- Flattened coins.
The first job I had on the railroad was a ‘Laborer’ position. This was the entry level position for unskilled labor at the road. Basically this was a non-technical job, and I spent the bulk of my time pushing a broom in the engine house. The other main task of a laborer was to assist in servicing the engines passing through the facility. While the machinists and electricians were busy checking the oil, changing the brake shoes, replacing light bulbs, and the rest, I was filling the fuel tanks, filling the sand boxes, washing the windows, cleaning the cab of trash, and making sure the cabs were stocked with bottled water and crew packs. ( Crew packs were little packs containing a few napkins, small roll of toilet paper, trash bag, plastic silverware, salt and pepper packet, and a wet nap. Some of the bigger railroads had deluxe crew packs, which had hot sauce, mayo, ear plugs,and other assorted items. ) When all that was complete, we may make a move to the cleanout hose to drain and service the toilets. Just like a RV, we would attach the sewer hose, and pull the valve on the shitter. Rinse, clean, and refill with water and a packet of blue.
The other role the laborer had, if he was out with the hostler at the time, was directing the engine moves to and from the shop, i.e. throwing switches (“You drive, I’ll steer”.) and derails, opening bay doors, and letting the hostler know when to start and stop.
On one trip from the service pit back to the house (ostensibly for light maintenance that wasn’t possible at the service pit, but really because none of us wanted to walk back to the house for lunch), the hostler decided he wanted some flattened coins for his kids. As we pulled up to the overhead door, he set the brakes on the locomotive, and I went to work raising the door, opening the derail, and clearing the way for coming in to the pits. The hostler then placed a series of coins on the rails over the pit: quarter, dime, nickle, and penny. He then climbed back in the cab, and we rolled into the house over the pit. As he shut the engine down, and set the handbrake, one of the machinists ran into the pit and scooped up the flattened coins, and replaced them with a new set of coins: quarter, dime, nickel, penny.
The hostler than climbed down to retrieve his coins, and stopped short when he saw them all still intact. He stood there for a moment, and finally said, “Huh. I must have missed them…….”. He honestly thought he had somehow missed all the coins with all 4 sets of axles! We then all had a good laugh at his expense, and the machinist gave him his set of flattened coins.