Coping with the strange lifestyle of a railroader

By Mabel Grotzinger
Vice President
Grand International Auxiliary

Being a wife of a locomotive engineer has never been easy. Life revolves around them, and the entire household is at the mercy of the crew caller. Things got a little easier with the invention of beepers and pagers, but you still had to know the whereabouts of every pay phone in the area, if you were out. Now we have cell phones. I am not sure it is an improvement because now the railroad can find you everywhere.

Over the course of the next few newsletters, the officers of the GIA are going to offer ideas we "old heads" have used to cope with the strange lifestyle we call railroading.

I grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania, founded by the railroad for the railroad. As a result, I was surrounded by railroaders of all crafts, so my first language was railroadese. When I married, I did not want any part of the railroad life. My husband was then serving in the U.S. Navy, and I thought I had escaped. After his discharge, he worked for a few companies, but one day his Dad, a conductor with the Penn Central Railroad, came home with an application. Before I knew it, I was married to the railroad. Ugh!

It wasn't too bad at first because he was only working in the yard. Then he went to "Choo Choo U," and got his promotion - out on the road he went. He has spent 28 years on the road, so it was left to me to raise our children, and take care of everything around the house, from mowing the yard to fixing the plumbing.

I became a very independent woman, and the children depended on me. When they asked for permission to do things, the answer was always, "It depends on where Dad is." They got so used to not planning anything until the last minute that, even today, I wonder if they can make a quick decision. Dad could never be counted when required to RSVP for a party - I would always say "maybe four." While this annoyed neighbors and friends, they did see why I was so vague, and adjusted. If ever an emergency occurred, it never failed that he was 250 miles away from home.

Holidays have always brought their own kind of stress, especially Christmas. We had many a Christmas at odd hours of the morning or even on a different day so Dad could be with us. You have to be flexible if you are married to a railroader.

These are just a few examples of what railroad life means to families. We do not have all the answers, but in our series of articles, we will attempt to help you by letting you know what has worked for us.

Please feel free to write to us and ask any questions. One of the main jobs of the GIA is to educate spouses, and be the voice of the families of BLET members.


© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen