Lucky 13 Years Later

I’m always sharing memories here in my blog. Scrolling threw my Facebook to find some “Throwback Thursday” photos for my Instagram. I wanted to share some pictures from our numerous visits to Disneyland for Halloween, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog: Decade of Disneyland.

I discovered a memory that I knew was around this time of year. It was thirteen years ago today that I finished working at Chuck E. Cheese’s. I had five years of memories there, and it was where my children got spoiled. My kids were there 2-3 times a week playing video games, getting any prize they wanted off the wall, and tons of pizza. I also had the opportunity to manage numerous teenagers, many of whom have become parents of their own children now. Managing them gave me an insight into how to deal with teens of my own one day.

It was sad to leave CEC back then. But joining the railroad was one of the best decisions of my life. Without changing the career path, I never would’ve been able to afford the lifestyle we now enjoy. Including all those Disneyland trips.

It feels like my days at the railroad have been going on forever now. But 13 years went by rather quickly. With tons of memories made over the years at CN- and the first memory being the one where I had to leave some wonderful people- makes me realize how lucky I have been.

More Trains?

It was only a couple of days ago that I wrote about being a Foamer. It just so happens that we ended up having another unique Diesel engine arrive in our yard.

The paint scheme may not have been as exciting as the one from Central Maine & Quebec. But just for fun, I had one of our crews add the two of them together. Within a couple of days we will be sending the engines on their way. We would interchange them off to CP Rail for their crews to use.

When I first started at CN Rail, I had no idea how often the railroads interchanged engines with one another. Besides the two I most recently wrote about, I’ve been on engines from CN, CP, BNSF and SRY.. as well as a few others that only railroaders would be able to identify as from a foreign railroad.

It’s kind of fun to play with trains. Like being a kid again and just toying around on a much grander scale.

Foamer In Me

I enjoy where I work. Being a railroader is a unique job. You often experience some great moments that are just beautiful. I love taking photos of the world I live in. I’m a bit of a “foamer” but only of the really remarkable aspects. I don’t care for the intricate details about locomotives or cars. If it looks cool- I’ll snap a picture.

Check out: Crossing Tracks for two of my favorite shots of train tracks.

Or take a journey back in time to when I was lucky enough to be a conductor on a Steam Train. My wife still bugs me about how excited I was to get the call that morning.

Recently a rare engine rolled into town. This is only one of three of these locomotives in this paint schemes in all of Canada. I had never seen it before in my almost 13 years at CN Rail. Naturally, I had to take a picture. The grey and blue engine looked right at home with the grey and blue background.

I still find my job fascinating from time to time. It keeps the interest level up. I’ll probably be here for many more years to come. I’m just a bit of a foamer. You kind of have to be to work here for as long as I have.

Somber Day

Today was not a feel good kind of day. I could sense the heaviness in everyone I spoke with. The change in their voice, the look in their eyes, their posture dropping. All of it a reminder of what a tragedy can do to all of those around.

Dealing with the loss of a coworker who is close to you or a person you’ve met periodically can feel brutal. It’s still a loss. It’s still able to affect you. Talking about it changes the atmosphere of a room almost instantly. Seeking emotional help is all that I can suggest to people.

I may not be in the union any more, but I know where my roots stem from in the railroad and respect the difficulty of each and every situation. There’s no happy ending today. No joking or laughing. Rather a sobering reminder that where we work can be devastating and take a good person’s life without warning.

Dream Work…

I have a coworker who repeatedly says, “Dream work makes the team work.” Or she’ll say “One team, one dream.” Both are very positive mantras even if she is half heartedly saying them. I like to try and instill the second phrase a bit more when I’m at work though.

And that’s tough because of so many variables. Working for a railroad is like being a big part of a machine. There are so many moving pieces- literally. As well, behind the scenes there are pulleys and levers to make those machines move. Some days we are a well oiled machine. Other days it’s organized chaos.

Last night I was dreaming about work. Nothing crazy or nightmarish. Just work. As if I was there. Now I’m awake and heading off to work again. Does that mean I have a Dream Job? Or am I doing what so many people say

Am I living the Dream?

Getting My Feet Wet

It’s been about a year since I had to be a switchman last. It’s like riding a bicycle- my legs were a little wobbly at first, but it all came back to me once more. Over the past four nights I have been back at it again doing twelve hour shifts each night. Last night I was soaked because of the rain. I was quite literally “Getting My Feet Wet” once more.

