I’ve Been Workin on the Railroad


All Unpublished Manuscript should be considered FICTION, whether true or not.

“I’ve Been Workin on the Railroad”

Unnamed Author




“Danny and Donny”



Danny and Donny were brothers and they were very close.  They were close mentally, physically and chronologically. Danny and Donny were born ten months apart.  First came Danny and then Donny.  For their poor mother this was like having twins.  To compound her burden the boy’s father had been killed in a construction fall two months after Donny was born. She was a single parent with what were essentially twins, she had a 10th grade education and ,limited job skills.

Erma, their mother, had been abandoned by both sides of the family, but she was determined to give her boys the best lives she could.  She was 16 when Danny was born and 17 when Donny was born.  She was just a child herself.  Her biggest dream was that both boys would get high school diplomas.  Neither she nor her husband had one and she believed that this was the true path to success.  The boys grew up poor, but they didn’t know it because everyone in their neighborhood was poor. The boys were never told by her, but their Mom was always making sacrifices for them and they knew it.  She loved them above all else and kept it no secrete.  She doddled over them as much as any poor woman could.  She would constantly do without so they could have.  Long hours and hard work was Erma’s life.

Mom only had four dress up dresses.  She rotated them for the various seasons and holidays.  She never wore the same one two events in a row.  Easter, Christmas, first day of school and other special events at church or school.  This went on for over 16 years.  The boys, on the other hand, had new shoes and new dress cloths every Easter,  every Christmas and the start of every school year.  The boys didn’t mind that none of their cloths were name brand (or gently used) , and they never minded getting cloths for Christmas and birthdays because they knew how it was.

The three of them were very passionate about their love for one another.  Erma always preached to the boys, “Get good grades, take good classes and graduate.” To her graduating high school was the answer to everything.

The boys grew up like most boys, playing sports, hanging with their friends, working part time jobs while going to school, fixing up their old used cars, and having a healthy respect for the girls.  Whenever Mom complained to the boys about them not having what the other high school kids had the boys would always tell her, “Nonsense Mom. We have everything we need.”

Donny, the younger, always told his mom, “Don’t worry Mom, things will work out and someday I’ll take care of you.”

Danny and Donny did everything together.  They had part-time jobs together, guy classes together, sports (which they excelled at) together, church, Boy Scouts, Optimist club, intramural sports, gymnastics, martial arts and drag racing.   They even double dated until Danny and his girl friend started getting serious and she didn’t want Donny always being “under foot.”

Thanks to Vietnam Danny went into the Air force after graduation.  Donny had received a major head injury playing high school football his senior year, but still graduated. This did keep him out of the military, however.  Donny managed to get into a junior college, but had to drop out after a year and a half because of problems resulting from the head injury his senior year.

In the Air Force Danny learned blacksmithing, welding and electrical wiring.  After leaving the Air Force he was exactly what the Kansas City Terminal Railroad (KCT) was looking for.  Danny had been working at the Terminal for about ten years when he heard about a job opportunity for Donny.  Danny’s job title was Signalman.  A signalman is railroad lingo for electrician, but a great deal of his time was spent custom building what the railroad needed in the blacksmith and welding shops.

The KCT put out the word to the signal department that they would be having a “Change Over” in the near future.  There would be some prep work first, but it should start in about two or three months.  If anyone knew of any reliable people that aren’t afraid of hard work and might be interested in a six month contract as an Assistant Signalman they should have that person come and apply.

A “change over” is a very simple sounding thing for what is a very complex railroad process.  At the time of the announcement all of the track signals, the movements (which shift the tracks to change the direction the train is heading), and tower control signals, were all manually controlled. After the “change over” all of these functions will be controlled electronically. This meant the towers, the round houses, the movements and all the signals had to be changed out, and have about 150 miles of wiring run to service them.

The hiring of Assistant Signalman was primarily for one function. To dig ditches. The ditches would be 18 inches wide and 30 inches deep. There were miles and miles of ditches to be dug by hand and with Jack Hammers.  These ditches would house the piping and wiring for all of the “change over” operation.

Danny told Donny to come down and go to work. Danny said, “Yes the work is temporary, the work will be hard, but the pay will be four times what you’re now making .”

