Why Dad Left The Railroad


by Jay Hudson


JULY 29, 1904 – JANUARY 30, 1971

I always wondered why my dad left the railroad. Within a year after I was born in Seattle on July 10, 1935 (Providence, Hospital) dad, who worked as an auto mechanic, left with mom, and me for a job in Chicago as a driver for the “L” (elevated railroad). We lived on Juneway Terrace next to a cemetery, and close to the Evanston city line. Dad worked out of the Howard Street station.

The driver’s seat on the “L” is smack up against the window of the front of the car, and you look right down on the tracks on the right side. One day a man stepped off the platform, and dad hit him very up close, and personal. This suicide affected dad in a way I’m sure the man never thought of in his search for personal pain relief. On another occasion, a Conductor at the back of the train fell off the stairs, and the train wheels cut off the man’s legs. I believe that it was at this point that dad decided to switch to freight trains because of the mental anguish of the incidents.

We moved to San Diego in 1943, and dad took a job in the switching yard with the AT&SF. Later we moved to San Bernardino where he drove the steam trains east over Cajon Pass to Victorville transporting WWII materials to the Marine training facilities in the Mojave Desert. We moved back to San Diego in 1946 where he continued with the railroad. In 1947 he took me to Montana where he partnered with his mother, and her husband in an Esso gas station, bars, and cabins. I don’t know what possessed him to leave mom, and my sister Deena alone in San Diego. I have no idea how my mom paid the bills because I doubt dad made any money in Montana.  Dad and I returned to San Diego in 1948 where he rejoined his railroading career. In 1951 he quit the railroad, and started a long commute to Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base where he worked as a boiler man keeping hot water available to the Marines in the barracks on the midnight shift. I never understood why he made this drastic and difficult move.

In 2005 my brother Allen, and I were on a short road trip to Yellowstone National Park to see the wolves when we discussed the change dad made. Allen stated that mom told him that dad had hit a car full of teenagers with the train, and killed two of them. This was the last straw for him and his train driving career. I can’t imagine the mental stress dad had with a suicide, a tragic accident to the Conductor, and the death of two teenagers due to pure accident or brazen stupidity on the part of wild teenagers.

All these years I have wondered why dad made the move from trains to barracks boilers. It now makes sense.