Monday, November 29, 2010


So Thanksgiving on the railroad had its ups and downs-- as life on the railroad always does. First, our conductor was marked back down to student status a week before Thanksgiving. He didn't mind that at all- more training never hurt anyone. On top of that, he was told, students never work holidays! Cool! We could plan on being together for Thanksgiving. So we went ahead and made plans. He worked right up until the last minute on Wednesday.

Then he came home from work looking stressed. He said that he was taken off of student status and marked back up again, and put on the board for Thanksgiving! It wouldn't have been too bad if we had planned it that way to begin with, but to be told that for sure we'd have a family Thanksgiving and then to have it yanked right out from under us... well, that's another thing.

I was a little upset, but we have to keep things in perspective: We appreciate this job. Lots of people are losing their homes in this economy, and right now the medical insurance is much needed. It would have been nice to have known ahead of time, but this is what we signed up for. This is life on the railroad.

So just when we got all adjusted to not being together for Thanksgiving, and helping the kids to adjust to THAT, our conductor realized that in fact, the extra board was moving very slowly. Not too many people were laying off sick. He might be home after all.

Then again, things might pick up and he might have to work.

So that's what Thanksgiving was like. It's not so much the stress of the schedule, it's the constant not knowing. You have to develop a sort of zen "live in the moment" attitude about family plans.

I'm working on it.

Really, I am.

So we were together for Thanksgiving dinner, and after dinner. I left my in-laws house a little early to get my hubby's uniforms ready, just in case he would need one (in case he got called for commuter service). It's a good thing I did, because I don't know if I would have had time otherwise. The call came just after I had fallen asleep.

Two lessons learned: Never, ever count on the conductor to be there, because he just can't plan on anything. Also, always, always have a spare passenger conductor uniform clean and ready to go- because he won't always get called to freight.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Back to Work - Again!

So my husband got called back to work a couple of months ago. I don't know why I didn't update the blog. I really should have. I think the roller coaster ride has burned me out- but now I regret now not posting all the little intricacies of life in the railroad bureaucracy- because by now I've forgotten most of what's happened.

But in a nutshell: My husband got called back by the Original Class One Railroad- the one that furloughed him. It was quite a surprise, because we weren't expecting him to start work until at least January 2011. He went BACK to conductor school, which was a LOT easier for him this time, considering it was his THIRD conductor school in two years. He was always at the top of his class, but it does get to be less stressful every time.

He's been bouncing around between commuter (passenger) service and freight. As a matter of fact, they're short on work again- so they put his whole class back on the training board again, and they are training again- which my husband is quite happy about- the more training the better. Being a conductor is a lot of responsibility.

Probably the hardest thing for my husband was learning to do the radio work. There's a lot of radio verbiage to learn. You just can't say things any old way on the radio in the railroad- you have to say things pretty specifically and in a certain order. Some of the younger guys seemed to pick that up a bit quicker, my husband said. But when you are past 40 (I won't say how far past 40), it's a bit harder to learn new tricks.

For me and the kids, the hardest part is the unpredictable schedule. For some reason, we have a hard time maintaining a normal sleep schedule when the family conductor's schedule is all over the place. It doesn't help when the railroad crew caller calls us at all times of day and night and wakes us up looking to tell my husband to go to work, EVEN WHEN MY HUSBAND IS ALREADY ON A TRAIN! Alright- I exaggerated. This does not happen at all times of day and night. It only happens IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, WHEN WE ARE ALREADY ASLEEP. And it doesn't USUALLY wake up the kids. It just WAKES ME UP.

But in this economy, we're just happy to be here. This beats unemployment. It beats odd jobs. It pays better than-- well, for us, it pays better than just about anything else.

More about railroad life later. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Back from the Trip: Furlough Board is Moving!

So we are back from our trip.  Our dear conductor was missed.  We thought of him often, and wished he could be with us- but the plans had been made before he was let go from the most recent railroad job- and we were traveling with my sister, and there was no room for him.  He kept busy by refinishing our staircase floor while we were gone.

