Railroading for the armchair engineerFor people connected to the railroad in some way, “The Life and Times of a Railroad Engineer” is just the ticket to give you the perspective of a railroad engineer with many years of service.
For people connected to the railroad in some way, “The Life and Times of a Railroad Engineer” is just the ticket to give you the perspective of a railroad engineer with many years of service.
Bud Hoekstra of Shell Lake, Wis., has spent the last two years putting together and writing the story of his 42 years serving on the railroad.
Hoekstra began working on a mail platform for the Illinois Central in Chicago at age 16. Within three years, he qualified as an engineer, but went in the service for a year. He went back to the railroad and into engine service at age 18, and after a couple of years training, he was promoted to engineer. He was probably the youngest engineer on the Illinois Central at the time.
In 1979, he went to Soo Line working out of Superior. Then after eight years, he worked at St. Paul, for 12 years.
A born storyteller with a memory for detail, he decided to write the book after he retired with 42 years of railroading under his belt.
“Somebody said I ought to write a book and I did,” Hoekstra said.
He has gathered facts and figures and illustrations as well as stories of some of the people who worked on the railroad with him. This book is for the person who wants to know what it is like to sit up front in that prestigious seat in the cab of a diesel locomotive. What is it like to look back as you round a curve and see coming along behind you a hundred and fifty cars loaded with freight? For this retired engineer, it was an enormous feeling of pleasure and of accomplishment. He calls it the best job in the world.
Hoekstra says he traveled for two years gathering information and locating photographs for the book. He visited railroad museums and libraries, and talked with old timers. The accounts added up to interesting stories. It is not a picture book but is illustrated. His recounting of accidents and near accidents adds drama, and clearly rings true. He came on the railroad scene as the coal locomotives were disappearing. He went through the years of many changes and AMTRAK taking passenger service, and the rules of the railroad were forever changing.
The life of a railroader is a difficult one and it is very hard for family members. Trains run on holidays, and day and night. It is especially hard for the men on the extra board who may be called at any time and drop everything and go to work. They may find themselves waiting in a hotel room on a layover while their wives and children spend their holidays without them.
Hoekstra tells it like it is. He said he could not have written the book without the help of his wife, Jerri, who helped with everything on his journeys and including typing the manuscript. He has two grown children, both in the health care field, who they visit sometimes. He and Jerri live in the country near Shell Lake. They enjoy the outdoors and bird watching.
In many places, the old rails have disappeared and the beds have been transformed into biking and hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts. The haunting whistle of a train passing a crossing no longer sounds in the night. Yet the economy of this country still rolls on railroad tracks from sea to shining sea. The passenger service has gone the way of AMTRAK. The commercial airlines have taken passengers as well as freight from the railroads. Over the road trucking transports goods. Look at one semi rumbling down the highway and then look at the locomotive hauling some hundred freight cars, and you can see why industries depend upon the railroads to transport goods. Trains are still an important and necessary part of the economy.
The book can be purchased at the Northwind Book & Fiber bookstore in Spooner or at the “Railroad Memories Museum,” also in Spooner, where Bud Hoekstra volunteers every Wednesday. “The Life and Times of a Railroad Engineer” can be ordered from the author, Bud Hoekstra, W8699 Pond View Road, Shell Lake, WI 54871.