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Passenger Conductor Memories, Part One

1n 1956 I was promoted to passenger conductor, which simply meant that I was again placed on standby for any extra passenger trains or on a regular train when its conductor laid off. I certainly didn’t realize how much different this work was from that I had learned during my first ten years of railroading.

It was a time when I traded denim clothes and a red handkerchief for brass buttons and a big gold watch chain, the trademark of a passenger conductor on every railroad in the country. The only difference was that I was about 20 years younger than my counterparts. Whenever I arrived on a train at Dearborn Station in Chicago and checked into the locker room, I was surprised by the crews of all the other railroads. I was always referred to as that kid off the Monon. It was strange now. Here I was at age 43 still fighting the battle of acceptance. It was a great time to receive a promotion for the railroads were handling lots of extra passenger trains as their traffic departments were busy promoting “Ride the Rails.”

My first trip came on May 7, 1956 when I was called to take a train from Lafayette to Chicago on its return from the Kentucky Derby. I think this was the time I learned what the term “rail polishing” meant. It was a train of 14 cars, eleven of them private cars including the Lynne, the Monon President’s private car, plus a diner and two others. The cars were occupied by guests of the president and when I boarded I was handed a ticket of sorts by the Chief Agent of the Traffic Department to cover the transportation of all the occupants of the train. It came as a shock to find that we had more wheels under the train than we had for the entire train of 14 cars only had 70 people. It seemed like an extravagance at the time. Even more so today.

I soon discovered that this was my kind of work, for all I had to do is walk through the train in a business like manner, checking to make sure that everything appeared in order. All the while trying to look half as important as the rest of the people thought they were. It certainly was a wonderful trip of pretending for all of us. Over the next nine years I worked on all kinds of passenger trains, passenger specials and occasionally the two regular trains a day between Lafayette and Chicago as well as the regular Indianapolis to Chicago trains.

By Jim Strother, as originally written in The Hoosier Line. Volume 13, Number 2

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