We all belong to the 'railroad family'
I come from a small town in North Central Pennsylvania where my family had lived for many generations. There was only one occupation in town - railroad work. The town was built for and by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1866 because the PRR needed a place to repair steam engines and cars in a central location between Buffalo, N.Y., and Harrisburg, Pa. They named the town Renovo which means to renew. My father, grandfather, and many uncles worked in various capacities in the shops. Since the town only existed for the railroad, everyone worked there. When I was a child, the whistle would blow for lunch and dinner breaks, and I would sit on the curb on the corner of our street waiting for my dad to come home for meal time. It is still a good memory to think of him walking down the street and picking me up to carry me in the house.
During those years, I noticed the stress the railroad life had on our family. My father never worked in train and engine service but we knew many that did. They seemed to have an even harder life than my family, and I always thought I would never want to marry a railroad man. When I met my Michael, he was going off to join the Navy. We married mid-way through his enlistment time. I thought he would never have to work for the railroad, but I was wrong. After several jobs and many layoffs, his father came home with an application for the railroad. He didn't have a choice so he went to work for the Penn Central railroad where he worked 26 years, mostly on the road. During those years, I raised two daughters basically alone. Holidays were always, "Well, if dad is home then we will do something." We never made plans, but we accepted it because he had to work.
One thing I never expected was that I would gain an entirely new family, that of the Railroad family. We seem to bond in a special way. We understand the life we lead and no matter how far away from home you are, if you are with railroaders, you feel at home.
My husband recently became sick and, as a result of the illness, he died. The railroad family became even more present. They were there for me in a way I can never explain.
I became a member of the GIA 20 years ago and I have never regretted it. Michael encouraged me to talk to other railroad wives about their rights under the FELA. This was the catalyst that pushed me to join the GIA. I realized that as a spouse of a BLET man I could make a difference in the working conditions and also the home life of railroad families. I have seen many men lose their life on the rails these 20 years, some of them friends. I have sat with widows while they waited for the confirmation that their husband was not coming home. I have fought in the halls of Congress to get better work/sleep schedules, and seen many other safety concerns resolved. I cannot say that we won many battles, but at least we were there to speak out for the BLET and their families.
The GIA has largely been an untapped resource for many years. We can do things that railroad workers can't do. Because we are not employees of the company, we can hold informational pickets, write letters to the editor, and use many other ways to get the message out to the public that something must be done to improve safety on the rails. There are many more issues out there that have not been touched in years. It is my hope that in the next four years, the new administration can be even more active, generating more membership, so we can continue to serve the BLET.
If I have done one thing that has helped a BLET member or their family, then I can say I have just touched the surface of the debt I owe my railroad family. I hope I will be able to serve this organization for a long time because it means so much to me, and the BLET meant so much to Michael.
© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen