Unfortunately, the following is a true story as told to me by my father. I apologize because its going to be kinda long, and I'm probably going to have to type it in two sessions, because I've got class in about 30 minutes, and I'm a slow typer. My father worked for SP (Southern Pacific Railroad) for over 30 years as a Yardmaster/Trainmaster. For those who aren't acquainted with railroad operations, Yardmasters usually have their offices high up in towers, so they have a clear view of the railroad yard. Yardmasters are the ones who tell the switchman and conductors where to place the cars, and in what order. They coordinate all inbound and outbound traffic to the yards. These aren't passenger trains, but freight trains full of grain, fuel, etc. You know, the trains that keep you waiting for 20 minutes at a crossing.
The railroad industry shaped the landscape of this country. However, the cost was high to those who worked on the railroad. At one time, the average lifespan of a switchman was only 7 years. I don't think people realize how dangerous a profession working in the yards is, especially if you're a switchman. It isn't uncommon for them to get seriously hurt, and in some cases run over while switching cars.
Anyway, to get on with this story. About 15 years ago, my father was having problems with a new switchman, whose name was John. He was a rookie, with absolutely no respect for the hazards of the job. He would often be totally unaware of his surroundings (placing himself in between two cars.) My father was constantly getting complaints from his fellow switchman. Although a nice kid, no one really wanted to work with him, because they were afraid he was going to get hurt, or get someone else hurt. My father wanted to pull him off the job, but couldn't because John had connections. He was the son of the Director of Operations for the Western division.
Well, one night John was on the back end of a 75 car train, and he was trying to get two boxcars and a caboose hooked up to the end of the train. The conductor got the go ahead from John to start backing up the train. The conductor felt the cars engage the coupling, and called back to John on the radio to verify that the cars had coupled correctly. He got no response. He tried several times to get the young man on the radio, but his calls went unanswered. The conductor, a veteran with over 40 years experience working in the yards, got an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He radioed my father up in the tower, and told him, that 'The kid', as everyone called John, "wasn't answering his radio."
Dad called down to John a couple of times on the headset, and told him to turn on his lantern if everything was okay. Looking thru his binoculars, at the east end of the yard, my father kept looking for the lantern light, but saw nothing. It was totally pitch black on the east end. He then radioed down to the lead switchman, Carl, and told him to walk back to the end of the train to see what was going on.
After 10 minutes, Carl radioed back up to the tower, and reported to my dad that there had been a serious accident. My father told Carl, that he was going to call emergency, and get an ambulance down there. After a few seconds, Carl's voice cracked over the radio, "No need, Bill. The kid is cut in two. You better have someone bring down a tarp or blanket to cover him up." John hadn't been run over by the train, but had been caught in between the two cars when they coupled.
Now is when this story gets interesting, but I've got to get to school, so I'll write more later.
Okay guys, here's the rest of the story. After waiting so long, I hope it doesn't disappoint. Although not entirely unexpected, John's death hit the crew pretty hard. Quite a few people from the railroad attended the funeral, my father included. Anyway, after awhile things got back to normal in the yard. It wasn't until almost 3 months later, that strange things began to happen down on the east end of the yard......
One night, the crew was switching a very large train (140 cars). The train was so long, it blocked a street on the east end as well as the mainline. Carl had sent a new switchman, who hadn't been with the crew very long, down to the caboose to retrieve some flares to set out at the crossing. It shouldn't have taken more than 15 minutes to set out the flares. My father was up in the tower looking thru his binoculars at the east end of the yard. He couldn't see the flares, and radioed down to Carl, "You got to get your crew moving NOW! We have a passenger train coming thru in 45 minutes, and the mainline has to be clear.
Carl radioed down to the new switchman, and asked him "What was taking him so long?" and the new man, radioed back, and said he couldn't find the flares. Carl told him, that the flares were in a big lock box at the back of the caboose. They had to be there, because he had stocked the box that morning with extra flares. Carl then sent Rick, an experienced switchman, down to the caboose to get the flares. When Rick got to the end of the train, he spotted the new crewman, standing at the crossing nervously smoking a cigarette. He noticed that his hands were trembling, and his face was white as a sheet.