A part of me enjoyed doing this job again at first. Seeing some of my favorite graffiti art that I hadn’t seen in ages has been a real treat. I remember many of the images and it’s odd to see them show up again.

However, I’d like it to be over soon. I’m hoping that things settle down and the conductors return into their regular roles. They are more apt to doing this type of job than I am. I don’t feel that I am as good as I once was that’s for sure. But if I have to, I will do what is required of me until such a time that I won’t be needed.

And here I thought my career was moving away from working nights in the rain. Oh well.

Crossing Tracks

Everyday I cross two sets of train tracks near our home. I’ve been doing this for over a decade now. Recently they changed one of the crossings.

They removed the stop sign and installed some lights. Needless to say that many of the local residents are having a difficult time adjusting. Since many have lived here for a long time. Even though I know it has signals and no more stop sign, I still slow down as I approach. Perhaps it’s the railroader in me exercising caution.

At the other crossing I sometimes stop and take a photo. There can be something beautiful about the skyline and the tracks that needs to be immortalized in a picture.

CN 100 / PNE

On Sunday- my family and I spent the day at the PNE in Vancouver. My work was showcasing the CN 100 Celebration. A Hundred Years of railroading and everything CN has done for Canada.

My coworkers and our families were treated to free admission to the Fair as well as some lunch. This was a nice treat, and allowed my wife and I to finally brought our family to The PNE.

The last time I was at the PNE was in the late 90’s. Back when the hottest local radio station was Z95.3fm. I found it amusing that they had a booth and were promoting their old logo once more and giving away buttons that said “90’s Kid”.

We only spent about half the day at the fair. I’m not a fan of the crowds or the smells. There’s lots of farm animals there as well as some entertainment. We wandered the vendors and stopped to watch the jousting tournament.

After the joust, my wife and I took the kids to see the rides and the carnival games section. Before we left, we wandered through a “selfie” area to catch some silly photos. We made the most of the day and the kids were happy to leave when we did. There was only one thing I wanted to see, but got out voted.

I didn’t get my chance to see “The Superdog Show“. It was the only part of the PNE that I remember truly enjoying as a kid.

As a teen, the only reason I went to the PNE was to feel some independence and hang out with friends. Most of that time was spent flirting with the girls we went with and going on rides. Now as a parent going to the PNE, I had a hard time wanting to spend money or time at the fair. Honestly, if my work hadn’t supplied us with free access to the grounds, I don’t think my kids would ever have seen the PNE with us.

Grain Car Graffiti

A while back I mentioned how I think that Graffiti is Art. I still believe this. But over the past few years, I haven’t seen much in the way of new art. Until this week at work. Some of the new grain hoppers my work has brought in have been tagged out in the Prairies. Naturally I took some photos.

Obviously there is some raw talent out there. I noticed many of these artists tend to write their “Alias Name” on the cars. I love the shading and use of colours to make the image POP off the cars.

Sometimes the cars are humorous in what is written as well. Or a bit offensive. But it’s an expression of the artist at the time. I understand that what these people are doing is illegal. On a moving canvas that garners more views as they travel back and forth across the country- I’d rather see that instead of tags on someone’s backyard fence or on the wall of a small business.

I encourage the expression of art in many forms. In fact, our daughter is attempting some graffiti as well, but on a canvas with acrylics. She has a ways to go, and she may not continue with this style. And that’s totally fine. At least she’s expressing herself artistically.

The Floater

My experience at work has me jumping from location to location in my home terminal. Which makes me feel uneasy and a bit doubtful of my abilities.

Am I that good- that my work can move me willy nilly all over the place? Or am I that bad- that they can’t figure out a good place for me?

I’d like to think it’s the first option. I am pretty good at a couple of the locations. But I think I’m just middle of the road when it comes to others.

What has happened now is that I have become a “Floater“. My coworkers say to me, “Didn’t I see you someplace else last week?” Or “Weren’t you at a different location? Are you going to stay here permanently?” I have become like a human version of the eye floater. Appearing in your vision for a moment, just to disappear as you try and focus on me. It feels like I’m here but not.

In the end, I guess I’m reliable enough to help out where needed. Arrive in a flash and gone in an instant- leaving behind nothing more than a memory of my presence.

Joe- The Human Eye Floater

Working Outside

I’ve been at the railroad since 2007. From my conductor class of 30 students only ten people remain. A couple of them moved to work in Edmonton, some in Kamloops, some here in Vancouver and a couple of us went into management.