Donny was working as an Assistant Manager of a local drug store.  This was a salary position. He was working 50-60 hours a week on a $500 a month salary.  Donny said to himself “40 hour week and $2,000 a month, plus time and a half for overtime” And Danny had told him that they almost never work only 40 hours. This was more money than Donny could imagine.

Danny was pretty much never working with Donny because of the two different job functions.  Donny was working all over the yard and surrounding territory, digging ditches, but Donny really enjoyed the crew he worked with.  Everyone quickly got nicknames and the crew established a strange pecking order.

Donny was Small Fry since his big brother also worked there.  They had The Greek, Indian, Super Mex, Sarge, Sweet and Preacher.   As expected The Greek was an immigrant from Greece, Indian was a Native American, but some of the other nicknames were a little bit more complicated.  Super Mex who was huge and powerful looked like a man mountain and ran the jackhammer when the crew had to get through rock.  Sarge was a loud mouth that like to shout orders to everyone, even though he was in control of nothing.  Preacher got his nickname because he never shut up.  He never talked about religion; however, all he talked about was all his female conquests. All his tales got very boring after a while since all he ever did was to objectify women and no one could shut him up despite telling him over and over that they didn’t want to hear it.  One of the more interesting people on the crew has Sweet.  People might think the crew would dislike and resent Sweet because he never did any work.  While everyone else was working their butts off, Sweet would be standing out of the ditches singing to his shovel handle and entertaining everyone.  The man was incredible.  Not only was he a great singer, but he knew every word to every song and would entertain the crew all day long.  Sweet never tired of singing, and the men never tired of listening to him.  Sweet ended every day by singing “I’ve Been Workin on the Railroad.”  At first one might think that the bosses wouldn’t let Sweet get away with this, but Sweet’s Dad was one of the Terminal’s vice presidents, and the crew never complained because they loved listening to him sing, so the bosses ignored him.

Whenever the crew headed out to the dig sites they would take a motor car and Pullman wagon with tools to run down the tracks to the days dig. These were open air vehicles that ran on the tracks and had no particular safety harnesses or safety rails. Because of this everyone had been told that whenever the motor car came into contact with a movement (a switch in direction) the car would jump a little and shake violently, and everyone would need to hold tight. Therefore, whoever was driving always kept an eye open for the movements and when the motor car was about to hit one he’d yell “Bump”.

The crew was on the motor car and heading out of the yard and heading out to the Independence Power Plant.  The motor car was traveling about 30 miles an hour.  Sarge was driving, he saw the movement coming up and yelled “Bump” and there went The Greek leaping off the motor car and into the gravel beside the tracks.  Sarge stopped the motor car as quickly as possible and backed up to where The Greek was laying unconscious in the gravel covered in cuts, scratches, blood and gravel. The men loaded The Greek onto the motor car and headed back to the yard.

All three bosses, Jeeter, Beechboard and Mr. Carol were waiting for their arrival.  Jeeter was the foreman, he asked The Greek what happened.  The Greeks reply was classic, “Sarge yelled jump; so I jumped.” Even though he looked pathetic no one could help but to break up laughing, and this was not the only incident for the crew while working on this project.

The railroad, any railroad, is a very dangerous place to work.  Everything is heavy and everything is constantly moving.  Many men have been injured and killed over the years in every aspect of railroad construction, maintenance and operations.




Another fun aspect of the work for the crew was the spectators.  It seemed that everywhere they worked there would be people watching and spectating. The people would be stopping on the side of the road, sitting at park benches along the way, looking out of the windows of nearby buildings, on bridges and overpasses, and in passing trains. And they weren’t just glancing at the workers, but frequently staring for hours.

There was one time in particular that Donny remembered. Sitting on a park bench off the side of the road was an elderly old man wearing Union Jack Bibbed overalls.  At break time Donny went over to talk to the old guy.  The old man identified himself as Chet and told Donny that whenever he saw crews working he loved to come out and just watch what “they was a doin”.  Chet said that when he was a teenager he went to work for the Rock Island Line, he later went to work for the Terminal and eventually became a conductor and then an engineer.   He just loved the Railroad.

That evening when Donny was preparing lunch for the next day he thought about Chet.  Donny had noticed that Chet had nothing with him to eat or drink when they had talked earlier that day.   Donny decided to make another egg sandwich, fill another bag with chips, and a thermos of lemonade, just in case Chet showed up again.

