Lackawanna Cut Off – Part 23: Removing the Rails – John Sobotka and Bob Bahrs Interview


Hi, welcome to Part 23 on the Lackawanna
Cut-Off: “Removing the Rails from the Cut-Off”, where we’ll be talking, having an
interview, with John Sobotka and Bob Bahrs. Hi, I’m Chuck Walsh and I’m president of
the North Jersey Rail Commuter Association and we’re here in Port
Murray, New Jersey, on the Old Road and we’re going to be doing an interview
with these two gentlemen. We’re going to be talking about their experience on the
rail removal trains on the Cut-Off in 1984, during the summer of 1984. We’re
going to talk about a lot more than just that, but, certainly, in terms of the Lackawanna Cut-Off that’s one part we really haven’t focused on. And now we’ll get a
chance to talk to two men who actually worked those trains, and they’ll
be able to tell us an awful lot about how that operated and what happened and
so forth. So, I hope you look forward to that. Here we go. CHUCK (off-camera): Okay, here we are in a trailer for the Chesapeake & Delaware. We have our host who is John Sobotka. This is your your office–and also Bob
Bahrs. And we certainly want to thank you for giving us a chance to talk to you. We’ll
talk about the Cut-Off; we’ll talk about the removal of the tracks. But we want to
get into a lot more than just that. What I’d like to do is to really start from
the very beginning, and I’m talking about, the beginning. We’ll start with John…but tell us a little bit about your background and how did you got into
railroading, and you can start wherever you want. JOHN SOBOTKA: Well, I think it goes back to, as a child, my father was the one who actually got me into trains. During the
Depression, he traveled across the United States. He was involved with the Civilian
Conservation Corps and he went from New Jersey to the State of Washington to
build national parks, and his stories of two weeks on a train across the United States, got me fascinated. And then, of
course, he joined the army and, there again, he was on troop trains from the
East Coast to the West Coast and until his passing he still remembered
what routes he took on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy; he was on the Northern Pacific; and he could still route himself across where he went and stayed. So, he was the one
who got me interested in trains. And, of course, we had the American Flyers around
the Christmas trees. And I lived one block away from the Erie Orange Branch,
and if I looked out my mother’s and father’s bedroom I could see the
trains coming there. So I think the bug was very early. CHUCK: In what town was that? JOHN: In Bloomfield, New Jersey. My parents lived on Bloomfield Avenue, and the Orange
Branch was a block down from us. And as my father seen I was interested in
trains, we go out on the weekends, we’d go to the Black River & Western.
And he would take me to Whippany for the train rides. My parents didn’t have a lot
of money, and so my mother and father could not ride with me on the train; they
would just buy me a ticket, or my sister, for the trip. So, but he encouraged me to
get into trains. So, after high school I worked in construction for a couple of
years, and I was lucky enough when I turned 20 years old I got a job on the
Reading, for the Reading Company, and I worked out of Manville and Port Reading, New Jersey. And that was November of 1973, and I worked over there until, I
believe it was, April of ’74, when some of the work, the coal dumper closed down at
Port Reading, and the older guys with seniority bumped me out of
Manville. So at that time, the Jersey Central, Lehigh Valley and the Reading
Company had combined rights, so I was able to hire on the Jersey Central
Railroad, and I kept my few months seniority with me. So, I was a
conductor and a brakeman, and I worked E’port, Bayonne, Jersey City,
basically, Vercelli, Carteret, and Brill’s Yard-Newark. And I
continued working the E’port area up until Conrail, which
was April 1976. And a lot of changes in the industry at that time. We
all know there were six bankrupt railroads trying to keep themselves
together, and it was a lot of changes, a lot of major changes started when Conrail happened. You got to remember when I
hired on in 1973, we were still standing on top of box cars, passing
signals with lanterns; we didn’t have radios. And we had full crews. Some jobs had an engineer and a fireman; you had a conductor and two brakeman and…CHUCK: And cabooses, right? JOHN: And cabooses, yeah, numerous cabooses. There was no FRED’s or telemetries, or end-of-train devices. And I’ll tell you, the
gentleman that I hired on with, we talk about the Greatest Generation who
served in the Second World War: Well, that spilled on to them after they left the military and into the 50s and 60s, and into the 70s, because
they were the ones that rebuilt America, I mean, really, the economy of the United
States really grew at that time. So, I learned a lot from those gentlemen.
These are the guys that were in the Battle of the Bulge. And I knew one guy, he
survived, twice he was torpedoed in the North Atlantic. So, this is the character of people that you worked with. They
wanted to get the job done; they wanted to do the work safely, and all that. So, that mentored me along until we came into Conrail, and a lot of changes happened. I was still a conductor in the 70s. I got married in 1978, and for a while I was an assistant trainmaster for Conrail. And I did some yardmaster work in Linden Yard, Metuchen, Manville, but I
always still figured myself as a ground grunt. I missed being a conductor. I wanted to go back doing that. CHUCK: So, briefly, what would a conductor do? I mean, we think of conductors on a
passenger train, but you’re talking about a conductor on a freight. JOHN:
Freight service. Well, basically, the conductor is the foreman–right, Bob?–basically the foreman on the train…the engineer… BOB BAHRS: The conductor used to be in charge of the train, and the engineer only in charge of the engine. JOHN: Right. BOB: Train orders were always C&E, meaning conductor and engineer. Now the conductor is…nothing. JOHN: Yeah, basically, the conductor was in charge of the train. In other words, what customers
you had to do. And if you had a brakeman, or two brakeman under you, you were
responsible for what they did, too. So you would give them orders to
get your job done. So, I got married, and dabbled a little bit in yardmaster and trainmastering, and then came 1987, and I had a chance to go to engineer
school, and I took a major pay cut at that time, and I went into school in June
of 1987. We had six weeks in the classroom and then it was another six months of on-the-job training. And I was promoted two days
before Christmas in 1987. So, that brought me through. I got qualified to
Selkirk, New York; Corning, New York; Harrisburg; Allentown. So, it opened up a
whole new, different world for me as an engineer, as opposed to the conductor, and
that’s the late ’80s. Early ’90s, I got involved with Operation Lifesaver,
the Philadelphia Division Quality Council, labor management projects, safety
committees. So, Conrail gave me a lot of opportunity at that time to go beyond just being an engineer and conductor. It supported my four children and put them through school. We had a comfortable living. And I
gotta say, if she ever sees this, that if it wasn’t for the support of my
wife, taking care of the kids… When you go on the road, sometimes you’re gone–right, Bob?–two or three days, and your wife is in charge of
your whole house: paying the bills, and watching the kids and getting
them school, and stuff like that. So, if you don’t have support behind you to do that, it’s tough. Railroading can be tough on some people. Some people can handle it, some can’t. Bob, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re in Corning, New York and you find out your kids are sick, your wife handles that. Or…if there’s a disciplinary issue with my children, she’s got to handle it. So, I was lucky enough. Conrail afforded me a lot of opportunities. Then came 1999 when Conrail decided to split themselves up, and we were split up three
different ways: Shared Assets which is Conrail; Norfolk Southern; and then CSX. So, initially at the takeover I
was working in the Croxton area, I had a regular road freight local load
freight. And then the traveling to Croxton from Hopatcong, New Jersey
got a little heavy for me and I decided to exercise my seniority up in Dover, New
Jersey. And that was 2000. And I held that job from 2000 right up until April of
this year, of 2019, when the new company leased the former Norfolk Southern Washington Secondary, and all the work out of east of Dover.
So, I was afforded a chance, opportunity, to come on with the new Chesapeake and
Delaware Company as an engineer and then, a month later, I was given a job as the
assistant system superintendent. And if you know in a short line, you still have to be an engineer, you still have to wash windows, you still have to have the
discipline, and you still have to worry about customers. So, you have to wear many hats on the shotline. So, interesting
career. I’m going to be a little bit longer in my job as a superintendent and
there’s a lot of opportunities, a lot of things that are going to be happening
with this company, and I’m hoping to help them along a little bit, and then
eventually–eventually–call it quits. BOB: Your fourth retirement. JOHN: My fourth retirement. So, right now, I’m basically looking at almost, 46 years; it’ll be 46 years in November. CHUCK: Bob, how many years did you have in railroading? BOB: I only had, knock on wood, 32 and I’m
happy that it’s not going to be 46. CHUCK: Same questions to you. Tell us about your story. BOB: I grew up in a railroad family and my grandfather was a Lackawanna conductor, started out of Scranton in, I think, ’02 or ’03. I
have paperwork that says his first job was on a work train that went down to
the new Lackawanna Railroad bridge over the Delaware River, which would have been
the one that still exists at Delaware, not the Cut-Off bridge, but the one down at Delaware. CHUCK: So, that’s 1903 or somewhere in there. BOB: So, my father after he married my mother, through my grandfather, got a job as an engineer on
the railroad; he started in ’47. We lived along, until I was in second
grade, along the Chester Branch in Succasunna. I could see the trains from
where we lived out the backyard across the sand pit in Succasunna. I did go over
one time when my dad was a fireman on the job, and me and another little kid–I
remember was an RS-3–and where we went over and got on and we rode all the way
out to Route 10 and back and we were out on the side of the running board.
My dad never said a word, but I remember going across Route 10 and
people looking up and there’s two little kids on the side of the running board of
an RS-3 going across Route 10. He didn’t say nothing. But it was a good experience. We moved to Dover when I was in third
grade, and grew up going down to the railroad station and hanging around down
there a lot. I remember my dad getting called, answering the phone, and the guy
would say: “Red Rover, Red Rover let Richard come over.” I thought that was
unique only to my dad. Well, later on when I hired out and talked to Mike Farrell,
and he said the guy used to do the same thing with him. Mike was about my age.
