Nicknames, and some fellow employees
One railroader wrote in a rail fan magazine that he carried a notebook
to write about happenings on the railroad. It did not take him
long to realize that unless you knew the railroad, rules, practices,
and personalities, these incidents were largely inaccessible to
outsiders. Anyhow, here goes......
Mentioned to my brothers that Susan Sontag had sold her papers to UCLA
for some $850,000 but that they were out of luck with me. The
best they could do with me was to get a few dollars for my rules cards
and annual pass at a railroad show.
Before I retired, I had written down a list of nicknames that I remembered.
I read them to my Mother's roommate in the nursing home. She had
wide interests and enjoyed hearing about the railroad, how it worked,
and some of the characters that I had worked with.
On paper, the railroad identified employees by their two initials and
last name. Some nicknames came from an employees initials.
||Had a reputation as a womanizer
||He tried hard, but nothing ever quite came out right. There were a lot of stories about some of his adventures.
||One of the notable dummies on the railroad. A fellow
who hired out at the same time came from the Navy. Evidently W.T.
meant water tight in the Navy. This matched his brain, not much
in or out.
||Don't know his last name, or what circumstances hung the appellation on him.
||Very rotund before his heart attack.
||'Real Nasty Bastard'
||Very grouchy and short tempered.
Other nicknames came from idiosyncrasies or other circumstances.
||Need I say more?.
||Loud voice and talkative, with a nod to the cowboy movie actor.
||'The Hay Shaker'
||From Oklahoma. A fellow by the name of O'Connor was already called Okie, so that nickname was not available.
||From the movie - Lawrence of Arabia.
||Had a temper. This was, with a notable exception or two, used behind his back.
||Had a big beard. That was not popular in the 1950's. He
also had trouble with alcohol. He had to shave off his beard to
get back after being fired for alcohol. Named for the bewhiskered gents
on Smith Brothers cough drop boxes. Last rumor we heard about him was
in Pocatello, where he offered a Trainmaster a drink, and the railroad
pulled the pin on him permanently. He was also well educated. One night we were talking about being understood on the radio.
When he happened to walk by, I asked him who the Greek orator
was that put rocks in his mouth and shouted over the surf. He
could answer, Demosthenes, if I remember correctly. He also
walked in a distinctive way, you could tell it was him in the distance,
even after dark.
||'Gracie'; also 'Rigor Mortis'
||From Gracie of Burns and Allan. He had been off sick,
and still looked bad when he came back to work. George Ladenes used to call him 'Riggie' for short.
||The PFE jobs were being phased out and he did not have much
to do. He could walk in the door, sit down, and be asleep in 5
||Never did hear how he got the nickname.
||Supposedly rode a tank car without brakes all the way down the lead into the turntable pit, bellowing all the way.
||A stockyards employee who stopped at 'A' Yard every night to see what the U.P. was going to bring him.
||A French Canadian.
||For his imperious actions one night. Later a fellow
clerk sometimes mentioned his name to hear me reply 'Long live the
Dispatcher that hated to give a clear signal to anyone.
One night a red faced and furious S.P. switchman stormed in the
door when I was at 'A' Yard. My life was not in danger, but he
sure wanted to know who the Dispatcher was. He said that coming
down the river every
signal they came to was red. There was no reason to stop a heavy cut
at every signal, get off the engine, and go to the Dispatcher's
phone. About the time that he would get to the phone the signal
clear for one more block. A somewhat similar situation happened
one night on a 'hot' move with the General Yardmaster himself on the
||Had a low pitched voice, and never did speak very distinctly.
||Not one of our smarter railroaders.
a shaved head from the 1950's until he retired. When he died the
family included his nickname in the obituary printed in the L.A. Times.
||He was an Anglo whose father was a diplomat in Mexico. He spoke with a strong Spanish accent.
||A fast talking Mexican. The fellows that knew him
well could get away with calling him 'Wetback'. One time a new
immigrant from Ireland that had just hired out tried to be an old head
and called him 'Wetback'. With a dramatic flair he jumped up and
ran over to the Irishman hollering and shouting and stood over him waving his
arms and saying, "I can't go back to Mexico, I killed a man!" He got the
Irishman's undivided attention.
||The stories varied, but he had jumped out the window twice, once for a tumbleweed he mistook for a boulder.
||'Frantic Fred', or 'Fast Freddie'
||A nervous and impatient implementor from Omaha. We
would always get a display of harmless temper when the computer did not
work as it should have.
||'No Nuts Nannette'
||Began life as a man, and had the sex change operation, and supposedly a woman.
||Always had offbeat cars, such as a Citroen.
||Really was tall and slim.
know how he picked up his nickname. S.P. switchman and foreman on
the S.P. interchange job. He was an
older fellow. He used to talk about romancing the women at the
Elks Club bar. Hadn't seen him for a while when the U.P. was
handling the job. When the S.P. took their turn on the
interchange job, Slim was still the foreman. Told him I
thought that he had retired and was hanging around the swimming pool in
Palm Springs watching the girls. He said that he did not have the
bus fare to Pomona.
||Used to clamp down on his jaw when angry, which was quite
often. The nickname was not used much. With his wild
temper, no one was quite sure of what he might do. Seeing the
humorous side was alien to his view of life. From the movie, Jaws.
||'Captain', or 'Commander'
of the 3 biggest liars on the railroad. He was
always telling outlandish war stories. When his son came to work
for the railroad, the son asked why everyone called his father
'Commander'. One of the fellows met the 'Commander' at the door that
very morning and asked him why his family did not know about his
military exploits. Without blinking an eye or missing a beat, he
replied that it was a military secret that he could not reveal to his
family. He then went about his business, not bothered at all by
||Once talked about becoming an x-ray technician.
||A special agent.
||Finesse was not his strong suit.
||Always telling how things were done when he worked for the P.E.
||An older fellow who always worked the midnite shift, usually with younger fellows.
||An S.P. employee. One of the U.P Yardmasters always
asked about him when he happened to be talking to the S.P. Never
had to ask for him by name, the nickname was sufficient.
||For his pronounced beer belly.
||A rail fan.
||Bit player in the movies.
