Hot Times on the High Iron - Today; So you wanna be a railroader, eh?

About the Author
JD Santucci

J. D. Santucci (a.k.a. "Tuch") began his railroading career in 1978 as a trainman on the Missouri Pacific. After a round of lay-offs in 1985, Tuch embarked on a railroad odyssey, working in many different situations for different roads. This column tries to explain some of the nuts and bolts of the job and also demonstrates what we have to deal with on a regular basis within and without the industry. Tuch currently works through freights out of Chicago for Canadian National/Illinois Central.

©1999, 2003-2007 JD Santucci.
Logo ©2002 The Railroad Network.

Hot Times on the High Iron Logo
By J.D. Santucci

June 2, 2006
I know I am really late with this one as it has been just over two months since we cranked out the last one, but the job, new babies, the book project and life in general have been keeping me from getting to this. So at long last, here we go.

In recent months I have been participating in a couple of threads on a couple of discussion lists to which I subscribe about hiring out on the railroad. The one list dealt with the value of railfans as rail employees. The other discussed the potential for getting hired at all. So I decided that it is time to approach this subject on a global level being that this little diatribe of mine circulates worldwide.

First off, this topic is by no means designed to knock or bash railfans. It is, however, going to point out the realities of how some (but not all) railfans simply do not make good railroaders while others do just fine and even excel. If you take offense to what I write, tough; I am writing from both first hand experience and what I have been told by others within railroading.

Contrary to what some railfans believe, railroading is work. If you’ve read this column for any length of time, you are already well aware of this fact. If you are new to this column and believe everything you read in a well known national railfan magazine, you’re in for an education. And if you don’t believe my rants, try this statistic on for size; there is a 52% turnover rate of new hires within the rail industry. Some in this group are the fifty-nine dayers that cannot cut the mustard and are dismissed, others get dismissed for drug or alcohol issues (the industry tends to test new hires more often during their probationary period) and a significant portion of the rest of this group depart the industry on their own.

Being a railfan is not an entitlement to a railroad job. It also doesn’t qualify one for a job within the industry because you might believe you already know all about or significantly more about railroading. Quite honestly, you don’t. After a week of Brakeman’s school and two weeks of on the job training, I really didn’t know much about railroading and I too, was a railfan. I knew more than those outside the industry, but I didn’t know a great deal more. It took many months to begin to even feel comfortable and then years to really garner a strong knowledge of the job.

I discovered first hand, just how much fun it is to hang on the side of a car while protecting a long shove in a rain storm, how to trudge through waist deep snow when walking a train, working in bitter cold conditions and having to stay out in it for hours on end and what happens when the temperature suddenly drops 15 or 20 degrees in about ten minutes and you are nowhere near a jacket. Fun stuff kids. You’d be amazed by how many people discover this really isn’t as much fun as it sounds.

Back in the days when I was still a Trainmaster, I heard from all kinds of people, including people I hadn’t spoken with in years, who wanted me to help them or somebody they knew get a job on the railroad. In one case, one guy told me about a neighbor kid that, according to the kid himself, “Knows all about railroading because he reads all the railfan magazines.” He insisted this kid would be a great railroader. Now the guy that was doing the calling was not a railroader but I guess he was being misled by the kid that was misleading himself. So I decided to talk about railroading with the kid.

In our conversation the kid informed me that he knew all about railroading. He told of learning everything he thought he should know from the railfan magazines. He was quite confident about his vast knowledge of railroading claiming his knowledge to be quite extensive. So I gave him a pop quiz. I presented him with a situation to ascertain his abilities to deal with and solve a problem; a somewhat common problem.

I explained to him that while peddling down the pike his train goes into emergency and comes to a stop. Now the Engineer announces that the air is not coming back up. “What do you do next?” was the question I posed to him.

He thought about it a moment and he said, “Get on the radio and call for them (whoever them might be, perhaps a cousin of “they”) to send out somebody to take care of the problem.”

Needless to say this was the wrong answer. He wasn’t even close. I have no clue where he came up with that one.

