From Displaced Person to Section Hand and Weed Burner

by Alan Tast

My father, Herbert Tast, and his family emigrated from Germany to the Yutan area in mid-1952 to start a new life in America after losing their farm in eastern Germany at the end of WWII. Living as displaced persons (DPs) in West Germany, they emigrated to Nebraska. My father and his younger brother worked as section hands on the Beatrice Branch between Valley and Mead with other local men who became lifelong friends, and one even became my uncle, marrying my mom's sister. For a while they lived in the section house in Yutan, riding bicycles about six miles one way from a farm north of Mead where the rest of the family was staying until they saved up enough money to buy a small farm between Yutan and Ashland, next to the CB&Q line.

During the summer, my father would travel the Eastern Division between Council Bluffs and Green River, sometimes as far west as Ogden, as well as Denver to Kansas City on the old Kansas Pacific, running a weed burner as part of the 'gandy dancer' crews, sleeping in converted outside-braced wood boxcars. Some times he would catch a ride back to Valley on a Stream- or Domeliner.

One story he had was of riding on a fast mail train being pulled by an 800-class Northern, counting 40 telephone poles in one minute on a stretch between North Platte and Grand Island, meaning they were doing 120 mph and making up time! Another was riding in the cab of a 4000-class Big Boy between Laramie and Cheyenne. Wyo., and especially Cheyenne, became one of his favorite destinations, taking in Frontier Days or watching the parade of Domeliners and the last runs of Challengers and Big Boys going over the newly-completed Track 3 bypass at Dale Junction near Sherman Hill.

In 1957, my uncle was drafted into the Army and left the section gang, while my father purchased the Yutan depot and dismantled it. In 1959, he used the lumber, windows and shingles for the new house he built on the north end of Yutan next to the UP tracks where he lived until he passed away in 2009. The house is where my mother still lives and where I grew up watching trains out my bedroom window. With the demise of the steam engine his position was phased out, and he was furloughed in 1959 just prior to getting married. He went on to a 30+ year career as a carpenter in Omaha.

From my father I came to appreciate what Union Pacific provided for our family, and my appreciation continues to this very day.

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Steam Trains, Family, Working at UP
Yutan, NE
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