Monday, May 21, 2012

Robert Jones

Bob says trains "just get in your blood."  He had his first steam engine cab ride in a Canadian Pacific locomotive at East Rygate, VT at the age of four - and he has never looked back.

Bob was born in December 1934 on a day that a few years later would be known around the world as a "day of infamy" - after the bombing of Peal Harbor and the start of World War II.  He was born in the Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, NH, across the Connecticut River from the family home in East Ryegate, VT.  He says his wife has never let him forget he is not a "native Vermonter."  (She was born in the Fanny Allen Hospital in Colchester, VT).

Bob's father, Cecil, worked fifty years on the Canadian Pacific Railway, his only employer.  During the World War II years his father was sent to Farnham, Quebec to become qualified as a train dispatcher (a job comparable to today's air traffic controllers).  The Jones's relocation to Richford, VT made it possible for Bob's Dad to see the family occasionally.  People generally worked 5.5 to 6 days a week at that time.  Young Bob was often allowed to travel the 35 miles by train to visit his Dad overnight.  A very understanding landlady let Bob stay in his Dad's room on these trips and even put up lunches for both father and son.

Bob's first railroad job could probably be classified as "illegal."    With a minimum age requirement of 16, the job of station janitor at the busy Richford passenger and freight station became available in 1947.  But Bob was only 13!  World War II was over and Bob's Dad was able to return to hid old job as third-trick operator at Richford.  So, what to do about an underage prospective railroad employee?  The solution was that Cecil bid off the job - all $1 a day and 7 days a week of it.  Then on payday, after cashing his check, he would had Bob his share.

Incidentally, this job involved mopping the two waiting rooms (one for men and one for ladies) and two large offices, emptying the trash, dusting, carrying ashes up from the basement, mowing the lawn and shoveling snow.  Bob definitely earned his $1 a day.

Bob wanted to 'go railroading' full time, but his Dad said "no", telling him that there was no future in it, with diesels coming in people would be laid off.  So Bob was accepted at the University of Vermont in Burlington and in 1956 earned a B.S. degree in Commerce and Economics with a major in Industrial Management.  During these four years he hitchhiked between Burlington and Richford, 60 miles, on weekends during the school year.  This allowed Bob to continue his part-time railroad work as a freight clerk and track worker.

After graduation, Bob was called to active duty from the active reserves.  Always athletic, he played first base on a military fast-pitch softball team at Fort Dix, NJ.  His teammates included Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and Charley Neal, of the then Brooklyn Dodgers, along with Roosevelt Grier of the New York football Giants.

Bob and Janet were married in 1956 and a few years later Bob began a 33-year teaching career
at Shelburne (VT), later Champlain Valley Union High School, earning the position of Department Chairman.

Bob started working as a freight brakeman and conductor on the Vermont Railway in 1967, often teaching by day and railroading at night.  He worked every job and soon became qualified to operate over the entire system.  In a normal year he worked as brakeman, conductor and engineer for 100 - 115 trips.  Bob said, "I always carried my railroad bag and work clothes in the car."

He retired from railroading in 1999 with 41 years' service, having worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway in Vermont, the Vermont Railway and the Clarendon and Pittsford (Burlington, Rutland and Bennington to Whitehall and Hoosick Jct., NY), the Green Mountain Railroad out of Bellows Falls and the New England Central out of St. Albans.  Bob says, "there aren't too many miles of track in the state of Vermont that I haven't worked on."  During the summer of 1976 Bob worked as the Vermont Railway's pilot engineer on Vermont's Bi-Centennial Steam Train - "a great experience" he vividly recalls.

One of Bob's most satisfying railroad experiences was working a few years on the New England Central with his son Marc.  "I guess quite a bit of my love for railroading rubbed off on the boys".  Son Jim produces railroad DVDs under the name of Tell Tale Productions.  Check out Vermont Rail System; A Railroad Renaissance.
Unfortunately a third son, Steve, died in a boating accident on Lake Champlain just before entering his senior year of high school.

Janet was also bitten by the railroad bug.  She worked in a tourist passenger service on both the Vermont Railway and the Green Mountain Railroad for nine years.  If you can't lick 'em, you may as well join 'em, was her thinking.

Bob and Janet's cozy home is filled with books and DVDs about trains, beautiful paintings and models of trains.  Bob has researched written and published a total of 24 large hardcover books, many by Evergreen Press a company Bob founded in 1998.  He's also written many magazine articles for national railroad publications.

Railroads have been a rewarding life-long passion for Bob, a connection to his roots and a legacy to share with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He is very optimistic about the future of both freight and passenger service in this country.

Bob's not one to sit idly while the world goes by.  He has a part time job at a supermarket, is involved in church and family activities, works out daily at a health club and generally "keeps his ear to the rails."

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