Monday, February 06, 2006

Five Keys To Successful Train Engineering/Piloting

Trains have a long and glorious history in this country (not like in some other countries where they've gotten involved with drugs and satanic music) as do the people who sit at their helm. George Washington was a train engineer at one point, as was Dick Van Dyke, and Ted Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber). So as you add your name to this illustrious list, there's a few things you should keep in mind to assure your career is as successful as theirs were.

1. Engineers are no longer engineers, but pilots. Back in Washington's day, engineer was more descriptive of what the man at the helm of these wondrous mechanical snakes was actually up to, what with the wood and coal and boilers and such. But much of that work (thankfully) is now done by computers that are capable of shoveling coal and boiling water on their own. Your job is mostly to stay out of the way and press some buttons to begin and end the journey. This makes you a pilot. Pilots of other craft, notably airplanes, have objected to this name change, as well as our affinity for referring to one another as 'flyboys'. Most of the more raucous of their number can usually be quelled with liquor and assurances that our trains in fact have wings but that we choose not to use them because it would be too easy.

2. No sudden turns. The steering wheel was initially added as a sort of joke to weed out the less capable members of the engineering ranks. However, after years of wrecking trains and their cargo in the name of ferreting out weaker pilots, the practice has mostly been discontinued. Regardless the shape of the controls you find yourself behind, just remember that 'straight is great'. A number of engineers in the past have looked at route maps and seen opportunities for 'shortcuts', and no doubt you will too. But rest assured that all those wheels become very uncooperative when separated from the track and your shortcut will become the long way around. As for your instinctual desire to jerk in one direction or another in response to things on the tracks ( livestock, couches, tied up damsels) you must resist. The train is built to run right over these things and the damage will be far more severe should you try to 'go around'. Unless you see loose change on the tracks. That stuff will wreck you every time and should be avoided at all costs.

3. NO Doritos/Cheetos. This should not be considered a comprehensive list, but one that is suggestive of a category of products you should avoid while piloting the train. It's certainly fine to drink and eat, in fact it's encouraged to help you resist the temptation to try to steer or maneuver the train in any way, but as a courtesy to fellow pilots, try to avoid snacks that leave this sort of fine orange powder on everything. Rumor has it this is what drove Mr. Kaczynski to leave the field.

4. No cabooses. As you're no doubt aware, we cut these sad sacks loose years ago but that doesn't mean you won't still find them wandering the tracks begging to hitch on for 'just a few more miles'. Some of these guys look like fun and may tell you they know all the hotspots in the next town, but you must resist their siren song. It's hard enough to get the rest of the flyboys to take us seriously as pilots and toting around little red wannabes isn't going to help. If you're looking for a good time when you're on break, better to seek council from one of your (airline) pilot brethren. They know all the best bars and strip joints.

5. If you forget something, forget it. Piloting/engineering history is littered with ugly tales of what happened when a man at the helm realized that he left his wallet back at the last stop and threw the train in reverse to go grab it. While trains do travel almost as well backwards as forwards (assuming you're faithful to the 'straight is great' dictum) you're not alone out there. Trains headed towards one another on the same piece of track require you to do all sorts of steering and maneuvering and other things that should typically be avoided. Much better to just get yourself a fanny pack and make a habit of checking for all your gear at the start of each piloting day.


Anonymous said...

You did leave out two very important matters from your manual:

a) What to do while piloting if you notice excited children waving at you from beyond the railroad right-of-way and/or crazy teenagers mooning you from their back patios.

b) Perhaps the trickiest matter of all... how to deal with hobos you will certainly find on your freight cars during routine or (gasp!) unscheduled stops.

Thanks for your help.
Driver 8

Unknown said...


First I'd like to suggest you take a break, you're been on this shift too long.

However, you do raise an important point regarding hobos. Hobo control remains one of the train pilot's key functions when he's not behind the wheel not steering and not touching things with cheeto fingers. As recently as Dick Van Dyke's days it was acceptable to deal with hobos through outright assualt with lumber or metal. However, in these politically correct times even hobos have rights. Thus, all Hobos should be taken to Iowa. Under no circumstances should you allow a hobo to get off the train anywhere other than Iowa (subdue them with lumber or metal if you have to). Upon arrival in Iowa, drop them anywhere. Eventually word will filter through the hobo community that the wages of train hopping are a one way trip to Iowa, and the practice of train hopping should quickly fade away.