When I hired on back in November of 2007- they told us that if we can survive our first winter, we’d end up being “Lifers“. Most of my shifts lately have been working outdoors at night, just like when I hired on.

Last week I was Working in the Rain. This week has been dry, but dipping below freezing. You’d think that over a decade later, I wouldn’t be working on the ground. But we’ve been extra busy these days. My body isn’t used to the physical activity. Sometimes I miss being in the office.

Over the next few weeks it’ll remain busy. A lot of us are feeling overwhelmed. The mental strain is equally as bad as the physical strain. I’m not sure if there’s an end goal in sight. My current mood at work is a zombie like state. It carries over into the home life- and that’s tough. I think a good night’s rest and a recharge will help.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but I think it’s just another train…

Focus On Safety

Today was a different day at work for me. Usually I’m in an office running reports and moving trains. Today I got an opportunity to go out and talk with coworkers about safety concerns and open up some dialogue.

Safety is something extremely important that we all need to be a part of. I try and get out in the field for a bit every couple of days while at work. Today was an entire day instead. I enjoyed it.

While out I noticed a lot of excellent behaviors. Working at a railroad, people need to be kept aware of how unforgiving the work environment can be. We also need to look out for those that aren’t always on the railroad. Such as contractors and even the general public. If we can make a positive impact in each other’s lives, I’m satisfied.

I enjoyed talking to everyone. I’m also really happy with the discussions had. This aspect of my job is probably my favorite. Just an open dialogue trying to resolve issues.

Back To Basics

Yesterday I got to do something at work I haven’t done in ages. I was able to be the conductor on a train from North Vancouver to Squamish and back again. I don’t usually get asked to help out, so it was a refreshing break from my usual office work.

I was also lucky enough to be with an engineer that was a pleasure to work with. That made the ride more relaxing and enjoyable. Years ago I would work as a conductor taking this train up and down along the west coast. Not every experience was a good one. Especially in the winter.

This route is one of the most scenic routes I know of in North America to take by rail. During the summer months, The Rocky Mountaineer passenger train also takes this trip. For those of you who like trains- the Rocky Mountaineer is like taking a cruise by rail. It also costs about the same. Seeing the beautiful landscape along British Columbia is worth it in my opinion.

My job is pretty amazing at times, that’s for sure. I’m really lucky to be able to have the experiences I do. In the end, it’s all about how you perceive the workload that makes a job worthwhile.

New Role, First Attempt

Today was a chance for me to sit solo as the “Operations Coordinator” at work. I have two more of these days to go. It was a good challenge for me. I have been in charge of other areas at work without much issue. However, this is how I felt at the end of my day:

My confidence level was taken down a couple of notches. As much as I know the job, I still hesitated before making decisions. I am also doing my best to focus on everything that is going on around me. But it was overwhelming. I mustn’t sit idly by and let things “just happen” I need to get my head in the game.

Next week, I am back to my other job for a few weeks. Come September, I will be back in the “hot seat” though. I hope to be ready to really take on the challenge with more self assurance. I’ll be able to be more myself and calmly react to situations.

Besides, I got this. I know I can do it. Moving trains- that’s what I do.

Proudly Canadian

Happy Canada Day!

I’m fortunate to call Canada my home. My family is also quite happy about it. As great as it is to travel to other countries, coming back to the “land of the free” is always reassuring. This is a great country with wonderful people residing here.

I always try and do something “Canadian” on Canada Day. Sometimes I go to a parade, eat poutine or drink Molson Canadian. Other times it’s hanging out with friends at a BBQ drinking Molson Canadian. Today I am doing the most Canadian thing I can think of- instead of drinking beer and watching hockey. I am going to work at CN Rail aka Canadian National.

How ever you are celebrating today- have fun and behave. Our polite reputation relies on it.

Happy Canada Day!

10 Years of Railroading

I can’t believe I’ve been at the same job for ten years now. Somehow it morphed into a career. I kind of always knew it would, but it still hits me hard.

Ten years of service and my work gave me a nice watch with a ten year pin to commemorate my hard work. I’ll be here for at least another 15 years most likely.  The company has been really good to me and my family.  Offering stability and steady work over the years.


Before I started at CN, I made a railroad in our garden.  Unfortunately it has gone into disarray over the years. At the start of every summer, my son cleans the models and sets them up. I have a feeling one or more of my children will end up working here at some point in their lives. 

Nearly every year we attend CN Family Days. My children have enjoyed all the train rides and prize draws. They also enjoy seeing where I work. CN has been great in helping with my children’s Speed Skating as well.  Offering a grant for the volunteer time that my wife, daughter and I have put in.  This greatly helps out our Skating club.

