Life is a Journey

Believe it or not it is now September 2021, and that means it is time for another Al’s Corner note.

Our Fall Golf outing will be at Forest Park again October 21, which is ALWAYS one of my fav’s.  One of my funniest memories from the last time we were there, like 10 years ago, was the STRONG margarita cart we provided.  Raquel (she is the best!), took the cart and disappeared onto the wrong 9 holes (did I say the Margaritas were strong?) and served the other non-Transportation Club players drinks! Fun! Miss her.  Will have more info next month.

Industry News—ports still congested and backed up, equipment shortages continue, chassis are very tight in supply slowing Intermodal pickups and deliveries, and prices are at the highest ever to move OTR freight.  Prediction?  Middle of the next year, I think at best, things may settle down, some.  Covid, shutting down ports again, what does it mean?  Shortages in some items to be expected, and in some ways, has already started.  Please don’t hoard again, that only makes it worse overall.  Covid numbers growing again, and worker shortages continue to be a big problem.  Perhaps the large numbers of refuges coming in now from the middle east will help with this?  Now add in Ida, a terrible hurricane, flooding on the East Coast, and the plot just thickened.  This WILL make trucking equipment even tighter and will cause consumer prices to rise.

This Month’s TopicLife is a Journey

Since I have been writing this note for over 12 years, I have tried to share some small bits and stories from mostly my work life.  At times I have felt like it was a “time capsule” in some ways of St. Louis area current affairs. I have kept this rant nonpolitical, more topical of events, mixed in some industry news, and offered a personal look at things. Below is a story from my past that I hope you find interesting.

40-Year-Old Story—My first job in the transportation industry—As I graduated from Belleville East my dad had a severe heart attack and at 52 would never work again.  My dad was a National Teachers Union Rep and was one of the top reps in the nation.  We were kind of wealthy before his illness. His job was to recruit members to the teacher’s union but his passion was that he also loved, helped, and tried to protect teachers as well. He was a big, strong, cigar smoking, yet totally non-drinking Christian man. He had a big personality. The first year after the attack was basically the same for our family financially, we were doing ok.  The second year we became kind of poor. Since we were now not doing very good, I could get poverty type of college grants. Because of this I could go to many colleges for free.  The University of Illinois was offering me a walk-on type of status to play as a reserve on the basketball team with full financial aid (practice dummy, practice but never play, kind of like Rudy the movie and yes, I did think I would have made it onto the court!).  After 1 year of Juco (to stay close to home) I went to Blackburn College, again, to stay close as my dad was not supposed to live 5 years.  He lived to 84.   A big problem at the time was my mom and dad really couldn’t help me with very much with spending money.  Blackburn was a “work school” as the kids did everything there from cooking to cleaning, everything.  You got a work grade, so having a part time job was not feasible. My job was doing dishes at 7 am every morning for 2 hours (yuck), then pots and pans cleaning 2 afternoons as well for a total of 14 hours per week.  The second semester I got a better job of “floor Janitor.”  One part I liked about the second semester cleaning gig was buffing all the dorm’s halls, including both the women and men’s dorm halls.  It was easy and way better than doing the dishes plus I charged $1 to shine the personal rooms too.  I made 50 dollars a month doing that!!!

Moving on–after my second year of college, I took a job with the Cotton Belt Railroad as a laborer.  I also enrolled at SIUE full time.  Quickly, I was making pretty good money, so I quit college.  I couldn’t do both, though some people have over the years.  On the railroad I remember a Foreman asking me, “kid want to make time and a half, or even double time in a half, or go to your class?”  I could make between $200, and $400 for an extra 8 hours, so I took the money.  I remember as a Laborer one of my jobs was sorting rocks to throw and then cover the holes on the paths between the rail tracks (boring and depressing).  Guys there laughed at me every day when I sorted rocks.  Kind of like the rocks could not be too big or small, but just right!!! Another part of the job was shoveling sand into the nose of an engine (sand is the friction that gave the train traction). I quickly moved up to Carman in year 2, then part-time Lead Carman (Box Car Repairman).  Funny, I got the Lead Carman job because I had some college, and most didn’t want to do the paperwork, or it stopped them from taking a 4-hour nap when it was slow.  They called me “college whiz kid!!” The job hours were mostly 11pm-7am Wed-Sunday, terrible.  During the 3 years I was making a lot of money, but was working in a tough, industrial part of East St. Louis, IL.  It was dark, and could be scary with wild packs of dogs, transients, and even people occasionally shooting at your 3 wheeled Inspection Scooter or when you were in the Caboose.  I remember thinking to myself on cold, or rainy, and dreary nights “what happened to all the crowds, roars, and making jump shots, fun?”  Now I was cleaning toilets, making repairs, and nearly getting killed by passing rail yard Switch Engines driving 30 mph with only a little yellow light on the front in -40 below temps.   Or having silent boxcars rolling slowly down a track unattached to anything, just rolling, then banging and coupling into a waiting other boxcar sitting down a track.  LOUD like thunder!  The main positive from this was I learned a lot and saved $25,000 and, in the end, help me start my first of several businesses.  This was the beginning of my journey in transportation. 

So that is it for another Al’s Corner note.  Have a great month, AL


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