I explained that he would have to head on out, grab an air hose and wrench from the air room at the rear of the locomotive and start walking and locate the problem. He seemed somewhat shocked and asked why he should have to do it when they have people that can do that for him. I had to explain that over the line of road he would be the people that perform that sort of duty. He inquired about getting a hose and wrench. I thought he knew, I guess the magazine didn’t address this issue either. I explained that the problem could potentially be an air hose that ruptured, hand been hanging low enough to rub the ground while passing over road crossings, and wear a hole through it or lost the glad hand (the fitting on the end of the hose that connects it to the hose on the other car). In such situations, you replace the hose on the car. And to save you from having to walk back and forth several times, you take what you might need with you initially to make your life easier and reduce the delay time.

When I asked him what kind of job he wanted on the railroad, his response was “One of those jobs where I get to ride the train from town to town.” Ya, I want one of those jobs too. I went on to explain to him that to hold a job that like that generally required years of seniority. I explained to him all about seniority and how it rules, the extra board, life on call, working nights, weekends and holidays and lack of a life. I told him that you cannot just refuse to come to work because it is Friday night or Saturday and how you have plans. I explained to him that railroading was indeed work and far more than just riding around waving at the kids you passed along the way. The more I told him about the realities of railroad life, the more his enthusiasm began to wane. By the end of the conversation, I asked him if he wanted me to get him an application, not a job, just the chance to apply for one. He hesitated and told me he would let me know. Needless to say I never heard from him again.

So now, despite everything I’ve ever written about, if you really have the burning desire to work on the railroad, this will be a complete lesson in the do’s and don’ts of applying for a job within this wacky, lunatic asylum of an industry. None of this will guarantee you employment; it will improve the odds and your chances.

While it may not seem like it, there is a way to get hired and many more ways to not get hired. We will study them all here. Pay attention and take notes as needed. Print this out and study it closely, take it with you to the interview if you need to, just don’t let the interviewers see it. And please note that while this lesson is primarily intended for those who seeking initial employment within the rail industry, some of ideas and thoughts also apply to those seeking to change to another railroad; perhaps trade up from a short line or regional to a class one. And actually, some of these tips might help you if you are looking for a job in any field. You’d be amazed at some of what I have observed when I have applied for a job just about anywhere during the course of my life.

If you are serious about working for the railroad, all of the big guns post employment opportunities on their websites. They will also post when and where they are going to conduct their hiring festivals. Rail America’s individual operating units have their employment opportunities posted on the Rail America website as opposed to an individual website for each railroad. Transtar which owns the EJ&E, Birmingham Southern and a few other roads also posts employment opportunities through the Transtar site as well. Smaller, independent roads also post positions on their sites as well. You can go to the IHB and BRC sites and find job opportunities there. CN posts a toll free number for the purpose of conducting a pre-interview of sorts before you are invited to a hiring festival. They invite you to attend after the initial screening as opposed to having hundreds of people show up at a banquet room at some hotel.

The hiring festival is quite the side show amusement of sorts. I attended four of them in my career, one for the Chicago & North Western, one for Norfolk Southern, one with Southern Pacific and the third with the Indiana Harbor Belt. In the case of the SP and IHB’s, these were festivals conducted only for current railroad employees looking to change employers as opposed hiring fresh new recruits to enter the wonderful world of railroad. Both the NS and CNW were looking to hire both the experienced and non-experienced. We’ll look at them all during the course of this column. But first, some instructions on the what’s, how’s and why’s of attending and participating.

First off, be there on time; this means have your butt in the room where the festival is being conducted on time. No, make that, before the time stated on the website or in an advertisement you might read in the newspaper. They close the doors at the time the festivities begin and lock them. If the time states 8am, it means be in the room at 8am. If you are out in the hall at this time, you will get locked out. If you are not in the room when they close the doors, you are not allowed to enter, even if you have items like a jacket in the room. I had a friend that went to CSX festival in Indianapolis a few years ago and told me of a guy that got locked out. He was yelling and carrying on that his jacket was in the room. They told him he would have to wait until the session took a coffee break and then he would be allowed to come in and get it. From what I was told, this guy wasn’t too happy and cussed out the hosts of this festival. I don’t think he made any points with the CSX folks for any future hiring festivals he might plan to attend.

Second, appearance is important. Don’t go out partying the night before. If you appear hung over or smell at all of alcohol, it is likely they will quickly wash you out should you make it to the interview portion. If you have worked all night and then come directly to the festival from your job without getting the chance to go home and clean up, don’t be afraid to mention this fact to them. It shows initiative and a desire to work for them. But at least try to wash up a bit first. 

