University of Nevada, Reno




My father, the railroad man

By LeRoy


LeRoyWhile we were working on building houses, one of the brothers in the church was telling my dad that he should quit the railroad and get a trade, like electrician, plumber or carpenter. He was a carpenter.

Dad asked him what the basic skills of a carpenter are. He said, "A man would have to be able to cut a board to length and nail it in place using straight nailing and toenailing." So my dad called me and told me, pointing at a new inside wall, "Roy, that wall needs the firebreaks put in it. See if there are any scrap 2x4s that you can cut and fit in for the firebreaks and if not, take a 2x4 stud and cut it to make them and nail them in where you have to toenail them in." So I did.

Well, the next day, my dad told me when I met him at his tool house after work, "Roy, get 2 spike malls." And he got a handful of spikes. When we got to the car, Dad had already put a piece of railroad tie into the trunk of the car. He put the spikes in with it and took the spike malls from me and put them in there, too.

When we got to the house we were building, Dad got this brother and told him, "Please check the firebreaks that Roy put in that wall last night." We went to the wall and he checked them and said, "I think Roy did a good job." Then Dad said, "Roy is only 13 years old, and he did the basic job of a carpenter, wouldn’t you say?" The brother said, "Well, yeah." Then Dad said, "Come out to my car."

We went to the car and Dad took the piece of tie out of the trunk. It was about four feet long. Then he started three spikes in the tie and handed the spike mall to the brother and said, "Now the basic job of a trackman is to drive them spikes into the tie." The man could not hit one of the three spikes with the mall. Then Dad took a mall in each hand and windmilled them spikes into the tie.

Then he said to the brother, "Let me see your tape measure." He took a 25-foot tape from his belt and handed it to Dad. Dad took it and pulled it out to 5 feet and said to the brother, "You only use 3 feet of this. Look, the paint is only off of 3 feet." Then Dad took his 100-foot tape from his back pocket and pulled it all the way out and said, "You see, as a trackman, we use a 100-foot tape all the way to the end. Railroad trackmen is not called a trade, but it is a skill."

There was another time that I was out with my Dad when he was working and the men started the spikes along a 39-foot rail, and Dad took a mall in each hand and windmilled the whole rail by himself.

There was another foreman there with some young men. He told them, "Now you have seen one man do the job of two." Railroad section work is hard, but sometimes they had fun doing it. But it is another job that has gone to automation. Where they used to have 20 men, now they have six.


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