Yardmaster, and quite a character. When he was
working on busy nights, events often appeared to be spinning out of
control. Somehow, by the end of the shift, everything seemed to
work out OK. One of the clerks used to joke with him about
starting 'Woody's Yardmaster School'. At the time there was a
scandal ready to boil over in Washington about a close associate of
Lyndon Johnson, Bobby Baker. A fellow by the name of Bobby Brown hired
out as a clerk. He was barely able to read and write. Trying to
get any work done with him around was driving me crazy. Woody
kept up with news. Woody, in his good natured way, kept needling me
about Bobby Baker as he called him, and I have never been able to
forget either name.
||Fanatic on cleanliness. Walked around with a paper towel in his hand. Named from a soap of the day.
Heard the following on the Santa Fe radio, never did know anything about them
- 'Pooh Bear'
- 'High Note'
Back to the U.P.
Some nicknames such as 'Cough Drop', 'Mumbles', and 'Banjo' were known
by one and all and sufficient for identification under all conditions.
Others such as 'Seldom' and 'Hammerhead' were only used behind the owners back.
Some others were only used among close friends, or carried down by old heads from long years earlier.
There were innumerable stories carried down through the years. Some
were known to the whole Yard, others to smaller circles of employees. A
few were known only to those involved in the incident, and revolved
around what had actually occurred.
One Conductor always enjoyed telling about being in Conductors Room
when a heavy gondola loaded with steel derailed out on the lead. The 5
or 6 fellows in the small room all had the same idea and got wedged in
the doorway on their out. At the time the Carmen were
proud of their new heavy duty truck with a heavy duty crane. When I
came on duty they tried to lift the car, but all it did was to settle
the truck down on the blocking. The Car Foreman said: "Give me
steam!". He would have to use the regular wrecking crane.
E.C. 'Gene' Berney had been a Switchman and Yardmaster. He transferred
to Las Vegas. Years later he came into Los Angeles on a run-through
crew. He and some of the local fellows were talking about old times. It
was not long before a story from his days at the 'C' Yard Tower was
remembered, and accompanied with a lot of laughter. When shoving a long
cut into the long tracks at 'C' Yard, to save a long walk some of the
Switchmen would tie 6 good handbrakes on the cut and then get off to
watch the end of the cut in the distance until it got to where it was
supposed to be. Sometimes the handbrakes would bog the engine down.
One time an Engineer called Berney over the radio and said that
he could not move the cut any farther. Berney said: "Take the slack and
shove". The Engineer tried several times, but was unable to move the
cut. A new Switchman had lined the wrong switch, and as many cars as it
is possible to shove off the end of the track were in the dirt. Berney
was properly abashed as the fellows had a good time laughing as they
repeated Berney's "Take the slack and shove".
J.K. Westbrook deserves special mention. He was not the smartest
man on the railroad, but in an almost charming way. Until he quit
smoking, he smoked small cigars until they were about to blister his
lip. He spoke in short bursts of phrases. "Get 'em on the
roll-by", or "Here we go, buddy" as he would say on his way out the
All you would have to do is repeat one or other of the phrases,
and everyone knew who you were talking about. Before he left the
office, he would always take a very short sip of water. No matter
hot it was. It was as if it was the only water in his canteen
that had to last for the whole day. There was a hot train called
the 'Merchandise' which was called late in the afternoon. The boxcars
came from the Freight House at 8th and Alameda. Trailer traffic was
comparatively new, a few of them came from the Trailer Dock. The
train was made up on one of the Wash Tracks after they been pulled.
When the boxcars from the Freight House at 8th and Alameda went by the west end of the
yard, someone would call the Yard Office and a clerk would walk across
to the main lines to get a roll-by as they went towards the ELA Depot
to shove back into the yard. Johnny was somewhat hunchbacked. When
Johnny was working, there were several volleys of "Get 'em on the
roll-by" and "Here we go, buddy" back and forth between Johnny and the bystanders in
the Yard Office as he was churning his way out the door.
One of the fellows was a poor driver, always getting traffic
tickets. Within a week, he got two tickets from the same
policeman. Once there was a more or less worthless fellow that
the railroad for a while. He was working the midnite shift as
messenger. He drove into the narrow road to 'A' Yard and fell
asleep in the middle of the road. Our poor driver was going out
to lunch. With his windows obscured by dew, he backed right into
him. Years later he got a ticket in a town with only one
policeman. When he was working the midnite shift at the 'C' Yard Tower
check a track, come into the Yard Office at the East End of 'C' Yard
for coffee and to shoot the breeze. He always hoped that when he
called the Yardmaster, he could walk back without doing anything, but
usually there was a track to check. At that point he would slam
down the phone and mutter some well chosen words about the injustice of
it all. Once we put a 'Don't slam me!' notice on all the phones
in the office.
The U.P. had a very good Hospital Association that covered all the
employees. It was out of character for a railroad to be so
generous. Never did hear how or why it had come to be. When
dialysis was new, it took a bit of pressure from the Clerks Union, but
a fellow was put on dialysis. (The people that knew him said that
his health would have been much better if he had not been such a heavy
consumer of alcohol). Years ago the Association paid for everything, the only exception being
mental illness and what were then called so delicately: the social
diseases. Our poor driver was always bothered about the exception of the social
diseases. He said that if there was anything he could not stand,
it was a moralizing railroad.
The newspaper once reported that a court had ordered the U.P. to
furnish birth control pills to female employees. It reminded me of how
the Chief Clerk used to order aspirin from the Dispensary. He
said that they probably thought that he was the sickest S.O.B. on the
railroad. We kept them in a drawer where they were available
around the clock. One time a switchman came in and asked for
aspirin. As I opened the drawer, he noticed that they were in an
unmarked container. I said, 'Who knows, they might be left over
birth control pills from the gal on the afternoon shift'. He
shook his head, and walked off with his headache. Did not expect
things to go that far.