While you don’t need to dress like a Philadelphia lawyer to apply for a train service, mechanical or track department job, don’t come looking like a bum. Torn, dirty jeans and a T-shirt proclaiming your sexual prowess are not appropriate. Office casual is good. Looking like you just finished a workout (and smelling like it too) is never good. Make sure are freshly showered or bathed. If you smell of body odor, it won’t help your cause. It will shorten the interview. Fresh breath is also a plus.

Don’t chew gum in the interview. Now I used to keep gum in my mouth at all times, but I pushed it to one side up in between my cheek and gum towards the back of my mouth. I never ever chewed it while I was in the interview. But I used this practice for years; it is how I never used to get caught chewing gum in school. But this isn’t about me or my bad habits.

Now in advance of attending some festivals, you might be instructed to bring specific items. Union Pacific is big on this concept. Bring exactly what they tell you to bring. If they say a six inch ruler, two #2 pencils, a black felt tip pen and a spiral bound 8x11 size notebook, that is exactly what you bring. When you register upon arrival, they will ask you for the specific items. Should you not have any, most or all of them, you will immediately be sent on your way. The reason for this is quite simple and clear; they are looking to see that you can follow instructions. If you can’t follow these simple instructions, how do you expect to make them believe that you can follow far more involved instructions?

Don’t be alarmed when you arrive and observe literally hundreds of other people there to take part in the festivities. Last year BNSF conducted a three day festival in the Chicago area. I was told there were a couple of thousand that attended over the three day period it was held. Each day was a new event; they didn’t hold people over for all three days. A fair amount of the people you see initially will be gone before you reach the test portion. The interviewers will go through the litany of reality railroading.

Several reality items they have added in recent years are these; you must be able to read, write, speak and understand English. You must have a social security number and be able to prove it. You must have a current and valid driver’s license. You must also have a photo ID as well.

Normally the interviewers will state the position or positions for which they are seeking applications. They will tell you that no other positions other than what they have announced will be considered at this session. Several folks may get up and leave.

They will announce that this is not a 9 to 5 job with weekends off; if this is what you are looking for, you are in the wrong place. Some folks will get up and exit the room.

There will be an announcement that you are expected to work nights, weekends and holidays. If this is not to your liking, you should leave. And a few more will.

You will hear about being on call 24/7/365 per year and how you need and are required to have a telephone. If this doesn’t suit you, please leave now. More will leave.

They will tell you that you will work in all sorts of weather, rain, sleet, snow, bitter cold and fierce heat. There are no weather related delays in railroading, just because the weather bites is no reason to stop the operation. It has always been that way and will continue to be that way for years to come. If you don’t desire the exposure to the elements, you should leave. Still more will depart.

They will discuss the requirement of dependable transportation. You must have a reliable car or truck to get you to and from work. You cannot and will not be able to depend on public transportation, particularly when you are on the extra board. You must also have a current, valid driver’s license. It is required as part of the job as there are times you might be required to drive a company vehicle. More will exit, stage left.

Then comes the biggie; they will announce that you must pass a pre-employment drug and alcohol test and then pass routine random, reasonable cause, probable cause and possibly post accident drug and alcohol tests. They demand a drug free work place and by law, the Federal government requires as much. There will be no tolerance for drugs or alcohol. With that about half the remaining people in the room will get up and leave. There will now be about 25 or 30 people left in the room with you. These are the folks that will get to take the test. But don’t worry; a few of them that make it through this entire process will still wash out from the drug test as they honestly believe they have a way to beat the test. They don’t. One of the things today’s drug tests check for are masks. The stuff some folks ingest to cover their drug abuse leaves a footprint while doing its job. The labs can spot this and also report the appearance of such substances and you will fail the drug test.

You will fill out a pre-application or perhaps a full application. This varies from company to company. Then you will be given a written test, sort of an intelligence test. It is a timed test, with a good portion of it being common sense, something they cannot and do not teach at any institution of learning at any level. There will also be some simple math questions as well. They are attempting to ascertain how quick you can think on your feet. Finishing the entire test but getting half the answers wrong is not good. Finishing more than half or better and getting most, if not all of them correct looks better to the interviewers. Those that do well are asked to remain. Those that don’t are thanked for attending and released. They might be asked to return to another session where they will be hiring management trainee candidates.