Yesterday he checked the furlough board and found that almost 40 people have gone back to work!  This is good news.  The president of the company has said publicly that the railroad expects to bring every single furloughed person back to work eventually.  I hope that's not beaurocratic hot air.

Tomorrow is our son's birthday. He'll be ten.  We can't afford to buy him much, or have much of a party.  I am making a cake from a mix, as I always do, and I will invite his best friend for dinner and cake.  I had hoped to get him a guinea pig, but we can't afford that now.  I am hoping a white rat or a rabbit will fill the pet void for him.

Someone said yesterday that there are jobs on the Gulf Coast, cleaning up the spill.  She said that they were paying $18 to $31 per hour.  We got excited, because we spent a number of years on the Gulf Coast, and we love that area, and would be thrilled to have temporary work there, working close to old friends.  We homeschool, so I could pick up the kids and we could go down there to be near the hubby.  We could stay a few months in our camper at campgrounds, homeschooling, visiting friends, taking the kids to see the historic sites there, and providing a home away from home for the husband.  Then I found out that the jobs are paying $8 per hour, and you have to be a Gulf Coast resident to be hired.

But my husband and his furloughed friends are speculating that they might get called back by November 2010.  Gosh that would be great.

Here's to avoiding bitterness, staying positive, keeping the dream alive, and loving our kids while they are still young, and giving them a rich childhood, even though we can't presently afford gymnasitics, and camp, and all of those other things that they ask for. 

We are very blessed, however.  Our kids have NEVER ever complained about budgetary restraints.  We have wonderful, unselfish kids.   Thanks be to God.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Sad Getaway

Tomorrow a.m. I am going on a three day trip with the kids.  My husband would have been out of state training, so I had planned to take the kids camping with my sister.  We had wanted to get our kids together, and also wanted to share expenses, and be together for added safety.  (Two women at a campground with kids, instead of 1).  Anyway, it had been my way of distracting my son from the absence of his father- particularly because his dad was going to be away for both Father's Day AND our son's birthday.  Now we are going, and leaving him behind.  We had already made reservations, and there isn't enough room for anyone else, AND we had planned this as a mom's getaway, so I didn't feel like I could bring the hubby along just because he is now not working.  But getting ready for the trip feels like I am packing to go to a funeral.  I feel badly about leaving him behind, especially since he feels so down about his recent job loss.  I'm hoping that he'll get called for an interview while I am gone.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back to the Furlough Board

Well, my husband's career with the new Class One Road was very short-lived.  He went out of town for three weeks of classroom training and then started on the job training at one of the most complex freight yard in the country.  He was studying the GCOR when he wasn't working, and scrounging around at work for better yard maps than he had been given.  It seems to be a tradition on the railroad that good yard maps aren't just handed out.  Apparantly, you must procure your own by whatever means possible.  Hmmm.  Anyway, he discovered pretty quickly that he really doesn't like yard work all that much, but at least was money, which is something we pretty much needed.   He got along pretty well with just about all of the crews he worked with.  At the end of every day, they filled out evaluations of my husband's work.  He always got excellent scores, which he showed to me.  Then one particular person decided he just didn't like my husband.  He started making remarks about how he had gotten other people fired in the past, so we saw it coming a couple of weeks ago.  Then last week it happened.   My husband broke no FRA regulations, no GCOR rules, no internal procedures.  He made no safety violations.  As a matter of fact, the crew members that were there the day it happened were dumbfounded.  They couldn't believe it.   This is about the most unfair thing that has ever happened to us, and it feels like  a kick in the teeth.  It's almost enough to drive a Christian wife to cuss.   It's really stupid that on this particular road there seem to be no checks and balances.  If the supervisor doesn't like the color of your hat, he can fire you before your 90 days are up.