One of the older fellows was quite a character. He and his son
were Mormons, but not good ones. His son was working as a
switchman. Not long after I hired out I was working the afternoon
shift. He came in looking for his son. He was mad at
everyone. He was especially mad at the Crew Dispatchers for
handing his son his paycheck after he had had too much to drink.
The railroad was busy, and his son had been working 16 hours a
day and had a big paycheck. Unfortunately, his son had started
out payday in a bar. The father was scouring the area trying to
find his son before he spent his entire big paycheck. By the way, does
anyone remember the last time they saw someone on TV admitting the
reason that they had no money after they had retired was because they
had spent it all in a bar when they were young?
He used to come in at least 30 minutes early, get a cup of coffee, and
walk around talking to himself. It sometimes caused confusion
when a new employee was around. The new employee would politely
answer him as he walked by talking to himself, mystifying both of them until
it got straightened out.
One time he came in about 7:30 in the evening, got his cup of coffee
and commenced his usual routine of walking around talking to
himself. Finally one of the fellows asked him what he was doing
the evening. It turned out that he had been drinking and had
fallen asleep on the couch. He woke up and saw it was time to go
to work, not noticing that it was evening instead of morning. He
asked the fellows not to say anything, but it was too juicy a story to
He was a rabid Democrat. He had been laid off during the
Depression. One of the older fellows said that he had been
troublesome in his early years, getting into fights and such. He
said that if the railroad had really wanted to, they might have found
somewhere to put him during the Depression, but with his track record
made no attempt to do so.
One morning during the political season we were changing shifts.
He hated Nixon. As he was walking by with his cup of coffee
and talking to himself, I mentioned something about Nixon. Griff,
an older fellow relieving me got really mad at me,
grumbling "Bleepedly bleep Crowner, now we are going to have to
Nixon ALL day long. Bleepedly bleep".
The fluorescent lights used to burn out now and then.You could
smell it for an hour or two, then a hiss and some smoke as it burned
out. Nothing more ever happened. It happened one afternoon
when Hank was the Chief Clerk. Victor Beck was agitating him,
saying 'Call the Fire Dept.' Hank would reply 'Who do I call?'
They went back and forth that way 7 or 8 times before Beck was
finished with the fun.
A woman from Kansas City had worked for the U.P. there. When she
was breaking up with her husband she put her daughters and some clothes
but no pots or pans or anything else into the car and came to
California. It is all hazy, from sometime around 1965. I
think that she was living in a motel when she hired out with the U.P.
here. She then moved in for a while with one of the other women
in the Yard Office. I was the Nite Asst. Chief Clerk. While
not on the bid sheet, the coffee pot came with the job. She was
quite attractive. The first night she worked, the coffee pot was
empty in 2 hours as all the crews were coming in to get a cup of coffee
and to see the new girl. That was the fastest the coffee pot had
Later she was working on the keypunch machines with an easy going
fellow named Jack. We were all quietly working one night when
Jack suddenly stood up and with a very loud and quite agitated voice
said 'I am not an old grouch!' Never did hear what she said
that had set him off.
Jack was good at keeping secrets. My specialty in my early years
on the railroad was to chop up rubber bands and put them in pipe
tobacco. The fellows soon learned to keep their tobacco in their
pocket. One time Jack said that I had never put anything into
Eddie Brien's tobacco. I said that Eddie did not have much of a
sense of humor, and besides that I had to work with him. Jack
said that he would not say anything. I somehow believed him, and
loaded Eddie's tobacco with rubber bands. About 2 weeks later all
three of us happened to be on the same shift. Jack, with perfect
nonchalance and absolute innocence said, 'Eddie, haven't seen your pipe
lately.' My heart about stopped. Eddie said that the pipe
had not tasted very good lately. Then I had a hard time to keep
from laughing. Jack never said a word about me. Fortunately
nothing more ever came of it.
One summer a college kid was working vacations. I put rubber
bands in his tobacco. It smelled awful as he left to go
home. It smelled even worse that night when he came in for the
shift. I finally told him what was going on in order to end the
assault on our noses. He then said 'So that is what happened'.
He went to to say that when he had stopped for gas the attendant
(that was when gas stations had attendants) had smelled something
burning, but they were unable to find anything wrong with his car.
I was laughing so hard I had to go outside for a while.
Another time someone had forgotten some tobacco on the window sill.
I did my usual with it. About two weeks later one of the
fellows put it into his pocket. Later he innocently gave it to a
switchman at 'C' Yard, and had to do some fast talking to the switchman
and bystanders when the fellow tried to smoke it.
The Yard Office never did ventilate very well, and at times the smoke
would hang heavy. One of the fellows was not too smart, a former
smoker to boot, and got a brilliant idea. Whenever the smoke got
too heavy, he would light some incense. That upset all the
smokers. It ruffled a lot of feathers and went up and down the
line to both management and union. The guy was also a fanatic on
cleanliness. He walked around and opened files and drawers with a
paper towel. He scrubbed his typewriter and phone so they were
always stained white with soap residue. His job was a daylite
only job, so on the night shift we would leave flies on his desk.
It did not really matter to him, he would have scrubbed the area
anyhow. Once we got a big piece of plastic out of a car on
the wash track and wrapped his desk. With some ribbons and a 'Sanitized for your
protection' notice from a motel, the package was ready for him in the
morning. He had enough of a sense of humor to partly enjoy the
attention. He was known as 'Mr. Clean' from the soap of the same
With the poor air conditioning, and to try to keep the peace, the
railroad eventually put a plastic cover with a lock over the
thermostat. I would take a match or two and heat the plastic to
start the air conditioning running for a while. Some of the other
fellows used many more matches and were starting to melt the plastic.
Getting back to Jack, and the ultimate secret. He was easy going,
and his practice was to take a month off to go home to Canada for
vacation. One year the railroad refused his application for a
leave. So he resigned, took his usual vacation in Canada, and
then came back and hired out again. All he lost was his
seniority. Which for him was of little concern.