The group that is kept on will get interviews. They will ask you all sorts of questions including why you want to work for their railroad. Now listen very carefully here now as this little tidbit is extremely important, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU TO EVER SAY THAT YOU ARE A RAILFAN, LIKE TRAINS, THINK TRAINS ARE NEAT OR THAT YOU ARE FASCINATED BY OR WITH TRAINS. I repeat and emphasize; UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU TO EVER SAY THAT YOU ARE A RAILFAN, LIKE TRAINS, THINK TRAINS ARE NEAT OR THAT YOU ARE FASCINATED BY OR WITH TRAINS. Do not mention that you know anything about railroading either. They may think that you are a closet railfan and trying to hide it but the door cracked open and you let something slip out. 

Being a railfan might actually cost you the opportunity for employment within the rail industry. If you mention that you like trains, are interested in trains or are fascinated by trains, this will almost certainly wash you out during the interview process. If the interview suddenly gets cut short, something you said about railroading might be the reason. The reason, some railfans that have been hired over the years have turned out to be a big problem, in some cases, a huge problem. Now I’m generalizing here as this is not the case with all railfans as not all of them are like this.

Some railfans become spectators as opposed to participants. They are more concerned about what is going on with any and every assignment instead of their own. They don’t concentrate on their jobs or the tasks at hand. Some will ask all the wrong questions, railfan questions instead of what a new hire trying to learn about the job should ask. Railfan questions tend to be those that a fan of the game wants to know. It is not information that will educate you about the performance of your duties. I know of one instance where one railfan turned railroader was more concerned about why the stands on intermodal flats (bare tables) were down on some cars while upright on others. He wasn’t concerned with how to spot the cars which was far more important. Believe me, stands down or stands up are generally not of concern to the switch crew unless they have been instructed not to spot cars with the stands down.

Another seemed more concerned with why the railroad was painting some cars one color while painting other just like them another color. This is not relevant to your job duties. 

Another example; a train rolls by and you spot a rare locomotive in the consist. Chances are that whoever you are working with won’t know or won’t care about that morsel of knowledge; it is not important when switching a cut of cars on the lead or working an industry. Knowing that the third unit in that consist that rolled by you was the first SD40-2 rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen for the SP does not make you a good railroader; it doesn’t make you any kind of railroader. It just means you know something that nine-tenths of the population doesn’t know.

I have worked with some railfan railroaders over the years that fell into this category. They could tell you all about the builder of the cars you are switching, the category or class of the car and perhaps other non-essential facts. What they cannot tell you is the how’s and why’s of the work they need to perform to get the class BA-160 boxcar that they know all about spotted at spot number 7122A. Some have literally stopped what they were doing to observe something else going on with some other job because the other job might have had some rare or unusual equipment to work with. I have worked with a few that have literally lost all focus on their work to watch or observe something else with another train or job and then get themselves, or those around them in trouble.

What you should tell the interviewers is that you enjoy physical work, working outside or using your brain while you work. Tell them you have a friend or family member that works for the railroad and how they speak of it being good work, anything that sounds convincing. Remember, in an interview you are attempting to sell yourself to the interviewers and trying to convince them that they should buy into the idea of hiring you.

The interviewers will focus upon safety. Feel free to discuss this concept. They want to hear you state that you are strong on safety, that you eat, sleep and breathe it. If you have an excellent work history that is free of on the job injuries, by all means, mention it. If you are a member of a safety committee where you are presently employed, mention that too. They like to hear this kind of talk and attitude. You are likely to hear about working around heavy moving equipment and how this can be dangerous and intimidating. Don’t respond with an answer like “I know.” Instead respond with something like “I understand.”

Something else you should never do in an interview is run down your present or any previous employer or boss. Be polite and cordial about your current employer, bite the bullet if you have to, but don’t sound negative. Tell them you are looking to advance into an industry where you have the potential to advance up the ladder into management and then further up that ladder. Don’t tell them you want to leave your present employer because the boss is a schmuck or it is a go nowhere company. Tell them you believe you have advanced as far as you can where you are currently employed. Tell them you are no longer challenged. Just don’t tell them you want to leave or have left because the company was run by idiots and morons.

