Joseph (Joe) Henry Witten: Conducting Family Legacies…On The Rails!

Legacies…On The Rails Volume 17-011

Welcome back to another 2017 Blog Edition Of Legacies…On The Rails! Today, I have another awesome family story to share and want to thank my new friend Lee Witten that I just connected with via You Tube this week, for graciously allowing us to share in his Father’s Legacies…On The Rails and for his expedient response to my inquiry as I send out nearly daily invites via Facebook, Linked-In, You-Tube, Twitter and more and sadly only a few respond here and there, but I figure those that the Lord wants to have the stories shared of, he will prompt the right folks to respond, so I’m ok with that.

So, I won’t waste any more time but let me introduce you to Joseph (Joe) Henry Witten:

Witten

Joseph (Joe) Henry Witten, was a Union Pacific Railroad Employee for 30 years. He was born in Ogden, Utah, June 5, 1914 and became a Union Pacific Brakeman on the Wyoming Division, 8th subdivision on August 14, 1936. He made Conductor on November 10, 1943. He was 19th in seniority at the time of his death October 15, 1974.

I had inherited his final Freight Conductors Train Book covering the 6 month period of April 17 to October 14, 1974.

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Seeing that it contained specific data for each trip, I decided to do an interpretation of these last 6 months by transcribing the information into a computer data base and augmenting with what supplemental material that related to this time period as a snapshot of his career on the railroad. I have endeavored to find as many photographs of the cabooses he worked on as well as the head end power on each trip.

The locomotive and caboose numbers were critical in identifying the type of locomotives and cabooses on each trip. By researching books, railroad museum archives and the internet, I was able to find many of them though not all. However, there is enough representatives to give a good idea of their physical appearance.

A copy of this material has been donated to the Utah State Railroad Museum archives so that future generations can have a record of the work of a railroad trainman during the era just prior to the end of the use of cabooses on major railroads.

In 1945 a Union Pacific photo journalist did a story about a day in the life of an engineer named E. H. Cook. Dad happened to be part of the story as Cooks Conductor. Two photos included dad as seen here giving engineer Cook his orders in front of Big Boy #4020 and with his brakeman on the caboose leaving the Riverdale Yard for Green River, Wyoming.

BigBoy

After my fathers death, my mother passed on to me his final Conductors log book, one of the few pieces of memorabilia that she had. I was given his last railroad pocket watch as well.

I didnt understand some of the data such as the codes for the train types, but other railroaders at the museum including a fellow who actually worked with dad, filled me in. One thing led to another and I began to create a computer database of the information in his log book.

From the caboose and locomotive numbers I searched through our library and the internet trying to find photos to include in my computer transcriptions. Then I found ARCHES, an organization devoted just to cabooses! I quickly joined up and received the Captive Cabeese publication. What a great resource to help me locate any still existing cabeesethat dad had worked on during those last 6 months of his life. Then Don Strack came out with his book on The Union Pacific Caboose and I gleaned more information including a few photos.

In the summer of 2003 I was able to visit 3 of dads former cabooses. I visited two places in the Midwest that were identified as having a caboose with my dads numbers. The first was in Falls City Nebraska. Ive never been there before so I stopped at the town hall and found a local Policeman in the hallway who told me he thought the caboose I was looking for was down by the old UP Depot on the edge of town.

I followed his directions and there it was, UP #25241 sitting on a section of display track coupled to an old flat car and box car next to the depot. The windows were boarded up, paint was peeling, rust was building up but it was still intact. Dad worked on this caboose June 18, 1974 on an east bound trip to Greenriver, 61 car Los Angeles Extra (LAX) train pulled by two UP Centennials, 6927 and 6909 with an EMD DD35B unit.

The disappointment of that experience was soon changed to elation when I reached Abilene, Kansas and found UP #25466 still in operation on the Abilene And Smokey Valley Railroad, a little tourist line that runs out of Abiliene about 10 miles.

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I arrived at 10 minutes to 3 and went into their little ticket/gift office in a converted box car and introduced myself. What makes this caboose extra special is that it was the last one that dad rode, October 14, 1974 and he died October 15. The train was a 63 car Los Angeles Forwarded (LAF) westbound Greenriver to Salt Lake. Head end power were two SD40s, a DD35B unit and a GP30. At Curvo they had an air hose break between cars #31 and 32 at 3:45 a.m.and were back up running at 4:10 a.m.

I showed the crew the binder with all the information Ive been compiling and the last entry with UP #25466. They seemed very pleased about this bit of history of their caboose and I was given a ride on it for their 3 p.m. run.

