Good blood, bad blood (Day 6)

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Friday, July 17, 2009

I invited myself into Thomas S. Carter's life 31 years ago, on my first assignment for Trains. David Morgan titled that September 1979 story "President Carter (Tom, That Is) Puts a Railroad Back Together." Cute, eh? Tom was in his sixth of 13 years running the Kansas City Southern Railway, but before that he had led a fascinating railroad life. With an engineering degree from Southern Methodist, he joined the Katy Railroad after World War II as an assistant bridge engineer, and by age 33 was Katy's chief engineer and later its VP-operations. Readers of Trains may recall Tom as the author of "Harry and Me & the Kay See" (April 2003), about his trip with former President Truman aboard a business car.

Now 88 years young, Tom lives beside a golf course in Hideaway, Texas, north of Tyler. We've stayed in touch, and I went to visit him as I made my way across East Texas on Day 6. Tom reminds me a lot of Truman, in that he speaks his mind. For instance, among the railroaders he admires most is William Deramus III, who he met in 1957 when Deramus came to rescue the Katy from a drought-induced financial crisis. Deramus gave the Katy a lot of tough love, and to this day his name is mud among most Katy fans. Carter sees Deramus as Katy's savior, and came to his former boss's defense in a second Trains story, "Iron Bill's Midnight Move" (November 2003).

As we reminisced in Tom's living room, I threw out another name: John W. Barriger III. Barriger became Katy's president in 1964. To the degree that Bill Deramus is disliked by fans, Barriger is worshiped. To that, Tom Carter would say, try working for the man.

Good chemistry between Carter (then VP-Ops) and Barriger never existed. Carter considered his boss marginally qualified, at best. I didn't hear the word "blowhard" come out of Tom's mouth, but that's the essence of his opinion of JWB. The breaking point came when Barriger told people he would sue Deramus (who left the Katy to succeed his dad as president of KCS) for mismanagement. Tom said he went to Barriger's office ("just before he was going to fire me") and said, "To win that suit, you'll need my testimony. And you'll never get it." With that, Carter quit and went to work for a construction company in Fort Smith, Ark. But before he could move his family from Dallas, Deramus persuaded him to come into the Kansas City Southern fold.

     I didn't have the nerve to tell Tom that I'm a trustee of the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, located in St. Louis.

     It's only fitting that within a couple of hours of saying goodbye to Carter, I was beside the KCS main line, headed north from Texarkana along the Texas-Arkansas border. The Console 2 dispatcher talked up a storm with three trains as he orchestrated some locomotive swaps. At the hamlet of Winthrop, Ark., I came upon two of those trains, coal hauler CKCTU going south and manifest train HSHKC heading north. As I parked at the north end of the siding, I could see both sets of power detached from the trains and hear the conductor of one train on the radio: "There's a car at the crossing. I'll stop when we back up and give the driver directions."

     I had to smile at that. True to his word, Rocco Bellucci stopped his locomotives at the crossing. We introduced ourselves, and I asked what was going on. The loaded coal train, Rocco said, had just given his northbound manifest its third locomotive to take back to Pittsburg, Kan. Now both sets of power were rejoining their trains. After CKCTU got past, MSHKC would go to the next siding, at Wade, Ark., to meet another southbound coal train and pick up five additional locomotives from the pocket track. Once to Wade, the horsepower requirements of southbound KCS trains fall sharply. Then it's imperative to get unneeded locomotives back to Pittsburg quickly for another run at the mountains.

     Rocco was sweating like a garden hose in the moist, late-afternoon heat. I think he was relieved, as MSHKC approached Wade, to hear the dispatcher say, "Scratch that pickup of locomotives." I got my last look at Rocco's train as MSHKC charged through DeQueen, Ark. (see above).

Fred W. Frailey


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