Don’t embellish your resume or application. It is too easy for them to catch you in a lie. Be truthful. You don’t have to be overly truthful, but don’t lie. Don’t claim you were a manager or lead man if you never were. Don’t claim to have worked somewhere you never did. Don’t be a George Costanza and his “Van de Lay Industries.” Remember, even if you have been employed there for twenty years, if the company discovers you lied about something on you job application, they can dismiss you for it. Don’t omit any convictions of felonies on the application. If you were arrested for boosting trucks and don’t mention an arrest on the application and they discover it years later, you could very well get bounced.

Eye contact is huge. Make eye contact with the interviewers. Don’t look at the table, the walls, the ceiling or your shoes. Eye contact indicates confidence in your self. Sound confident when you speak without sounding cocky. They don’t want to hear attitude. Attitude will likely turn them off. Don’t mumble, speak clearly. Use proper grammar when you speak; slang, poor verbiage, ghetto English and annoying terms such as “like” or “you know” spoken at frequent intervals might cause the interviewers to believe you are lacking in education and this could shut you out. And calling the interviewers “sir” or “ma’am” is always a plus. When they introduce themselves, call them by their last names like “Ms Smith” or “Mr Jones” as opposed to their first name. This demonstrates respect. 

Good posture is a plus. Don’t slouch, rock in the chair, lean forward, hold you chin in your hand or fold your arms across your chest. They teach these people to watch and read body language. You can convey a great deal about yourself by your gestures and position. Of course if you are Italian like me, you will have to talk with your hands and they generally don’t take issue with this.

If they offer their hands to shake when they introduce themselves, by all means shake them. Don’t use a bone crushing grip to demonstrate your strength, but by the same token, don’t use a weak, girly man shake either. Be firm without being overly aggressive. Repeat their name when they introduce themselves, but again use the Mr or Ms. Two reasons for this; it acknowledges them and it helps you remember their name.

Relax. I know a job interview can be brutal and nerve racking, but try not to look nervous. Try to breathe normally, this helps significantly. Don’t take short, quick breathes.

They may ask you some type of question about some difficult situation. It will not be a railroad question, but a question about something that can be tough to deal with. Think about the question for a moment, but don’t ponder it for an extended period of time. Again, they are looking for the potential for dealing with a situation and thinking on your feet. If you don’t understand the question, ask them to repeat it or to clarify it.

Be prepared to spend an entire day with this process. They will break for a chance to stretch your legs and use the restroom during the course of the day. There will also be a lunch break. Again, when they tell you to return by 1pm after the lunch break, make sure you are back on time. If you do well on the test, you’ll get an interview. If you do quite well during the interview, it is possible the interview will last longer. What you won’t likely receive is an offer of employment. They usually go back from whence they came, go over your interview responses, grade you on your appearance, presentation and other factors, check some references, perhaps contact a previous employer or two. They will probably tell you something at the end of the process like “You should hear something from us by (a specific date) or within three weeks” or something to that extent. They might also tell you that if you don’t hear something by a certain date to try again the next time.

If you did well in the interview and everything else checked out alright, you will likely be offered a job, usually in a few weeks. Or, they may want to interview you again to seal the deal. If you do well in any subsequent interviews, then they may very well offer you the job. Sometimes the communication will be in the form of a letter. It may be the job offer or it could be the rejection notice.

In any event, don’t go quitting your current job until you actually have the railroad job. You will have to pass the physical and the drug screen as condition of employment. If you fail either of these, there will be no job. The offer is contingent upon your passing both of them. Unlike tiddlywinks, horseshoes and grenade fights or government work, close doesn’t count here.

If you honestly believe you did well but didn’t receive an employment offer, do not despair. It is entirely possible that it was simply a case of somebody else being more qualified at that time. If they were planning on hiring ten and there were twenty-five of you interviewed, it is entirely possible that the ten they did hire had better qualifications at that time. The possibility exists that those ten might have some previous experience or qualifications that you lack. It doesn’t mean you did poorly. When they come back to your area to hire again, go to another festival and try it again.

Now please be realistic. If you are horribly overweight and out of shape, this may a strike against you. Being a Trainman is very physical and demanding work. You will be climbing on and off equipment, getting in between equipment, doing a considerable amount of bending and stooping, some lifting and a considerable amount of walking. If you are 300 or 400 pounds and have difficulty just walking, it is quite honest they are going to wash you out. They probably won’t tell you that but it is a reality. They are not discriminating against you it is pretty obvious that this is not the line of work for you. If you get winded just walking into the room for the interview, you are not going to make it working on the switching lead and they can easily recognize this fact.