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The emotion of being in that caboose overwhelmed me for awhile. I had a few private moments inside to collect myself then enjoyed the ride sitting up in the cupola with the conductor and trading stories. He was a retired school teacher so we had even more in common to chat about. On the way back they let me ride in the cab of their Alco S1 locomotive.

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Finally on June 28, 2004 my mother and I drove the 200 plus miles from Ogden to the West Central Utah town of Lynndyl where I believed we would find UP #25280. Lynndyl is a little railroad town on Union Pacifics Los Angeles Line. We had no trouble finding the town park where UP #25280 sat next to a children’s playground.

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Dad rode UP #25280 on June 5, 1974, Salt Lake City to Greenriver. The train was an ore drag with 102 cars. There were 5 SD40s on the head end.

We took some photos and found that the door had been broken open so went inside and looked around. There was some grafitti here and there but it was in pretty good shape. im worried that its not being well taken care of and just eroding away.

Here is a narrative that can be derived from the information on the log sheet to the left.

June 1, 1974, Eastbound

lad

Joe reported for work at 3:50 a.m at the Salt Lake City Office. Picked up train LAD 31, Los Angeles to Denver. Left the station at 6:20 a.m.. Engineer was F. Hicks, Head Brakeman Regnier and Rear Brakeman, Stamey. There was no Fireman. Lead locomotive was a DDA40X #6930 Centennial. There was one second unit, Centennial #6938.

The train had 21 loaded and 35 empty cars for a total tonnage of 2830. In North Salt Lake they picked up 17 cattle cars at 952 tons at 6:25 a.m. In Ogden they picked up 18 loaded, 20 empty cars for 2247 tons between 7:20 and 9:35 a.m. At Mile Post 888 there was an air hose problem on the 49th head car RBCS 2666 X box car for Golden, Colorado. Time to repair air hose from 12:45 to 1:15 P.M. Arrived Green River at 2:35 p.m. with 55 loaded and 53 empties with total
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I sincerely hope you have enjoyed this trip back in time with Lee Witten‘s Dad Union Pacific Conductor Joseph (Joe) Henry Witten as much as I enjoyed being honored with the humble privilege of receiving it from Lee and sharing it with you!
Got a story of your own, or one of a loved one like this that you would like shared here on Legacies…On The Rails? Email me at legaciesontherails@gmail.com and I’ll be sure to share it with all the rest of your railroad family around the world!
Today’s Railroad Equipment Profile goes to this New York Central Railroad Swift Stream car that I recently caught at the Kansas City Union Station. As you know, the New York Central Railroad is one of the most recognized and iconic railroads in history, usually in direct competition with the Pennsylvania Railroad. This post World War II model is one of an 11 car order that he NYC got from The Budd Company in 1949. But instead of indulging in too much info myself, I am going to invite you to visit this fellow WordPress Rail Blogger‘s page which at this time appears to be the most definitive source of information out there on these fabulous cars. http://nycswiftstream.com/ .
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For today’s Railroad Old Time Radio Feature, instead of just a solo episode, I am choosing to invite you to visit the page the features all 26 Episodes of 1930’s broadcasts of The Green Valley Line. https://archive.org/details/GreenValleyLine . I’m having trouble getting You Tube Videos to post correctly, so going to forego our ending theme song and a You Tube Video the Green Valley Line I wanted to share.
But want to remind you that the most important pursuit in your life each day should be staying faithful to a walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. I finished the book of John yesterday for 2017 (reading New Testament books in reverse order) and started Luke today so I’m right in the thick of the story of John The Baptist‘s ministry, Christ‘s birth and the start of His ministry. I try to read through scripture cover to cover or find devotionals to go through for half the year, then start reading as many scripture books as the rest of the year allows and it never gets old. There will always be something new for you to learn and grow from no matter how many times in your life you read it on your own, or in church, group Bible studies, etc.
I have a weekend all to myself this week and plan to do lots of rail-fanning in it and look forward to sharing what happens in our next visit!
Well, this Sunday is the 1st of the three yearly times that the Mid America Train & Toy Show comes to the KCI Expo Center here in Kansas City, and I’ll be there, looking for good buys, covering it for the blog, recording some podcast material, and hopefully seeing some of you. Here is the link: http://www.midamericatrainandtoyshow.com/
As always, this is John Losh, “The Losh-Man“, “Mr Legacies…On The Rails” saying may God bless and keep you and those you love until next time, and if I don’t see you here, if I don’t see you there, I hope one day I’ll see you In The Air!
rs_railwaycrossing
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