I think it is a good idea to record some of my memories of what it was like to work on a Wrecking crew of a Railroad Derrick. Keeping the overall objective in mind, I shall endeavor to start writing, and hope it makes some sťance, when, I am done. I will put it the form of a few stories. During my career, spanning a period of 34 years, I went to many Derailments, numbering in the hundreds, but for at least 5 years I worked, as a crew member of Southern Railway's Atlanta Derrick, and we went to a large number of wrecks and derailments, when our services were required. My stories on this page are mainly about that period of time. If you are just a Railroad Fan, you may find it somewhat informative, or you will at least expand you understanding of what it was like, and I will at least have recorded it, before my old memory fades into oblivion. If you worked on a Derrick Crew at any time, it may, bring some memories to you of working wrecks, and if you feel inclined to do so, I invite you to put it in the form of a story, and share it with us. I will be happy to publish it here and give you the credit, for your story. It is not necessary to know how to code it for this Web Site; I will do that for you. Just drop in in an Email to me at Walter@Carknocker.com and I will be most grateful and you will, perhaps, feel some seance of accomplishment, for having done so.
Our Derrick Crew consisted of, a General Foreman, A Derrick Foreman, a Derrick Engineer, and four or five Ground Men. We were all Railway Carmen, who worked for the Southern Railway Company, at Atlanta Georgia. It varied at times of who was on it, and I shall endeavor to mention a few names, although, I am sure I cant remember them all, and If I leave your name out, I apologize in advance. The Old Heads of course, were people like, Hugh Mathews (Cisco), Benny and Chunky Douglas, (They were brothers), Charlie Baxter, Pinkie Freeman, Ben Jones, Bill Anderson, Bill Clealand, and considerable others, I can not recall at the moment. Then there were us younger, men like, Myself, Walter Parks, David Ellington, Greg Reed, David Rickman, Eddie Murphy, D.A. Davis, Gene (Pepe) Clarke, Steve Collier, Gene Wood, Jim Hyatt, and many others, but I couldn't think of telling my story without at least mentioning a few names. Some of the names, I just mentioned, have now been called on that last trip we all must make some day. They were hard working dedicated men, and I consider myself lucky indeed to have had the privilege of working with them and calling them my friends. If anyone reading this wants to throw a few names at me, I will gladly add them to this list.
I knew almost instinctively, who it was calling when the ringing telephone woke me from my slumber, Hello, I mumble. "Good Morning Walter", a cheery voice says, "This Is Louis Gaddis. The Derrick is called, for 3:30. There is a big wreck up on Braswell Mountain. Can you make it?" Even though, I have only been home from work a few hours, and I have only had a couple hours sleep, I respond, "Yea, I will be there. Go ahead and mark me up." I sit on the side of my bed pulling on my boots, and wonder why I am so tired, and then I remember the long day I had earlier. I had worked all day from Seven AM, until nearly nine PM, when I had got in from a road trip, to put a pair of wheels in a Tank Car, in Rome Georgia. (My normal working hours then was from 7 am till 3 pm, but being an assigned member of the Derrick Crew, meant, that my regular job would go on the back burner, and I would be expected to work what ever hours it took to clear the wrecks and derailments.)
The chill I feel seems to cut me to the bone, and I pull my scull cap down over my ears to block out some of the wind, as I step out my front door, into the freezing cold, on this 20 degree Georgia night. It's 2:30 am and the snow is no longer falling, but a light coating of it on the ground, crunches under my feet as I walk to my old pick up truck. I think to my self, "What a way to make a living. To go through this, just to make a few extra dollars." I wonder why Derailments can't happen on a nice warm day, but they usually seem to happen at the worst of times. By the time I get my truck running, I am shivering from the cold and even though, I am now in the truck, I know I will be half the way to Inman yards Rip Track, before the heater really starts producing any noticeable warmth. I look back at the nice warm house as I drive away, knowing, it may be many days before, I get back, and I see my old faithful dog with her nose, sticking out the curtains, watching me leave.
It is a ten minutes after three when I walk into the Rip Track Office. The General Foreman on duty speaks to me as, I grab a cup of hot coffee. I hear there is 30 or 40 cars turned over and the Main Line is blocked. You are the first one here. I already knew to do it, but he said, you better go check the Derrick Train and see if it is ready to go. The Train crew will be leaving the Engine terminal in a while to come couple up. I pass David Ellington as I cross the Rip Track. He is headed to the locker room, to change into work clothes. I am going to check the train I said, as I passed him. I cross 5 sets of tracks and approach the south End of the Derrick Track. I take down the Blue Flag, and signal the Switch Engine I see approaching with a Caboose, to go ahead and couple up. I start north walking beside the train checking it as I go. I check the train lines as I go, making sure all the air hoses are connected and the Angle Cocks are properly lined. The train consisted of ten or twelve cars. There was some panel cars, ( cars loaded with sections of railroad already attached to cross ties, for emergency Track repair), there was a Tank Car filled with water for firefighting, several Gondola Cars, loaded with extra wheels and emergency trucks for using under wrecked cars. We had an old Box Car loaded with lots of wood blocks, for rerailing and blocking up with, and a lot of extra big wrecking cables and things, It was called, simply enough, the Block Car. There were two Coach cars. One we rode in, and the other one was the Tool Car. It had lots of tools and cables and a big generator, to supply us with electricity. I check the Block Car as I pass and sure enough, someone has left the door on the right side open. I reach up and shove the door closed and latch it. When I get to the Boom Car and Derrick, I find that Carman Ellington is there already, and has taken down the Standby Cables and Battery Charger Cables from the Derrick, and I hear him in the tool car, starting up the Generator. I check the back of the Derrick as I pass it to make sure all the Tie Down, bolts are in place and secured. (They were to assure that the Derrick would not shift and swivel in route to our destination.) I arrive at the North End of the Track, and take down the Blue Flag, and check to make sure the switch is unlocked, so the locomotives, can come in and couple up. I walk back to the Coach Car and climb up and step inside. I grab the hand set of the Radio. Carman on the Derrick calling the Engineer of the Derrick Train I said. This is the Engineer, he responds, we will be there in about 5 minutes. I inform him the Blue Flag is down, and that they can come in and couple up, easy. I learned some time back to always tell them to couple up easy, when a wild Engineer had coupled up so hard that, I was burned with the hot coffee. I quickly plop my behind in a seat to rest. We havent even left yet, and I am tuckered out.