If you make it through but wash out in the physical, again, it is not a bias issue. Certain health conditions will disqualify you. Poor eyesight (if you cannot pass the eye test even with corrected vision), color blindness, breathing disorders, high blood pressure, heart conditions, circulation problems, hearing disorders, back problems and others will wash you out. Certain prescription medications may also disqualify you as well. If you are required to take certain types of meds that may cause drowsiness, they will likely reject you. Under Federal law, there are certain prescription medications that cannot be used while on duty or when subject to call.

Now for my hiring festival experiences; I attended four of them, one in 1979, one in 1987, one in 1991 and the fourth in 1993. It was different for me as I was already an experienced railroader. The first in 79 I attended while off by disciplinary action from the MoPac. I did very well on the test and in the interview but didn’t get hired. I later learned that the MoPac blackballed me and that was why I didn’t receive a job offer. I was told that CNW contacted MoPac for a reference but was told that the MoPac suggested they not hire me. Oh well. The visit to the NS one in 87 here in Indiana was just that, a visit. I was told by a friend at NS they would be out hiring Engineers. Once the festival started, I was joined by literally hundreds in that room. When they announced they were only hiring Brakemen and nothing more and that you had to be a Brakeman first and that none of your Engineer training meant anything to them, I departed. A couple of others left with me. I was already working, just looking to better myself. A friend who was there told me that he lasted to the end and there were only about twenty-five guys left at the conclusion. He was eventually offered a job when all was said and done.

My third festival was in St Louis in 1991 for the SP. This one was only open for experienced railroaders. There were fourteen of us in attendance. A total of sixteen of us were supposed to be there but two were no shows. As it would happen I knew one of the other attendees as we used to work together. I also knew one of the no shows too as we too, used to work together. In fact, I had him as a student. First they gave us this talk about the company, the line we would be working (the former GM&O between St Louis and Chicago), How it came under SP ownership, how SP was spending a fortune to rehab the line and what they expected and required from us. Safety was mentioned almost to excess. They reiterated the fact they expected us to be safe. They actually led us in what was essentially a cheer leading rally about safety. We then went through the entire process taking the tests and getting interviewed. We took a the idiot test and also took a brief test to demonstrate our knowledge of railroading.

This interview was different though as we primarily discussed our railroad experience and qualifications. We also discussed the fact that we would have to relocate for the job at our own expense. They also asked each of us a very intense involved question that dealt with a specific situation that we may encounter while on the job. The questions were railroad related and not the kind of questions they would ask a new recruit. They wanted to know how we would handle this situation. Each one of us was asked a different question and as it would happen, I had already been through and dealt with the situation they asked me. I told them what I had done in my situation and what the outcome was. They told me they were quite pleased with how I managed the situation and that was pretty much the textbook answer they were seeking. Ten of us were asked to remain. At this point they explained to the winners how our seniority would be established.

Those of us that were asked to remain got our rooms paid for at the hotel and even got a free dinner out of the deal. I figured they were going to check out what we ordered, so instead of taking the king’s cut of prime rib or the rib eye steak, I ordered something both delicious and sensible. We were sent for physicals and drug tests the following day. I passed but flunked. It seems that the SP had a ridiculous policy that demanded no worse than 20/40 vision uncorrected. What this meant was those of us that wore vision correction were washed out. They tested us with and without correction. As it happened, seven of the ten of us then washed out on the eye test. Of course we didn’t know this for several weeks. They had gone as far as verifying employment with my current employer, then the Wisconsin Central. I’m sure they checked references from everybody else too. SP’s vision policy wound up paying out a great deal of money on us for this event to not get hired. Hotel rooms, a meal, physicals and drug tests. It didn’t matter to them that I could see just fine with corrected vision. In fact, with my corrected vision I see better than some people who claim to have 20/20 vision.