The crew went to the same work site, and just about lunch time Donny saw Chet sitting on the bench wearing his bibs again. When the crew broke for lunch Donny and Super Mex went and sat with Chet.  Donny asked Chet if he’d like to share lunch with them . Chet’s reply was “I never miss an opportunity to dine with working men.”  Donny gave Chet what he had prepared and Super Mex gave him a homemade hot tamale his wife had prepared.  Lunch was over the back to work.  Donny was sorry to say that he never saw Chet again. Too bad too, Donny really liked talking to the old man.

The six month contract was just about to expire, but it was obvious to everyone that the job was no ware near completion. The guys discussed it amongst themselves and decided to say nothing to the bosses, they’d just keep showing up for work, treating it like business as usual, and none of the bosses ever said anything about doing otherwise either.

Donny had no idea why, but the bosses, Jeeter, Beechboard and Mr. Carol had harassed and single out Donny for criticism since day one, and after the six month period was up their bad behavior intensified to a daily ritual.  At the end of the workday they would criticize Donny because the digs didn’t go as far as the bosses wanted.  If something broke they’d try to blame it on Donny even if he wasn’t anywhere around.

Their other favorite hateful trick was any time the weather was bad, (rain or very cold) the majority of the crew would work at the shop cleaning tools, organizing dog nuts, putting deadmen together, boxing up jackleg couplers or making repairs to EOTs (End of Train devices), later known as FREDS (Flashing Rear End Devices).  That wasn’t the case for Donny.  The bosses always kept Donny working in the ditches.  Railroad rules always called for no less than two men working together on any job.   So, they’d have Donny and Indian, Donny and Super Mex or Donny and The Greek working out in the weather, no matter how miserable it was.  After two plus years of this Donny had just about had all he could take.



“The End of the Assistant Signalman Jobs”


Donny was making incredible money and would like to be helping Mom more than he did, but he had debts he wanted to get rid of, and he didn’t know when this six month contract would dry up since he’d already been on it for two and a half years.  He also didn’t know how long it would take him to get another job when this one ended.  He knew he’d never find one making this kind of money, so he’d have to be realistic and take whatever he could get.

At the end of the day one cold afternoon, Jeeter was on Donny’s case particularly harshly.  Jeeter told Donny, “I’m tired of you dragging your ass,  just get your act together and do your job.”

Donny looked at Jeeter and screamed “You do your fucking job and I’ll do mine.  What the hell is with you anyway?  I’ve worked my ass off for you for over two years and all I ever get for thanks is bitched out.  What have you got against me anyway?”

“I’ll tell you why I can’t stand you. I can’t stand you cause your Danny’s brother and I can’t stand Danny cause he’s your brother.”

Danny just shook his head at Jeeter and said “Asshole.  That’s just the kind of stupid answer I’d expect from you.”

After another few weeks it was growing clear to everyone that the project is winding down.  The crew is doing less and less digging and more and more of the more technical work as the project wound down.  Donny even had a few opportunities to work with Danny.  When everyone showed up for work Wednesday morning Jeeter told the remaining crew members;  “This coming Friday the company will be providing a “Get lost”,  I mean “Going Away” breakfast for everyone”.

There was no two week notice, no one week notice,  just two days.

The crew members were now  different than the crew they had begun with over two and a half years ago because things happen in a labor pool.  Sweet had left just before the six months was up to go back to college.  Another guy they’d picked up along the way had just disappeared to never be heard from again.  Preacher got into great shape and went to work as a male stripper so he could meet more women.  Another crewman named Orin had fallen off a signal arm and received multiple fractures to his legs and one arm.  The worst though was Sarge.  Sarge had been standing beside the track.  While he was shouting orders to other workers a large piece of metal banding was hanging off of a flat car that was coming down the tracks.  Before anyone knew what had happened Sarge was decapitated.



” The Pink Slip”


     After Jeeter’s grand announcement about the “Get Lost” breakfast, Donny was walking to his car and Jeeter stopped him. He handed Donny a plain envelope and said,

“I’ve been instructed to tell you to read this before you leave.  Butt Wipe.”

Donny waited until Jeeter left. He wasn’t about to open his pink slip in front of Jeeter, even though he was sure Jeeter already knew what it said.

The note said, “Before leaving for the day, please come to Union station and tell the reception clerk that you are there to see Mr. Singleton.”