He had never talked about a family or women. As far as anyone
knew, he was a bachelor. One day a woman called the Chief Clerk
on the daylite shift and said that she was Jack's wife, and that Jack
had a heart attack, died, and would not be coming to work anymore.
The Chief Clerk thought someone was trying to pull some sort of
stunt, and argued with her. She stood her ground, and finally
convinced him. Then he had to apologize. There was a
teen aged boy and girl also. The fellows that went to the funeral
said that the boy walked in the same manner that Jack did. Never
did hear anything more about his family. I had know him for 20
years by then, and cannot imagine what his situation was.
Afterwards one of the women said that his lunch was wrapped more
neatly that a man would have wrapped it, but that was only in hindsight
Some other employees
There used to be a job on the Alameda Team Track at 8th and
the night shift. He worked by himself. One of his duties
was to come to the Yard Office and pick up all the paperwork and
it to the Freight House adjacent to the Alameda Team. This clerk
had a reputation. Soon after I hired out, he did not show up for
the paperwork. G.E. 'Buck' Buchanan, the Chief Clerk that night,
called around to some of his friends. No one knew where he was,
other than he was supposed to be at work. Without saying
anything to anyone 'Buck' pulled the phone book out of the drawer, and
called the jails around Los Angeles asking if they had our fellow
employee. Don't remember why he was not at work, but this
preacher's kid learned immediately that he was in the big leagues.
Later this fellow was living with two women in the same house. In
later years he was working at the L.A. Junction. He and
the two women were all large people. One of the fellows that
worked with him said that when the lunch truck saw him and his two
women coming out the door, the truck was going to make a profit.
When the U.P. personnel finally were phased out at the L.A.
Junction, he relieved me at "A' Yard. I only saw one of the
women. When 'A' Yard was phased out, I went to the Yard Office,
and he went to the Freight House. When his job later came up for bid, I
asked about him, and he had cancer. I went to the hospital to
visit him. He was too far gone by then to carry on a
conversation. One of his relatives had come to visit him.
She said that they knew something was wrong when he quit eating
after Thanksgiving. Truer words were never said. He was
dead by Christmas. I went to his funeral, and really would like
to have known who all the people were that attended.
When I hired out there was a fellow employee, Charles Garabedian, who
was an artist. He was working for the railroad and also a
teaching assistant at UCLA. He left the railroad to teach at
UCLA. One time when Charlie was at the L.A.J. he got into an
the Agent, a U.P. employee named G.L. Pulliam. Pulliam was reputed to
be well over 65,
and had a 1910 or so seniority date. Nothing happened for a day.
Then the Agent ran him off the L.A.J. and back to the U.P. Yard
Office. One of the fellows joked that with Charlie's education
the Agent had to go home and get his dictionary to see what Charlie had
called him. My brother the professor once saw a Garabedian painting in
museum downtown. Rather strange that any culture could come to my
brother through me. Garabedian had a fine sense of humor and a
light hearted view of life.
He was not a tormented personality. He had an old Ford.
Someone had torched off the top The road that came into the
yard had a sharp turn as it climbed over a track, and then a sharp turn
the other way. One day he somehow rolled the car. One of
the fellows later noted that it took several days before Charlie
realized that he could have been killed. That was in the days
before seat belts.
I once noticed Garabedian's name in the Art section of the L.A. Times.
I wrote him a short note mentioning that I had worked with him 40 years
earlier. He invited me to his studio. Before visiting him it took only
a few hours to dredge up from my memory at least 50 names of fellow
employees that we had worked with 40 years earlier. There were a lot of
people around the railroad in those days.
When the railroad abolished the telegraph operator job there were many
rumors about who would be put in the former telegraph room. One
rumor was that the IBM machines would go in there since they were so
noisy. One of the fellows that worked the IBM machines was
perpetually worried. This rumor really bothered him, he did not
want to be in the back room alone with a woman. It took me some
time to figure out the reason for his concern. Thinking it over, when
there was a problem, it was the fellow that got the boot. The
woman stayed on.
Once there was a fellow from Egypt working as a clerk. There were
a lot of stories about him. One Christmas he was working at the
Trailer Dock.When the Supervisor from the Trailer Dock happened
to come to the Yard Office, he brought a Christmas Card from the
Egyptian to the Supervisor in the Yard Office. As he handed the
card to the Supervisor he said, "Please don't open it until I am gone."
That was when people in the Middle East were mailing letter bombs.
The ATSF ran the Egyptian out of Hobart Tower. He wanted to argue rather than run trains.
One of the few times I raised my voice was at the Egyptian. It was not
a judgment call. I explained several times how the rules applied to the
situation. Finally I raised my voice and told him what we were going to do.
A few times he made Egyptian coffee. It was in a small cup and
exceedingly bitter. If or when you finished the coffee, he would read
your fortune from the mush at the bottom of the cup. After examining
the mush at the bottom of Willie's cup, in his thick Egyptian accent he told Willie that his
past was lousy, and that his future was lousy too. It left Willie standing
there with his mouth open, but no sound coming out.
The last we ever heard of the Egyptian were several articles in the
L.A. Times. He had an illegal food cart in front of the building that
the California Supreme Court used when they were in Los
Angeles. He was attempting to get the Supreme Court Judges to
him in his troubles with the Health Dept.
One fellow liked to act dumb. A few of the fellows sometimes
called him 'Dumb U...........' He was not necessarily as dumb as
he liked to act. His eyes sometimes bounced in a strange manner.
One afternoon he worked his regular shift, and then was going to
work the next shift as overtime. Around 2 or 3AM he went out for
lunch. However he fell asleep before he had gone 300 feet. He hit
a pole that carried the steam line across the yard. He hit it
fair and square, right on the hood ornament. He cut his scalp on
the windshield. It was not really funny, but I could not help
smiling at the thought of some unfortunate doctor trying to examine
'Dumb U........' for a head injury at 2 or 3AM in the morning.
