“When I was in college, I had the opportunity to hire on with Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor. I figured it was good pay and decent work while finishing school. On my very first day, after a round trip to North Philadelphia, the members of my crew took me to a bench outside of Penn Station, sat me down, and Jackie, who was a 30 year veteran of the Pennsy told me “Steve…..if you have any other job offers, you need to take it. The railroad you see is like a virus. Once in your blood, it will always be there and no matter what you do, the railroad will always suck you back”.
Well the lure of the High Tech industry, computers and networking eventually shook me loose of the railroad and into another world. Flash forward many years and now living here in Austin, one Saturday in June of 2000, my boss calls and says he and his wife are looking to take a ride, would I like to come and did I have any ideas of where to go. Hmmm I said, I see this ad for some train show in Burnet. So off we went, that dormant virus still lurking inside me. We rode the Bertram Local, and during the lay over in Bertram starting talking to some of the volunteers on the platform. Then it hit, I don’t recall any rash, but the fever was there and all those memories of working the railroad came rushing back. The next week I was at the ASTA volunteer meeting and signing up to work. That was 15 years ago and I’ve been here ever since.
I guess as engineer I should say that my favorite part of volunteering is that I get to blow the whistle and ring the bell -true, but not the only reason. ASTA and the railroad allows me to forget about my 9 to 5 grind during the week. I use a whole other set of brain cells (that by now would have turned into silly putty) whether running the train, working as Brakeman, or any of the other myriad of tasks we do to keep the line running. As I am fond to say, ” a bad day on the railroad is better than a good day at the office. ” I also enjoy talking it up with the passengers, showing children and children wannabes around the locomotive and answering questions about the history of the line and the hill country we roll through . I also find that volunteering works better than a bowl of Chicken Soup to keep that railroad virus at bay.
If you ask me why someone should volunteer for ASTA, I would say the reasons are varied. For me, it is the chance to work with a group of professionals who operate a first class railroad. Anybody looking to get into the railroad profession need not look any further than ASTA. The experience gained while working here is better and more varied that you could receive at any of the so called railroad academies and the chances of hiring on with either a class 1 or shortline are greatly improved. For non operations volunteers, volunteering gives you the chance to meet people from all over the world, engage in interesting conversations and enjoy Hill Country views all at the same time. People looking to learn new skills such as restoration, carpentry, welding and the like also can find excellent opportunities here at ASTA and take pride in knowing that they are a part of an organization that is unique in what we accomplish week after week – running a railroad in Central Texas.” ~ Steve Barry