Donny assumed that Mr. Singleton was the head of personnel, and that he’d be giving out Donny’s pink slip in person.

When Donny announced himself the receptionist took Donny to a lady, who took Donny to another lady, who took Donny to another lady. Donny shook his head and laughed to himself.  Every one of the women look alike. A bunch of old prudes.

He had been taken upstairs to the Executive Offices.  This lady opened a large wooden door and led Donny inside. This was a huge and opulent office with a large wooden desk near a window that overlooked the yard and all the tracks.  A person sitting at this desk could see everything going on down below.  There were overstuffed leather chairs, dark stained wood library paneling, expensive looking RR oil paintings, and a beautiful Grandfather clock.  This was pure luxury from top to bottom.

“Please, Sir, have a set. Mr. Singleton will be with you shortly.”

Donny replied, “I’m sorry ma’am, but I’m filthy. I just got done working.”

Her only reply was, “I know. Please be seated.” And then she closed the door behind her and left.

Donny felt very out of place sitting in this magnificent office all by himself.  He felt like a voyeur or someone who had broken into someone’s fine office.   He expected the cops to come in any minute and arrest him for being there.  He didn’t like being there by himself.

It wasn’t very long until a very distinguished gentleman came in.

“Donny.” He said with a very kind voice.

Donny rose and extended his dirty hand, but to his bewilderment Mr. Singleton embraced him with a very warn and affectionate hug.  Donny had no idea what to make of this.

Mr. Singleton looked at Donny and said, “You don’t know who I am do you Donny?”

“Well, no sir. You do look somewhat familiar, but no, I don’t know that I do. I assume you’re Mr. Singleton and you’re here to give me my pink slip.” Donny said.

“Nonsense, I’m Chet.  Also known as, Chester Singleton. President and CEO of the Kansas City Terminal Railroad.  And your lunch buddy.

Donny was flabbergasted!  He’d thought about Chet a few times over the past couple of years, but never in a million years would he have guessed that Chet was anything other than an old retired railroader.

“Donny I have already begun to shake things up around here. Have you learned everything the Terminal has to teach you yet?”

Well, Sir. I’ve learned a lot, but I could stay here for another 100 years and still not know all the Terminal has to offer.” Replied Donny.

“Good answer Donny.  Before we go any further Donny I would like to make two changes right now.  And I want to make one thing perfectly clear.  I’m Chet; not Sir.  The changes I want to make are concerning you and your brother.  No longer are you to be referred to as Donny.   From now on it’s Don, and your brother is Dan or Daniel; no more Danny.   Those are children’s names and should not be used to refer to men.”

“Yes, Sir, ahh Chet.”

“I see and hear about everything that is going on around here. KCT has become antiquated, ineffective, wasteful, and inefficient.  I have already begun to change that.  I just left a meeting where I fired Sweet’s father, John Johnson, who had been overseeing all construction projects here at the Terminal for several years.  I have also fired a number of other Vice Presidents that I consider to be excess baggage.  No pun intended. I’m clearing out the dead weight.  I also want to let you know that all remaining members of your crew will be offered full time, permanent positions with seniority back dated to their hire date.

The next order of business is; what is to become of Jeeter, Beechboard and Carol?  This will be up to you Don since you are the newest Vice President of Kansas City Terminal Railroad.”

“What. I don’t understand. I don’t know what to say Chet.”

“Well Don, you’d better decide by 7:30 A.M. tomorrow morning so you can make you announcement to everyone down at the shop.  The three I mentioned can go or stay;  the choice is yours.  I know they are worthless, but maybe you’ll want to keep them around so you can torture them the way my spies have told me they tortured you for the past two and a half years.  Have some fun at their expense if you want.  But even if you choose to keep them, they will answer to your brother Dan; the new Chief of Installations.”

Don told Chet that he didn’t know if Dan would accept a job as boss.

“You tell Dan what you told me, he told you, when he wanted you to come to work here. The work will be hard, but the pay will be four times what you’re making now. That’ll change his mind.”

Don smiled from ear to ear.

Chet smiled and said, “What do you say Don?”

Chet was taken aback and was clearly surprised by Don’s answer.

Don said, “My Mom’s getting a new dress for Easter, and she’ll never work another day as long as she lives.”



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