In 1970 I worked for the Chicago Police Department on the south side of Chicago as a Community Service Aide (CSA) in a pretty rough neighborhood where I resided. It was a special program to prepare candidates for becoming police officers. CSAs provided a wide range of services, including canvassing the neighborhood giving insight to the police force concerning issues observed in the community and providing service to the elderly and others in need.
When the opportunity arose in 1973 to take the police exam and be assigned to patrol the same neighborhood, another opportunity arose to serve communities far and near with the Chicago Northwestern Railroad (CNW). I chose the CNW for the stability and safety and have not regretted that decision.
I hired out on March 24, 1973, and my first job was as a freight brakeperson. I enjoyed the traveling aspect of railroading and taking freight from Chicago to Iowa. I was promoted to conductor in 1975, responsible for the crew, the passengers and getting the train from point A to point B safely and on time. As conductor, I’ve worked freight trains and passenger trains.
Over the years, I met many passengers and their family members. I met young dancers who traveled to their dance classes and grew up to become professional dancers who invited me to their performances. I met lawyers, medical professionals, office workers, chefs, every category of job. My regular passengers became my friends and we shared life stories. I enjoyed conversations with different passengers, and the ability to pick up the conversation the next time they were on the train. You really get to know some of your passengers, which I enjoyed. In fact, in 1982, that’s how I met my wife, Yvette, who I married in 1984.
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I have a gift for math – I’ve been called a human calculator. Passengers are amazed at how quickly I can tell them their fare without the use of a calculator. The crew was always amazed at the accuracy of my projections for the arrival time of freight trains from Iowa to Chicago.
The railroad also allowed me to work jobs where I could balance work and family life. My wife worked days, and it was important to me that I be home when my children arrived home from school. Sixteen years ago, after my youngest child received a driver’s license, I chose to move off a regular job to the conductor extra board.
What insights would I tell someone today who’s thinking about a career at Union Pacific? It’s a good job, the pay and benefits are good as is the work environment -- friendly colleagues and crew, excellent job training, and opportunity exists to balance work and family life. Staying abreast of the rules will help you be a successful employee.