By Barb Arland-Fye
One of my prayers for the past seven years has been for my husband Steve to have a good run and a safe trip! He’s a locomotive engineer who runs trains between Clinton and Missouri Valley, Iowa. This week is the last time I’ll say that prayer. Steve retires Dec. 10 after 43 years working for the railroad. (He started out with Chicago and Northwestern Railway, which became part of Union Pacific Railroad.) He’s been a locomotive engineer for 42 years, but for a good share of that time he operated switch engines in Clinton to accommodate our family’s needs.
This is a man who counts train cars instead of sheep to go to sleep, maps out vacations based on proximity to model railroad shops, is rebuilding a model railroad in our basement and enjoys “train watching.” Steve caught railroad fever as a kid. In third grade he’d ride his bike to the turkey plant in Burlington, hoping to watch trains passing through town.
Hard to imagine, I know, but we met at a model railroad store where I interviewed Steve for a story for the Quad-City Times. During the first year of our marriage 30 years ago, we took “get-away” trips to places such as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which had plenty of model railroad shops at the time. I accomplished a lot of reading and proof-reading on those outings!
Railroad lingo continues to baffle me and sometimes brings me to tears from laughing so hard. One time Steve mentioned that another engineer had been fired. I assumed that meant the engineer had lost his job. No; he’d been suspended. Steve referred to engineers being “older than me.” I assumed he meant chronological age. No, he meant seniority. All of Steve’s trains have alphabetized names: “Z” trains, “I” trains, “K” trains, for example.
Z trains are high priority, which means high-speed. I think Steve prays to get a Z train. But he has other names for the trains, too: “I caught a bird,” he tells me (that’s a Z train) or a “salad shooter” (a train loaded with produce). Sometimes he got stuck on a train in the middle of Iowa. “I’m at milepost 90 just outside Beverly,” he’d say on the phone. To this day, I am clueless about Beverly’s location. One time Steve told our son Colin that he was hauling trainloads of wine. “Is that the Communion wine for Our Lady of the River?” Colin asked.
Steve tried working on the road when our kids were young, but the schedule conflicts and our special needs sent him back to the Clinton railroad yard to operate switch engines. That’s not nearly as exciting, but Steve made the sacrifice for our family’s sake. Steve is the family cook and our sons relish his dinners. During one of Steve’s road trips about 15 years ago, our sons — then 6 and 14 — looked at me as I prepared sandwiches and chili. Six-year-old Patrick, looking wistful, asked, “When will Dad be home?”
Last December, Steve had the best run of his life: a top-priority Z train to run from Clinton to Missouri Valley. Every train along the way had to wait for his train to pass by. That’s a run he’ll never forget.
“Have a good run and a safe trip!” I’ll say this week to Steve for the last time. And then I’ll cross myself and make that a prayer. But as I reflect on his career, our marriage and our family – our domestic church – I can’t think of a better metaphor.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)