When Rick asked the new man what was wrong, he reported the following: He had climbed up into the caboose to get the flares. It was then that he saw a young man sitting on top of the lock box. He was about to tell the intruder that he was trespassing on railroad property, and had to get off the train, when suddenly the young man stood up. He was taken aback by the somber expression on the young mans face. It wasn't until the apparition stood up, that he realized he wasn't seeing a real person, because the complete lower half of the apparitions torso and legs were missing. Then the apparition turned and faded into the darkness at the back of the caboose. Rick asked the new crewman to describe the intruder. He said that the person he saw appeared to be fairly young, had long sideburns and was wearing a green flannel shirt. Rick's heart skipped a couple of beats, because the description fit John to a tee......
Over the next couple of years, there were several strange incidents that the night crew reported. I'll post them at a later date, if I have the time. Hope you enjoy.
I talked to my father yesterday, to make sure I had the facts right on this next installment. Apparently there were others ways that John made himself known to the night crew. When alive, John had a habit of smoking a pipe, and he used a brand of tobacco that had a particularly musky-sweet aroma to it. Often on cold nights, the crew would break for coffee, and huddle down in the caboose. Because some of the guys on the crew objected to the smell, John was always nice enough to step outside onto the rear platform of the caboose to smoke.
Anyway, to get on with this story, on very cold nights, you could always find Carl, the lead switchman, sitting in the caboose chewing the fat with some brakeman. On more than one occasion, Carl reported to my father that while sitting in the caboose, drinking a cup of coffee, the sickly sweet scent of tobacco smoke would flood the enclosed cabin. Although both Carl and the brakeman smoked, they supposedly weren't smoking on the occasions when this happened.
Another incident occurred when Rick, a switchman was walking the line on the east end. Rick was a big man (240 lbs +), with long hair that he often tied back in a ponytail. He also sported a full beard, that maked him look more like of a member of the Hell's Angels, than a train crew. Shortly after 2:30 a.m., Rick was walking down the line, counting cars on a sidetrack. As he was writing down numbers on a slip of paper, his head bent foreward in concentration, he felt two sharp tugs on his ponytail. He could not ignore the tugs, or chalk it up to imagination because the force was such that it snapped his head backward. A little annoyed, he turned to find no one was there. He was all alone on the east end. Rick always felt that perhaps it was John's spirit, because when John was alive he was always teasing Rick about cutting his long hair, and would always give Rick's ponytail a tug when he wanted to get Rick's attention.
After comparing notes with Carl, who had similar experiences of someone pulling on his shirt when walking the line, they discovered it always happened along a particular section of the sidetrack. Not long afterward, during an inspection of the rails, another crew found a head and gauge corner crack (metal fatigue) on a section of rail that was close to where Carl and Rick had their experiences. It was only a matter of time before a major derailment would have occurred at that point in the track. As a side note this track was put out of service immediately until it could be repaired because it was often used to hold tankers of hazardous chemicals and fuels when switching. Just thinking about what could have happened, makes me nervous...... Hope you enjoy.
The following is an incident which occurred while my brother, Bret, was a switchman. This happened almost 2 years after John's death. My brother had been a switchman for about 3 weeks at this point, and was working on the extra board, which means you're on call to work if they need to run an extra engine. It just so happened that my father was working this night also. To get on with the story, Bret had been asked by my father, thru Carl, to verify some numbers on several cars down on the east end.
When my brother got down to the east end, he was comparing numbers on the switch list, and he caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. He thought he saw someone disappear around the end of a tanker at the very end of a sidetrack. Thinking he had spotted a transient getting ready to hop the train, he raced around the end hoping to catch the trespasser. However when he rounded the end of the tanker, he didn't see anything unusual. He chucked it off to his active imagination and went on with his work. A little later that night, around 1 a.m., while standing alongside the train and between cars, he looked up from his clipboard, and saw a dark silhouette pass the gap on the other side of the train.
