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Dan Misenheimer – Texas & Pacific

So, here’s a guy fresh from the college scene and a short tenure scrubbing molasses residue from the bottom of enormous storage tanks at a transfer facility in the little town of Port Allen, La.  By the way, that short tenure was the impetus (or guiding light as I like to call it) that provided the necessary desire for me to pursue a different form of career.  Want a quick method to determine a career?  Shovel 6-8 inches of thick sweet smelling molasses on the entire floor inside a storage tank at temperatures between 125 and 150 degrees toward a 12 inch sump drain!

Hummmm, so what should I do?  I had a frank chat with my dad.  He managed the molasses transfer facility which also did business with, at the time, the Texas & Pacific Railway.  So dad did what dads do and made a phone call to the Agent at the local office in Addis, La.  That call provided a much needed ticket into the door.  I interviewed and was granted permission for further testing.  And by the way, told to cut my hair.  After all, it was the seventies and I was a drummer in a local rock band. 

A short few days and I was given the green light.  All test passed.  Through the front door of the Addis, La. Yard/Freight Office I go and suddenly, I feel like I’m a star in the movie Grumpy Old Men.  My gosh!  To my amazement, it was jaw dropping.  Air conditioning, an office, no molasses…and a room full of grandfathers or close to it.  Typewriters banging away, phones ringing constantly, people talking, some yelling, smoking, tobacco spitting….I was in heaven…o.k. maybe somewhere in between heaven and hell.  That was January 1972 and I am now officially a Texas & Pacific Railway Employee.

I was what was referred to as an “Extra Board Clerk.”  So somewhere between fully employed and not so much.  I would be called to work “vacancies” anyone’s, anytime, day or night.  No guarantee on how many days I’d work.  You know, that was o.k.  Free to be or so I thought.  My training began, not by book form of any standard, but by sitting next to a “seasoned” veteran that would direct me through the daily motions of his/her position.  Mostly “his” as at this time the railroad wasn’t a place for ladies.  Like many “newbies,” I would start at the bottom, the lowest of low, the dreaded yard clerk.  I thought, well this is kinda like a fraternity initiation….you know a hazing thing.  Addis, La., was a small (by today’s standards) switching yard.  Home to handling business for several chemical companies, import export business for the Port of Baton Rouge, lumber, carbon black, etc.  Ten tracks.  Ten, very long, very crowded tracks full of all kinds of rail cars, commodities and hobos.  Yep, we had em’.  So my job was to take a long thin sheet of paper and a #2 pencil and walk the tracks at the beginning and end of my shift.  These documents would be used to verify inventory accuracy against cards in a metal rack.  This process had a cute name; It was the PICL System.  Perpetual Inventory of Car Location.  My training concluded after about two weeks.  Yard checking in the daylight wasn’t bad.  Yard checking at night was the worst.  Dimly lit surroundings.  Rail cars banging into each other as switching operations ensued.  The occasional hobo going “boo” in the night.  Ah and yes, the every infrequent whiff of some sort of chemical venting from a tank car.  Oh yeah, did I mention, the varmint(s) that scooted across the tracks migrating from a field to a wooded area or visa versa?  Let’s not forget, it was Louisiana.  Humidity, rain.  Try keeping your paper dry and writable in a good old downpour.  Yet, I reminded myself, you’re not shoveling molasses and that made it alright.

As I progressed through a myriad of jobs, my skill set and knowledge grew exponentially along with a few dozen hand written notebooks.  There were positions which I dare not learn.  The dreaded train order operator was one.  Who wanted to get their butt chewed by yet another old grumpy person far away barking orders out via some type of electronic device in a language that sounded like a Canadian auctioneer.  All this as you translate on tiny pads of what looked like toilet paper.  Then you place this stuff on a string mounted on a stick that looks like a water probe, stand by the main track and hope the engineer or fireman has good eyesight and an arm that zips the string with the train orders off the stick while the train sails by you at 30 plus miles per hour.  No thank you.   

Four short years later the Missouri Pacific purchased the T&P.  Computer installation was in its infancy. 