His dad was also an engineer, and the guy would say: “Red Rover, Red Rover let
Charlie come over,” meaning Charlie Farrell. So I learned that my dad
wasn’t unique; he told everybody that. In ’68 and ’69, got out of high school in
between those summers coming to college, I was a fireman for one summer and
I was a ticket agent the next summer, which gave me a good exposure to both
sides of that aspect of railroading. When I got out of college in ’70, with an
associate’s degree in data processing, I kind of knew that I wasn’t ready for the
railroad and the railroad, which was the Erie Lackawanna at the time, wasn’t
ready for me: there was a lot of old school bosses, and you couldn’t have long
hair; you couldn’t have a mustache; you couldn’t have a beard; you couldn’t…I wasn’t ready for it. So, for the next six years I wore a suit and tie and
did a couple jobs associated with data processing and accounts receivable in a
couple different companies. And in 19, I think it was ’77, I was out of work. Conrail had just come along, and I decided to give that a shot. Bill
Sheppard helped me get a job, and I went from from suit-and-tie to dungarees. And, in reality, it was one of the best moves I
ever made. Like John said, it supported my family. I had a stepson and my own two kids; so I raised a family of three. Like John said, wives of families that work on
the railroad, of men on the railroad, they do an awful lot, and including my wife. So,
from that aspect, I started out in train service. I’m proud that I got to see
basically every aspect of railroading, and that I started when there was a full
crew, no radios. Everything was hand signals. I worked all the way through
when you lost one man, and then when you lost the second man, and then you were
down to just a single conductor. I worked through all that. I worked yard jobs,
locals, through freights. And passenger service. There were a couple years before New Jersey Transit became New Jersey
Transit, on the former Erie Lackawanna area, in passenger service. So I did a
little of everything. CHUCK: What did you do there? I’m curious about that. In passenger, what did you do there? BOB: Trainman and conductor. JOHN: And ticket collector also. CHUCK: On the electrics? BOB: On the electrics, on any of the passenger service that was former Erie Lackawanna. CHUCK: OK. BOB: the Hoboken Board. Full uniform. Still have my jacket. For some reason I can’t fit into it. Still have my hat and badges. JOHN: Shrinkage. BOB: I have the coin changer. We used to cut a lot of cash fares, and now I look at the guys, nobody cuts a cash fare anymore;
everybody buys a ticket at the ticket machines. We used to cut a lot of cash
fares. CHUCK…Or waves the phone. BOB: We’d come home with a wad of bills like that at the end of the day. I probably was in the same situation as John, where in you said ’87,
they allowed anybody who wanted to be an engineer to go to an engineer school, and I did not want to. And I don’t regret that a minute. I always enjoyed
being on the ground. I enjoyed that aspect of it; that never
bothered me. I liked being out in the outdoors: rain, in the snow. Probably the
worst was when it’s about 35 degrees and raining; that was not swift. But other
than that, snow never bothered me. And rain, if you had the proper rain gear, that
didn’t bother me. So, I worked right up until…like I was telling
you before we started, I was on 21M to Harrisburg and back every third day and
I enjoyed the job. I disliked the ability, they had two jitneys in North Jersey for
the NS, and they did away with one jitney, so there was one jitney to handle all the
crews. JOHN: Say taxi, some people don’t know what a jitney is. BOB: Taxi, yeah, jitney, van. CHUCK: But it was something owned by Norfolk Southern…. or at that point, Conrail, right? NS? BOB: NS. Under NS, yeah. That was the other thing. We had to make a three-way decision when Conrail was being split: whether to stay with Shared Assets,
go with CSX, or go with NS. The only reason I went with NS is they were taking
over most of the territory that I had previously worked. So I went with them. That’s a whole other story whether that was a
good move or not. That was a long, the last ten years was a tough ten years, let me tell you that. But, yeah, they got rid of one jitney, so now when you came back
from Harrisburg and you wound up at Port Newark or Oak Island or Port Reading,
you’re at the mercy of that one jitney that was being used in yard jobs, for yard moves at Croxton, and when he could get to you he could get to you, that was
it. So, I worked about in a year and a half past when I could have retired.
And when that happened I said, naw, that’s it. And I don’t regret it. I’m busy
as hell every single day: 12:30, 1:30 every morning. Busy. The old term of how
did you get through when you were working? And you got more busy now than I ever was. CHUCK: So, the length of your days…I know you both talk and say the same thing that your families had to endure your hours, I guess you would say, you had to endure them, but they did, too. JOHN: There was a lot of missed dinners. You can never join a bowling league or a
volunteer fire department because working the extra list, you’re on call.
And at that time it would be a two-hour call. They call you up and, say, it’s five o’clock in the morning: “We need you in Jersey City at 7:00.” Now, if you know anything about the metropolitan area, at five o’clock that
means that at 5:05 you should be in your car heading down because of the
traffic. It was very rough and I sometimes I really regret that I
wasn’t able to make the sporting events and all that. Same
thing with Bob with his young kids, too, growing up. It’s a sacrifice you
make sometimes. BOB: Working the extra list was tough, and I figured out over the 32 years it was probably somewhere between twenty and twenty-one
years I was on an extra list. Which meant you never knew when you were going to work. Sometimes you had an idea, OK, but sometimes that idea went
right out the window. I had a second phone just for the railroad. We
kept that right up until the day I retired, and when I retired we got rid of it. CHUCK: Explain the difference between…because some of our audience will be railfans and people familiar with railroads, and some won’t. So, explain how–and this is where we’re going to segue on to how we get to the
Cut-Off rail removal trains–but explain that how this works
with the assignment of crews and how the extra… because they’re going to be scheduled trains and then there’s “extras”? How does that work? BOB: A work train was always an extra, called off the extra board that covered the territory that it
covered, and the rail trains for the Cut-Off were off the Croxton
Road Extra List, which is where I spent most of my time, and John a lot of his time. CHUCK: So, how does that come about? In other words, there are some trains which are going from point A to point B every single day, or point B to
point A. JOHN: Right. CHUCK: Now that’s not the extra list, is it not? BOB: The extra list
covers an extra train, a guy’s vacation, a guy marks off sick. CHUCK: OK, so you fill in for somebody else. BOB: That’s right. OK, you don’t know when
Joe Blow is getting sick tomorrow, or when Joe Blow is getting sick at
midnight tonight and they need somebody for the 1 a.m. job and you just got
into bed and now the phone rings. And it was many a Saturday night I just got in
bed and the phone would ring: O-I-A-L, Oak Island to Allentown. OK, because nobody else wanted to work on a Saturday night. CHUCK: Now here’s a question for you, there’s a point at which, let’s say, you’ve had–if
you’re lucky–two hours sleep and now you’re going on duty again, I mean is there a…. BOB: No, you did it. CHUCK: You did it? JOHN: You did it. BOB: You just did it. JOHN: When they started the re-electrification, I think it was the early 80s, they would have
numerous flagman out to protect the contractors working on the Morristown
Line and the Gladstone Branch, and we’d go through the Croxton brakeman’s list would have 25 or 30 men on it every day, and that list
would turn; they would use that many men for the flagging jobs, plus the local freights, plus if there was any extras. So that
list was revolving. So, getting back to your question, the first rail train might have been called an R-A-I: rail or just an extra work train. And what would happen is if they were ready to
start ripping up, they needed the train, the rail train itself; they needed locomotives; they needed the track department to be all in place. So
sometimes it didn’t always jive, it didn’t always work out. So,
the rail train might have been called maybe on a Monday on one week–right Bob?–or a Tuesday on the following week. So, sometimes it wasn’t always consistent, when you ran a train. CHUCK: Alright, let’s talk about the rail train, what would be for the removal of the track from the Cut-Off. When do you guys start? Because it starts on…I think you mentioned it, Bob. BOB: The one nice thing I always did is I used to see my dad’s time books. (CHUCK: I think it’s June 8 was the first…1984…) BOB: He used to keep a time book, and I used to see his time books and I started to do the same thing. Now, nobody keeps a time book because it’s all in a computer, and nobody has a time book. But in a time book you went the engine, the date, the engine number, where do you went on-duty, where you went off-duty, the time you went off-duty, the rate that you were
being paid, whether it was through freight, local freight, yard rate or
passenger rate, and the amount you think you should be making, and who you worked with, if you wanted to write down the names of crew members that you were with. And I used to write notes in my time book.
And I have in here, I just opened to July and August, I got third empty rail train
for the Cut-Off was on Saturday the 28th of July ’84. So, since then I’ve
highlighted it in orange because we’ve talked about this numerous times, but I
would write notes in here. First day back with Conrail. By the way, I
didn’t mention that I was furloughed for 17 months from Conrail. That was tough
because I was working one or two days a week off what they called the “limbo list.”
JOHN: The limbo list. I was on that limbo list, too. BOB: And the limbo list was you would only get a phone call when they’ve exhausted every single other list on Conrail, of which there was many
lists. There was a yard list, a south yard list, a north yard list, a road list, a Croxton road list, Meadows road list. So, when they’ve exhausted all
that and they couldn’t find anybody that was qualified on that particular area
that that train wanted to go, then you would get a phone call. And sometimes it
was once a week; sometimes it was twice a week. I started selling cable television
in the evenings, I would go sell cable television to make money to support the
family. And finally the unions got together and they said: “No, no, no. Timeout. These guys either have to be told that they’re working or they’re not working,”
and they officially laid us off. And that was the time when Ben Friedland was
taking over operations on the Chester Branch and he needed a qualified
conductor and I needed work. So it was a match made in heaven from that
standpoint, and I went to work with him. It was nice, it was an 8 o’clock start every morning in Morristown, as opposed to some crazy hours, and I knew where I was going to be every day. And the days we ran freight, we ran freight. It was over on the Morristown Line, the former Morristown & Erie. Roger Cozart was the conductor and I was the brakeman, and we were fine with that. And when we left Morristown and came up to do the Chester Branch, I would
become the conductor and he would become the brakeman, and we were fine with that. We both got paid conductor’s rate for the day. And that lasted 17 or 18 months.
