Some were gandy dancers, working on the railroad tracks to keep the trains running, while others were conductors in charge of the entire train. One did electrical work and others repaired bridges or sorted mail. But they all had one thing in common. All the men at the BNSF Railroad Veterans convention on Aug. 21 and 22 at the Hannibal Inn were from the BNSF Chicago Region, according to Gene Breedlove of Hannibal, who was coordinating the convention.
Glenn O’Briant and his wife, Susan, came to the convention from Quincy, Ill. He just retired in February of this year, after working for BNSF since 1976. His father and one brother also were railroad men.
O’Briant was a brakeman, then conductor, then switchman at West Quincy. As conductor, he did the paperwork for the entire train, he said, keeping track of “what is in each car.”
His parents were the late Jesse and Evelyn O’Briant of Hannibal. Jesse was also a railroad conductor.
Glenn said his “best memory was on a trip to St. Louis in 1982. Dad happened to be in a hotel.” Glenn decided to pay his dad a surprise visit, and discovered his two brothers, Marvin and Joe, were there also.
“I didn’t have any idea they were in town,” he said. “We watched the Cardinals ball game on TV, an out-of-town game during the World Series, and they won the World Series.”
Joe was also a railroad man, a signal maintainer from Old Monroe, Glenn added.
Now that he has retired, Glenn and Susan can take longer mission trips to Alaska, where they go every year with the Missouri Lutheran Synod. “This year we went for two months and were in our 12th village,” Glenn said. “We do Vacation Bible School and basketball camps.”
from 8 states
Breedlove, attending with his wife, Linda, reported the 47 people at the convention came from eight states. They traveled to Hannibal from cities in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.
Breedlove retired in 1998 after 32 years with BNSF. His retirement was caused by injuries he suffered when a vehicle he was driving was hit by a semi, while he was stopped at a stop sign. Being a Hannibal native, he returned for his retirement. He retired as a bridge foreman, working the area including St. Louis, Kansas City and West Quincy.
”Burlington (Iowa) to St. Louis was my regular territory,” Breedlove said. “We inspected them (bridges) and repaired them and repaired buildings and culverts. ... I enjoyed the job. They gave you the responsibility, and you had to take care of it.”
Page 2 of 3 - The convention events included a banquet on Wednesday and a dinner cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat on Thursday. Before the banquet, several of the men shared memories of their railroad days.
Terry Fitch of Hannibal, attending with his wife, Mary, said he looking forward to seeing men he had worked with from other cities, such as Ottumwa, Iowa, Chicago, Kansas City and Lincoln, Neb.
Fitch was a BNSF electronics technician in the system including Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. His railroad career began in 1966 in Hannibal.
Fitch first worked for CB&Q Railroad, then it changed to the Burlington Route, then Burlington Northern and now Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF).
He was working in West Quincy during the Great Flood of 1993 and explained that before the levee there broke, “we got a lot of our equipment moved out but we lost a lot of equipment. We eventually got back to the old building,” but the offices had been moved to Palmyra. He retired while his office was in Palmyra.
Mail sorter shares memory
John and Joann Morris came from rural Macon, Mo. John was a mail sorter on Train 55 and Train 56 for three years. The mail shared a baggage car with the REA Express, and he told a funny story about a wildcat on the REA Express. “There was a wildcat in a crate with burlap on the side and it said, ‘water and feed daily.’ I raised the top” and discovered the big animal.
While it was there, a man who often got on the train to visit Morris arrived and wondered what was in the crate. Morris told him “you better leave it alone.”
“He didn’t believe me and he opened the crate,” Morris said. The man was so frightened, “he jumped clear over the baggage truck and headed back to where he belonged. And he didn’t bother me for a long time.”
Another vivid memory was when a train broke in two. No one was injured, but It was at night with deep snow on the ground. The engineer was backing up and told Morris to take a lantern and give signals. When Morris began to do so, “I stepped into a seven-foot snowdrift and disappeared, lantern and all,” he said.
After he dug himself out, he helped with the repairs to the connectors. “We needed a piece of wire and the newspapers were tied with wire,” so he asked another man to take off some wire.
The man replied, “Man, you can’t pull no train with a piece of wire!”
Another time at Louisiana, Mo., Morris continued, “we had a train derail right next to me. There were no injuries, but I was pretty scared. ... I watched cars shoot down into the river and disappear.”
Page 3 of 3 - His last position was in “rules and safety” at Macon and Brookfield, where he retired in 2002. Then he and his wife stayed at Macon. The Morrises have been married for more than 50 yeas, he said, and “she should get a medal.”
Wright was gandy dancer
Kenneth and Polly Wright have lived in Hot Springs, Ark., since 2007, several years after his retirement.
He worked for BNSF as an equipment operator, doing rail replacement and other “section” work. “I worked on bridges and tracks. I ran cranes and bulldozers,” Wright said.
His position was called gandy dancer. It very physical work, he said. “I’ve done my share of work. ... I worked on a lot of derailments, on both freight and passenger trains.
“I worked for them 39 years and missed just 35 days total,” Wright said, adding that 14 of those 35 days “were for an operation.”
Wright began his railroad career in Shenandoah, Iowa, and later worked in Creston, Iowa. “I traveled all over for six years, to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota,” he said.
He is enjoying his retirement, explaining what he does not miss is “getting called out at 2 or 3 in the morning and working in all kinds of weather, cold or hot.”
See photo gallery for more photos.