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Edition #133, September 1, 2010

Defiance at Hamilton

Photographer: Eric Clark

                                                                                 Photo by Eric Clark

Defiance at Hamilton

As with many others, this 16-year-old new driver’s license holder found his way to a local rail yard to hang out at. The early 80s were ‘it’ for some of us here. It was a different time. If we fell down or tripped over something, we weren’t running to a lawyer to sue. The railroads didn’t seem to expect us to. So what’s looked at as trespassing today was treated less harshly back then. Technically, yes, that’s what we were doing.

But the local crews and employees didn’t seem to mind us being there. Whether it was wandering around an active yard, shooting the breeze with the yardmaster, sitting around the crew office waiting for whatever came next, or boarding standing locomotives-everything was good. As long as we didn’t move them or stand on the tracks while they were working, we were fine. There was one individual who, in doing his job, proved us to be a thorn in his side. A man sometimes referred to as ‘Barney Fife’ by the other employees. The aging B&O cop. He could materialize out of thin air. I still have the written warning he issued once after finding us out by the main waiting to get a shot ‘somewhere different’. The yardmaster got a kick out of that one. “He got ya, hoss, didn’t he?” he laughed when we showed him the citation.

Eventually, I think he gave up. It was a cold winter night and we were sitting around the crew office here enjoying the snack machine, drinking coffee, smoking cigars, and reading bulletins like we owned the place. Then he showed up again.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Drinking coffee.” A friend responded.

“There’s a HUNDRED places you can get coffee other than this place!”

“Yeah. But I want coffee here.”

Instead of writing us another warning or forcing us to leave, he threw up his hands, shook his head, and left. He never seemed to bother us after that. Looking back, I understand he was just doing his job and hope he didn’t catch a lot of flak about us being there. I really don’t think he did or some of the other local officials would have said something to us. Two of us went on to get jobs with other railroads later in life. At times I think that was our punishment for pestering him.

Things only began to change when the Chessie/Seaboard merger came through. From then on it was never the same. The yard closed in ’88 and was eventually torn up. The buildings are all gone now. But the memories are still there along with all the names. Names like Kling, Collins, Oplinger, Padgett, George, Cummins, and Ante just to name a few. Those were the old heads that made it real.

Eric Clark

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