And this was right when the Cut-Off was getting ripped up. So, I wasn’t around for
the first couple of rail trains, but shortly after that I got an official
letter from Conrail calling me back. And it was kind of a tough decision because, you know, it was nice 8 a.m. Monday through Friday. But I knew in the long
run that there was more work available on Conrail than there would have been
for the one job on the Morristown & Erie. And obviously that worked out
because now the Morristown & Erie is one day or two days a week. JOHN: There was a period that I was furloughed from Conrail, too; and like Bob said, you would get called maybe once or twice a month, and you had to think
about your family. So if you worked that one day just to keep your insurance
policy going. You know, that was the most important… BOB: And your credits for railroad retirement, that was even more important. JOHN: Right. BOB: Of those 18 months I was furloughed, I lost one month of credit because working for the Morristown &
Erie was railroad credit, railroad retirement. So that was really, really important. JOHN: And the same thing with me, there was a period of time I was working for a neighbor. He was a surveyor, an engineer. I actually had to
work with him, with a surveying crew, to bring money into the house. And I went
back into construction for a while just to keep things going. But like I said–right, Bob?–how many times we get called on a rainy, cold night or something like that
for an extra? And you had to do what you had to do to just to keep it going. CHUCK: From beginning to end,
I mean at the very beginning, you’re dealing with the trains taking up rail at the western end of the line. JOHN: Well, it was funny–not funny–I remember reading the abandonment notice, it was actually in the newspaper, and I was working Dover, and Bob was also working Dover, and another job, and I
pointed it out to you that the notice was actually out from Conrail, and I
guess it was, I’m gonna say, maybe 60 days from that point that basically
the company could start ripping the railroad up. And I think I told you about
that. And so we knew it was coming. I think that was summer. BOB: You had to be on the Croxton Road Extra List then… JOHN:…as a brakeman. BOB:…because he got called for the train, the very first rail train. I think, probably, an Allentown crew brought it to Port Morris. JOHN: They brought it to Port Morris. BOB: OK, so the first morning that a Croxton road crew would get it to actually go out on the Cut-Off,
via the west leg of the wye, was John. And I remember talking to John that
morning on the phone, and John was talking to the M&W guys and they were
saying: “Oh yeah, they’re meeting in Washington–or was it Philadelphia?–as we’re speaking. Whether or not this is actually going to happen…” Well, obviously it
happened. They shoved the train all the way to the Delaware
River Bridge. JOHN: Well, yeah, we ran up to Greendell. BOB: Oh, up to Greendell, yeah, right around there. JOHN: But what had happened was before that that summer beginning they started bringing the switch heater, the blower, to start melting the snow
off the rail because the Cut-Off was full of snow, and they actually got rid of the snow on the rail so they can come up with the spike puller. And the spike puller would probably pull out of a section of rail, he would probably pull so many spikes, but he would leave, like,
every third or fourth tie still spiked. The rest of the spikes were taken out. So
just to get him prepared. So they started, basically, from the river and started
working east. So that winter, before the summer of demise, you could see it was
coming. I got called, I was the brakeman on the job, and I think it was Jimmy Wharton was the conductor, and I don’t remember who the engineer was. And it was bittersweet because we
knew it was coming, and like Bob says… BOB: Oh, yeah, there was guys in Hoboken, that were really mad at me for working those jobs: “Oh, you’re ripping up our Cut-Off!” Well, if I don’t do it somebody else is going to do it. CHUCK: Of course. BOB: Alright, because I’m doing it doesn’t mean…now what I did do
is try to photograph as much as I could for posterity. If I didn’t work it somebody else was going to work it. JOHN: It was sad, and I don’t
have all the engine numbers and all that stuff. But it was sad, like Bob said, we
were waiting for that call from the governor’s office to stay the execution. BOB: First rail train: June 19th, which was a Tuesday. CHUCK: June 19th. OK. Is that the first one you’re on or was that the first one, period? JOHN:…I was on. BOB: Very first one out of Port Morris. JOHN: And we deliberately–and I’m being honest about it–we deliberately try to drag our feet a little bit because we were waiting for
that phone call. We tried to find everything possible–I tried to
find everything possible–to slow that train down another minute or two, because
you got to look at what that railroad actually hauled,
and how important it was at one time. To see something as brilliant as it
was to be ripped up. The track supervisor said to me, he said if we were gonna put
this track back into service–and how long was it furloughed, I mean, basically,
dormant? BOB: About five years. JOHN: He said even it being dormant for five years,
they would have made that railroad at least 25 miles an hour. So that’s how
good that railroad was maintained up into that period. So, honestly, we found everything wrong with that train to slow it up: the
dog ate the homework; I forgot my lunch; I gotta make a phone call; I have to go to
the bathroom; the engine’s not working right; or something like that. Just
waiting, we were hoping, we were hoping. I know Morris County was talking about
somebody riding to the rescue with a check or something. CHUCK: Yeah, there was so much going on behind the scenes. BOB: July 5th, Thursday, second rail train. CHUCK: So the first rail train would have
been loaded up with rail, presumably? JOHN: Well, not necessarily because what we did was, we brought to train up to Greendell. But first, we knew we were going to
run into problems because once you left Port Morris you come up to a sweeping curve. And Bob probably knows a little better what I’m talking about. Somebody had removed about three or four hundred ties from beneath the rail for
landscaping purposes, and what Conrail had to do was actually safety tie that
piece of railroad. Basically, safety tie is one tie every three or four feet. BOB: By West
Port Morris? JOHN: Yeah, and basically just to get the train over. So it looked like
you’re going over Lionel track; it was just enough to hold the gauge. And you
had to walk the whole rail train over that. So, and I think typically the rail
train was about twenty-eight flat cars, and they’re three-tiered. So, you had to walk this whole menagerie over this. So that, of course, we said,
let’s drag our feet a little bit more on this just to slow it up a little bit. We
got up to Greendell, of course, the interlocking…what they had done was before we came, they purposely went and took all the maintainer’s locks off all the
interlocking: the signals, boxes, whatever, so they were heavily vandalized at that point. The interlocking at Greendell, of course, not working. So we pulled the train up, cut the locomotives off, and the
switches, to get around the train, they had to be manually–they were
controlled switches–we had to manually get them over to get the locomotives
around to the east end of the train. And then from that point, from Greendell, we shoved up to the bridge on the Delaware. CHUCK: So, when you get down to the bridge, now, I guess you’ve done as much delaying as you possibly can. Somebody has to go out there and…what? Do you actually go with blowtorches, or do you just take the last pieces of rail and disconnect the joints? How does that work? I’m curious. JOHN: Basically, we got up to where they wanted us to stop the train. And, basically, we applied all the hand brakes and we tied it down for
the night. They already started pulling the spikes behind us towards the river bridge. So, the next
morning the actual operation of pulling the rail came up. And, basically, it’s a
cable system that comes from one end of the train, runs through the cars, and
basically your cabling, they’ll cut a hole on the side of the rail and put a hook on it and just start pulling it up. So, you pull up one side. They reset, and then you pull the other side up. Now, once they pull that
section up, like I said, it fits on 28 cars, and at each car was 50-foot, so
you’re talking…BOB: Quarter-mile. JOHN: Yeah, quarter-mile they’d be pulling up. CHUCK: So you have to measure that out before… JOHN: They would have it, and then once they pulled up those sections of rail they’d have you pull up
the train another twenty-eight car lengths or so. You stop it, and then they
start pulling the next length up. CHUCK: Now, in theory, that could be done pretty quickly, but this will take all the way into October to get all the way to
the end. And is it like these trains are happening on a regular basis, or are there any kind of breaks? JOHN: No. BOB: Five days a week. JOHN: Yeah, you would work the train, but once it got loaded the train may sit for a while before they actually took it
back to Allentown, and it went to Harrisburg to Lucknow, I think it was, right? BOB: Lucknow. JOHN: Because what they were gonna do was if it was stick rail or whatever
they were gonna cut the stick rail off the ends of the rails, because what
happens over time on the joints, your rail starts to bend down. So at Lucknow what
they would do is chop off those bad ends and actually weld it. Now, supposedly, all
this rail was gonna go into a yard rehab project somewhere on Conrail. CHUCK: There’s at least–I don’t know if you’d call it rumors–but there were stories going around that it was urgently needed for some reason. JOHN: Not necessarily, I’ll be honest with you, no. BOB: Those were stories. JOHN: Because, really, once the train was loaded if they didn’t have the crew to move it from Port Morris to Allentown or from Allentown to Harrisburg, that train might sit for days and days. It wasn’t top priority. BOB: I just remembered something that… the mornings we talked from Morristown. At the time, there was a guy named Tucker Lamkin, and he would show up at
Morristown every morning and go in and use Ben Friedland’s office all day. And
this happened like a couple weeks before the first rail train and right through that where we knew he was making these
phone calls to buy the Cut-Off. And then there was all sorts of rumors, well, they
want $21 million, or they want $19 million, or they want $30 million, and they’re
close, but they’re not jiving, then OK. And…I don’t know if he was a banker…CHUCK: He was. BOB:…or a lawyer, OK. CHUCK: He was a banker. BOB: A lawyer, or a banker? A banker. CHUCK: He was a banker. BOB: He was a banker. CHUCK: Go ahead. BOB: Apparently he was trying to do this on the side, slyly, on behalf of CSX. CHUCK: That’s true. BOB: They were trying to get that as a way to get into New York,
and obviously he failed…and the funny part of the article is when he was
all done and he didn’t show up anymore, he left Ben Friedland with a huge phone
bill. I’m sorry, I interrupted you but I just remembered that. He was there. He
would they be there, like, several days a week for hours and hours in Ben
Friedland’s office trying to make deals on buying the Cut-Off. JOHN: And there were rumors of Ben and the M&E Railroad were gonna operate. BOB: Yeah, and if that happened that I would have stayed with the M&E and all that. JOHN: In other words, it would be like a ghost company that they’d be working for. So, there were rumors. I know you mentioned something
about people putting spikes back into the track. We never seen that. CHUCK: You never saw that? JOHN: No, they were still pulling spikes out. Thinking back, I was driving here, I was thinking back though, too, is we had a lot of issues with
locomotives up there being vandalized. And in some cases I think it was
just more than the local kids, OK, that we’re doing it, because some of the
damage to the engines was very, very deliberate, you remember that. BOB: Well, the obvious one was the day we left them on the West Portal
of Roseville Tunnel…JOHN: Yeah. BOB:…because it was a Friday, and John was on and I was on
and we said: “Next Monday will be the last train through this tunnel.” OK,
we need to get some pictures here, OK. We parked the engines right at the West
Portal of Roseville Tunnel. When we came back Monday morning…fire
extinguishers, flares and fusees, windows were broken, spray paint;
the engines were a mess, and I remember having to call the dispatcher and
telling him this, and he made some kind of remark of: “We’re using more
engines to rip up this Cut-Off than we are running trains!” You know, he was annoyed about that. Now, they had to, meaning Conrail had to, come up
with two more engines somewhere, get ’em up to Port Morris, and get the old
engines out…(CHUCK: They weren’t operable? JOHN: No.)…and that took literally days because whether they came out of Oak Island or Allentown, and that was a separate crew that might be qualified
as far as Netcong, might be qualified into Port Morris, but then they weren’t
qualified to go out on the Cut-Off, which was Croxton Road area jobs. So we would have to get those engines; come down, grab the engines that you couldn’t start; take them back to Port Morris; set them
over and then go back; and then the Allentown crews would have to then, maybe the next day, jitney up to Port Morris and get those engines and get
them out. CHUCK: So this is all wasting days. BOB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. JOHN: And the train wasn’t always constant. Like, you would have a crew, you do so much; they may not
have a crew for that train for a couple days that sat out in the middle of
nowhere because–right, Bob?– you wouldn’t have enough people, so other jobs would be full…I remember meeting the crew, we would meet at Port
Morris, and I live in Hopatcong, and the crew would drive out themselves, I’d go
back home. And then around eleven o’clock in the morning I would have
their lunch order. I’d go buy them lunch and go meet them someplace out there and bring them lunch, coffee, or whatever it was. And there were times that they would leave me with the train. They would take my car
back to Port Morris and I would be on the train myself. And it’s not legitimate,
but when they say pull the train up another 28 cars, I was the only one there, I’d pulled it up another 28 cars. So there were times that we had to
drive back and forth with the Track Department. BOB: Sometimes, if we knew where the train was, we would drive out to, like, say, Andover or…(JOHN: Wherever it was.)…BOB:…Greendell, and we’d park… …and the track guys would make sure that
we got back to our car that evening… …at the end of the day. Or, if the
train started at Port Morris and we left our cars there, the Track Department
would see to it that somehow somebody would take us back to our car; or, one of
us would drive with the train, drive out to where we’re going and be the rubber wheels for the day, and at the end of the day be the rubber
wheels to get the whole crew back. Nobody knew where we were; nobody knew, nobody cared other than just get that rail ripped up. You would report
to the dispatcher in the morning. You’d say you’re such-and-such a crew; you
would call, I think, the Lehigh Line dispatcher…(JOHN: And they could care less.) BOB:…and they would write your name down on some dispatcher sheet that you were up
there, and “up there” was somewhere in North Jersey. JOHN: They had no where we were. CHUCK: So, you guys were out of radio contact? JOHN: Yeah, nobody talked to us up there. CHUCK: So, when they said we don’t
know where the train is they, literally, didn’t know where the train was–I mean, they knew where you were. JOHN: The track supervisor would know where you were, but the dispatcher wouldn’t know where you were. BOB: And he didn’t care. He wasn’t running any trains against you, or around you, or
through you…(JOHN: It was just out of service.) BOB:…He didn’t care. He just had to, literally, write on his
train sheet that you were on duty that day and that’s it. JOHN: And I did the same thing with Bob. I was taking a lot of slides up there also. I brought my camera up
and it’s sad, some of the places that you take that you would say…the
saddest part was I took a picture of an SD40 and a caboose sitting at Blairstown Station, and that was the last, that night when we tied up and
I said to myself: “Tomorrow it’s all gone; there won’t be no more engine at Blairstown.” BOB: We did we did get the pictures at Roseville Tunnel; we got
night shots, and they came out well. And then the next Monday morning, it was
gone, it was the last train through the tunnel, and I took pictures of it coming through the tunnel. I got pictures; we stopped the
train–and it was Jimmy Giordano and myself… …and I don’t know if it was Wharton or who it was, but we stopped the train–and I got pictures with the tunnel there and the engine. And
I thought that that would be the last train ever to go through that tunnel.
