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Working the section in the late 60's


When I graduated from High School in 1965, the first job I had was laying sod. I came home covered with mud, and dog tired, working for $1.25/hr. My father (D.M. Tolstead, Roadmaster in Rochester) asked me why I would work so hard for so little. So, I made a trip to LeRoy, MN and was checked out by the company doctor, and reported to work on the Stewartville, MN section gang. You were supposed to be 18 years old to work on the railroad at that time, so this was the first year I was 18!

During that summer, we went back and forth up and down the line, tamping here, adding a few ties there, tightening joints, fixing crossings, and the like. One day we went to Simpson, MN and unloaded a gondola of greasy black crossties, what a dirty job. Early on one day, I was trying to remove a rotten crosstie, and the tongs I was using broke loose and I rolled head over teakettle down the bank to the great amusement of the regular gang.

I recall one day when the temperature was 105 degrees in the shade, when we were changing out a rail in a cut down on the Iron mine spur from Ostrander to near Cherry Grove. We worked on that project all day, not a bit of shade in sight, not a breath of wind. My father had an extra gang replacing cross ties further up toward Ostrander, several of the men drank too much ice water and suffered heat exhaustion. When fall came, I left the section gang and attended my first year at Austion Area Vocational Technical School.


After my first year of techinical school, I was again hired to work on the section, this time in Rochester. This was the second year I was 18! A high school friend of mine by the name of Edward Kuhlman was also hired. Once again I spent the summer going back and forth up and down the line, tamping here, adding a few ties here, tightening joints, fixing crossings, and the like. The Rochester gang operated out of a small tool house in the back of the roundouse. One man called Woody was spending his evenings learning heating and air conditioning.

Arnold Goretski was the forman as I recall. When Arnold went on vacation, the senior man was left in charge, he thought he was quite clever, even though he was illiterate. This led to my father leaving a note on the toolhouse door for him. He handed the note to Woody and said, "what do you think?", Woody handed to Ed, who said "Hummm.." and handed it to me. While I was very seriously reviewing the note, he grabbed it and stormed off to the roundhouse, where I suppose the roundhouse forman read it for him.

One of the more notable trips on the line that summer was our trip to Pine Island. We went up with a motor car to determine what was needed to allow a switch engine to go up and retrieve some cars that were in Pine Island. At one point we found one tree about 2 inches in diameter that was growing in the center of the track, evidently no one had been this way for some time. We went along putting in a tie here and there to try to hold guage, at one time the motor car caused the track to spread. That afternoon we returned to Rochester.

Later on I found out that dad had hired a few lo-boy trailers and a rubber tired crane to go get the cars, so I guess I was on the last run to Pine Island. The last thing I recall doing for the railroad was to drive a tilt bed truck they had to move some materials around, the engine was a little six cylinder, so it was quite slow. Of all the things I did during my two summers on the rails, I thing the most enjoyable was riding the motor car, while enjoying the beautiful summer weather.

When I graduated from techinical school in 1967, I could have had a job with the Sperry rail testing service, but my father convinced me that electronics had a better future. In 1968, the CGW came to it's end.

HomeCopyright 1998,99 Tom Tolstead
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