I got to know Doug Riddell just like many of you did, through his monthly column in the pages of Pacific Rail News and subsequently Rail News. A locomotive engineer most of his adult life (and before that a radio disc jockey), Doug’s true calling is storytelling. Doug can spin more railroad stories than Santa Claus has Christmas presents. I once asked two Washington, D.C., based Amtrak engineers whether they knew Doug Riddell. Both nodded yes. Does he ever stop talking, I inquired? Both shook their heads. That’s Doug, who loves railroading and loves people. Combine those attributes with a God-given gift as a writer and a heart as big as Virginia, and you have an extraordinary person.
Doug’s railroad life began on May 23, 1977, when he marked up as a switchman for Seaboard Coast Line in Richmond, Va. “Oh God, Rosie,” said one of the SCL oldtimers when Doug showed up the first day with a camera, “they’re hired one of those damn buffs.” Replied Rosie: “You think his crew will get anything done today, or will they just pose for pictures?” Yessir, Doug Riddell (pronounced Rid-DELL) can tell a story, particular one that pokes fun at himself. What you just read is a snippet from his book, From The Cab: Stories From a Locomotive Engineer, published in 1999 by Pentrex Media Group.
Doug became an SCL engineer. In 1986 he migrated to Amtrak and ever since has jockeyed trains south of the national capitol. His assignment until December 17 is to run the northbound Silver Meteor from Richmond to Washington before dawn, and that afternoon’s Silver Star back to Richmond.
And after December 17? That is what prompts this note. At age 63, he’s retiring. As he wrote to friends last night: “The last sentence in my book reads, ‘There’s no place I’d rather be.’ Well, yes and no. When you love your job, it’s never work. But at some point, there’s life beyond your chosen vocation.” He wants to resume writing about and photographing railroads. He and wife Sandy live near Ashland, a pretty town just north of Richmond. “Between the Buckingham Branch’s operations and CSX’s main line, we hear trains passing constantly, so I’ll always be reminded of the wonderful career I’ve enjoyed, the great friends I’ve had, and people I’ve worked with.” And to keep up with goings on at Amtrak, he has his son Ryan, age 28, also an Amtrak engineer.
Going to retire and write about railroads. Gosh, that has a familiar ring. Doug, your fun is only starting. — Fred W. Frailey