A Good Story

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Fritz-Rumer-Cooke Railroad Stories

By Ben Swope

        Being a 30-plus year employee of Fritz-Rumer-Cooke Co., I’ve witnessed events or heard stories of FRC crews in interesting situations. Like most railroaders, I can usually recite a good story. Here’s a few that may entertain you.

Who's In-Charge!

        The company once had a job for a Columbus area Catholic hospital, repairing the railroad spur leading to the hospital power house. One of the three company owners (I’ve been told not to say who) was known for being a no nonsense business man. On arriving one morning to check on the crew from the bluff overlooking the track close behind the hospital, this company official exited the car and started cursing at the crew in a loud manner.
        Apparently he was loud enough to be overheard by one of the Nuns working as a nurse. She promptly came out to confront the official on his use of language and that he could be heard within the building. Turns out he was embarrassed to be reprimanded by the Nun in front of the crew, and the following day inspected the crew by only looking through the closed car’s window. Could it be the rough and tough railroader had been afraid of a diminutive Nun?


        During World War II the company had a project to replace crossties in one of the Columbus area’s rail yards, working on the downgrade slope off the hump, where railcars were constantly free-rolling into the various tracks for classification.
        During the war, rail traffic simply couldn’t stop for the menial task of replacing crossties, and the crew with picks and shovels was forced to work under these dangerous conditions. To make the work somewhat safer, a lookout with a whistle and flag was stationed to alert the crew several seconds before a car came rolling on the track where the crew was working. Of course, modern FRA and railroad work rules forbid this type of work in hump yards now.
        Prior to the day’s activities, a company official would show up to direct the crew’s tasks and remind them of the dangers of this work. The official would take the lookout aside and point to one of the crewmembers, stating something to the effect, “See John over there? Today is John’s only son’s birthday. If you’re not diligent in your job as the lookout, it would be quite sad to tell his boy his daddy isn’t coming home today or ever”.
        With this encouragement, the entire project was done without major incidents.

Cold Welding

        Another favorite FRC story is sometime in the 1970’s, the company had a job at Jeffery Manufacturing to weld the battered rail ends high atop the outside overhead crane rails.
        To get to the work, the company welder had to shinny up the overhead crane rail support structure to reach the narrow beams the crane rails sat on, then walk the narrow perch out to the point where the bad rail ends were located. This was long before OSHA, and any mandated fall protection rules. One day the weather was bitterly cold, and a stiff wind was blowing. In the task of arc welding, the welder doesn’t move around much, surly not enough to keep the blood flowing and stay warm in these conditions.
        After working for just a short time, the welder had enough of the foul weather and dropped his welding leads to the ground and climbed down. When asked what was wrong and why he quit so early, he stated the strong wind kept blowing out the arc!


        In my company office is an old naphtha gas heated branding iron (operating similar to a Coleman stove), with an “F.R.C.Co.” branding impression. It is thought this iron was used to brand wood timbers, such as the type used in false work of stone or concrete railroad bridge construction. Obviously, branding the costly timbers proves who owns it.
        As we hire new employees and, I’ll occasionally show a young impressionable new guy the iron and tell them fortunately for them the law forbids the company from actually branding their employees any more. I then start to unbuckle my pants to show my “branded” backside, but instead I’m usually met with cries to, “Stop!”