Tales of a baby brakie

Posted by Kathi Kube
on Thursday, September 17, 2009

A couple of months ago, I took — and passed, thank you very much — my rules exam at the Illinois Railway Museum. That's right, I'm now a baby brakeman learning as much as I can about railroading operations with the goal of marking up to conductor and, eventually, engineer. The path here has been logical, at least for me.

As an introduction, let me address two questions I'm asked more often than some people wash their cars: Do I really like trains, and how did I get involved in this hobby? Yes, I do really like trains. I have a very close group of friends with whom I chase and photograph trains, attend slideshows, and generally hang out. 

How did I get involved? Accidental destiny. I graduated college in 1999 and was looking for a job. A trade magazine about railroading was looking for an assistant editor, and actually hired me even though I knew next to nothing about railroading. A couple of years into that job, I realized I was getting increasingly interested in railroading. I watched Trains' Web site for a year until there was an opening and jumped at it. In some ways, it seemed almost an accident to be hired by my first magazine; in other ways, it seems I was destined to reach this path in life eventually. In my time at Trains (7 years in December!) my interest in and appreciation for railroading has grown exponentially to the point where nearly all my friends are railfans or railroaders.

Still, for a long time I've wanted to know more and better understand railroading from the inside. It's not too likely at this point in my life that I'm going to run away and join the railroad — although I sure have thought about it — so I considered another very worthwhile option: joining and becoming active at a railroad museum. I have quite a few friends at the Illinois Railway Museum, so it seemed logical to start volunteering there. One of my very favorite days was earlier this summer when I helped change the oil and fuel filters on CB&Q E9 9976. It was awesome!

Then in July came the rules exam, and that brings us up to today.

This weekend IRM is hosting its Showcase Weekend, where we'll bring out some equipment that doesn't get to run as often. It's a fabulous time and I encourage everyone to come. I'll be there, maybe learning how to be a car host, maybe training on switching. As a baby brakie, my primary responsibility is to keep my eyes and ears open, and learn as much as I can.

As I progress in my development as a museum volunteer and brakeman, I'll keep you posted right here. I'll definitely pop in next week and let you know how Showcase Weekend goes. Better yet, stop by yourself. It's going to be a great time! And seriously consider getting involved at your local railroad museum. These wonderful places are dedicated to preserving railroad heritage for the next generation and rely very heavily on volunteers like you and me.  

I hope to see you there! 

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