The Last Engineer
followed, I realized that one of my most cherished memories is of working with my father in the late 1950s on the now-defunct University of Michigan Railroad.
It was a responsibility we both took seriously. For my part, I had to brave cold, snowy weather to walk to my post and wait patiently for my turn to climb up into the cab of his locomotive. Once aboard, I would greet my dad and then give a tentative nod to the quiet man who doubled as flagman and switchman. As a four-year-old, mine was not a paid position, but my role was critical to making the workday more fun for these grown-ups. As soon as my dad lifted me up onto the well-worn leather engineer's seat and gave me permission to pull the throttle that made the massive engine lurch forward down the tracks, broad smiles broke out on our faces, and the three of us knew it would be a great run.
I think my dad and I both regretted that this railroad assignment was only a part-time gig. In the summer months, he was a general laborer for the masons in the university's Plant Operations. He would don his engineer's cap each fall when the heating season returned and even then only ran the train as needed. My own time on the railroad was limited to those preschool years when my older siblings were in elementary school and my mother had gone back into the workforce. My primary assignment was to spend my days with my Grandma Hakala, helping her take care of the aphasia patients who stayed in her large rooming house on the south side of East Huron St. near Glen Ave.