It always strikes me as odd that I work at a railroad.  When I was a child, I was terrified of trains.  It continued on into my teen years. Getting a job working on trains took a lot of courage for me.  Within a year I had moved into the office to get away from working in the yard (much to my wife’s happiness). I hope to continue my growth and enjoy the challenges that each day brings me. 


Thank you CN for the decade of friendships and job satisfaction.

From Catchprases to Catastrophic Films.

Recently at work I realized that there are a few “catchphrases” that I use.  These have become a way of my speaking that I don’t notice saying them anymore.  At least not until someone points it out. So I am writing about a couple of them.

One phrase I’ve been using over the past few weeks is one that I used to use years ago. “Pitter-patter.  Let’s get at ‘er.” This phrase strikes me as an odd one.  It reminds me of talking to children about getting things done quickly.  I do tend to say it more in a joking manner when using it.  Sure, I want the work to get done.  But I also want the employees to be a bit relaxed and calm at the start of the shift.  If saying something ridiculous like “Pitter-patter” gives them some motivation, and it works, then why should I stop saying it?

The other phrase I use is one that I began using about eight or nine years ago.  It’s stayed with me ever since.  I still remember the first time I decided to say it.  I was working a nightshift servicing a couple of industries. It made the engineer laugh pretty hard the first time I said it, so it stuck.  I use this phrase whenever a train starts to pull and the tail end finally moves. I used to say it as a Yardmaster as well when I would tail a crew in a track using a camera. I get on the radio and say, “All shakin’ Kevin Bacon.”


It’s a great reference to the films “Footloose and Tremors” starring Mr. Kevin Bacon.  Just a bit of fun as we work moving rail cars. Plus I loved the movie “Tremors” a shit ton when it came out.  I was 14 and must’ve watched it a few dozen times that year.  Big sand snakes called “Graboids” that chase people from underground in the desert?  What’s not to love? 


Mind you- this was at a time in my life that I really enjoyed “B” horror movies.  The kinds that you would find on the 2-4-1 video rental shelves.  Sometimes they had excessive blood and guts, othertimes naked women for no reason. Hey- I was just becoming a teenage boy with a vcr and tv in his room, can you blame me for renting these?  Schlock horror was (and still is) a guilty pleasure of mine.  Give me some “Evil Dead” or “Toxic Avenger” anytime.  Throw in the “Child’s Play” or the “House” series and you’d live through my movie repertoire. 


I’m glad that Netflix has brought back a few classics over the past couple of years as well. I completely forgot about “Killer Klowns From Outer Space”. I can’t imagine some of these films getting made today- especially at a time when remakes and superhero movies are all the rage. 

Wait a second, “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming” is coming out this August! I hope they plan another sequel after it. If not, “Pitter-patter.  Let’s get at ‘er!”

Graffiti IS Art

I have a certain love of good graffiti artwork.  I always have.  Working for a railroad has allowed me to view up close some very talented works of art as well as just plain old vandalism.  There is even graffiti that I must photograph whenever possible.  That is because it features my son’s name: Theory.


Most of the art I have seen in the past few years is on rail cars.  Those cars cycle around the country and sometimes into the USA.  There are times that I will see the same car on more than one occasion.  It is like a traveling art show.  Some artists who paint on railcars have also been known to hop on and off trains to travel to other destinations, à la hobo style never staying in one place.


Over the past month and a bit I have been working in downtown Vancouver.  The railroad runs through dark areas and past back alleys.  The graffiti I see in those areas differs from what I see on the rail cars.  Probably due to the fact that there are numerous other artists spreading their visions.  Many are just sharing a word or a quick image in great detail.   I have become quite prolific in being able to decipher the words written out.  


I have watched documentaries about the art form and even begun incorporating and emulating their techniques.  My fascination with graffiti has spilled over into my cosplay making abilities.  I love using spray paint to add depth and character into what I make.  Seeing shading techniques used with just colour draws my attention.  

Even though graffiti is considered vandalism, I hope those urban guerrilla artists never stop spreading their message.

Proud of where I work…

I have a pretty darn good job.  It’s a fun job.  It’s a well paying job.  It’s a job that my family is proud to say that I do.  Every year my work puts on “CN Family Day”.  Today the sun was out and it was a beautiful day for hanging out in the train yard.