Bending down, and looking under the cars he couldn't see where the person had went too. However, he distinctly heard the sound of someone walking on the loose gravel on the other side of the train. He followed the sound and walked parallel to it for 4 cars, peeking underneath the cars every once in a while, but seeing nothing. Then suddenly the sound stopped. He stood there for 5 minutes looking under the cars, when the footsteps started up again, but this time going in the opposite direction, away from the tower. Hoping to catch a site of whoever was playing games with him, he climbed to the top of a boxcar to get a better view.
All he saw was a lone switchman walking toward him from the direction of the tower. It was Rick, who asked him "What in the world are you doing on top of that boxcar?" A little embarrassed, my brother said, "Oh, just looking around." Rick then said, "Well come on, your dad is letting us take an extra coffee break, because there having a problem with the switching engine. They had to call in an extra one from the port. It will take a good 45 minutes before it gets here." My brother said nothing to Rick about what had happened.
However walking back toward the tower, Rick, suddenly put his right arm in front of my brother. They both stopped, and listened. Rick heard the sound of someone walking on the other side of the train, although this time it seemed to be following them. Rick asked Bret, "Do you hear that?" Bret nodded his head, and pointed to the other side of the train. "That's what I was doing on top of that boxcar." He whispered. "Someone's down here playing games." They walked another 6 car lengths, and stopped several times. They noticed that every time they stopped, whoever was on the other side of the train stopped.
Finally, Rick motioned to my brother to go around the end of a car, while he went around the other end, to see if they could catch whoever was there. When they got to the other side, they found nothing. They stood there for 10 minutes listening, before deciding to give it up, and walk back to the tower. When they got back to the shanty, the other crewman asked them what had taken them so long. Rick spoke up, and jokingly said, "Junior here, is seeing things down on the east end. Probably, just some kids having fun." Although he tried to laugh it off, deep down, Rick new better......
More later guys.
This is the last installment on this particular haunting, and has to do with Mike, a brakeman out of Fresno, who had been with the railroad for over 10 years. Mike had heard about the sightings from the night crew in the yard, but kind of laughed it off. He wasn't one to believe in such things, as ghosts or The Boogeyman. In any case, this incident did not occur on the east end, but did involve the caboose that John was supposed to haunt.
Mike was sitting alone in the caboose on a train that was headed back for Fresno. It can be a long lonely trip for a brakeman. A lot of time the guys will take magazines to read to pass the time. Anyway, Mike was reading a Sport Fishing magazine, and kept looking up, because he couldn't shake the feeling that he wasn't totally alone in the caboose.... He felt as if someone was watching him. A little latter, he decided to pour himself a cup of coffee. However anyone who has ever ridden aboard a train, knows how difficult a maneuver that can be when sitting on a moving train that rocks and rolls with every bump.
While pouring the coffee, the train hit a bump in the line, and he completely missed the cup, spilling coffee all over his pants. He got up and went to the front of the caboose to get a couple of rags to dry himself off with. He also needed to relieve himself, as he was working on his 5th cup that evening. Now this is where things really begin to get a little strange. While relieving himself, he swore he felt someone tap the back of his shoulder. He just about jumped out of his skin, because it startled him so, and he knew he was the only one on the end of the train.
Now Mike was not one to believe in ghosts, but after this encounter, had to admit that he had no reasonable explanation for what happened next. When he got back to his seat, there were two cups sitting on the little side table, both of which had been filled with coffee. Moreover his thermos was sitting in a side pocket with the cap on, and he remembered leaving the thermos cap sitting beside the cup.
Apparently, a little amused at what he had just found, he took a sip of coffee, raised the cup, and with a single nod of his head, said "Thanks for the coffee." Strangely, he didn't feel frightened in anyway, and it was comforting to know that on those long, lonely trips riding the rails, he had a little companionship along the way.......
Well, that's it for this particular haunting. Hope it was worth waiting for.