Charlie Duckworth

MP Seniority Date April 1974 – Retired March 2012

 

What was your first job on the Mopac and what were the daily duties?

I hired out as a trackman (summer help) on a District Tie Gang at Hoisington, Kansas.  It was interesting as during my physical the nurse gave me a color blind test which I totally failed due to being ‘green-red color blind.  Her response was ‘you’re just summer help so we’ll just let that go”.

 

The first place I worked was Scott City, Kansas.  Being the lowest guy on the totem pole I was given a shovel and would clean out the area for the new ties to be set and inserted under the rails.  It was hard work as ballast isn’t designed to be easily picked up, especially being tamped down by trains over the last 40 years.  The outfit cars (ex-baggage cars built in the early 1960’s) ) we lived in weren’t air conditioned but had a few large fans in the doorways to push the hot Kansas air around.  Each gang too had at least one or two ex-MP water cars for showers and several old flat cars where the machines would be tied down for traveling to the next station where we’d be working.  

 

Each employee was responsible for their own meals so the outfit cars were equipped with a small kitchen area, table and benches. The cars were tied up in a track right next to the mainline in a slight curve, I remember that first night being awaken by a freight coming through town and the headlight of the locomotive coming through the windows of the car.  I was out of bed and almost out the door before I realized it wasn’t coming through my car.   I don’t recall what I made for breakfast, lunch was a few ham sandwiches, apple and chips.  Dinner was at the Dairy Queen or VFW.  While working on the right-of-way water was provided in those large metal containers with a huge block of ice floating in it.  No 'port-a-potties' within miles.

 

The turnover was high on the district gangs as the guys were bidding back on section gangs in or near their home towns.  After a couple of weeks I was taught to operate some of the machines that lifted the rail so the new ties and tie plates could be inserted.  I lost the tip of my middle finger after the second month due to myself and another new trackman operating a rail lifter and not paying attention to the other worker.  They took me into town and the local doctor sewed the end of my finger together; it was stressed this couldn’t be a lost time injury, so for the next few days I was placed on light duty setting out track spikes and tie places where the new ties went in.  After my finger healed I’d use the spike maul and lining bar to set spikes for the spike machine and various other jobs.   

 

 We’d put in around 400-450 ties a day but the foreman would always report about 350-400 to Kansas City.  This allowed him to put 50 ties a day in his ‘pocket’ so on Fridays we’d all take off around noon to drive home (some guys lived in Colorado, others in eastern Kansas) and he’d report we’d put in the normal 350-400 on that day.  After another month or so I was promoted to a Machine Operator which gave me a .15 cents more per hour but it also meant I was no longer on the end of a shovel or spike maul.  I generally ran a tie crane which entailed picking up ties to where they'd bee unloaded on the right-of-way and running them down to the job site and laying them in the area were the old tie had been removed.  After Scott City, the gang later worked around Lindsborg, Marquette and Osage City, Kansas.  Before leaving the tie gang for a management position in Fort Worth,  I was the Assistant Foreman of the gang so my duties were doing payroll, marking which ties would be removed,  getting a PX (train line-up) from the local agent/operator several times a day (using a message phone at attahed to the old telegraph lines)  to see where the trains were in our area and then ensuring the gang and equipment was off the right-of-way so the train could be given an ‘all clear’ to proceed through our work area.  I’d go out to the job site in a small Fairbanks motor car and set up the slow order boards so the freights knew exactly where we were working.   The train crews would have a ‘slow order’ with their train orders but the boards were a back-up for safety.   I remember all of our rail equipment and crew truck were  painted ‘Omaha Orange’.  The bunk cars were silver and the supporting boxcars and flatcars were boxcar red.                

 

    

The only item remaining from my MoW days is this Watch Inspection card from Dawson Jewelers in Great Bend, Kansas dated October 5, 1974 when I was an Assistant Foreman.  I keep it in the glass case with my Hamilton 992 pocket watch. 

 

What was the most interesting job on the Mopac you had?  

Superintendent Stations & Claim Prevention.  

What were the typical duties, what were the most interesting or challenging areas?  This position was a system job in St. Louis,  I would contact the station managers or agents when there were problems with customer, Accounting or demurrage issues, I also worked with the Opearting Department if there were customer issues on service.  If there were customer complaints we would also research these and get into what corrective action was needed.  During the business increase with Mexico in the late 1970’s I would be in Laredo or Brownville several times a year to help streamline the paperwork between the MP and NdeM and US and Mexican customs.  I also served on an AAR committee as Mopac’s representive and we discussed and changed many rules between the various railroads to improve operations.  Conrail and Mopac were the first railroads to go ‘paperless’ on through train waybills (except high-wides and hazmat waybills) which reduced delays waiting on waybills to be pulled and moved with the trains.     

