September 25, 1970 - The year I was hired by SAL RR in
Hamlet, NC. This year, it is 38 years ago that a young, not long
married and not long out of high school kid, went to work for a
company that I thought surely would just be a temporary job. I
had applied at the first of the summer but they were not hiring,
so I got a job with Southern Bread Co. on Mill Road in
Rockingham. It helped a lot that my wife's uncle Jack Watson
worked there and had some pull as to whom was hired, since this
young kid of 22 had not much experience in working many jobs at
that time.

When I did go back to the railroad at the end of that summer,
Mr Elton Cook, Superintendant at that time, pulled my application
from the bottom of the stack and gave me that job I had wanted
all summer. So, I said so long to Southern Bread and hello SAL
railroad. I spent 18 years at Hamlet working different jobs in
the office before the railroad started centralizing all the clerical
jobs on the system and moved practically all of them to
Jacksonville, Fla. A lot of us went but some decided to stay on in
Hamlet. But back to the story.

In Richmond County, the railroad was a great place to work
because it was union and the pay was a lot better than other jobs
in the county. So I was glad to get the job. Little did I know at
the time, I would work at that company for 29 years before
having to retire on disability.

I really didn't want to travel, so I was hired as a clerk. But, I
ended up having to travel anyway. I knew if I wanted to make the
big bucks, I would have to hire out as a trainman or engineer -
the latter being where the best pay was. But, in order to make
more money, you would have to ride the trains and work long
hours. I didn't want that at the time but after looking back - of
course hindsight is 20/20 - that might have been the best option
since I had to work long hours, third shifts, second shifts and
travel anyway.

I was introduced to Richard Presler, the Office Manager at the
time. He was a likeable guy and showed me around the office. I
met some of the folks I would be working with over the coming
years and will name some of the other clerks I worked with
during that time - maybe some of these names will be familiar to
you: Larry Privette, Donald Jenkins, Harold Guinn, Bobby Norton,
Eddie Ackerman, Elma Monteith, Louise Pate, Ed Pate, Portia
Lanier, O W Altman, Dexter Altman, R L Altman, Russell
Lancaster, Gerald Lewis, Ben Davis, Oscar Sellars, Cathie
Ackerman, Oscar Lee, Margaret Spivey, Jimmy Saunders, Bobby
Hicks, Carole Gillis, Tommy Bullock, Carol Liles, Lee Jenkins,
Harold Davis, Tommy Jernigan, Jerry Lunceford, Tyree
Massagee, David Covington, Louise Thomas, Louise Pate, Worth
Nash, Jimmy Lassiter, and others that might have slipped my
memory over the years. As this is the first part of my story, as
time goes along I will add more that I remember to this list.

I had attended Richmond Technical Institute before I began at
the railroad and eventually became the first Student Body
president there. I remember I took a computer class and a Mr
Blackwelder was the instructor at the time. This was about the
time computers were just coming on the scene and boy were they
huge. Anyway, that class helped prepare me for some of the
work at the railroad. I remember those old IBM cards that had
holes punched in them and the computers would read the holes.
Boy, talking about showing your age, that should do it.

At the railroad, all the clerk jobs had specific names. I
remember most of them but not all. Some were called the 1050
clerk (so named because that is what the computers were called
that read the cards), the scale clerk (this clerk lined up the
waybills for outbound trains and weighed any cars that was
required), the vent clerk - worked with the scale clerk, the chief
clerk, assistant chief clerk, utility clerk, check clerk (worked at
Yard B, checking the cuts as they went by and called it in to the
scale clerk for the outbound train), and the infamous crew clerk.
Now there might have been more but these are the ones that
stand out in my mind.

When you worked at the railroad, seniority meant everything. I
first started working on the extra board...whenever someone
marked off sick, vacation, etc. I would be called to work the
job. Needless to say, this didn't leave you any time to make
plans with your family because you never knew when you would be
working. But that was typical railroad life. I believe the first
regular job I had was second shift utility clerk with Mondays and
Tuesdays off. Also, when you were one of the youngest clerks, if
you wanted overtime, you could forget it because all the older
clerks would take it all. Or, if you didn't want to have to double
or work overtime, you would be forced to because you were the
youngest. This could and did go on for years until seniority was
built up.

After 10 to 15 years working there, I finally had enough
seniority to get some pretty decent jobs with good off days...and
I could get all the overtime I wanted or I could force the
younger clerks to double if I didn't want to. So, the time you
had put in finally paid off but it was tough getting there.

At the beginning of my career with the railroad, the one job that
nobody wanted was the crew clerk. Mr Presler made me learn
that job to start with but I was not happy about it. A second
shift job came open in the crew office and I was forced to work
it. I worked that job for about a month and was pulled
(somebody else took the job away - seniority, remember). I
swore when that happened I would never go back into the crew
office again.

Well, like they say, never say never. Years later, I got to the
point it was either work the extra board or work the crew office
- but - the job that was open was 2nd shift with Fridays and
Saturdays off. This is what convinced me to go back into the
crew office - even tho I swore I never would. But it helped at
that time that Ms Lois Wheeler was the one in charge in the
crew office. That lady knew her stuff. She really helped me
along and I finally learned to like the job - even tho it was very
demanding...and, most of the time you would not have to worry
about getting displaced because it was such a demanding and
stressfull job.


This is a start to my story of working on the railroad. I am not
sure right now how many chapters there will be. It just depends
on how much more I can get out of my head to put down on this
website and hopefully paint a picture of how it was for me during
those years.

So, this is the first chapter of
Working on the Railroad - My
- another memory of how it was growing up in Rockingham,
North Carolina - a small textile town in the South in the '50s,
'60s, '70s and '80s.
Working on the Railroad - My
Story - Chapter 1
written by Joel Bailey
November 21, 2008
So, as the Train of Life keeps
chugging along, another page
written of my Memories of....
Rockingham Remembered.