By Donald Benham
On the first of December in 1979 I hung up my railroad spurs and retired. I felt I was all through with railroading but you can’t take the railroad out of a man who had worked 38 ears railroading. I was very happy in my work but the government and the railroad had agreed that an employee could retire at 60. When I evaluated all of my options I realized that between my wife and I, we would receive an income equal to working an eight-hour per day job. By moving to Florida I did not have to pay federal, state, county or city income tax. The result of my check was that it was “all” mine. Besides, my Florida home was just one block from the railroad and there were two road crossings close so I heard the whistles for the crossing which would give me a little happy jolt. I did get blocked quite a number of times by the trains going north or south. I could keep track of the equipment, the cars and engines, as I watched them go by. Along with the changes in the equipment, a good many of the cars were container cars and quite often there were two containers one on top of the other. As I had been stopped by these trains going either direction I was hoping that the top container didn’t fall off at that road crossing.
Through my granddaughter Julie, we both joined the Midwest Railway Preservation Society this year. Its headquarters is in the flats of Cleveland in an old B&O round house. They have a repaired 1950 Alco yard engine that they give people the chance to operate. They have an instructor who teaches eople how to operate the locomotive. We went through a little class teaching us how to operate a train. It wasn’t necessary with me, but for the other people it was. So three rospective engine men climbed up on the locomotive and ook ur turns running the locomotive back and forth on a lead track (a lead track is the track going into the yard where the switches put you into the storage tracks). I was second to run the locomotive and the instructor told me, “ It didn’t take you long to get back in the saddle”. It had been 37 years since I had touched a throttle or brake handles. It brought a lot of happy memories. Any railroad buff can go for a railroad tour during their open houses, or you can set up a tour on Saturdays. Go to www.midwestrailway.org or call 216-781-3629. All of their workers are volunteers. They do other types of repair work such as working on heavy machinery, and right now they are refurbishing a passenger coach for the Cuyahoga Valley railroad. They are now renting out part of the round house to people who are repairing an old steam engine and an old diesel engine. If you become a member maybe you will see me down there.
Donald Benham was born Nov. 28, 1919 in Ashtabula. He served in World War II in the Army Transportation Corps, worked on the railroad for 38 years and in contracting for 12. He was married for 69 years to Flora and has three daughters. He’s traveled extensively in the U. S., Canada and Mexico, lived in Florida for 35 years and now resides at Brooks House Assisted Living in Hiram.