Not being too smart could have its advantages. Once there were
problems at the Harbor. Two fellows were fired, one ending up in
court along with a railroad customer. One of the other employees
was unscathed. The word on the grapevine was that whatever had
been going on, this employee would not have been aware of it.
One classic story was when one of the crew bus drivers got together
with a conductor, neither of which were too smart. The event
could have only happened between those two. I think that Jess Fitch was the brakeman on
the job who told me the story later. When the conductor came out to the
bus, the driver asked the conductor where he wanted to go. The
conductor asked the bus driver where he wanted to go. They went
back and forth until the conductor said to leave the yard and get some
food. So away they went. The carmen plus management were waiting
out at the train, and management wanted the train out of town right
away. None of the crew had their radios turned on. No one could
get in touch with the crew, or knew where they had gone. They
left the yard office and disappeared from the face of the earth as far
as the railroad was concerned. Besides having left the yard, it took
them a long time to get served. By the time they got back to the
yard the situation was so ridiculous that it was laughable.
Another classic that I could enjoy since I was not responsible or
involved was a crew that was supposed to go to the west end of "A"
Yard, take two lite units to the Harbor, and come back with a train.
Knowing the people involved only
added to the enjoyment. The units were nowhere to be found. What should
have been a routine move took two
or three hours and a lot of talking on the radio before the crew was
able to find their power and get by me at Hobart Tower to leave town.
Rather than bringing the Harbor power to the west end of the yard, the
Hostlers had been
confused and left it to deadhead east behind the power on
an eastbound train. The units could not be seen until someone
walked back along the track. Then the Hostlers had to be found to get
the units off the train and give them to the outbound Harbor crew.
One night W.... twisted his ankle. Raleigh Jones was the
messenger and took him to the hospital. It turned out to be quite
a story. They, unfortunately, went to the wrong door. A
nurse told them where the correct door was, and offered a
wheelchair. W..... said that he was not sick, it was his ankle
When they got to the doctor asking questions on the forms, it got
no better. W...... did not see any connection between being a
Methodist, similar questions and his hurting ankle. The doctor
took his blood pressure, and said that it was high, he really should
have something done about it. At that point, W..... said that if
he could have walked, he would have walked out. After treating
him, the doctor gave W..... some pain pills. When he got back to
work several weeks later, W..... said that he had thrown the pills
away. He said that he would never take any pills from a doctor
Raleigh Jones was a waiter off the dining cars. He came to the
Yard Office when Amtrak took over. From the manner Raleigh told
the story of the encounter, he had heard us talking about W....., but
had not taken us seriously. He was a believer now.
W..... had trouble keeping a telephone. One night he was eligible
for overtime, but no telephone. Some four hours later W....
called. However, everything had been taken care of earlier.
One of the other employees on the shift, without telling any else
had gotten involved. She had sent W..... a telegram. She
always worked the afternoon shift. Once when I was working with
her she was on the phone a long time telling her son what to cook and
how to cook it for supper. A while later he called, and then she
was telling him how to get the burned mess out of the pan. Her dog
died and she had it buried at a pet cemetery. It broke her heart
when they charged her $5 or $10 extra to open the casket for a last
look at the dog. She stayed two or three hours after the end of a
shift writing a letter to the cemetery. She was another one that
was often late. Her record as far as I know was 2 hours late one
Christmas Eve. There was not much work on the holiday, so I was
able to send her home 2 hours later.
In 44 years I had known three generations of two families, and more
families with two generations on the railroad. One employee seemed
surprised that I had known his father. I attempted to be at my discrete
and diplomatic best, and did not tell him how well I knew his father.
The father had a distinct problem with Rule G on or off the railroad. A
fellow horse player sometimes called him by the name of the wrong horse
that he had bet on. Two horses had similar names, and with some drinks
under his belt he put his money on the wrong one. The horse he intended to
bet on won the race. One time I had to clean up the paperwork mess he
made of his train. From what he said over the radio as his train arrived, I knew we were
going to have a problem when the paperwork got to us.
Tellers of tall tales
One set of employees always fascinated me. They were the three
biggest liars on the railroad. Everyone acquainted with them knew
them to be tellers of tall tales, many of said tall tales being told
for no reason whatsoever. Since everyone knew the liars job
responsibilities and what they were authorized to do, they could more
or less trusted to do their job. Anything else was not to be
believed unless corroborated by some other source.
War stories were among their favorite flights of fancy. Never
having been in the Armed Forces, even I could soon tell that all was
not well with either their memories of imaginations. I was never
able to understand what these three got from always telling tall
tales. Even more perplexing was their lack of embarrassment when
their lies were exposed.
The best example was a man of distinguished appearance, looking you
straight in the eye, and speaking with the utmost sincerity. And
unless you had some sort of independent proof you were foolish to
believe a word of it! A young and hard charging management
trainee was in Los Angeles to get experience out in the field. When
talk turned to injuries the employee said that his arm had been torn
off in an accident and had been sewed back on. Hard charging
management trainee said that he had heard about the stories. So he asked
to see the arm. The sleeve was rolled up. Hard charging
management trainee said "There is no scar there!" The reply was,
"Those surgeons were real experts". Another of his stories was
that a pilot on a 747 had a heart attack and died. The copilot
was so upset that the control tower had to call him in to talk the copilot
down. He once talked about living next to a radio personality.
That eventually turned out to be true. He used to talk about a
video store. A fellow employee had installed carpet there, so there was
some element of truth there.
The second was somewhat derisively called 'Captain' or 'Commander' because of all his war stories.
The third was not as good a liar, but had a most vivid imagination.
One employee was well known for the bunch of nudist magazines that he
always carried. In later years he dressed up. One time an
IBM customer engineer saw him walking in dressed up and with his brief
case. The customer engineer thought he was a Supervisor and
walked over to him, just as he was dragging out his magazines. It
was not what the customer engineer expected to see. It set him
back a step or two. This employee always said that his children
had a good sex education. One evening when I was on duty, he came
in to pick up his paycheck. He had his family along. One of
the fellows kept a close eye on any women in the vicinity. The
daughter came over to him and invited him home for more than a
beer. The fellow politely declined. He wanted nothing
to do with THAT family. For anyone else, your life might have
been in danger if you were between him and the door.