I'd get requests from our managers in the field as to changed needed to our computer system and would work with MP's IT department to get these prioritized.    I'd also represent the MP at joint station meetings such as the HB&T.  You learned all parts of the railroad on this position due to the problem solving involved.   

 

  

What was best part of working of the Mopac?  

Everyone was very helpful when it came down to solving problems.  The IT staff was very responsive to computer issues and would dial-in or come into the office on weekends or stay late into the evenings to fix computer issues.  The smaller stations were fun to work at, there would be quiet times between train arrivals and departures so we had time to discuss the railroad operations in the earlier years.   Since I started on the MoW I knew about the operations of that department but knew nothing of agency work so if I was at a small station and the clerk had to weight cars I tag along and learn the weighing process.  Same with walking tracks, checking trains into the yard, handing up train orders, etc.   You could tell the older employees weren't fond of the new computer system going in in 1976 but were ready to learn (as they didn't have much of a choice).  The Mopac was well respected by the other Class 1 railroads from discussions I had with my counterparts on the other roads.  When I was first promoted to management I was sent down to work on the T&P, the T&P employees like to say their best locomotives and freight cars went "up north" and "the Mop sent down their junk" to replace it.  

 

What did the railroad focus on as your responsibilities?  

To be honest reducing clerical staff.  Secondly, helping with getting rid of manual processes and figuring out how to migrate the processes into our TCS computer system.  The MP was able to develop many reports from the information reported by the yard offices and freight offices so we could to see how long foreign railroad cars were being held, how many cars were 'no waybill', and show the field how to focus on these issues and reduce hidden costs.  

 

 

How did the MP differ from other railroads.  

The Mopac spent millions on their computer system both hardware and software.  As a result the managing of trains and railcars was made much easier.  While the locomotives weren't always the cleanest, I believe right before merger, the MP had one of the youngest locomotive fleets in the U.S. (due to the purchase of the GP15-1 and retiring the older GP7 and GP9 units).    

 

What changes did you see in your career that you felt were significant.  

Around 1979 or 1980 the Mopac was testing with Dow Chemical the ability to send electronic Bills of Lading to the MP computer in St. Louis.  From this we automatically made a waybill.  This was a huge step in terms of accuracy and timeliness.  Mopac was the second railroad in the country to do this as Dow had cut Conrail over to this new technology a few months earlier at their Midland Michigan plant.  Being in the stations department, there was a large effort to close the smaller agencies and move the work into a 'Customer Service Center'.  We had some 80 CSC's at one time and at the time of merger in 1982 we were down to a half a dozen large regional CSC's.  In late 1982 we were having meetings in St. Louis to move all the work into one CSC in the MP General Offices.  This was put on hold due to the UP-WP-MP merger.    

 

TCS was a huge step for Mopac as we were able to introduce a Car Scheduling system for every freight car on the railroad nothing any of the other railroads could come even close to doing. 

 

 

What are some of the stories you can tell now that you couldn’t when working

 

Lake Charles 

There’s a few memories that come to mind.  While working in Lake Charles, Louisiana (1975) on 3rd shift I was riding with the crew on a job that switched the industries at night.  Shortly after we left the yard one of the crew took a .22 pistol out of his grip and walked out onto the pilot.  Previously being around some pretty crazy trackmen nothing really surprised me anymore.  I asked the engineer what was up and he explained they’d shoot the possums walking the rail before the locomotive ran them over as  the possums would walk the rail thinking it was a tree branch.  I don’t recall if a possum was ever shot that week but everyone on the crew took a turn with the gun hoping one would come along and we all took turns running the locomotive while the engineer was on the pilot taking his turn ‘hunting possums’. 

 

Shreveport 

While working in Shreveport at Hollywood Yard I was again working nights as an implementor training the clerks on how to use a new computer.  I was again working from 11:00 pm to 11:00 am as I was the newest guy and the other guy was an old head from Kansas City who liked to sleep in (hence the 11:00 am start time).  The third shift was pretty well staffed with a yardmaster, yard clerk and operator and myself.  After the yardmaster got the 3rd shift engines lined up on their work for the shift we’d all pile into a car and head down the street for breakfast.  What was interesting, breakfast lasted for a couple of hours – from about 1:00 am to 3:00 am (every night) and I’m sure this had been the routine for years.  We got back in time to run the necessary reports for the daylight shift and give the first shift their turnover.  The management and clerical staff at Hollywood Yard were not  proud of their offices and complained about it being the worse building on the T&P.  The yard office was an old 1900 two-story frame building that needed paint and seemed to be leaning to one side.  When the railroad installed an IBM card sorting machine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_card_sorter) on the second floor in the early 1970’s, the B&B gang had to pour a concrete column under the machine so the floor would hold it  up.  The machine was so large and heavy there was no way to get it up the stairs so they had to punch a large hole in the side of the building and lift the machine onto the floor from the outside with a crane.  The new hole was patched with a sheet of plywood which just added to the homely look of the building.  