Some year, some year now there’s going to be a Transit train that will go through
that tunnel. JOHN: I have fond memories– fond memories?–of we used to get heavy,
heavy thunderstorms during the summer through there, and I remember it was
the Lackawanna gods punishing us for what we’re doing to their sacred
ground. And black snakes. Because black snakes are harmless: they don’t
bite you or anything. But there was always black snakes in the ties. And I
remember some trackmen, to joke on their foreman, gathered a bunch of black snakes and put them in his truck. So, when he opened up the door it was, you know, like Indiana Jones, “I hate snakes!” And they were under the seat, and all that stuff, and everybody got a big laugh out of that; he didn’t think it was funny. But, most of the trackmen that worked up there were out of Scranton. BOB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They were former Erie Lackawanna or Lackawanna men that worked out of the
Bloom or from around Scranton and there was no work up there, so they would they
would literally roam. And they would come down here and they’d stay the week down
here and then they’d go home on weekends, back to Bloomsbury. JOHN: A lot of them were big Scranton boys, I’ll tell you. CHUCK: So, as you get towards the end, I know that eventually you do finally rip up the last piece. Now, Bob, I know there’s that iconic photo, I guess with your son, on the locomotive. BOB: John made the sign. JOHN: I made the sign at 6:30 in the morning of the last day. I had a piece of cardboard. BOB: The world can thank John for that. CHUCK: October 5th. BOB: He put on the engine and he told me: “Tomorrow they’re gonna take the train west and that’ll be it.” And, miraculously,
I was off, or got done late in the day or something, and grabbed my son, and we
went up and I took a picture of him on the engine. And those are the things that,
like, you’re really happy you did. JOHN: It was right around that date also that I lost my mother-in-law…she passed away. BOB: I think it was 5960 and 5962 were GP8s, and they were the two ex-Lackawanna Geeps that Conrail had sent through the GP8 program. And we got the 5962, which was not a Lackawanna engine;
I thought: we missed it by one number. One number, it would have been an ex-Lackawanna
engine going through the tunnel for the last time, and coming off the Cut-Off for
the last time. JOHN: Because they originally took the railroad up to Port Morris itself,
up by the tower, and then the last move we made was towards the west end of the wye, coming around the wye, and I remember the whole group of people–locals–came out and took a number of pictures, and some people asked my name
and stuff like that; that’s all lost, I guess. But we had the engine around the wye
there and so there was some pictures taken. CHUCK: There’s a photograph out there,
Bob. You’re on the front of the locomotive, coming through Port Morris
Yard, and the grass must be about three or four feet high. You can’t even see the tracks or anything. But you’re on the front of the locomotive,
and the train’s coming through the yard. I presume it was the rail train, of course. BOB: Yeah, I took some pictures of West Port Morris, shoving out
there, I don’t know, one of the trains coming and going. Jimmy Wharton was in the picture and somebody else. CHUCK: This is a Mike Del Vecchio shot though, I think. BOB: It was the same way: the weeds by that time were pretty high. CHUCK: Now, did with of you gentlemen ever get to actually run or ride a train on the Cut-Off? JOHN: Me? No. BOB: I hired out in ’77, and I was working out of Hoboken in passenger service, but I was on the extra board there, and it was a Saturday night
and I called up and there was nothing showing. And I was second or third or
fourth–three times, four times out–and nothing showing and I actually went out
on a Saturday night, and it wasn’t ’til, like, I don’t know,
Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, I bump into Paul Bohrer, and he says: “Where were
you Saturday night?” I said: “Why?” He says: “Well, you missed a call.” Well, I didn’t miss a call. I didn’t get dropped because it was a job I didn’t
have to take. But they called me for light engines to Scranton. And that was
my chance to have ridden all the way up, all the way across, and I was out, and it
was a case where the crew caller didn’t know that they were going
to call light engines to Scranton when I talked to him earlier in the evening. And
and it was with Paul Bohrer, who was a great guy and quasi-railfan, and we could have talked all the way to Scranton, and it was
a one-way and deadhead back, jitney back. CHUCK: Well, you never know. JOHN: Well, ironically, when was it? Two years ago? three years ago? the first rail trains came back for the Cut-Off, and I
happened to be the engineer on the first train, bringing the first and second
train. CHUCK: That’s 2011, right around, it was in December of 2011. BOB: And that rail is still rusting away. No flange wear has been been found on that rail
yet; it’s in perfect condition. JOHN: So, it’s gone full circle to bring it back. And you took a picture–remember that?– the first train we came up we pulled it up
into Port Morris Yard? BOB: I don’t remember. CHUCK: Yeah, then New Jersey Transit pushed it onto the Cut-Off and they emptied off all the
rail there, which you’re pointing out, much of which is still there, some of
it’s been laid out there, about four miles, but there’s still quite a bit
that’s still at Port Morris. I have this crazy question that I want to ask
you guys–you’re railroaders–and this goes back to the 1958 runaway, which Bob I know you’re familiar with, maybe, I don’t know, John, if you are, but a a bunch of cement cars and a caboose get loose from Port Morris and start westward. BOB: Are you familiar with this? CHUCK: Yes, I think I am. BOB: Well, I wrote an entire article on the whole episode. CHUCK: Yes, I know you did, yes. BOB: OK, so, is there something
I didn’t cover? CHUCK: No…well. JOHN: Well not everybody gets that magazine. That’s what
he’s looking at. CHUCK: There is a question… BOB: But everybody should. JOHN: But they don’t, they don’t. CHUCK: Well, part of this question, I mean, of course, yes, Bob because you would
know all the details greater than I would on that, but John as an engineer…this is the crazy question I have, and this goes back to, we did an
interview with Gerry Chrusz out of Johnsonburg, and
he tells the story that he was a kid, maybe seven or eight, and they’re at the
creamery in Johnsonburg–1958–and he sees the string come past, followed, he said, five minutes later by an RS3 engine going as fast as it possibly can trying
to catch it. BOB: An RS3 engine? CHUCK: He said an RS3. I don’t know if that’s true; that’s what he said. I’m quoting him, out of Port Morris. CHUCK (off-camera): Now, this would be before your time, but there’s the story about the set
of cars that got loose at Port Morris I’m not sure if you know about them. GERRY CRUSZ: Yeah, it was the cement cars. I was up there at the time; we saw ’em go by. CHUCK: Where were you at that time? GERRY: At the creamery up here, the picture I showed you there. CHUCK: Oh, yeah, at Johnsonburg. GERRY: They just got loose and started rolling, and they rolled and rolled and rolled until they got to the Water Gap, and they went too fast around the curve and they all went down into the drink there. I think they’re still there, if you went down and scuba dived. Because that cement got hard as a rock. CHUCK: So, you couldn’t pull them up. GERRY: You couldn’t pull them…I think they’re still there. I don’t know. CHUCK: I mean was this something that, all of a sudden, you happened to be there? GERRY: I just happened to be there. A caboose…I don’t know how many cars it had, but it had cement cars… and then five minutes later, an engine going a hundred miles an hour trying to catch it. It never caught up to it. CHUCK: Oh, really? Because there’s that legend that the engine
actually tried to catch it. GERRY: Yeah, cuz I saw that go by, trying to catch it. CHUCK: But he tried to catch it, but he didn’t. GERRY: He tried to catch it, but he never got up to it. CHUCK: Wow. So, wow. I always thought that was, you know, a big story. GERRY: That engine was chasing it. I saw the engine. I might have been ten years old, but I saw the engine. CHUCK: Wow. GERRY: It was an old RS3. It just got away from them. CHUCK: I mean this is like asking a really
off-the-wall question: any guesses to how fast the cars were going, because if
the engine’s going as fast as he could. But they’re different estimates I’ve heard; I don’t know if anyone really knows for sure, of course. GERRY: The Cut-Off, right about here,
is the highest point on the Cut-Off. So, it’s downhill to Blairstown, it’s
downhill to Port Morris. They had enough, yeah, I can’t explain it. They were
rolling, those cars are going uphill from Port Morris to here. I don’t know whether they tried to couple on to it. And if a coupler doesn’t work, it’s
not going to latch. I think somebody gave it a hit, and way they went. They hit it so hard that it pushed it over the knoll and once they got over this knoll here and going down toward the river, it picked up speed. Because instead of rolling uphill going 20 miles an hour it got going 50-60 miles an hour for, I
don’t know what the speed limit around the Water Gap was, but it was,
I’m guessing, 30 miles an hour. If you had a freight train or passenger train, you slowed down to go around the Gap to go into Stroudsburg station. I don’t know
what the speed was at the time. But it was going way too fast; no way would that thing get around that curve, there’s too much weight. Soon as it tipped, you were done. You’re lucky that you didn’t have another train coming the other way that would have crashed into it. CHUCK: Well, part of the story–and, once again, this is trying to recollect from what others have told me–but there was a
story that there was an eastbound train. That’s why I was asking you about… GERRY: Eastbound train, they probably held it at Bell’s Bridge… CHUCK: So, you were in Johnsonburg at the time. Because the story I heard was that there was a eastbound train that went–once again, I know if this is true–somehow by the signal indication knew something was
coming at him, dove into the siding there, and got… GERRY: Siding, where? CHUCK: At Greendell, and got in just in time before the cars that were running loose went past them. Once again, I don’t know if that’s true. GERRY: I haven’t heard that one. CHUCK: OK, well, that’s part of the version I have. Well, you were an eyewitness, so you saw that engine going after it. Amazing. Wow. GERRY: The engine was going quite fast. I don’t know how many was in the string, 7-8, I don’t know. The highest spot is right here–not Johnsonburg Station–it’s right over here. After that, you’re not going to catch that. The runaway just picked up speed; it was going right along. CHUCK: That’s quite a story. GERRY: It was just an accident. Somebody didn’t tie a brake down. If they had put a brake on one of the cars that thing would never have gotten going the way it did. Somehow that air bled off the train, too. It lost its air. CHUCK: I heard someone lost his job because of that, unfortunately. GERRY: Probably. CHUCK: What are they trying to do? JOHN: They’re probably trying to catch up to it. CHUCK: And couple onto it and stop it, basically? JOHN: Probably, because it happens today, too, is whatever cut of cars it was, the crew did not set enough hand brakes on it, or had no air at all. BOB: It was bled off. JOHN: OK, it was bled off, and it ran away on them. So, in other words, they
didn’t have enough manual hand brakes on it, so on a grade like that, loaded car, it would take off like a rocket. CHUCK: Which it did. But then, Bob, you can tell the story, I
