Fred Frailey Blog

Doug Riddell's new gig

  • Comments 10

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 *** 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

  • And Trains Contributor, published photographer, and PC/CR/NS locomotive engineer retires at the end of December too. This must be the year.

  • That would be Don Jilson. Oh, and also NRHS "wheel".

  • As you say Fred, a charming and lovable motor-mouth!

  • I've known Doug for nearly 15 years and I look forward to his further writing and poking fun, mostly at  himself.

  • Cue the 'Twilight Zone' theme, Fred...I was thinking about, "Whatever happened to Doug Riddell?" Thanks for answering that question. I've been a fan since the Pacific Rail News/Rail News era of Doug's career.

    He was a 'great read' and if all goes well...he will be again. This is truly great news about a great writer/story teller.

    Best wishes to him and his family as he enters a new phase of life.

    Of course, my other favorite writer is Fred Frailey. Keep up the fandamntastic 'story telling', yourself, Fred.


    Tom Moran

    A retired 'radio guy' like Mr. Riddell. Or, is Doug still 'doing' radio?

  • Best wishes to Doug in retirement. I've been reading his tales since he started writing them, I believe, in Passenger Train Journal years ago, and always enjoyed his somewhat sardonic take on life in general, and life on the railroad. He's a great writer and story teller.

    Side note to K4-Don Jilson is a pretty good guy too. I used to run into him sporadically when I lived near Binghamton NY. Always a pleasant conversation, and he also had some pretty good stories. For a while, he had a Monte Carlo with the license plate "AMTRAK", which made him easy to spot out on NY 17.

  • Congratulations Doug!

    I was a subscriber to PTJ when it was owned by Pentrex.

    When Doug's book came out "From The Cab:Stories From A Locomotive Engineer" I'm sure I was one of the first people to buy it!

    I have read over and over and laughed my ASS OFF! ( sorry about the language) and cried to.

    Please Doug get writing the next book and I will one of the first ones to buy it!!!

    Can some one  keep us informed about this?

    Congratulations Doug on your up coming retirement and God Bless your wife and son Ryan,Keep on Amtraking !! :):)

  • I loved Doug's Stories, Seen a lot of the same things myself.

    MD Sawyer-BNSF Railway

  • I love his book FROM THE CAB and greatly appreciated his including my letter in one of his columns detailing a trip I had in the middle of WWII, age 12 or 13, from NY to Wilson, NC, and return, and my long-lasting friendship with Jim Masters, ACL then SCL dining-car Steward.  He always has my very best and warmest wishes.

  • Many thanks Doug for all the excellent stories while on the job. You made us feel as though we were the ones enjoying the Work. Wes Mason

Doug Riddell's new gig