Tuesday, February 18, 2014

War Stories: Episode 4 - "White shoes Oltmann"

"White shoes"

It was the end of August 1978.  All sixteen of our trainee class were still working. Eight, including me, at Hollidaysburg Car Shop and the other eight at Juniata Locomotive Shop.  It was time to trade places.  Locomotives!  Finally!  Freight cars are fine, but not very interesting compared to a locomotive.  Just a "box on wheels".  In fact, a few of us had decided that car shops could be fully equipped with just five items:

1. Acetylene
2. Oxygen
3. Welding rods
4. 5 pound hammers
5. 20 pound hammers

Really.  That's about it.  If you can't fix a freight car with these five items, it's time for scrap!

Now, locomotives have lots and lots of moving parts...and wires! This HAS to be more engaging.

A locomotive.  Even a small one has lots of parts!

The hard part about going to Juniata was we had to get up an extra 30 minutes earlier to cover the drive up though Altoona to the shops.  I was just barely getting used to the early start for Hollidaysburg.  Throw in the days getting shorter as Fall approached and that made it doubly hard on me.  I had had a hard time making 9AM classes in college!  7:00 AM to Juniata was really tough!

Still, we managed to get there on time, every day.

Was it more engaging?  Yes.  ...and no.  Sure, there were lots and lots of parts, and much more varied work going on.  There were more stations in the shop to visit.  But, the basic problem of not being allowed to do any actual work remained.  We just got to watch.  The guys in the shop knew what they were doing, but not why.  We had the same conversation with all of them.  (See episode 3)

Consequently, it was quite easy to wind up daydreaming, or watching the overhead crane work, or watching the material handling carts go by, or thinking about cheese-steak hoagies for lunch, or listening for traffic on the main line.  Sometimes, we'd fight the boredom by wandering off into other parts of the complex and climb on and around locomotives that were queued up for work.  But, mostly we'd just watch guys put rings onto pistons, or band on a traction motor commutator over and over again.

Our occasional lack of attentiveness didn't always go unnoticed.  It was quite easy for the guy you were working with to see this going on.  They'd seen it before. In fact, they had developed a way of tagging this behavior.

White rattle cans of spray paint were frequently used to mark work in progress and were everywhere in the shop.  Whenever they got the chance, they'd identify the daydreamer, sneak up behind and spray a dab of white paint on the back of the heel of their shoes.  It was noisy enough, you'd never hear it.  They didn't just do this to us trainees, but to each other, as well.  You would occasionally see a guy with some white on the back of his shoes.  I'll bet they'd been doing this for decades - maybe a century.  Juniatans don't change much.

I'd like to say that they got the other trainees and not me.  I'd even like to say, they got me, but a few of the other guys.  But, truth be known, I was the biggest daydreamer.  They got me and only me.  And, I never knew it.  I first noticed it that night when I got home.

Getting picked on like that used to bother me quite bit.  But, that day, it only bothered me a little. I don't know why.  Was it because I was becoming more mature?  Was it because the railroad was involved?  I don't know.  Maybe both.  But, it wasn't the last time I got "rewarded" for doing something dumb.

Stay tuned!

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