We have gone every year since 2008.  My children love going.  The company offers up free swag, door prizes, candy, popcorn and catered lunch.  There are balloon animals, face painting, bouncy castles and train rides.  The train rides are on small trains and a full size passenger train that goes up and down the yard.  There is an engine on display for people to walk through and learn about how it works.  The diesel shops are open for people to see.  Also at the CN Family Day are police, fire and ambulances on display.  Even the local model train clubs come out and everyone gets to play with trainsets.

Taking a tour of the locomotive.

Look at those smiles!

Bouncy Castles!


Every year- one or two of my family members walk away with a door prize.  My son even won a mountain bike one year.  My kids brought some friends with them today.  It was neat to hear my children talk about the rail yard and trains.  It seems that my children honestly like my job and have paid attention to what I do.  Their knowledge is pretty accurate and they are proud of their dad.  That makes me happy.

I was a conductor on the Royal Hudson back in 2010.

 

I’ve even had some one of a kind moments that I would never have experienced elsewhere.  One day I was called to be a conductor for a steam train because no one else was available.  I jumped out of bed and was so excited.  It was the one and only time I have been the conductor on a steam engine.  Even the supervisors all wanted to ride in the passenger car that day.  It was a special run specifically brought down to Vancouver for a photo shoot.

Our ticket to ride the Lilly Belle in Disneyland.

 

Since becoming a railroader, my family has taken many trips to see rail museums and ride on trains.  Even in Disneyland, the engineer on the Monorail was more interested in my job than I was with his.  He made us stay up front for two trips just to talk trains.  That same visit to Disneyland, my son mentioned that I worked for a railroad so we got to ride in the Lilly Belle passenger car.  The Disneyland employee gave us a private tour around the park and discussed the history of the passenger car.  In Edmonton, we were given a private trip in an exclusive remodeled passenger car because I talked railroad with the fellow running the train.

Full size Thomas.

 

To say my job has perks is an understatement.  I love what I do.  My kids love what I do.  CN has become family to me since the beginning of my hiring on.  

Today was another successful CN Family Day.

Rules

Short post today. I need to prepare for my “Rules” exam tomorrow.

Working for a railroad, at least here in Canada, we have rules that we need to follow.  This ensures the safety of the employees and the general public.  We have an entire book filled with everything from Timetables to handbrake charts to understanding signals.  There are subsections in each rule.  When I first hired on at CN, our rules instructor made it very clear that almost every rule in the book is written “in blood”.  Meaning an injury or death caused changes in how we railroad over the past 100+ years.

Railroaders NEED Rules. We can’t live by “code” alone.


Every three years, I need to be recertified as a Rules Qualified Employee.  It’s stressful.  Studying and preparing for a job that I’m already doing is difficult.  After all these years, the way I work is second nature: mostly invoking common sense to stay safe.  But when sitting in a classroom doing the exam, wording the answers correctly is the hard part.  Even harder for me is writing out the answers to the Signals portion.  


Green means Go

Yellow means Slow

Red means NO! NO! NO!

Not even close.  There are variations on how the signals are displayed, Yellow over red.  Green over red over green.  Flashing yellow, double flashing yellow, it goes on and on.  There’s even letter plates on the masts that add to what the instructions are for how to use that signal.  I haven’t seen a signal in almost four years.  Remembering what they all mean is challenging to say the least.

Tomorrow I am going to rewrite my rules and hopefully be stress free afterwards.  But until then: Clear signals all the way.

Safety

“Nobody moves and nobody gets hurt.” –cliché

This phrase means more to me now than any old western or hold-up movie since starting work in the railroad industry.  I orignally heard someone say it during my training.  What I thought was just a humorous quote, truly meant more as my career went on.

SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY.

We work in an unforgiving environment.  From the engines to the box cars, from the hot blistering sun to the freezing cold winter nights, from trying to read our lists to using the radio to speak with crews- there is so much to remember.  It all comes down to working safely.  We rely on each other at work.  Working 8-12 hour shifts, we all want to go home at the end of the day to our families and friends.  If you haven’t been onto the tracks before- stop and assess the situation.  If you don’t understand what is being requested of you- ask again.  Don’t make a move if safety is in question.

“Nobody moves and nobody gets hurt.” 

  

In response to the 3-day Quote Challenge (Day 3)

I nominate the following bloggers for the 3-day quote challenge:

themattharding

The Running Garden

Vandale on Sports

If you accept, post 1-3 quotes for 3 consecutive days, and nominate 3 fellow bloggers to do the same each day