It, now 3:35 AM. The Locomotives have coupled up on the North End of the Derrick. I know they have cut in the air, because, I can hear air blowing from an Emergency Portion Valve. It quickly seats it self, and the air pressure on the gages, begins to rise rapidly, and we can hear the valves singing, as air rushes through them, charging up the reservoirs. Air blows from the retainer valves, as the air brakes release, and the pistons slowly retract. I have been asked to run the brakes, so I hop down from the Coach. I walk north two car lengths, to the locomotives, and turn and start walking towards the rear of the train. As I pass the Boom Car, I see the Brakeman has failed to release the Hand Brake. I step between the rails, and grab the quick release lever and release the Hand Brake. As I walk toward the rear of the train, I am checking several things in particular. I look under each car to assure the pistons have released. I look at the Bleed Rods making sure none are stuck in the open position, because, that would prevent the brakes from charging up on that car, and would contribute greatly to the overall train line leakage. I look back north and see the Derrick Foreman looking my direction to check my progress. It is fairly obvious, that he is in a hurry to get moving. Someone may have called him on the radio, asking when we will be moving. I hear a bad Air leak ahead of me and when, I get to the Panel Cars, I find its source. An air hose gasket is missing, because air is blowing from between the Glad Hands. In short order, I quickly cut out the Angle Cocks, disconnect the hose and replace the missing gasket, with one I had in my pocket. I cut the air back in and proceed on back to the Caboose. I climb up on the Caboose. The Flagman is aboard, and has a nice fire going in the Coal Stove. The heat feels great after, being out in the cold a while. I look at the Air Gages and see the pressure is at 78 P.S.I. and I pick up the hand set to the radio. Carman on the Caboose calling the Engineer on the Derrick. How is your Flow Meter doing? Its down to 3 he said. Very well I reply, apply your brakes please. The pressure begins to drop as he applies the brakes. I hop down from the Caboose, and look under it to assure the piston has indeed came out, and I look to make sure the brake heads are up tight against the wheels. I remount the Caboose and see the pressure is down to 58 P.S.I. Engineer, on the Derrick, you have got twenty pounds off, release you brakes please. 2 pounds he replies, meaning that he had 2 pounds of overall train line leakage. I stand briefly by the Caboose to assure the Brake Piston has released, and proceed back towards the Coach Cars. I get aboard the Coach and the Foreman is gripping about what took me so long. I pick up the radio hand set again and tell the Engineer the brakes have released and he is ready to go, as soon as he get a route. Someone up in the main Tower, who has been listening to the whole thing, blurts out a route to the Engineer, without his even having to ask for it, and with a slight jerk the train begins to move.
I am sitting, by the window gazing out the window, listening to the chatter on the radio, and the occasional Ding, Ding, Ding, of crossing gate bells we pass, from time to time, and thinking of the day that lies ahead. Someone behind me is snoring. I know, I should try to get a little sleep, but I am much to wound up. I pretty well know what to expect when we get there. I can visualize the mass of wrecked, and overturned cars, and Locomotives. The Derrick is at this moment the hottest train running on the system. All the trains in our way have been sent to the hole in various sidings, and we are routed straight through, non stop. When we arrive at the Train Wreck we will work non stop, to get the main Line cleared, so the freight can once again start moving. After the Main line is cleared, we will work 16 hour days, to pick up the wrecks. (It was not uncommon to stay out for a couple of weeks, before getting back home.) As we pass through Austell Georgia, I slowly drift off to sleep, sitting there in my seat. When the Derrick is called you learn to rest, when ever the chance presents itself.
I remember once while working a wreck somewhere around McPherson, Georgia, that it was cold and raining(seemed it was always raining or hot as blazes). We had several auto rack cars derailed and/or turned over, and as we rerailed them, the track department would repair the track. As they were repairing the track, we would have thirty minutes to a couple of hours to wait, and since it was so cold, a couple of us decided to build a fire. The General Foreman didn't think too much of a fire but after we had it going, he moved right to the front of the line. We were so tired; all we could do was just sit or lay around the fire and get soaked by the rain. Well, the general foreman decided he would lay down also, and stuck his feet close to the fire then nodded off along with rest of us. Trouble was, he had his feet too close to the fire and didn't realize it. Most of us took a short nap, including the general foreman and when we woke up a short time later, we smelled something worse than the creosote crossties we were burning. We soon discovered what it was though. The General Foreman had on an almost new pair of Sears Die Hard work boots and the soles had melted like butter. You don't think us carknockers laughed, do you? Well, we tried real hard not to, but we couldn't help it. Don't know if Sears ever made these boots good or not.