Most people carry around photos in their wallet, but I’ve carried for years a much folded and seldom looked at piece of paper with my bucket list on it. Everyone has a bucket list, maybe not written down, more so in their own head; that list of things you want to accomplish before you leave this world.
I’ve been very fortunate over the years to have been able to mark off some of the things on my list. I may not have dated a super model yet, but I’ve driven a fire truck, seen Niagara Falls, driven the Tram at the Iowa State Fair and as part of my job be the engineer of a train locomotive.
At one of the locations I help out at for work, we have a little 45 Ton Plymouth locomotive. The little yellow chain driven locomotive we call number 9 fits the needs when loading grain cars, more of a switcher than a full sized down the main line kind of locomotive. It’s fairly easy to operate and certainly covers the “be a train engineer” part of my bucket list. As much as I enjoy running it, there is another slot on my list which also is train related, and know it isn’t to own my own private car, although that is on there. I’ve always wanted to drive a locomotive once owned by the Rock Island Railroad.
It has been a long stretch of work this fall. Strange weather and even stranger hours hasn’t lent itself to having much time off so when I had planned a weekend of catching up at home and spending some time with the kids I thought it was my chance at a little “me time”. In order to make this happen it has taken quite a bit of overtime at work trying to get ahead enough to not feel guilty for spending a weekend at home. As it has been said, “no good deed goes unpunished”, it came as no surprise when the phone rang Friday afternoon with a request to help out another location this weekend that needed an engineer to load grain cars.
When I arrived at the location, I was a little nervous because there on the track sat a big blue locomotive much larger than anything I had operated before. Crawling up inside I looked over the controls, which were very much similar to the ones in the little Plymouth and with a little chatter on the radio, let the air off the main brakes, put the switch forward and opened the throttle to the first notch. This GP7R, as I would find out (the train-nut part of me did some digging to find out that the engine was built for the Rock Island in 1953) had one huge difference from the little chain driven loco that I was used to. The diesel engine turns a generator that sends electricity to the traction motors so there was a bit of lag between the time I opened the throttle and movement of the locomotive. Off and away I went, hooking and pulling and attempting to stop them in time to the radio commands from the car loader in the crow’s nest. I soon found that I could anticipate how far to open the throttle, and when to start shutting it down and applying the brakes in order to move the string of cars forward and stop where I needed to be.
Aside from being happier than a pig in manure, I did come away from the experience with a better appreciation for those who ran these locomotives when they were first new. I’m guessing at one time there may have been some heat in the cab, but it was darn cold still the day that I ran it. Even with my warm socks on my feet sitting on that metal floor got cold quickly. There is also so much going on with the controls, knowing when to speed up and slow down and how much speed you need to go through snowy switches but not so fast that you jump a frog. Those early diesel locomotive engineers were intelligent, tough and worked hard and that isn’t even taking in the conductor or brakemen on the train.
The nice part about having new experiences is that you have the chance to learn about something you may have never had the chance to do before, and be able to cross something very cool off your bucket list. Now onto super models and standing on the deck of the USS Iowa. See you next week…remember, we’re all in this together.