This week's program on the MKT Railroad was presented by Mike Offineer, AKA "The Train Guy." Mike told the club how he ended up going work for the railroad then falling in love with the job. Mike's railroad career began after he had helped a customer at the IGA grocery store where he was working. After helping carry out a lady's groceries, her car door would not shut because of the ice and sleet the accumulated in the latching mechanism. Rather than leave her in the parking lot to fend for her self, Mike used his ingenuity to devise a means to tie the lady's door shut, allowing her to make home.
After this incident Mike was encouraged to apply for the railroad by a railroad employee he did not know. For tow weeks in a row, this man kept after Mike to apply to work for the railroad, but, instead, Mike chose to drive to the root beer stand in Boonville, where he flirted with one of the girls working there. Eventually, Mike was convinced to apply with the railroad after the man brought him the application. When Mike asked why the man was so insistent, he explained that he was an engineer for the railroad, and the lady Mike had helped at the grocery store was his wife.
Mike subsequently was hired to work on the railroad and rose through the ranks to engineer. Mike told the club it was difficult because he had long hair and was considered a hippy by many of old timers. Once Mike showed his sincere interest in learning, he became an excepted member of the team.
Mike worked on the MKT Railroad for nearly 15 years until it was purchased by Union Pacific. Mike continued to work for Union Pacific until his retirement in 2014. Mike admitted missing the railroad, but Speaking to groups such as our club kept him attached to a career he loved.
Mike also gave the club a brief history of the caboose. The caboose provided the train crew with a shelter at the rear of the train. The crew could exit the train for switching or to protect the rear of the train when stopped. They also inspected the train for problems such as shifting loads, broken or dragging equipment, and hot boxes (overheated axle bearings, a serious fire and derailment threat). The conductor kept records and handled business from a table or desk in the caboose. For longer trips, the caboose provided minimal living quarters, and was frequently personalized and decorated with pictures and posters.Early cabooses were nothing more than flat cars with small cabins erected on them, or modified box cars. The standard form of the American caboose had a platform at either end with curved grab rails to facilitate train crew members' ascent onto a moving train.
A caboose was fitted with red lights called markers to enable the rear of the train to be seen at night. This has led to the phrase "bringing up the markers" to describe the last car on a train (these lights were officially what made a train a "train"). Originally lit with oil lamps, with the advent of electricity, later caboose versions incorporated an electrical generator driven by belts coupled to one of the axles, which charged a lead-acid storage battery when the train was in motion.Coal or wood was originally used to fire a cast iron stove for heat and cooking, later giving way to a kerosene heater. Now rare, the old stoves can be identified by several essential features. They were without legs, bolted directly to the floor, and featured a lip on the top surface to keep pans and coffee pots from sliding off. They also had a double-latching door, to prevent accidental discharge of hot coals caused by the rocking motion of the caboose.
Until the 1980s, laws in the United States and Canada required all freight trains to have a caboose and a full crew, for safety. Technology eventually advanced such that the railroads, in an effort to save money and reduce crew members, stated that a caboose was unnecessary, since bearings were improved and lineside detectors were used to detect hot boxes, and better-designed cars avoided problems with the loads. The railroads also claimed a caboose was also a dangerous place, as slack run-ins could hurl the crew from their places and even dislodge weighty equipment.
Railroads proposed the end-of-train device as an alternative. An ETD could be attached to the rear of the train to detect the train's air brake pressure and report any problems to the locomotive. The ETD also detects movement of the train upon start-up and radios this information to the engineers so they know all of the slack is out of the couplings and additional power could be applied. The machines also have blinking red lights to warn following trains that a train is ahead. With the introduction of the ETD, the conductor moved up to the front of the train with the engineer.