Each situation is different. I grew up in a family turmoil; not strife, but moving very often and traveling a lot. I really didn't have roots, or a connection to a place I called home. And I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do. I rattled around in college for a while, half-heartedly, and mostly to please my parents, especially Dad who had a Masters degree in his field. In one of the places where we lived for about 7 years (3rd thru 9th grade), we were close to the Southern Railway System main line. Pop also farmed because that was the way he grew up. We raised chickens, obtained thru 4-H (remember that?) and raised corn, beans, peanuts, and potatoes. On Saturday Dad would go to Salisbury (NC) to grocery shop for the things we didn't raise ourselves, bank, and to the old FCX (Farmers Exchange) for chicken feed and farm supplies. I liked any kind of machinery--cars, tractors, farm gear, railroad stuff, too. It wasn't I simply was fascinated
by that one
thing, but it was machinery, and I liked that. So from the age of 9 or so, Dad would drop me off at the passenger station on summer days, and I would sit out under the train shed (its still there!) and watch the switchers and the passenger trains. It was safe back in 1958, and wierdos and perverts were few and far between. Besides, the FCX store was just a block away and Dad wouldn't be long. One day one of the engineers saw me out there watching the trains, and beckoned me over. "Wanna quick ride, sonny"?, he asked. Whaddya YOU think? I was up in the cab in a flash. Then on an other occasion we had some out-of-town guests who came on the train. Because Dad saw my interest in the trains, and the guests were leaving to go southbound towards Atlanta, Dad bought me a ticket to ride from Salisbury to Concord on the Carolinian. it was a short ride (about 17 miles), but I was grinning from ear to ear!
You're talking about a young, impressionable boy, and for a time I was absolutely enthralled with anything trains. I got books from the library (the Bookmobile about trains. I watched the old show "Casey Jones" on TV, and pretended to be an engineer--TOOT-TOOT!
But at the same time I was also fascinated with airplanes. I would sit out in the yard in the green (itchy!) grass and look up in the sky at the contrails and longed to FLY, too. I was also fascinated with radios, and I would sit at Dad's 1940's Philco radio with the shortwave bands. I could spend hours tuning into foreign broadcasts and ham radio transmissions--much to the dismay of my Mom who got tired of the static and "racket" I was making. "WILL YOU CUT THAT THING OFF SO I CAN HEAR MYSELF THINK?!!, SHE'D CRY.
So life went on,. I figured I 'outgrew" those childhood interests, and moved on. By college, I STILL didn't know what I wanted to do. I was floundering around at menial local jobs. The railroad stuff I thought I had forgotten lay dormant until 1976 and events took place that changed my life. It was the Bicentennial Year. The American Freedom Train was crossing the US, and it was scheduled on the Southern Railway Piedmont Division mainline, and would pass right thru my now hometown! I was off that Saturday, and I became exciting at seeing Southern Pacific 4449 pulling this train, I hadn't seen a steam engine since I was small, so a buddy and I bought tickets to ride to Salisbury, and to the very station I had frequented as a child. Riding that train, it was as all the doubt of my future melted away! I KNEW!
! Like a lightbulb or a flash went off. Almost from the moment I got off that train to ride the very Carolinian I had ridden at age 10 back home, I began to investigate how I could get hired. Of course, there WAS the money, but more important, the satisfaction of knowing what I supposed to do. I never looked back or considered any other career from that day forth.
By 1978, I was slinging a sledge in a track material yard and in the stores department, handling rail, unloading/loading package switches into gons and box cars. The following year I was working in the office paying invoices, By '81, I was on the Line of Road, clearing trains, working as an Extra Clerk/Agent. In '82
I was at Hayne Yard when the merger into Norfolk Southern occurred working as as Operator or baggage handler for the Crescent.
The work was extremely HARD at times, sometimes we got treated lousy, but, for ME, I wouldn't have traded it for a stockbroker job making a hundred grand. Despite all the bad, I survived it and came away with a lot of memories. I got to see a LOT of machinery and do things I would never see/do otherwise.
The thing is: is it for YOU? There's a lot of uncertainty with a railroad career. Choose carefully!