mean what happens. BOB: “The cement cars, headed by Caboose 866, were approaching speeds
that HB-7 reported to be almost 80 miles an hour. The other event that one
employee claims happened is that the radio from Port Morris Tower, which
usually was never any good at contacting trains (especially as far away as
Greendell) was reported to have worked.” Alright. And then the engineer was–I have him listed in the article. They stopped at the only train order signal on the
Hoboken Division, or Morris & Essex Division, the only train order signal on the whole
division was eastbound approaching Greendell. And he set that to stop and
take siding. NE-4’s engineer was Al Ebal, I believe his name was, and he either
heard the radio, or he said he saw the signals going–because that was a long
straightaway, like 2 or 3 miles straight away–and he could see the signals dropping, coming–so he knew something was coming at him. He went as fast as he
could into the siding. And I don’t know if this is myth, but
it’s been handed down through many a Lackawanna railroader, that it was so
close from him pulling in and the train’s going west, that the markers touched. Now, that could be myth. I can’t swear to that. CHUCK: I’ve heard that story. BOB: OK, but, it was very, very close. If that train order signal hadn’t been operating
that head-end crew on NE-4 coming east, they would have been killed. OK, and 866, the caboose, was the only steel caboose assigned to Port Morris or
assigned to the whole Morris & Essex Division, at the time. All the other brand
new steel cabooses were sent to the Syracuse & Utica Division, or the local
from Binghamton to Buffalo, or Elmira to Buffalo. So, the 866 was the only
caboose in Port Morris because it was assigned to the Cementer. And
after that guys chalked onto the side of the caboose: SCAB CABOOSE NEEDS NO CREW, because the caboose and the first two or three cars went around the Gap curve, the
rest of the train went into the river. The caboose went as far as up near past Bell’s Bridge and bottomed out because then it starts to go uphill
towards East Stroudsburg. CHUCK: That’s a helluva long journey to keep going, that’s amazing after that because it’s going around a 40 mile an hour curve at close to 80 miles an hour, basically. BOB: It didn’t. The caboose was light so the caboose hugged, but the loads…CHUCK: Well, but you’re saying but part of the train survived, in other words, stayed on the
rails, whereas the rest of it just went into the… BOB: The caboose and a couple of cars, yeah, the rail started to give away at that point. JOHN: And those cars are still down there in the river. BOB: Yeah, there’s trucks and there’s at least one or two cars
that divers have confirmed are down there. JOHN: Still down there. But that’s about 70 feet of water, isn’t that one part there, fifty? BOB: With all the floods and everything, it’s probably silt. CHUCK: But that’s why I was asking John the question, and like today, I mean not that we would ever see this happen, but for a set of cars to lose their air and then just start to wander away,
would anybody try to stop a train? BOB: Under NS, every car has a handbrake no matter where it is. JOHN: Well, there’s always been instances where a crew makes a mistake
and they’re trying to correct that mistake, OK. So by him chasing those
cars with his locomotive he’s probably, I mean if he had caught him that would
have been great, but he would have probably faced numerous rules violations
by going by stop signals and running through switches. BOB: The other
thing, and I interviewed every live Lackawanna person that either was there
under Lackawanna or worked at Port Morris that I knew of, and it said in the
article, I state that HB-7 got permission to go see if he could catch
him. I don’t know if they crossed him over onto the track that the cement cars
were rolling on, or whether he just went on a parallel track. I don’t know that. CHUCK: Oh, because, of course, there’s still two tracks on the Cut-Off. BOB: There are still two tracks all the way on the Cut-Off, yes. CHUCK: But at some point they’re single tracking, same year. BOB: Within months of this incident,
they single track and that train order signal became history, was taken away. CHUCK: Now, when you say train order signal, what is that? BOB: A train order signal is a normal
signal with a circle, a PRR-style light, underneath it and if the three lights were up it signified something; if you were at a 45, it signified something; and if it was in a horizontal it signified something else.
It’s all in the Lackawanna rulebook: one is stop and call; the other is stop and
take siding, call and take siding; and the other is take siding. It’s all in the Lackawanna Rule Book, 1952 Rule Book. CHUCK: So, the eastbound train, it sees
that? BOB: It came up to that–NE-4– came up to that signal, stopped. Now, it’s a
matter of whether or not the guy got on the phone, or the radio worked, or the guy
saw the signals dropping. He told the guy to throw to switch and he just went. What happened, nobody will ever know; all those people are dead. What happens within minutes or seconds of each other, I can’t. CHUCK: But it takes the
siding and gets out of the way just in the nick of time, basically. It’s an amazing story. BOB: They came up the slow
track at Port Morris, which is right on the hump between the two legs of the wye,
that’s the pinnacle, the highest point. This is back when the Lackawanna–these cars were hot cars for the L&H. Somebody bled them off. The
yard job went to couple up. The pin didn’t drop or the coupling didn’t make. OK, they butt it; they pushed ’em. OK, they gave it another shot and the pin didn’t drop
again, OK. And then I don’t know if they gave them two shots, three shots, four
shots, but every time the pin didn’t drop, they didn’t make a coupling. Now the cars
are rolling. So, doesn’t matter if they tried it ten times, it wasn’t gonna couple. So now they’re rolling, and
there’s nothing you can do. And there was, again, these are all things that guys
told me that I didn’t put all of them in the article, but Roy Weidman was the switchmen was trying to make this coupling. A guy told
me he only had one lung and that, therefore, he couldn’t run fast enough to
get to these cars when they started to roll to get to any hand brakes. Another
guy said, well yeah, they went to couple up but they had already made a standing
cut, alright, so the standing cut starting to roll, which was 18
cars that way. So, you know, there’s a lot of conjecture there as to what happened
within seconds if not minutes, but obviously they rolled. CHUCK: So, part of the train starts to roll down the grade. And are there, like, cars in
between that are still sitting in Port Morris? In other words, if you have
an engine, let’s say, you have it ready to go and wanted to go catch them, are there cars in between or is it straight ahead, those cars are just wandering away
and you?…BOB: HB-7 was there, I’m sure HB-7 was this guy that went and tried to
catch them. CHUCK: OK, but on a lark it’s sort of like hoping that he
can stop this string, because he’s not gonna have any brakes, the idea would be to couple on to the train and slow it down little by little? BOB: Yes, and then put his brakes on. But, whether or not whatever happened there,
it’s all history that nobody will ever know. The only thing we know is he didn’t
catch him and he didn’t couple. CHUCK: So, we don’t even know how far he went. We know he went at least as far as Johnsonburg, and was still going, but we don’t
know how close he got and where he called off the chase. JOHN: You’ve got to figure there’s a few seconds between everybody reacting to it, too. I’m sure
you looked at it just couldn’t believe that that’s happening, and now you
have to think of how to stop it. BOB: Different people I interviewed, I got a
little slightly different versions of what happened, and I had to, like, mix it
all together. You know what makes sense and what didn’t sense. JOHN: The whole crew might have not been at that same location at the same time, and now somebody had to make a decision what
to do and get going. CHUCK: One of the things that’s come up, and I’ll ask you because you’re railroaders and you would know routings and such
as well as anyone, and be sort of impeccable type of sources. There have been people who have been talking about freight returning to the Cut-Off. When I talk about
freight I don’t mean a car or two that might go to Greendell, and all that kind of
stuff. I’m talking about the hundred-car plus type of the real, major railroading there. If they put the tracks back tomorrow, or a year from now, or two
years from now…BOB: Melatonin makes you have deep sleep, and when you’re in deep sleep
you have a lot of dreams. OK, that’s all those are are pipe dreams. JOHN: I don’t see them because the major railroads–CSX and NS–that was on the cutting
block from from day one with Conrail. Because I hate to say Scranton
is no place. It’s just now that Binghamton is important. So, especially with the double- stack equipment, there’s height
restrictions on that and they developed Harrisburg as a terminal, basically. BOB: Everybody has their route already. JOHN: Right. BOB: They don’t need that, and the thousands–millions
of dollars–they would have to spend. CHUCK: That’s my question: because the question has come up, and it will come up again, that much we can
count on. People are gonna say, oh, they’re running these long trains, trash trains,
the whole nine yards, and the thing is, like, well, if you were going to do that,
how would you do it? How could you possibly do it? JOHN: The way
the system is set up now, it’s…BOB: Pipe dreams. JOHN:…it’s all pipe dreams. Yeah, I mean everybody was afraid of what Turco was gonna do, Mr. Turco, because he bought the property and a lot of people don’t know what his plans were. He wanted to put the
railroad back to take the fill cuts out that the Lackawanna had built, bring that to the waterfront–say, Hoboken or
Jersey City–and barge it over and build up the West Side of Manhattan. CHUCK: That was proposed, yes. JOHN: And then in return what he wanted to do is bring
garbage from the city back out to the countryside, and fill in. And that’s why the
communities up there put in soil removal ordinances so nobody could do
that. Because over the years the land has changed, the ponds, water levels, water tables. But that would that be my fear of him bringing garbage up and taking dirt out.
But as far as running double-stacks and oil trains, that time has come and gone. BOB: Look at NS: they don’t run anything even via Port Jervis, because they have to run on New Jersey Transit, and that’s a
total nightmare if you had to run on. And over here you got wire, which means it’s
a double nightmare. CHUCK: So you’d be restricted to, what, not only in terms of time but also in terms of height. JOHN: Right. CHUCK: What would you be able run, C Plate? JOHN: Plate F, over 17 foot, that’s what they’re looking for. CHUCK: You, of course, as an
engineer, have run underneath there, but there’s only certain cars you can run. JOHN: Like, in Summit, New Jersey, the height there is 15 foot 5
inch. So, right away, there’s no way they can run up the Morris & Essex side, Morristown Line. CHUCK: What fits under 15 and a half feet? JOHN: All their passenger equipment. CHUCK: Well, yeah, but I’m talking about freight cars. JOHN: Freight cars, no. CHUCK: Nothing? Anything? JOHN: Just your normal 50-foot box car, your rail boxcar. The industry is going towards this
Plate F, which is a higher boxcar. The days of the rail box cars that were
built in the 70s, they’re maturing out now and they’re being cut up.
