"When you garner enough seniority you can go out on the road. That's where the big money is. But be careful boy, cause they'll work you every hour of every day of every month of every year and you will spend your self into debt-ridden oblivion. For every sleeper under that road there is a divorce. Two divorces. You may not owe your soul to the company store, but you will owe it to your ex's, and their kids, and their car payments, and their house payments. The more you work, the less you''ll have. The Road'll have you by the short hairs, and you'd better like it 'cause you'll never be free . . ." - the "Curse of the Roadman" Meeting Number 200 at Othello - 1977 picture203_edited.jpg Extra West waits to depart Othello terminal

On 22nd March 1977 I marked up to the Road Extra Board. I didn't wait long to be called: Hoquiam Turn for 9 am on the 23rd, then in short order all in the last week of March: the Mineral Turn, the Snoqualmie Turn, two round-trips to Portland, and even a stint in Tacoma Yard. Usually out on your rest (eight hours if you tied up on 11:59 hours or less; ten hours if you tied up on 12:00 hours; and damn if those money grubbing conductors didn't love to shave that one minute that cost you two hours rest). Eight hours rest meant that the phone rang six and a half hours after you tied up. Eight hours rest included the round trip commute home to Seattle and back to work in Tacoma. Your life became calls to the board every fifteen minutes so you didn't miss a call; Pacific Northwest Bell's Bellboys were not all they were cracked up to be. Holidays ceased to exist, roadmen were not paid overtime. You spent your "rest" at the laundromat. Your personal life became whatever it could, but in Othello or Portland or Hoquiam, not at home. All that mattered was moving the freight. Just as soon as you had left that Dickensian mud pit in which stood the firetrap shack they called a yard office, you were headed right back to it. No laying off on miles (after 4,000 miles you were supposed to get the rest of the month off), no marking off to report: "Mister Crosby, laying off is the same as quitting . . ."

Time Book: Second Half March photo_2004_4_2_16_50_53_edited.jpg Out on the Road, and it shows

16, 17, 18, 19, 20 March = Seattle Yard          
23 #955 Tacoma to Hoquiam, 8:58
24 #954 Hoquiam to Tacoma, 12+ hours         
25 #964 Mineral Turn, 10:20
26 #901 Tacoma to Portland, 9:10                    
27 #902 Portland to Tacoma, 9:40
28 #946 Snoqualmie Turn, 12:45                     
30 #903 Tacoma to Portland, 12:00
31 #900 Portland to Tacoma, 12:00                  
31 11:59 Tacoma Yard job

Time Book: First Half April photo_2004_4_14_19_4_45_edited.jpg My personal best was 62 days without a day off - then I intentionally missed a call, an Everett Turn

1   Dead freight east Tacoma to Othello,
12 hours                       
3  #207 Othello to Tacoma, 12:30
4   Mineral Turn, 11:15                             
5 to 8  Wrecker at Bridge FF-2
9   #901 Tacoma to Portland, 10:50         
10 #902 Portland to Tacoma, 9:00
11 #948 Kent Valley Owl, 12:00                
12 #904 Tacoma to Bellingham, 10:50
14 #905 Bellingham to Tacoma, 9:15       
15 #955 Tacoma to Hoquiam, 12:30
Milwaukee Road Lines West: The Best Pay in the Industry

When I hired out on the Burlington Northern in August 1978, and would explain in conversation what pay was over on the Milwaukee, I was always asked "why did you quit?" Then I would explain that we did not receive paychecks, we received "paymaster's drafts" and if you were lucky enough to have a bank like Seafirst, the drafts were usually honored. Perhaps it was a small price to pay to have real paychecks, from a company with a better than average chance of survival.

On all U.S. railroads, roadmen were paid by the actual mileage of the job, with a 100 mile minimum (you earned the basic mileage for the job when you came in the door to report for work, whether they canceled the job or you worked 12 hours). What you got for that 100 miles, called the pay rate, varied according to length of train and class of service. Yard service paid the best, $56 per day in 1975 (plus about $3.00 extra "air" for coupling air hoses). Next came "local", the best pay rate on the road. A road switch job like the Valley Owl was paid similar to the yard in that you made 100 miles for 8 hours, and overtime for an additional 75 miles, at the rate of 18.75 miles per hour. But the Valley Owl, with its guaranteed 175 miles, did not pay at yard rate, but local rate, which was about $45 per 100 miles. The Owl was a tough job, you more than earned your pay. A through freight, such as an Othello train, could also earn "local" if the crew did more than a certain amount of "work" en route. The pick ups and set outs at West Siding and Black River did not count. But if the dispatcher ordered you to spot a car at Kittitas, presto you "made" local. Thus certain conductors, relaxing in their private parlor cars, would volunteer their brakies for work opportunities known to exist en route (extra roadmen, who worked continuously, detested such conductors). But roadmen made mostly "through freight" rate (plus about 20 cents extra per block of 10 cars in excess of 50 cars), which was around $41 per 100 miles. You also got 7 miles for NOT stopping for lunch (again, detested was the certain conductor who claimed 7 miles for himself, but cut the brakemen out of it if, while waiting for a meet at Essex, they climbed over the fence and went to Burger Master). On the Othello run there was an additional "arbitrary" of 12 miles per mountain range, and there were two ranges, thus 24 extra miles. The basic trip from Tacoma to Othello was 208 miles for the trip plus 24 miles for mountains plus 7 miles for beans for a total of 239, the highest in the industry. Add to this 100 miles "detention" or "alimony" for the third 8 hour period of each 24 hours kept at Othello or Portland.

Tacoma Roundhouse pictu59_edited.jpg Huge Cadillac seats for moon light running in the foothills; but tough for making joints on the Hill

But while the Othello run paid the best of any run anywhere, it was not why my B.N. compatriots were jealous, indeed they recognized that it was a long, hard run from Tacoma to Othello. Their pay, 149 miles to Wenatchee, was earned in relative comfort and speed (let's leave that hellish Cascade Tunnel out of this, for that alone I would have preferred the trip to Othello), with only one stop for work, at Lowell or at "the Milepost." What astounded them about the Milwaukee was this concept: "initial" and "final terminal delay." With this minor bonanza, you received an additional payment of 18.75 miles per hour for all the time at both ends of the trip that you were on duty while your train was in yard limits. This was supposed to be incentive for management to get you out of the yard; but instead was really incentive for you to find reasons to stay in the yard. On the B.N. they had this too, but it didn't start until they had been delayed for an hour. So for the Othello trip: 232 basic miles plus beans plus 20 or 30 additional miles for I.T.D. and F.T.D. It was a chintzy conductor who came in with only 260 or less miles for that run.




© 1976-2007 John Crosby. Photos may not be used without permission. All rights reserved.