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December 1997 - Page 55


b etter?" Lynch says, putting a shine on NWP's vari ant of S P's classic B lack Widow design. " Except for t h e M i l w a u k e e R o a d , t h i s i s m y fa v o r i t e p a i n t scheme," Lynch says . The northern California scenery a l so comes in a close second b e h i n d t h e M o n t a n a m o u n t a i n s t ra versed by his favorite railroad . Like many of his co workers, Lynch came to NWP from California North ern when NWP took over operations north of Schel Iville in 1 996. He has quite l iterally weathered the ups and downs of the railroad's fortunes, leaving a dispatching job on California Northern to become a locomotive engineer. " I don't want to be behind a desk," Lynch says with intensity. " I wanted to be an engineer, and I wanted to live in the mountains." H e experiences both o n t h e run over Ridge H i l l , where deer, hawks, eagles, and mountain lions observe the railroad's daily intrusion into the wilds of the North Coast. "I love it," said a new engineer of his job on the NWP. "There's so much to see . " " I like watching t h e eagles," says Charlie Voegele, conductor on the north freight out of Wi llits. Trai n crews are particularly fond o f the wildlife along t h e Russian River south of Hopland, a favorite summer habitat of the California nude sunbather. Engineer Ernie Sutton also came over from Cali fornia Northern. He has led a varied and fascinating life and is finally living his fantasy of being a rail road engineer. " My wife thinks I 'm nuts," he says cheerful ly, as he sits in the cab of SD9 5 305 at Cloverdale. " I said, 'After 3 0 years, you're just now figuring that out?'" Ernie belongs in the engineer's seat: H e dress es the part in overalls and engineer's cap and speaks within the rich tradition of humor and story-telling still s urvi ving on t he railroads. H e marvels a t t h e abi l i ty of o n e o f NWP 's customers-a m e t a l scrap dealer-to turn every part of an old, rusted rai l road car i n t o s o m e t h i n g p r o fi ta b l e . " I f he was a hog farmer," Sutton says in h i s smooth southern voice, "he'd market everything but the squea l . " Behind the easygoing manner is a professional who takes his job seriously: When the January rains began to under mine the yard i n Schellville, Sutton eased a locomo tive across some precarious rails to rescue a tankcar full of propane from the collapsing tracks and rising flood waters. The frustrations of the job and the ability to laugh afterwards have created a fraternity of sorts among the train crews. The crew on the south train out of Scotia ran through to Willits one day in July and de railed a boxcar en route, delaying the train several hours on what was already a long, hot trip through the canyon. The crew from t he Willits Hauler greeted them upon their arrival in Wi llits, as the conductor stepped off the locomotive. "We derailed a t Spyrock and still made it in 1 2 hours ! " he said triumphantly. He then looked worriedly around the yard . "Where are the empties for tomorrow?" "They went dead at Cloverdale," Ed replied. With that news, the Scotia crew had no idea what day they would be returning home with northbound empties. Ed and his conductor took the homeless Scotia crew out for steaks and beer. Trainmaster Chris Simas has the weary sense of hu mor that one finds among hjgh school teachers, or cit izens of Moscow: Every day wi l l be a struggle, but one might as well make the best of it. On any given day, Simas may be trainmaster, engineer, conductor, track repairman, drawbridge mechanic, or all of the

above. One a fternoon last s um m e r, h e h e l p ed fix drawbridge operator Roberto Meza's picku p t ruck, then waited with Meza at the Petaluma bridge for the Schellville Hau ler. "What's your engine number?" Meza asked engi neer Sutton. The usual locomotive, SD9 5 30 5 , was out with an oil leak. " 4 3 2 4 , " E rnie replied. " And she's one sick puppy. " Chris laughed and got on the radio. "That's why the Willits crew gave i t to you , Ernie." "Well , be sure to thank them for me." "I guess we'll have to get a diesel mechanic to look a t it," Chris said to me. " I f we can find a diesel me chanic . " H e was looking forward i n September to more l ocomotives arriving to replace the two de stroyed in the July wreck and to " keep the customers happy. " The rai l road has certainly s truggled t o do that, but not because of employee laziness or indiffer-

ABOVE: No. 2872 North enters tunnel 1 8 at Dos RiDS on July 24, 1 998. OPPOSITE PAGE: An l l -car Willits Hauler snakes south bound between Willits and Ridge on July 3, 1 997.

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