 

Osage City 

While working as a MoW truck driver we were moving the gang from Lindsborg (Kansas) to Osage City.  We needed to pick up the smaller machines off the right of way and place them on flatcars to be tied down for the trip by rail.  The boom on the back of the crew truck initially wasn’t high enough to lift the machines so we made the necessary adjustments to put it in its highest setting and got the machines moved.   The drive to Osage City was about 2 hours so several of the guys decided to ride in the back of the truck and since is was summer and the crew cab was hot.   As we pulled into Osage City and headed down Main Street the boom pole (still in its highest position) started pulling down the power lines that crossed above the street to service the varios stores.  People started exiting the now darkened stores to see what the problem was.  The guys riding in the back of the truck were banging on the roof of the cab to get me to stop but since that was normal behavior for a bunch of rowdy trackmen I didn’t pay much attention to them until we got to the new job site.  Hence, Osage City’s introduction to the Mopac arriving in town!                

 

How did working for the railroad affect your personal or family life.

My wife Linda was very understanding of the travel I had on the job when we first had children.  I remember one morning I was leaving for Houston to attend a meeting with the HB&T and the hot water heater was leaking across our basement, on top of this the fan belt in our car broke as I was pulling out of the driveway.  I called a cab and I drove off leaving her with a baby, broken car and leaking hot water heater.   Missed many parent teacher conferences, ball games and other kids activities due to business travel. Weekends were spent catching up on yard work.  

 

What was Mopac's relationship like with the unions?  Other railroads, customers.  

Mopac has a good working relationship with the clerical unions, we'd lay on the table what we were trying to accomplish from the business side and remember the unions wanting to cooperate - this of course was the late 1970's and the railroads weren't the triving businesses you see today and everyone wanted to hang on to their jobs and make the railroad successful.  

 

As far as the other railroads, Mopac being in the middle of the U.S. handled lots of interchange traffic so it was in everyone's best interest to exchange early through train consists and waybills for planning purposes and not to occur any delays due to 'paper-work'.    We sold many branchlines to shortlines and would work with these new companies to make the transition successful.   Conrail and Mopac worked very close due to the chemical business we both shared.    We also worked closely with the NdeM and U.S. and Mexican customs to streamline the paperwork required moving freights cars between two countries.  Business was starting to boom going to and from Mexico and the antiquated paper processes with the two customs offices and railroads were causing large delays at the borders.    

 

We had a good relationship with our customers, in many of the larger firms (GM, Internation Paper, a few of the chemical plants) we installed computer lines and terminals so they could track their freight cars without having to call an 800 number.  This was again in the late 1970's when no one really had computers ouside their own offices.   Most customers were ok with calling an 800 number rather than having a local agent as they knew we had to cut costs to stay in business.     

 

What was it like working for the Mopac during the UP mergerr?

The UP-MP-WP merger application named several joint operations where one railroad would take over the operations, as example in Omaha,  the Mopac freight yard and CSC were put under the control of the UP, in Kansas City the Mopac was the controling railroad and all the crafts were merged.  Small places like Salina (went to the UP) and Beloit (went to the MP) likewise were affected.  The railroad who did not remain at the location had the employees allowed to remain at home on pay.  After working in the MP's General Offices it was sad to shut down our department and move to Omaha.  Several of those who I worked with for many years and developed friendships with took a buyout or went back on the clerical seniority rather than move to the 'frozen northland'.   We moved to Omaha in 1986 and seven months later were transferred back to St. Louis to start the UP's National Customer Service Center.   18 years later we were transferred back to Omaha as the UP had built a new general office and was closing down the old Mopac General Offices at 13th and Olive.  I remember it was a surreal experience that last day walking out of the old MP offices were both my father and I had worked for many years.   Acouple of years ago the Missouri Pacific Employee Assoication was given a tour of the old building, which had been turned into apartments.  It was great to see the old lobby look as good as it did and the building's fllors looked better than when the railroad was the only occupant.  They'd even built a swimming pool on the roof - was thinking the time while I was looking at it 'what would Mr. Jenks, Mr. Lloyd or Mr. Baldwin think of that addition!'