Tuesday, April 12, 2011

[the railroad]

Frank is back out on the road... the house is quiet... and I am sitting here waiting to hear whether or not he will get in at a decent hour tonight. I am slowly getting used to the Railroad and have come to know *slightly better* what to expect in regards to Frank's schedule. I figured since the kiddos are sleeping and he isn't here to keep me company, my blog will do just fine. So, I am going to take the next 30 or so minutes to try and explain a little bit about Railroad life.

Every train that is coming in or going out and every Engineer, Conductor, Switchman, and Breakman on or off duty is listed on a system that is known as "the boards." We can access this system via the internet, so its available to us at all times. There are several different boards, and Frank is currently "marked up" (railroad lingo) on what is called the "extra" board, which is a coveted spot, because those who are lucky enough to mark up on THAT board get a guaranteed $3200 every two weeks because they are always on call. Sometimes Franky will get called in one ride after another, and sometimes he will get to stay home for three days in a row with us. We never know! In fact, we have gotten rather good at "not knowing!" It's an adventure to say the least. Regardless, if he ends up making MORE than the guarantee, we get that amount. If he makes less, we still get the guarantee. It's a win/win situation.

When Frank gets called in to work, he usually works a 12 hour day, which is the longest they can LEGALLY work him. After that he gets 10 hours of undisturbed rest... during which is he cant be called in. After that 10 hours, he is fair game! On "the boards" train crew get called out one after another depending on where they are on the board (or, in other words, where they are in line.) It's a complicated and confusing process that I don't even understand fully yet. Your position on the board has to do with your level of seniority and things of that nature. Since Frank holds high seniority, he is usually in a favorable position on "the boards." Also, since Frank was lucky enough to mark up on the "extra board," he can actually get called in as a Switchman, Breakman, OR Conductor. The CMS *control center* calls folks in off of the "extra board" in any event a railroad employee is needed, and since Franky is a jack of all trades in a sense, it suits him just fine. 

Franks home terminal is out of Chickasha, Ok (which is why we moved down here to Blanchard, which is roughly about 15 minutes east of Chickasha.) There are several different KINDS of trains that come in and out of Chickasha. There are Rock Trains, Work Trains (which transport work materials needed for labor crews to fix track and other railroad related issues), Manifest Trains (which transport an array of different goods), Ethanol Trains, Grain Trains, Fuel Trains, and Hazerdous Material Trains. Typically the Rock, Work, and Grain trains are what we call "Local" trains. They travel back and forth between Chickasha, Enid, and Oklahoma City. When Frank gets called in for one of those, he works his 12 hours and gets to come home. The Ethanol, Fuel, Hazerdous Material, and Manifest Trains typically run from either Chickasha, Enid, or Oklahoma City to Wichita... and when he is called in for one of THOSE trains, he ends up staying in Wichita, and sometimes it's two or three days before he hops a train back. 

Now to talk about an interesting phenomenon known as "Dead-Heading." Sometimes Frank will have to drive to Chickasha where he meets someone who drives him to Wichita *which takes all of 3 hours.* They drop him off at a hotel and he is done for the day... gets his 10 hours of undisturbed rest. Mind you, he gets full pay for a 3 hour van ride. Once in Wichita he hangs out at a hotel until they need him to bring a train from wichita back down here. So he gets paid a large sum of money to ride in a van, stay at a hotel, work out, take a swim, and then hitch a ride back. Lol. Last week they had him "Dead-Head" up to wichita and he was stuck (stuck being the operative word) at the hotel for 2 full days *close to 48 hours* and the Wichita Terminal ended up not needing a "Dead-Head" after all, so they put him back in a van and drove him back down here :) For every hour he is held away in Wichita (after his 10 hours of undisturbed rest) he makes a large hourly wage ON TOP of his normal pay. -Chuckle- Sometimes the railroad makes me laugh!

There is also a weird event called "Dog-Catching!" Once a member of the train crew works 12 hours they can NOT work any more. Sometimes you are in the middle of a route when you reach your 12 hours. If that happens, the train comes to a stop and they send someone out to spell you off. If you are called up to "dog catch" you are the person who gets to take over where the other person left off. Usually they only have an hour or two left until their train reaches its destination *sometimes only 10 minutes!* When you dog catch, you might spend your 12 hour shift on 3 different trains, taking over where other people left off! When Frank first started, they were about 10 miles outside of Chickasha on a train coming in from Wichita. He could see the lights of the train yard in fact. The Engineer on the crew had worked his twelve hours and they had to stop the train right outside of town to let another engineer spell him off. Interesting how that works! *And yet, after your 12 hours, you get paid a wage for the amount of time you have to spend in the van that takes you back to the yard, whether it's 10 miles or 200 miles away!*

Needless to say, working for the Railroad is proving to be quite the adventure for Frank. He absolutely loves it. In fact, I think he was born to do it. He gets to work with his hands and challenge himeself mentally every day. He has a large working knowledge of train mechanics... and he can drive a train with a remote control. How bad ass is that!! I am one proud wife, and it makes my heart happy to see Frank doing something that he takes such pride in.

Now, as a railroad wife *and the mother of a Conductors children"... we don't ALWAYS like the railraod. Sometimes we will be shopping or eating dinner out or enjoying a movie and that phone will ring and it sucks the wind right out of us. We can't ever plan anything because there is no set schedule. A lot of the time Frank will work all day and sleep all night... or he will end up working all day and then sleep at night expecting to get called in the morning, and he wont get called until midnight, which means no sleep. *Sigh*

We really can't complain though. For the first time since we were married we have the opportunity to save and to get ahead finanically. We have become independent in ways I never knew I could be independent. We have grown closer as a family and have learned how to stick together and support one another. It's truly a blessing.

Any way, I had better head to bed. My kids don't care how much sleep I get! They will be up at 6:00am regardless.

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