My father-in-law Abdiel Venegas, shown here, is the inspiration for my 41-year railroad career.
Although my immediate family's railroad history doesn't span generations, I married into a family whose history does, and can't help but take pride in carrying on my in-laws' 150-year legacy. I wanted the American Dream, and I saw someone give that to their family through the railroad.
My father-in-law, Abdiel "Mike" Venegas, worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad in Houston, Texas, for 51 years. He hired on before he turned 18 years old in 1942 but was drafted into the Army a year later. Due to his experience with steam locomotives, he requested to serve with the 740th Railway Operating Battalion and traveled to New Orleans, La., San Antonio, Texas, and Clovis, N.M. He then boarded a train from Clovis to New York City and sailed to Liverpool, England. From there, Mike worked on English, French, Belgian, Dutch and German railroads.
Mike experienced a career turning point in Lyon, France, at 19 years old when a supervisor requested that he move a steam locomotive. He hadn't done the work before, but applied his prior knowledge to move the train. That event created personal confidence. After that, he felt that there was nothing he could not do.
Completing his military service, Mike returned to Houston where he became a machinist after three years, operating machines that manufactured steam locomotive parts. At the Houston General Shops, Mike later maintained the facilities until his retirement on Sept. 18, 1993. Anything that broke down, he had to fix or design a way to make the equipment work. He truly enjoyed every day on the railroad.
In 1947, Mike married Irene Hurtado and started their family. I married their daughter Lydia in 1974, three years after I had begun my own railroad career. Together, we have accumulated 92 years of railroad life. But it doesn't stop there. If you add in the years Mike's father and brothers worked for the industry, we are reaching more than 150 years of railroad service.