Current events trigger 40 year old memories
Our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has been
struggling with the gay issue. There were several meetings held
on the issue. At one of them a Pastor said that since we are
ill at ease talking about sex in our family, the same holds true in our
Church family. He said it very nicely. If I had been
listening more closely, I might have heard a bit of 'If you were only
as sophisticated as we are, this would not be such a problem'.
It was not until that evening that the thought of my fellow employee's
daughter with a good sex education and her kind offer popped into my head. The memory kept
me amused for several days. I still keep in touch with the fellow
that declined the kind offer. So I called him and mentioned the
meeting I had attended and the memory our fellow employee's daughter. We laughed
about a 40 year old incident all over again. I have wracked my
brain since, but cannot remember whether I overheard the conversation,
believed my fellow employee, or both. The usual rule around the
railroad is not to believe anything you hear, and not too much of what
Even more fellow employees
I always brought my lunch along. I seldom went out to eat
unless I was working 16 hours. Around 1955 East L.A. was a much more
multicultural area than now. The afternoon PFE clerk often went out to
get various ethnic foods. When he returned with pizza Tom Finley and
would share a pepperoni and onion pizza. Fifty years later I still
think about Tom whenever I have pepperoni and onion pizza. Tom
always answered the phone, 'Tom talking' '. Tom also had a unique
scratchy lightning bolt style of penmanship. The railroad did change my
diet a bit, George Raman was able to convince me that a green burrito
is a better burrito than a red burrito.
I worked with J.D. Terry for a while when I hired out. He was finishing
up his college degree in business. I got into the habit of reading his
Wall Street Journal. When he left for graduate school and greater
things I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal and have maintained the
subscription ever since. While the U.P. may not know it, and has rules
about using reading matter not concerned with my duties while on duty,
I owe a considerable amount of my education to the railroad.
One fellow employee heard me mention chocolate malts. He said
that I should buy a mixer and make my own. I said that he was
trying to get me to drinking chocolate malts all the time, clogging my
arteries with cholesterol, and dying ahead of my time so that he could
get my seniority (job). He always replied that he did not want my
seniority, only my sick days. Later, he gave me a mixer for
Christmas. For the last 15 or so years I have had one big
chocolate malt a week. At first it was on my rest day of Wednesday when I had
survived another week on the railroad. After retirement, my big
chocolate malt was moved to Sunday afternoon.
Whenever the railroad changed computer systems, classes were held to
learn the new system. One time the keyboards were in one
room, and the printers in another. One employee was highly
excitable, and often gave the impression that he was in over his head.
He was having problems learning the new system. Two
brothers knew about computers. They typed up a bogus award with
congratulatory language awarding him the million error award. I
happened to be in the room when he got it off the printer. He had
a fit. I thought it was hilarious. He had a fit all over
again. To his dying day, he will think that I did it. The
next day I happened to be in the printer room when he walked in.
I said that I had better get out of there before anything worse
happened. He had a fit all over again. After I left the
fellows said that he had asked them what I had said. For many
years one of the brothers called me 'The Agitator' and reminded me of
the incident when he happened to see me.
A brakeman, while laying over in Yermo was out in the desert with his
high powered pistol. He accidentally shot himself in the leg.
Due to an uncontrollable infection his leg was later amputated.
He became a Yardmaster. One night he was a Rover Yardmaster
in the 'Weeds' when he came across a box of kittens someone had left
along the street. He picked them up and brought them into the shanty at
El Madole, another Yardmaster had a big purebred Doberman which
he sometimes brought to the railroad. When the Rover brought
kittens into the the
'A' Yard shanty, the big Doberman never took her eyes off the squirming
kittens. Beverly Murillo, Engineer, walked into the office and
immediately exclaimed how cute the kittens were, and asked what he
was going to do with them. He was sitting in the low chair, and he
said that he was going to feed them to the dog. He held one of
them out a couple of inches, and the dog went right for the kitten.
He grabbed the kitten back to his chest as fast as he could, and
ended up looking at the unhappy Doberman nose to nose. Beverly
then said, 'If you feed those kittens to the dog, I will put a termite
in your leg!' Not a bad retort under the circumstances. The dog
would race around the yard like a deer. When Madole came on duty, he
would go into the bathroom, flush the toilet, and give the dog a drink.
Benny Lucero, a Carman, would often be sitting in the low chair. When
dog came dripping out of the bathroom, one or more of us would tell the
dog to give Benny a big wet kiss. Benny would react with mock
horror. Fortunately for Benny that command was not in the dog's
vocabulary. Benny was an Indian from the Laguna Pueblo. He always took
it in good humor when the fellows walked in dripping from the rain and
accused him of doing the 'Rain Dance'.
One Switchman raised Dobermans. The 4th Street shanty was in a
bad neighborhood. During a strike, the story was that he brought
along one or more of his Dobermans to help man the picket line.
Harry Barris was the daylite Yardmaster at 'A' Yard when I hired out.
He was close to retiring. He was nervous and excitable.
One of the stories about him was that he was on the phone when
something happened to the cars being switched out on the lead. He
is reported to have run out the door, tearing the telephone off the
wall. Les Rice said that when he was a switchman after the 2nd
World War, he was on a job delivering an interchange cut to the S.P. at
Taylor Yard. He was in the S.P. shanty when Harry Barris called
the S.P. Yardmaster wanting his crew sent back to the U.P. The
S.P. Yardmaster told Les that he had had enough of Harry Barris.
So he told Les to put his engine on a stub track, blocked the
track with S.P. locomotives, and told Les to take his crew to the Bar
across San Fernando Road and come back in about six hours. Les
did as he was told, but he didn't think that Harry ever got the idea.
After working at Hobart Tower, the story about Harry Barris tearing the phone off the wall is not quite so funny any more.
