shopped.

The annoyed District Foreman Bob Gay, was sitting in the tower, observing Steve working the locomotives by himself. He was incessantly on the radio asking, "What's going on down there? Where are all your people? Why aren't your people working on these locomotives? I hope you understand these trains can't be late? Do you have all your safety chains up?"

Steve was also on the radio asking his foreman to return to the service track and, when possible, rushing into the foreman's shack to telephone the lunch room to get his crew back. No one answered the lunch room phone.

After approximately 45 minutes and still no response, Steve walked swiftly to the lunch room. The wall phone was located next to the door, and as Steve walked in the door, he jerked the phone off the wall and tossed it on the lunch table. "Apparently no one is ever going to answer this phone, so you really don't need one. We have consists to work" he roared. And he stomped out the door.

Dean Hickenbottom caught up with Steve as he was walking back. After a few minutes, Dean said, "Well, I guess what they say about you is true. You really are an ass." And both men laughed.

Nonetheless, the crew worked the locomotives and all consists were on time. The following evening, at the beginning of the shift, Steve apologized to the crew for yelling and jerking the phone out of the wall, and yes, also for being such an ass.

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1
1986
Working at UP
North Platte, NE
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