All I can say, is that that particular railroad does not deserve my husband.  We will shake the dust from our sandals and move on to bigger and better things.

Meanwhile, we got a call last night from the first railroad that hired my husband.  The occupational health nurse is going to start following his health.  My husband is in outstanding physical condition- so we think that (hopefully) this might be part of the process of getting furloughed employees ready to go back to work. Hopefully, this is part of the procedure aimed at making sure that (furloughed employees) are fit enough to return to work.  

If you read this, remember us in your prayers.  Resources are getting thin.  Patience is getting weak.  Morale is failing.  We're all sick of driving a car with no air conditioning, and almost no muffler.  My son's best friend's mother called today from out East to say she has cancer, and her son is missing my son, and I wish I had the money to just drive my son out to visit them.  But we can't.  My husband is applying for a job with our local city in the maintenance department.  If I didn't have chronic severe migraine headaches, I would take a night job.  Fingers crossed.  Maybe he'll get called back this year.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On the Road Again (Almost)

I'm really tired, but I wanted to give a quick update. My husband interviewed with another Class One RR and was hired! He just started training last week in another state. I want to write more details about our unemployment saga, but it's too late. However, I did want to share one important lesson: Even in this recession, SOME Of the Class Ones ARE HIRING. They aren't hiring HUGE NUMBERS, but they are hiring a handful here and there. SO, if you are looking for RR employment, check all of the railroads every single day, because there ARE openings from time to time, and the application window is sometimes short. Make sure your resume and work history are ready. Make SURE you have copies of your tax returns going back seven years-- you may need them as part of the background check. Make SURE your application is PERFECT when you do fill it out-- there's a lot of competition out here. My husband beat out almost a thousand guys (so we hear) to be one of the chosen few selected for an interview. Follow the Boyscout motto: Be PREPARED! You never know when opportunity might strike.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Back on the Job

I haven't posted in a long time. A few things have happened. First, the Class 1 Railroad that my husband hired out on in 2008 began hosting regular meetings for furloughed employees. He won a door prize for attending, they gave him a free flu shot, and they fed him a nice lunch last time. It was nice for him to catch up with some of the guys from his class, and the meetings helped him to have hope that the railroad would keep him on the furlough board until business picked up.

Every once in a while we would check for openings with other railroads. A few months ago, another Class 1 had a few openings, and he applied. He got a rejection right away- not even a call for an interview. We figured that there were so many more experienced guys out of work that he just didn't have a chance.

Then about a month ago I was surfing the net and decided to check the Class 1's again. I found an opening in our city, with the same railroad that had just rejected him. We decided that it wouldn't hurt to apply again. We logged on to re-apply- and that's when we noticed that his original resume had not loaded correctly! The top half of his work experience- meaning his most recent work experience (and most pertinent to railroading) had been missing when he was originally rejected! So we fixed that error, and went on our merry way.

I had almost forgotten that he had applied when suddenly, out of the blue, I got a feeling that he was going to get a call that day from the railroad for an interview.

I was in the car with my sister that afternoon, and I said to her, "Wouldn't it be funny if xyz railroad called my husband for an interview today?"

A couple of hours later I found out that he had indeed gotten a call for an interview that very day!

So we went through the whole testing, interview, background check, physical, physical abilities test routine again. It was pretty nerve wracking because we were pretty anxious for him to get back to work.

About 24 guys were in his interview session competing for a handful of positions. Half of them raised their hands when the hiring manager asked if they had railroad work experience. He got one of the positions, despite the strong competition. We are so grateful.

It is so good to know that he is going back to work again. He's leaving in a few weeks for a few weeks of training out of state. I think it will be easier for him to study, without the demands of family life.

When I get the energy, I may blog about everything that transpired during this hiring process. Let's just say that we left no stone unturned in preparing for the interview and the physical abilities test. We were determined that he would be the best prepared guy for every phase of this hiring opportunity, and he probably was.

I'll write more about that later.