When I was still new and did not know much about what to do, I got one
of the worst tirades of my time on the railroad. The Conductor
from the Pasadena Local put his bills down on the desk. Not
knowing any better, I sent them to the Yard Office. When he found
out what I had done, Harry Barris chewed me out, and sketched out all
sorts of scenarios about how the bills could get lost in the tube,
delayed in the Tower, get lost in the Yard Office, and how the railroad
would grind to a halt and the world stop turning if a little 5 or 6 car
Pasadena Local was not switched immediately. As it happened, the
Pasadena Local seldom if ever had anything of any importance, and was
informally switched at 'A" Yard.
Another Yardmaster was a strange combination. He was unfailingly
polite, but a nervous wreck. He smoked cigarettes and drank
coffee all night long. Mike Alexoff said that whenever he worked
with him he wondered if that would be the night they had to carry the
Yardmaster out. One of the other switchmen, Gene Coccozza wrote a
clever spoof of the Crew Dispatchers bid sheets when he was going on
vacation. He said that one of the benefits of the job was
listening to all the tall tales from one Yardmaster, and watching
another Yardmaster fall apart.
One night when I came on duty and walked into the 'A' Yard shanty the
floor seemed to be wet. The Foreman off the S.P. interchange cut
was shaking his head. At the time the shanty was an old boxcar up on
blocks. It was nicely built when new, but had deteriorated over the
years of wear and tear and was on its way out. After Pete the
afternoon clerk left, the Foreman shook his head some more. He said
that Pete had dragged the hose in and hosed the shanty down. There was enough wiring in the shanty to make the practice
questionable, but Pete got away with it.
Many years ago a clerk at A Yard got the bright idea of washing the
windows. Since the shanty sat high off the ground, he got something to
stand on. Unfortunately, he fell off whatever he was standing on. He
broke bones in both arms. Everything else had been going
wrong also, and for a week or more. W.K. 'Brad' Bradford was moaning and
groaning when he came on duty in the morning, and had a long laundry
list of problems. And, he said, to top it all off he had a clerk that
could not wipe his own ass.
A brakemen was very friendly and always said a cheerful good
morning when he came on duty and got his cup of coffee. When he
made his first trip as a conductor he never even looked at me as he
came in to get his cup of coffee. With railroad luck, the train
ahead of him was going straight to Yermo, he had pickups all the way.
The next time I saw his brakeman I asked her about the trip.
She said that it had been interesting. She had done all the
talking on the radio, both conductor and engineer having strong
accents difficult to understand on the radio.
There were the usual men who had trouble with wine, women, and song.
One was rumored to be on his way to Canada when he resigned. Another
was rumored to be hanging around horse racing in the Midwest after he
resigned. His brother worked for the railroad, and for a number of
years would not admit to knowing where his brother was. I have no
idea whether he actually knew or not. Another man really knew
was quite personable. With more than a little justification, he always
boasted about how he streamlined whatever job he was working. Long
after he resigned he patronized the bar in a
restaurant that a Switchman ran on the side. The Switchman said that
one day the ex-employee collapsed off the barstool. They could not find
a pulse, called the rescue squad, and figured that was the last they
would see of him. Several days later he came walking in the door
proclaiming that 'You can't get rid of Ol' Dad (as he called himself)
that easy!' Sounds just like him. No one ever heard of him after
that. Most of the
people that had worked with him would like to have known whatever
became of him.
I knew a young Switchman whose father was also a Switchman. One morning
when we were changing shifts, the son stopped to say hello. He
mentioned that he had been in an automobile accident. While he was
unhurt, the car was totaled. He took half the insurance money and
bought an old Volkswagen. The other half he took to Las Vegas. "Sounds
just like his father", said Griff as he relieved me.
One fellow Clerk lived in Riverside. Late one night when there
were only vineyards east of Ontario, he got a traffic ticket for going
100 mph. He called the Courthouse to find out how much the fine might
be. They told him to bring his toothbrush. As far as the railroad
was concerned, the stated reason for laying
off a weekend or two was to go fishing. However, he was a long
way from any body of water.
I got a traffic ticket one night on the way to work. It was a judgment
call, and I had not been a danger to anyone. The Sheriff stopped me at
the entrance to the Yard. It was not possible to remain anonymous in my
bright red Austin Healey as my fellow employees were arriving or
leaving the Yard. It took a while to live it down. Years later when
being examined for jury duty the Judge asked if I had contested the
ticket. I replied no, it made up for the times I may have deserved a
ticket, the operative word being 'may'.
When the railroad began moving the clerks jobs out of Los Angeles, one
of the fellows jumped at the chance. The people that knew him said
there were two reasons. The first was that for a keg or two of beer for
his friends he could borrow a truck, get it loaded, and put the $10,000
moving allowance into his pocket. The other reason was that he
could get away from his two ex-wives.
There was a cute young gal I called 'Gorgeous'. She provoked one
of the few times in my life when I knew the right thing to say. When I got my first pair of glasses she mentioned them when I
walked in. In a flash of inspiration, and quite a bit of
exaggeration, I told her that I had not been able to see her very well
for a long time. So I told her that I would take a good look at
her with my new glasses, looked her up and down, and told her that she
was still 'Gorgeous'. She said thank you almost like she meant
it, and one of the women sitting nearby muttered half under her breath,
'O how nice'.
Mention above of Hank being layed off during the Depression reminded
me of Joe McLaughlin. He was about to retire when I hired out on the
railroad. Joe once said that he had 13 years on the railroad when he
was layed off during the Depression. Figuring that conditions would
never get any worse, I made a mental note and felt
better after I had passed the milestone of completing 13 years on the
railroad. One of the other old timers said that he made a lot of
money by working overtime during the Depression. The railroad not hiring
anyone without an overwhelming reason. By the time I
was ready to retire business was very good. However, the changing
nature of the railroad, along with computers, fax machines, and 800
very few Clerks jobs around the yard, or in Los Angeles for that matter.
As for myself, I never did pick up a universal nickname. When I
hired out, I worked for a month or two with a fellow who was called
'Shafty' because of his penchant for avoiding work. He spent
about as much energy avoiding work as he would have just doing it.
