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Edition #154, July 15, 2011

I Think I’m Getting Old

Photographer: Mark Perry

                                                                            Photo by Mark Perry

I Think I’m Getting Old

32 years ago when I hired out on the railway, 99% of the engineers, conductors and brakeman in my home terminal were old men in their late 50’s/early 60’s.  Many had just hired on after the Second World War up until steam was phased out in the late 50’s.  Back then a wet behind the ears, young punk like me, was lucky enough to work 2 or 3 months a year, banging boxcars around in the yard before being furloughed.  Booming around for a job was a way of life, a necessity, a way to survive.  Getting called by the crew office, for a spare midnight wayfreight job on the weekends because all of the regular road extra board men had booked sick or laid off, was considered a pure stroke of luck in my neck of the woods.

Back then, all those old guys dressed the part, they looked like railroaders, pin striped or denim bib overalls and engineer hats, red handkerchief around their necks, long sleeved, button up collared shirts and high ankle work boots with the pant legs tucked in.  There still was a pride amongst the old guys and they cared about their railway appearance. Those old heads must have looked at us new hires a bit strangely, us wearing wide leg jeans, T shirts, hoodies, ball caps and Lee denim jackets and quietly wondered where is the railway headed?

32 years later at 50 years old, I’ve somewhat become one of those old hoggers, nobody works until they are 65 years old anymore.  With some seniority now, I sit on a somewhat plum Mon-Wed-Fri day job with weekends off making my miles every month.  A job I could have only dreamed of, when I was a young new hire with virtually no seniority.  But just who exactly sits on the opposite side of the cab from me these days?  A guy or gal my age or older?  Not a chance, this is a way freight that actually has to get out and do some work instead of flying around at 60 per on the high iron, get on and off, ride and glide, that’s what it is all about these days isn’t it? 

No my conductor is in his late 20’s, barely hired on 3 years ago, his engineer training turn has already come up but he had too many demerits and a somewhat troublesome work record so he “might” go later on, he hasn’t decided yet.  He works 12 months a year and worked the yard for a few months before being set up permanently on the road.  He has never worked anywhere but in the terminal he hired out, “that would suck if you had to work somewhere else wouldn’t it?”  He plays drums in a rock\punk band on the weekends, hence the reason he took this “difficult and heavy workload” job, we are currently working on.  Both arms are tattooed from shoulder to wrist and have cost the kid the price of a nice used car, the big gold earring in his ears have such large openings in them, you can shove a Bill Clinton cigar through them no prob-lemo!  The skunk stripe on his Billy Idol haircut is courtesy of his girlfriend, a hair stylist.  His most prized possessions in the world other than his drum kit are his new Apple IPhone 4, his Yamaha “crotch rocket” and the $700 dog he just bought.  He tells me that he is not quite sure if he wants to be a railroader for the rest of his working career, he is thinking he might get into real estate and sell some houses for some big, fast cash or then again, being a fireman appeals to him.  He is not quite sure.

I sit and laugh from my side of the cab listening to him every trip, him telling me of all his goals and dreams in life, I say Good Luck to him.  The kid probably sounds the same way I sounded 30+ years ago, going on and on to all those old heads I worked with.  They probably rolled their eyes and quietly laughed at all my goofy notions and expectations just like I am doing today.  Yet the kid does the job safely and in a timely manner. I can’t complain, that’s good enough for me.  Heck I might even go see his band play this weekend......if I can stay awake long enough before they hit the stage at midnight and if I bring my ear plugs along, to kill the noise.

Think?  Hell I know I’m getting old....

Mark Perry

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Revised: 07/09/11 16:04:06 -0400