So, you’re looking at the whole industry is changing in the last couple of
years now with this clean sheet. Allentown no longer humps cars; they flat
switch. There’s trains being diverted to Harrisburg as opposed to coming out of
Allentown. So, the industry is changing and for
somebody to think that the Cut-Off is going to be a major…CHUCK: Well, I think
what we hear, and this is from people who would not want to see the
Cut-Off come back, so they’re coming up with–and this is nothing
new, it goes back twenty five-plus years ago we’ve heard this, but we expect it will come back again–but there’s been
things that have been done that make it even less likely now, I mean with the
Boonton Line being removed… BOB: For the last 25 years I constantly get asked: do you think
the Cut-Off will ever come back? And I say, well, maybe for passenger trains,
maybe in my lifetime, maybe. OK, now it’s possibly for passenger trains, possibly
in my lifetime. OK, maybe to Andover. I will never
see a train go all the way across the Cut-Off in my lifetime. JOHN: OK, you know you need to look at other alternatives besides the locomotive and push-pull cars. You can go
to light rail, a trolley car system. It doesn’t necessarily have
to be a regular conventional passenger train. It’s a shame that they
never restored, put the service back in, because you have the National Park at
the Delaware Water Gap. I know the business interests in Pennsylvania would like more people to come out of the city
so they can sell more houses and stuff. But really to eliminate some of
the traffic on Route 80, that’s what really should be thought about, and especially for the environment, too. CHUCK: I think that’s
really going to the angle that they are gonna have to use. And I understand,
this is a change now, that they used to only be able to consider commuters. Now
they can also look at off-peak passengers as well and add those
potentially into their ridership figures, the potential ridership figures. So that kind
of stuff, you know, it’s a possibility. I don’t think I agree. I
think you’ll probably get to see it, because if you get to see it I
probably get to see it, too. But in terms of passenger trains going over
the Cut-Off, this is a very
difficult project because it’s not something anybody…BOB: It may get to Andover. In my lifetime it’s never gonna to go past Andover. CHUCK: Alright, we’ll see. We’ll see. Stick around, though. Wait and see. BOB: I would like to stick around, if God lets me do that. JOHN: I know some of the
municipalities have actually raised the acreage for a house…CHUCK: That’s true, yes. JOHN:…because they want to protect their interests, and I think some of them, the
not in my backyard, are thinking that if they open this Golden Gateway, there’s
going to be condos and everything up in Allamuchy and Tranquility and all the
way up there, and Greendell, and I doubt if that’s ever going to happen. BOB: You know you mentioned the high car situation with the wires.
Working the night job out of Dover, which I worked too many nights…JOHN: Especially Sunday nights. BOB: Bobby Apgar. We’re going down, Transit comes on the radio, something to the effect: call me at
Morristown, or stop at Morristown, or back your train off at the scale track at
Morristown. So we get there and I call him. He said: “Did you hit the wires?” I said, “No.” He said: “Well, we had a PI.” Power interruption. And I said: “Not that
we know of.” “Well, I can’t let you go any further. You
got it back your train off at the scale track,” which we did. And I guess we did [Champion] DairyPak. Well, the moral of the story is there was one high car in the
train that didn’t have the wide white stripe across the back end, which
all high cars had this white stripe. So, people are saying, well, you
made the brake test, how come you didn’t see the high car? Well, it didn’t have
that white stripe, plus when you’re making a brake test you’re looking at
wheels, you’re not looking at the top of a boxcar. The moral of the story is what
we did is that boxcar hit one of those braces that come out at a
45-degree angle between the main pole and the support that goes across. It just
clipped that, alright, so that give him a power interruption. This car came all the way from Allentown, and made it under the bridge at Phillipsburg, and
anything that ever made it under the bridge at Phillipsburg was always OK
in Dover. Well, apparently, this car scraped, OK, and got through the bridge. Somehow they lugged it through, probably scratched the whole top of the car
coming through, and it did hit the wire, or the brace. About a week or
so later, I get a phone call from the superintendent in Allentown. He said:
“Listen,” he said, “you didn’t do anything wrong.” He said, “We, now, as in Conrail, have to upgrade and update all our clearances,” because they only had clearances on all
the main lines. They did not have clearances on any of the secondary lines.
And it was right after that that they made a huge effort to put the clearance chart
out on what the clearance was on every single track that they owned. CHUCK: And any car going underneath the–talking about the catenary now, the electrified trackage
east of Dover–there has to be a certain amount of clearance. It isn’t
like you have one inch, it has to be more than an inch, because you can have arcing, I presume. How close can you get without…? JOHN: Your answer from the E.T.
people–Electric Traction–but there is a little give way, but my one locomotive was 15 foot, three inch, and we can go to Summit,
at 15′ 5″. So, you’re close. CHUCK: You’re close. JOHN: Because electricity can jump. If there’s moisture in the air, it can jump; humidity, it’ll jump. BOB: You’ve had to have them come to Dover to measure your engines and cars like dozens of
times, right? JOHN: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Especially on boxcars, sometimes boxcars
when they off-load it with the forklifts, they’ll lift the
forklift up, they punch the roof, so the car might be 15 foot,
now they punch it up six inches, now the car is actually 15 foot 6 inch. So when
you read the side it says 15 foot, you think you’re good to go and then, now, you
have an issue. BOB: And now the load came through, which is an inch and a half to
two inches lower, the springs are down. Now the car gets emptied. JOHN: Now she raises up. BOB: There was one car that never went back to Allentown because they took all the springs out of the truck just to move it through the bridge at Phillipsburg. JOHN: Now Phillipsburg
is going to be lowered. That project’s coming up in the next couple of
weeks. So, basically, they’re gonna take the track out, dig it all down. They’re going
to use steel ties to get some more clearance, and it’ll be good for at least 17
foot and change. But it’s a lot of money and it’s a lot of effort to
do that for clearances. CHUCK: So, as we’re getting towards the
end of the interview and talk about what you guys are doing today.
John you’re still actively in railroading, you’re
still going. Bob, I know in the past you’ve done lots of interviews of
railroaders. What keeps you busy these days? BOB: Yeah, I have 30-40 hours of tapes of old-timers. I’ve devoted my life to the Lackawanna. I’ve interviewed every Lackawanna guy that I could possibly come up with; there’s only one or two left. And I have 30 or 40,000
slides that need to be scanned or done with. And I’m still writing articles, and
busy every single day. And I’ve been getting into birding, doing birding
photography. I’ve always done photography my whole life. The newest thing is
capturing Warblers. But anyway, I’m busy every single day.
I keep my flower gardens and everything else. I don’t regret retiring one second. CHUCK: I’ll tell this story and it’s about John Willever, and who we both knew. I don’t know if you would have known John Willever, John. JOHN: I think I met him at least once with you, Bob, at some event. BOB: Could have. JOHN: From Washington. CHUCK: Yes, yes, he passed away about two years ago, it would be now. Bob and I were both pall bearers at his funeral. But we had just started this series on the Lackawanna Cut-Off, and that was at the end of 2016, so somewhere about the beginning of
2017, I called John up and I asked him if he would be willing to do an
interview. And he declined. He wasn’t feeling well, and he said maybe in a few
months if I’m feeling better. And as it turned out he wouldn’t be
feeling better. He was, actually, unfortunately, declining. But at that point he asked me, he said, “Why would you want to interview me?” And I’m thinking to myself:
because you’re probably the greatest living Lackawanna Railroad historian. BOB: John and Alvin Smith were my mentors, and I’m trying to carry on with
what they instilled in me on knowing how operations worked, and where things were, how everything was, and I speak to Alvin two to three times a month. He lives out
in British Columbia. And beyond those two there’s not too many other people around.
There’s nobody else who becomes an instant Lackawanna fan. There’s some model railroaders, but there’s not many people
that are interested in all aspects of the Lackawanna. CHUCK: Yeah, because, so when I was talking to John, when he had declined it, but then I made
the mistake, in a sense, of mentioning, thinking my thoughts out loud, I said, well,
the reason why I’d like to interview you is because I think you’re the
greatest living Lackawanna Railroad historian. And he had been kind of somber
throughout the whole “interview”. Then all of a sudden he jumps in and says: “No, I’m not!”
And I’m thinking, OK, I’m thinking, who is? And he said Bob Bahrs. BOB: Well, everything I got I got from
John and Alvin and then went from there. Put it that way. They started the
bug in me, put it that way. CHUCK: Yeah, so, you’ve got a
good recommendation. I mean, John, I remember John–we both remember John–and the old days when he had that fire in the belly, and that type of thing, and that’s the John that I miss more than anybody else. BOB: Yeah, towards the end, he would always say, he’d always mentioned his
age every time you talked to him, within the first three minutes he would tell you how old he was and then he can’t remember that much these days. And I’m getting
the same way where I forget so much, so much I can’t remember that I used to
know. But I have learned that all my interviews now are recorded. That way
what somebody says is gospel you don’t think about that recording 20 years ago and did I say this or did he say that? Here
it is. My problem is the first 10 or 15 years I was doing that I was using one
of those little cassettes that has a tape and I would interview, like the B&P guys,
Carl Oxford and Leo Suprys. Leo had a
real strong voice…….but on all my interviews when I’m listening to Carl,
he’s talking [softly] like this and I have to turn the volume up to listen to Carl, and
turn the volume back down to listen to Leo; turn the volume back up to listen to Carl, turn it back down…where the new digital ones are so much better. CHUCK: Now, those tapes are you transferring them to digital?