A few of the fellows called me 'Shafty Jr'. After the real
'Shafty' quit, I attained my majority. One or two of the older
fellows then called me 'Shafty'. One time a fellow was trying to
agitate me, and called me 'Clarence'. One of the Yardmasters
happened to hear it, and he called me 'Clarence' for years, thinking
that it was my real name. One of the women used to call me 'Mr.'
Crowner. One of the conductors always called me 'Slim'.
'Jaws' sometimes called me 'Jelly Belly' as I sat there laughing.
Apart from employees getting killed, injured, or maimed now and then,
there were some hilarious things that happened around the
railroad. 'Jaws' was ill equipped to notice the humorous side of
normal reaction to anything was to get mad. Don't know what I
might have been called behind my back. Besides his temper, 'Jaws'
was a bit chubby, not bad, but he would never admit it. That was
too much for me. I told him that we should get on a
teeter-totter, and we would see who was chubby or not. I had known
him long enough to get away with it, as long as I did not use it more
than a few times a year. One time a woman that had not been on
the nite shift much happened to hear me call him 'Teeter-Totter', and
wondered what that was about. Just telling her the story was
enough to raise his blood pressure, with the color rising on his neck.
She then said, "Spend a lot of time up in the air, don't you
One of the Mexican fellows had always called the longtime
employees 'old goats'. Many years later, he was himself an 'old goat'. I once asked a different Mexican what
the Spanish words were for 'old goat'. He gave me the words and worked
on my pronunciation. Several months later an Anglo fellow asked me if I
knew what I was calling my fellow employee. "Sure, 'old goat'", I said. "Oh no you're not,
you are calling him an 'old pimp'", came the answer. That ended my
gullible, too trusting, and unsupervised excursion into the Spanish language.
I first met Gary Galda when he hired out in the Yard Office around
1962. He later went to the Trailer Dock. I saw him now and then around
the railroad, also at Union meetings. He retired early as a result of
severe health problems. I kept in touch with him until he died late in
2008. My aunt died about the same time. It is a bit too risqué
for this website, but the demeanor and manner of speaking of one of my
aunt's therapists precipitated some memories surrounding a fellow
railroad employee of bygone years, and his dreams of women. If Gary
were still alive, we both would have had a long and hearty laugh over
these shared memories of our fellow employee.
A recent experience that immediately took me back to the railroad
occurred at an office supply store, which shall remain unnamed. The
employee was able to process my order, but his demeanor and manner of
speaking strongly reminded me of one or two of the dummies that I had
worked with on the railroad. I felt right at home. I took the
trouble to mention the incident to my brothers the next time I sent
them an email.
To the longer term employees, if not known as a preacher's kid, I was at least known as being religious.
During their tour of duty the West Industry/Zone 9 job went by a
company that handled scrap paper. There were large sheets of paper from
printing presses blowing around. I was often out checking the
'Runarounds' when they stopped at the shanty to drop off their
paperwork on the way home. When I got back to the shanty, Pete had
sometimes covered my desk with large sheets of paper from the printing press that were
intended for porno magazines. When I threw it all in the trash, the
next crew that came by would be digging in the trash. I never said
anything. I accepted Pete's contribution in the same light hearted way
in which he had left it.
Charlie Coulter, the old telegraph operator on the daylite shift called
anyone who he did not know 'Dick'. He never used his false teeth
unless his wife wanted him to take her somewhere. From his teeth
or lack thereof, you could tell what he was doing after going home.
One of the other old telegraph operators was John Colbert. He
mentioned once that he had been a teenage hobo during WW1. The
Sheriff in Cobre, NV saw him and told him that if he was seen again he
was going into the Army. So he kept out of sight and got of town
as soon as possible. John was a personally messy person. The telegraph office had a long shelf. When he came in he
would spread out his jacket, lunch, and newspaper. Once he was
going to save money by rolling his own cigarettes. That added
tobacco all over the place. He always told me not to trust my
retirement to any else. He always said to invest in the stock
market. His only warning was to not invest in United Fruit, their
day was over. He must have gotten his fingers burned in that
The telegraphers used double sided carbon paper and a stylus when they
copied a bunch of train orders. The double sided carbon paper was
placed between every second sheet in the pad of thin train order paper.
It printed on the bottom of the first sheet, and the top of the
next on down through the pad.
To keep in practice, some of the old operators used to do the the CX
report, if I remember the name correctly, using Morse. The report
was a form on a big piece of paper, so doing the report hands free was
better than dragging a phone cord around. Otherwise all business
was done on the Teletype. One time an old clerk had to take a
message on the telegraph for a new operator that had forgotten what
little Morse he had learned.
A bit farther afield
Years ago a fellow church member worked for the S.P. He had an
interesting story. He was born in Germany and went through his
apprenticeship there and became a journeyman machinist. He was
drafted into the German Army in the 1st World War on the Eastern Front.
He did not want any more of that. He wanted to go to the U.S.
Being German and with quotas the closest he could get was Cuba.
He got a job on the waterfront in Cuba. One day everyone
was sent home without pay. He asked the boss why they were sent
home. The boss said that a conveyor belt had failed and there was
no one to repair it. He replied that he was a journeyman
machinist and had seen a lathe in one of the waterfront buildings. He
could make a new part. He said that from that day to the day he
left Cuba he always had a job. When he eventually got to the U.S.
he got a job at the S.P. roundhouse in Los Angeles. He said that
he was still a journeyman machinist but did not know anything about
automobiles. So he took night classes in Auto Mechanics. He
always said that working on steam engines was either heavy, dirty, or
both. Physically, he was a small fellow. When the S.P.
started buying diesels, he applied for and was accepted in the diesel
shop, noting his auto mechanics courses. He worked in the diesel
shops until he retired, a better place to work than the roundhouse. He
always said that he told his children and grandchildren to get all the
education they could, his had served him well. Although I never
heard it, his wife was Hungarian and had an even more interesting story.