Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back To Working On The Railroad

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

After working at the sawmill, I was able to work on the railroad for awhile.  I found out from my uncle that there was an opening on a paint crew.  I applied and got the job on the paint crew.  We mostly painted signs along the tracks.  Every culvert has a sign with a number indicating the mileage from some point.  Before painting the sign we would write the number on the web of the rail with chalk so we could paint the number in black on the sign after it was painted white.  One of the other things we painted was the scale used for weighting RR cars before they were loaded onto the ferry that went across the Straits of Mackinac.  We had to crawl down under the scale and spray paint the steel parts.  Needless to say it was not pleasant, I came out of there all covered with paint.  We also had to paint some bridges.  One was low enough that when I dropped my brush for red lead, I was able to lower myself off the scaffold and pick up the brush out of the water.  Another bridge went over a small stream and a county road.  The part over the stream was wooden trestle and the part over the road was steel.  We hung scaffolding under the bridge and closed off one lane of traffic at a time.  We had a  person on either side of the bridge directing traffic just like at some road construction areas.  Also because of the traffic, we painted the bridge with brushes so cars going under the bridge on the road would not get overspray on them.  The bridge I didn't like to paint was a high one.  It was 80 feet from the rail to the water.  It had been prepared (chipping off old paint and red lead primer applied) for painting a year or two before.  We hung block and tackle over the side of the bridge, tied a ladder to the edge of the bridge to climb down to the plank that was supported by the block and tackle.  No safety equipment what so ever.  It was hang on with one hand and spraypaint with the other.  As I was the low man on the totem pole (least seniority), I would always be on the downwind end of the plank.  Even tho I would try to cover up, I still would have trouble getting all the paint off my skin and out of my hair.

When we were painting the bridge over the road, our railroad cars that we lived in were parked in the Soo.  One evening I went looking for an auto parts store for something and came back with something different.  I don't remember what I originally went to get, but I bought a new throw-out bearing as the one in my car broke while on my way to the store.  After buying the new part, I had to drive across town with no clutch.  It meant starting the car in first gear and shifting without the clutch.  At one light I went thru several changes of the light before I got it fired up as it was slightly uphill and it didn't want to start.  After getting back to where I was staying (the railroad cars parked by the roundhouse), then I had to change the throw-out bearing.  The car had a four speed transmission that was heavy.  I jacked up the car and made a ramp under the transmission to slide it back on.  I knew if I dropped it on the ground, I would never be able to lift it back in place while lying under the car.  I had to get it fixed by Friday as I had found out that I had been bumped by the foreman and would no longer have a job after Friday.  I was able to get my car fixed and drive home Friday after work.

A short time later, I found out there was an opening of a bridge crew and I got the job.  We were working on the ferry slip for the railroad car ferry the "Chief Wawatam".  One day the foreman said we could go for a ride on the ferry if it was OK with the captain.  It was a nice ride across to Mackinaw City in an old ship (it was built in 1911) and when we got there, I learned it would be a couple hours before the ferry was unloaded and reloaded for the trip back.  As it was around the time we usually had out morning coffee break, I went to a restaurant for coffee.  When I sat down and took off my hardhat, the waitress asked if I worked around there and I said "No, I work in St. Ignace."  She had a funny look on here face until I explained how I came to be in Mackinaw City for coffee.  The ferry was removed from service in the 80s, and ever since to ship something by rail from St. Ignace, MI to Mackinaw City, MI. it had to make a trip all the way around Lake Michigan.

That job only lasted a couple weeks as the paint crew I was on got shut down for the year and one of the guys I had worked with came back to his job on the bridge crew.  Some guys would work on the paint crew during the summer as a painter made the same as a carpenter on the bridge crew, so if you were a carpenter's helper it was a raise in pay. 


Nan said...

Have you decided the rest of your life has been too boring to remember?

Kulkuri said...

No, it's just that I've reached the point where out of the blue I get a letter (snail mail) from someone who once was the girl nest door asking if she can come camping at my place. I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to write it!!

Kulkuri said...

That's 'next door', not 'nest door'.