Because I know from my own experience cassette tapes have a certain lifetime. Is the quality still there? BOB: Well, the quality is what the
quality is. Even when I went to digital the volume is up and down, up and down. CHUCK: Well, I’m thinking in terms of preserving them because… BOB: I do have them all on a hard drive. CHUCK: Ah, OK. BOB: …on hard drive. JOHN: I was never
really a big Lackawanna fan, even though I grew up by the Erie Orange Branch, you went over to Watsessing Avenue, and that was the one
Montclair Branch of the Lackawanna. But, by the time I really
realized what railroad or railroads it was, it was Erie Lackawanna at that time. Bob was really the only one who got me sort of interested. Not too interested in brown cabooses. BOB: I got John interested in the Lackawanna and John got me interested in cabooses. JOHN: Yes, that’s true. John got me very
interested in cabooses and he and I went around to a good half-dozen yards
that Conrail had stored cabooses, and we came up–I still have a file
this thick with hundreds and hundreds of cabooses, and the good
bad on each caboose–and we picked out 14 cabooses that we wanted preserved,
representing each railroad, and on some two different cabooses for a large railroad. And through John Fiorello we got it OK’d from Alan
Skimmel, who was a corporate secretary on Conrail. At the time, I thought, OK, we
got these cabooses preserved. Well, little did I know, being naive, that
just because we did this…what was that guy’s name who was head of Asset
Distribution? JOHN: Whitehead, Mr. Whitehead BOB: Nah, it was somebody else. There was a guy, head of corporate assets. He didn’t know. And he’s selling cabooses
right and left, and it wasn’t until the Lackawanna caboose that we had on our
list, he sold it to Dave Monte Verde, to the guy up in Buffalo. When I found out about it, I said: “Dave, how’d you get that caboose?” He said: “I just
asked for it and I got it.” And that’s when I looked into it, and we at the time
did not have a place for Conrail to send 14 cabooses. Ben Friedland really wasn’t into the railroading end of it at that point in time. So there was no place to send 14 cabooses. So, the fact that we didn’t
have a place to send them, we lost them. At the end, when we lost the 14, I
said, well, we better get something out of this, and that’s when we got the three
for Tri-State. JOHN: But nobody thought it was an LN&E until we did some research
into it and then we found that…BOB: John knew about all the little differences between
an LN&E caboose and a CNJ. JOHN: So, we saved three. BOB: Yep, actually,
of that 14 I think URHS got two or three, of which
one is now sitting outside the station on the CNJ down there…(JOHN: Westfield.) BOB:…West Fanwood or something, and one is in Boonton. CHUCK: One last question. And Bob you asked me
before we even started the interview to ask you the question, and I’ll ask the same of John, and
reflecting back–and this can include anything–but what are you most
proud of? I mean is there something that you could look back on…? JOHN: Like I said before, I was able to support my family, raise four kids, and now I have five grandchildren. All my kids went through college, and I was proud that my wife and I
were able to get them through. My son is actually a doctor now; he’s in his third
year of residency. And I think doing the right thing at work, in working hard
on the railroad, like I said, it provided for us. I think back about the days of working
37 days straight without taking days off. You did
the same thing, too. BOB: I didn’t go 37. I think I went 17 once. There
was some quits thrown in there, and that’s the only reason I got the 17. JOHN:
Getting involved with the different programs that NS had–I mean, excuse me,
Conrail had–the labor management program, safety, Operation Lifesaver. I look back at that and I really enjoyed that. And plus the fact that
being promoted as an engineer. There were a lot of opportunities I had
to go up into management I turned down, and that was basically because
my family to me was the most important thing, staying in North Jersey, as
opposed to being transferred to Toledo or Buffalo or something like that. So, I enjoyed it and that’s why I’m still hanging on here for a while. I do have other hobbies: I’m a military historian; I collect
military vehicles; I’m involved in the Forest Fire Service; I’m a member of the Hopatcong CERT. So it’s just more than just the railroad. But now I’ve got an
opportunity to enjoy that as opposed to when it was really hot and
heavy working the extra list. So, but I’m proud of
my career. I have got to have a good safety record. In 2009, I was a nominee for NS’s Hammond Award, safety award. And I went to Washington, and I was facing off with other railroaders across
the United State. I did not win, but I was proud of being at
least a nominee with that. So, like I said, I enjoy what I do. That’s why
I’ll stay around a little bit longer to do this. It’s just what experience Bob has and I have, not only the
historian, but you get a whole new different group of railroaders coming
up, and you’re trying to convey all the pitfalls and what stuff we learned by hard
knocks. We want to pass that on to the next guys. And I don’t always
bring it up, but Bob, he knows this, too, over the years I went to six
different funerals of railroaders that I knew personally, knew their families, that
were killed out there on the railroad. So, it’s very serious what we do out
here. And I don’t wish that upon anybody. But I’m proud that I never got hurt, the same thing with Bob, and we have good safety records and good work
records, and that’s something when you think about what we are handling out
here every day. So that’s the stuff that what you feel like you achieve. BOB: Yeah, you talk about the funerals, I’ll
never forget Dean Buxbaum. JOHN: Yeah. The Croxton Road extra list sometimes was
down to, like, three people, OK: myself, Dean, and one or two other people. And we
would work together. If somebody knew that they were going to be off next week
they’d say: “Listen, next Friday I’m not going to be here,” so you’d know that he
was going to be taking off, and if you were right behind him expect a call type of
thing. And Dean was a great guy. He was riding a shove. JOHN: On the end of a tank car. BOB: 83rd Street, 81st Street on the Northern. And it’s where the
Northern goes under the River Line, and a tractor-trailer came
right out and hit him, and he was pinned against the wall of the abutment, and
died. And that was one of the worst nights I ever had to put on the railroad.
Because myself and Chuck Gardner were called for NB39, which you drove out and
you did Siemens lead work, and by the time we left North Bergen office,
we knew that Dean had died. And I had to work that night. Chuck and I had got done
in about five hours: we bada bing bada bang. And I didn’t tell Chuck, but I knew
where Dean lived. So about 11:30 at night I went to his house, and all the railroad
officials had left. But his wife came to the door crying. It was a bad night. Very bad. Bad night. JOHN: That’s the stuff that sticks with you. It really does. CHUCK: Well, I take it, then, that guys must be close. You guys, you spend a lot of time with each other. BOB: Some guys you were real friendly with, other guys you didn’t give a crap about because they were SOBs. CHUCK: But some of them you did, some of them you did care about. JOHN: When you work with somebody and his wife bakes cookies or cake, and they bring it out and they talk about your families,
they talk about their kids, and all that kind of stuff. BOB: Yeah, there was guys that were hospitable, were normal family people, and then there was other guys you didn’t
care what they did because you just didn’t relate. CHUCK: I think that’s in any job.
There are people you’re gonna somehow click with and they’re going to be others that, for varying reasons, personality and such, it just doesn’t matter as much. But, I can tell that there’s your connection. The job, of course, is running trains. But, obviously, there are people who run trains. JOHN: It’s funny, sometimes, you spend
more time in that cab of the locomotive than you do in your living room, or in a
caboose. BOB: John’s son wrestled for many
years. I started my son wrestling in second grade, wrestled all the way
through, and he got into high school and as a freshman–because he
was a lightweight, he was going to start as a freshman as, I think, 98 or
101 pounds–and I decided that that previous year I had missed a couple of his
tournaments. And I said that’s never gonna happen again. So when
wrestling season came around, I took a night yard job at Oak Island. You avoided Oak Island at all cost. Oak Island was the armpit and I took a night yard job at the east end
of Oak Island, that started 11:00 or midnight, just so that I could
go to his matches. And I made all of them. But I had enough seniority at that point in time to hold a
last trick yard job at the east end of Oak Island. But I never had
seniority to hold any kind of decent job whatsoever. Occasionally, occasionally, the
night job at Dover which, OK, night job. I was always the oldest youngest guy. In other words, I was old in age but I was always at the bottom
of the list when it came to seniority. And seniority on the railroad is
everything, OK. If you don’t have seniority, you’re not gonna hold anything. JOHN: You can work days, but you might be off Tuesday and Wednesday, or it wasn’t always a weekend off. I had an incident with my son, he was about 7 years old and he was walking home from
school one day and the neighbor’s dog got loose and bit up his leg very, pretty bad and he had to go to the hospital. Well, he recovered fine,
but he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because of that attack.
And during his treatment, sessions, he had a recurring
dream about a dog coming through the window of the house after him. And the
doctor was talking to him, like, talking about where his mother was; he said my father’s never home. So, when you hear that, you realize
that you’re not part of the children’s life. And I did the same thing as Bob did. I
was working an extra list–same thing, being away for two or three days–
you’re suddenly like: “Whoa! What am I doing wrong here?” So, the same thing. I took a
yard job that I was off, I was home, for the kids in the morning, and make sure they get off and get back OK. And then you work
afternoons and stuff. But you do that kind of stuff because you
don’t realize, my family is supported, but I don’t realize working
the hours that we did–20 something years, 25 years, on the extra list–how much it radiates off you and how your families are affected by that, too. And that was a wake-up call for me. You take a pay cut,
but if it helps you do that kind of stuff. A lot of people don’t
understand, really, the other side of the fence here: it’s not all glory being
working on the railroad. You miss a lot. CHUCK: That’s the nature of the business. JOHN: Right, you know what you’re getting into. If you have a wife and family that could work with you. It’s a lot different
on the railroad now, too. They have regulated times; it’s
tightened up a little bit, so you can only work so many hours per week,
which is federal law now. So you can no longer work 37 days in a row.
It’s all changed so you’re not making the money you used to,
but you got more real time with the family or for your
hobbies. CHUCK: I have to think else in terms of safety that a person is working that much. I remember years ago I got a cab ride, back in the days when you
could still get a cab ride on New Jersey Transit, and the gentleman who was in the
locomotive–it was a diesel locomotive–we went from Hoboken out to Dover on the
Boonton Line. And he was nodding-off between stations. I don’t know
what you call it…the dead man’s brake, whatever is making noise and he’d hit it. JOHN: Acknowledge it. CHUCK: He was on medication and he was getting drowsy. And I’m wondering at what point
do I have to, like, shake him so that we stop for the next station,
that type of thing. BOB: That’s a 38-mile trip, try to make a 197- mile trip at night, OK…it’s tough, it’s tough. JOHN: I’ve had occasions where I’m on the extra list out of Port Jervis as an engineer. You call up, you call up. There’s nothing showing, nothing showing. You’re second out, first out, whatever. So I’m up from 6 o’clock in the morning with the kids all
day. They get back home from school, their dinnertime, the bath time, the bed time, and stuff. So now it’s 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock
at night and you think you’re done for the day…they’re calling you for a road
train out of Port Jervis either to go east or west. So you’ve been up for 15 -16 hours already, so you just had to bite down on
it, and get going. Two cups of tea, and away you go. So then
you can be on the road for 12 hours to get to a hotel, and then put you in a
hotel. So you’re talking, roughly, about 38-40 hours that you could
possibly be up. So, thank God, that’s all gone now. That’s
the life. And you’re gonna think back when you’re talking about the
Lackawanna, back in the 50s and 60s, there was 16 hour rules; they could work
up to 16 hours, and then it went down to 12 hours. So you can imagine what kind of
like those guys had. Right? BOB: Yep. CHUCK: Bob, you were saying that the Lackawanna
did its best to try to avoid where you would get to the point where you would
outlaw. BOB: When you on the CNJ or the Reading, did you ever know of a crew that had to
use a jitney? JOHN: No. BOB: No. BOB: I was telling him, on the Lackawanna there was there was no such thing as a jitney. A jitney or a taxi was never heard of;
the dispatcher always got you back to your home terminal. (JOHN: One way or the other.) BOB: And it was up to the conductor and the dispatcher to make sure
that the job got in. And if you didn’t get in there’d be hell to pay for somebody, OK.