When the woman from SP’s human resources department called to inform me of washing out on the vision test, she told me that even though I could see quite well corrected, I failed their uncorrected vision test and that was unacceptable. When I questioned this policy and the jackassery of it, the woman immediately took a defensive posture informing me that it had withstood the test in court. I guess she was afraid that I was going to file suit against them. I simply told her I thought their policy was outdated and outmoded. She responded that this was a safety sensitive position and that all such employees needed good vision. I questioned this and told here that most other railroads required that any employees that needed prescription vision wear were simply required to carry two sets of such eye wear should one pair be damaged or lost. I also mentioned that most railroads had long since eliminated the highly restrictive vision requirement.

I got some rhetoric about them not wanting to take a chance and again heard about the safety issue. It was quite obvious that I would not change her mind or their policy, so I figured I had nothing to lose. I stated that their policy was stupid. She seemed taken aback by this remark and again stated the safety issue. I again told her it was stupid and also remarked that this was the SP making the decision and it wasn’t like this was a good railroad so I guess that I shouldn’t be upset that I wasn’t getting hired by them. I also commented that at least I got a free hotel (it was a really nice place) and a good meal at their expense. I then thanked her for the opportunity to waste their time as well as mine and hung up. It was too late then as I forgot to thank her for giving me the opportunity to visit some relatives in St Louis while I was there. I guess I should have ordered that prime rib. Oh well.

The last festival was a winner of sorts. I got hired at the IHB, but I had an inside track there. I was told to attend and participate as required and do a good job treating it as if my future truly depended upon it. Unless I went in there and acted like some “hipster doofus” I was getting hired. It was amusing to watch how some of those that didn’t get hired performed.

It is amusing to observe some of the people that attend these festivals. One guy sitting next to me at the NS festival was about half in the bag. I would bet he didn’t make the cut to reach the interview portion. Several others looked like they hadn’t been to bed in several days. A few came in looking like they hadn’t change clothes in a month. I can recall at the CNW festival one guy, in filling out his application and asking why they wanted his last name first on the application. He told they guy sitting next to him in a tone loud enough for the entire room to hear that “Nobody calls me by my last name so why do they want it first on this?”

In a hiring festival I once attended several years before I started railroading, I sat next to a guy I went to high school and was acquainted with. He too asked about the last name first issue on the application. I attempted to explain it to him and he responded that most people called him by his nickname and not his real name anyway. So he put his nickname on the application instead of his real first name. I see a vice presidency in his future. 

One last point to make, there are plenty of railfans on the railroad. Some of them are discreet about it while others are pretty obvious. Should you get hired, you’ll be able to sniff them out. You don’t need to inform everybody about your interests. Be discreet about it and you’ll get to know the railfans.

I have worked with several railfans over the years that are very obviously more interested in the fanning aspect than in the performance of their duties. Everybody knows these guys are like this and some of the gang, particularly the ones that are not railfans and think railfans are all nuts get on them for it. What is unfortunate for these guys is that they tend to bring it on to themselves as they are more interested in the consist of the train rolling past them than they are in performing their duties. And one of them was quite upset when he got passed over several times for a management position as the company too, knew all about his interests and how they affected his performance. They presumed that it would also affect the way he would manage. 

Anyway, to those of you interested in entering the rail industry, I hope the information I’ve presented to you here will lend some assistance in getting hired on the railroad. If you follow my advice, you have a pretty good chance unless you go in there act like a moron, really screw up and make a big fool of yourself.

Now please, don’t write and ask for me to get you a job or even an interview. I cannot do either.

And now for the baby update, she is doing fine, growing and gaining weight. She is now up to 11.5 pounds and 22 inches long and starting to develop a personality. And she is starting to learn the difference between night and day which is good for the beautiful bride. And speaking of the beautiful bride, she has adjusted to motherhood and is handling it quite well. I know I am impressed with how well she has been doing.

The book update goes like this; we have a complete manuscript to the publisher. He is doing his edits, I am reading the drafts, making the necessary changes or corrections and sending them back. I am getting the drafts in “book form,” that is how the finished product will look. The introduction has been completed and we also have somebody on board that will write a forward too. We have cover art and a slightly revised title as well. This project continues to forge ahead and we will keep you all informed of any and all updates.

For those that questioned my sending out the Welcome to Hot Times notice, normally I send one to everybody that subscribes or changes their e-mail. The legal folks suggest that I send one out to everybody periodically as well to remind you all of the rules of engagement or subscription. So for those wondering, that is why you all received one earlier this week.

And so it goes.


Hot Times on the High Iron and the HTOTHI initials, ©2005 by JD Santucci.