My job was getting easier by the day…NOT!  Jamming card readers, high speed sorters and a massive “jumbo machine” all recipes for inventory disasters….and there were many.  Secure a seat at the IBM Key Punch machine and produce a replacement card or in my case, CARDS!  Got to keep that inventory accurate, otherwise on go the walking shoes and back to yard checker I go.  I’m working a “swing” job.  So appropriately named because you’re literally swinging from/to different days and hours.  Days off are Friday and Saturday.  Worked daylight on Sunday, afternoons on Monday and Tuesday, nights on Wednesday and Thursday.  Nights were sometimes a bit slow from a work standpoint, so my buddy and I would exercise our inquisitiveness with the newly installed Cathode Ray Tubes or CRT’s as they were called.  One such episode, I believe, got me promoted.  Suffice to say, I was sworn never to repeat exactly what happened.  Basically, I managed to, in today’s terms, breach a firewall (of course there wasn’t such a thing then), and crash the mainframe.  Since there wasn’t any malicious intent, and my Superintendent at the time had the innate ability to spot “future talent,” I was promoted to “Transportation Supervisor” at the Avondale, La. Terminal. A whopping 70 miles South of Addis, La.  That was January 1977.  The rest is history.  On to Memphis, Tn., as Assistant Terminal Manager, for 14 months.  Manager Customer Service Operations in Alexandria, La. February 1978 thru 1981, Manager Customer Service Operations Shreveport, January 1981 thru December 1983 and then to the king of kings, the best of the best, the holy grail of terminals; Kansas City, Mo., as Manager Customer Service Operations.  At this juncture, the train order operator job doesn’t look bad at all.  Off I went.  My job was to solidify the clerical and computer operations of the merger of the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific Railroads.  Mmmmmmm, the sweet smell of molasses returned, so I persevere.  Three years later, the sweet smell of success.

My most interesting job on the TP/MP?  It’s a toss—up between the job at Kansas City or the job of (Manager Customer Service Operations) at Shreveport, La.  General Motors built a new automotive assembly plant at Reisor, La., and International Paper built a paper plant at Bayou Pierre, La.  I was charged with the leadership and management of the customer service, car and train movement reporting, accounting and intermodal ramp operations of a regional customer service center. Directly supervised 2 management and 28 union personnel.  We had to figure out how to efficiently and effectively manage both plant operations using the TCS (Transportation Control System) the name given the computer system running the railroad.  No small task as both GM and IP were demanding to say the least.  Both plants had major risks and each plant manager was charged with startup and efficiency in their operations, a huge dependency on their rail carrier.

Unlike the mega carriers of today, Missouri Pacific like Texas & Pacific, were small companies relatively speaking.  They were family friendly and agile in operations.  As Transportation Supervisor, Asst. Terminal Manager and/or Manager Customer Service Operations my focus from the corporate level was always to maintain operation efficiency through the use of technology and process control.  These corporate challenges remained with me throughout my entire career.

MoPac held a strong line with the union ranks.  They wasn’t a shortage of challenges in regards to a labor strategy.  Likewise MoPac held its own with other rail carriers and I think stood out as a premier transportation carrier with its pursuit of computer integration to manage rail operations.  It was always customer focused from a growth standpoint, although not at today’s current customer satisfaction standards.

As noted above, my tenure at Kansas City was tough.  A combined UP/MP merger generated approximately 300 clerical employees.  My responsibilities included management of both the customer service center and yard office operations.  Our chief challenges were the integration of computer, labor, personnel and train operations.  Many came and went.  In the end, the few that withstood the challenges and remained steadfast in their commitments, were the beneficiaries of many successes.

I was truly blessed and grateful to have had the chance that I did along with explicit timing to work for T&P, MoPac and ultimately Union Pacific.  While the work wasn’t always easy, the hours and days long, I was challenged to excel at every level.  I was monetarily rewarded and was able to provide a comfortable style of living for my family. I’ve met untold number of people that have touched my life in so many ways.  Friendships I cherish to this day. I’ve worked for some of the greats and not so greats; names that resound in so many conversations about railroads.  To this day, I would not change any part of my career.

Dan Misenheimer

T&P, Missouri Pacific, Union Pacific

Hired January 24, 1972, Retired April 1, 2012

40 Years Of Rail Service