You had to get back. And that was pretty true under the Erie Lackawanna, I think. (JOHN: Even Conrail to a certain extent.) BOB: I can remember crews out of Scranton occasionally Portland coal
trains would jitney in one direction or the other. But other than that there wasn’t too much jitneying until Conrail came
along, then after Conrail jitneys just exploded, I mean
just exploded. I mean there was Rensenburger and all those other
outfits, and Louie’s Limo in Easton that were run ragged. They’d have like ten drivers. CHUCK: Isn’t that expensive? BOB: Yeah. CHUCK: Not to mention you have guys that are stuck in the middle of nowhere or
someplace, you know, miles… BOB: That was the thing, OK. Some guy that speaks broken English, you’re telling ’em you’re at Joe Blow Lane in some town he never
heard of, OK. How does he get there? JOHN: There was no GPS. BOB: No GPS. There wasn’t even cell phones back then. So you wait, and you
wait, and you wait, you wait, and you call a dispatcher: “Well, he said they left.”
The dispatcher calls the jitney dispatcher and the jitney dispatcher tries to
contact them on a radio. Can’t. There’s hundreds and hundreds of stories about that. JOHN: I remember taking a train up the Southern Tier, I think it’s CP Nobody up there, and we tied the work train down and we
had to walk a mile or so through somebody’s backyards to get up the Route
97 to wait for somebody that’s coming– may be coming–from Monticello to come
pick us up. So you’re sitting on the middle of the road, every car coming by.
BOB: It wouldn’t be too bad if it’s a 50 degree day, or something. But it could be in the
middle of the night, or it could be rainy, or it could be in the middle of
the winter. JOHN: It was nice weather that day. It’s quite interesting, you know. BOB: I mean I was happy I made the move to the railroad, and that by the time
Conrail came along PRR rules prevailed and all those strict
Hoboken rules kind of went out the window. And if you wanted a beard you could have a beard, or mustache or sideburns, or long hair, as long
as it was presentable. And, yeah, I supported my family on Conrail and
eventually the Nazi Southern. But, yeah, I was happy I did it from a monetary
standpoint, even though the hours were crazy, from a monetary standpoint I
raised a family. CHUCK: And I get from speaking to the both you that in spite of all that, in a sense the sacrifices that you had to make, that you enjoyed what you did. BOB: There was a lot of guys that didn’t. There was a lot of guys… CHUCK: Am I assuming? Did you enjoy
doing it? JOHN: Oh, yeah. BOB: It wasn’t so much that you were happy, you didn’t hate it. CHUCK: OK. BOB: There were guys who hated it, absolutely hated it. CHUCK: For the obvious reasons, or it just wasn’t a match, because I
would think if you have a family it would be tough. JOHN: Besides making money, they just didn’t like what they were doing. And it just made the
day long. Like, you can get called for a job, and you can say who was the engineer? Who was the conductor on the job? And then, right away, you’re going to work
thinking, wow, it’s gonna be a funny day, we do crazy things–I mean not. Or, if you–
oh, it’s gonna be that guy–you know the whole day was gonna be…miserable.
CHUCK/JOHN: So, the personality… BOB: There was a day that John, myself, Sam
Calciotti was the engineer, I think, and we were on a work train on the Newark Branch,
(JOHN: Yeah), and we had the whole branch to ourselves. So, we did the work, but
we also got a switchstand. Under the Greenwood Lake, so that we got (JOHN: pictures of trains) an under-and-over shot, and it was enjoyable days like that where there was nothing hanging over
you, nobody watching you, which that came along with the NS. JOHN: And you play
little jokes with each other and stuff like that. It made the day go light. BOB: Yeah, I remember one guy
always claiming there was a golden insulator: carnival glass they called it,
and he would always point out that this “Oh, you know, did you see the carnival
glass up there? Carnival glass.” One weekend I got that carnival glass, and I got a second piece and I put the second piece in his bag. Never said a
word. Never said a word after that. JOHN: I worked with a conductor, he
would take rope and tie it to the old telephone poles that used to be the
signal lines and pull the poles down and he would cut the copper off it…for spare money. BOB: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know exactly who that was. He would get free oil from customer A, walk
one block–actually, pull the engine one block–go into a diner/restaurant and sell the oil to that restaurant. JOHN: Cooking oil. BOB: Olive oil. JOHN: There were some cartoon characters out there. CHUCK: So, how do we end this?
I mean any last thoughts? JOHN: Well, I’m glad that you got us together to do
this interview. CHUCK: I’m glad I did, too, really. JOHN: Because once Bob and I leave…BOB: We
have about 27 more hours we could probably talk. JOHN: There’s a lot of
stuff that I wouldn’t want on tape. BOB: You see this? (CHUCK: What is that?) I am proud–this is a brake stick–NS came around. They were pushing these things. You had to put a brake on
and off with these things. JOHN: Instead of you actually climbing on a freight car, you could stand to the side of the car
and actually use that instead of going up on the car, which is in some cases…BOB: So, for a while they were, like, if you wanted one you could have one. I never
took one. One day they came to Suffern and said: “This is your brake stick.” I said: “OK.” They left. I put the brake stick behind the door, and I never used it again. (JOHN: It’s probably still there, man.) Now, every trainman you see, he’s carrying, he’s literally carrying
one of these stupid things with him. I call it “stupid”. JOHN/BOB: That’s the new railroad. CHUCK: Any thoughts–because you say the new railroad–any thoughts on where we go to a crew of one or even driverless type of…? JOHN: That’s
gonna happen within the next two years. CHUCK: Really? JOHN: Well, figure the next two years you’ll be engineer only. With the Positive Train Control that’s
coming up and what… CHUCK: We’re talking, of course, freights now. JOHN: Well, on freight trains it will just be an engineer and eventually they’ll become
robot trains. Because with Positive Train Control, a lot of people don’t know
that Homeland Security has their foot in there, too, because the way the global
world is now–global terrorism–they want the ability to stop trains if something–hazmat train, or a passenger train–now they have the
capability of just pushing a button. and that train can stop. And the railroads are
all on board with this now, too, because, originally, railroads were
fighting Positive Train Control because of the cost. But, overall, what
they’re looking at in the long-term it’s going to be money saving for them. NS has come out publicly in the last six months that that’s what they want to do.
I’m sure CSX, Burlington Northern, that they’re
gonna be along the same thing–Union Pacific.
So, because labor isn’t a necessary evil, so the more jobs that you
can cut. Wall Street runs the railroads nowadays, railroaders don’t
run railroads. BOB: Every time you think they can’t cut anymore, they do. And the next CEO that comes in, to keep his job, he has to cut more than
what is there in order to show profit. Way back when, let’s say in the 50s, if you had an operating ratio of 82, that
was good. Then it had to go to the 70s. In the 70s that operating ratio had to go
down into the 70s. And now they’re talking an operating ratio into the
sixties, and they want to go to, like, sixty, 61-6o. And it’s because, like John
said, when we started: five-man crew; yeah, the firemen went away pretty quick.
But there was three people on the ground. Then they went to two people on the
ground, and you carried radios; you got an extra $12 for carrying that radio. So
they paid you twelve dollars, but they saved a hundred dollars on the
guy that disappeared. And every time that guy disappeared they say, well, if
you are ready to retire, they bought out five thousand guys. But if you
weren’t ready to retire at that exact moment, you lost out. Some people made out
like bandits. If you were ready to retire exactly when they did away with one man,
they handed you thirty or forty thousand dollars and said: “Here you are, thank you.”
And when that guy left, he took that job with him. So every time a guy left, my
seniority went right back down to the bottom. And then they got rid of the
brakeman altogether. And then it was just a conductor.
Once again, somebody got bought out, somebody that was ready to retire,
made a lot of money, bought a boat and sailed off, OK. Joe Blow that was still
working, he’s now riding in on every train, on
every cut, riding back out to the switch, throwing a switch, getting on and riding
all the way in and making the next move. I remember when the Susquehanna took over, they went to two-man crews right
away, and John Treen, who was a famous Susquehanna man, called
me up one night and he just wanted to talk, and we talked for like an hour and
a half. He said: “They’re making old brakeman out of young
railroaders up in Binghamton.” He was talking about up in Binghamton at the
time. JOHN: Just burning ’em out.” In other words, physically killing them
because of what you had to do. What three people used to do, now you do. And
some people can’t fathom that. But it was physically demanding, and you still did
all the paperwork that a conductor had to do. JOHN: Just a lot of the stuff
that used to be in-house–track work, repairs on the equipment–a lot of
places have contracted out because they can get it done at a lower rate, pay
people less, they don’t have to carry the insurance on them, the liability issues,
and all that. So, it’s a lot different than it was. We have radios, we have telemetry and all that. BOB: You talk about track work. Remember I told you for 17 months I worked for the Morristown & Erie, and they may run freight two or three days a week. And those other
days, or even if we got done early, we would go out and do track work. And I
don’t mean mechanical track-work, I’m talking about physical labor track-work.
I coined the term “moose” tie. Moose ties were these great big, huge ties before
there was a standard rectangle-shaped tie. The tie would go like this, and was
an old oak tree, and it was twice as wide, but the main thing is it was twice as
heavy as a normal tie. So when you were digging out a moose tie, you
really knew you had a moose tie as opposed to a normal tie. I
learned a little bit about track-work and everything during that time. So it
was just one of the other things that I learned during my
railroad career, between the passenger, the through freight, the
yard freight, the selling tickets that one summer, and being a fireman the one
summer. Happy I did it all. Happy to have known John. Happy that this
hour interview is now gone two hours and we gotta get going. My wife and kids are
still waiting on me, and I’m out there on the railroad. CHUCK: Some things never change. Well, I certainly want to thank the two of you, because it’s been a pleasure. JOHN: Did we cover everything you were looking for? CHUCK: I think so. Yes, absolutely, and you did it with grace, and certainly with passion and emotion as well, because we explored quite a few things here. And
not only just about the Cut-Off, because we wanted to talk about the Cut-Off. But more than that and I really appreciate it, and want to thank you
very, very much. JOHN: And thank you to both of you for the opportunity to do
this. Might be some generation down the road after it…What was a train? What
are we talking about? CHUCK: Well, YouTube we hope is forever, so who knows sometime a hundred years from now they’ll be looking at this and…JOHN: It’ll be in a museum. CHUCK: I don’t know. BOB: Superintendent of all
shortline railroading east of the Mississippi. Better him than me. I got other
things to do. CHUCK: Well, thank you, though, really. BOB/JOHN: Thank you. CHUCK (outside): So, our interview is over. We covered a whole slew of different subjects, and I’ll say issues. But, a lot of experience there, too, talking to Bob
and to John. This is the humble office that we conducted the interview in at
Rockport. Of course, Rockport is a name that’s familiar for those who know about
the Old Road, the Lackawanna Old Road. And while it’s not here that the actual
Rockport Wreck took place–that’s a little bit of east of here–that name is certainly familiar to people who know the
Lackawanna. So there you have it. I hope you have enjoyed, and I certainly have to
say I really enjoyed, this particular part, Part 23, and that you look forward
to Part 24 on the Lackawanna Cut-Off.

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