My day starts at 5:00 a.m. I roll out of bed and get my carhartt pants and an ARR shirt on. I start my truck and let it warm up for a couple of minutes then head to the Fairbanks Depot. If it's a Thursday or Friday, I'm at the depot by 6:00 a.m. Any other day it's 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. then back 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. When I get there, I open the doors and prepare for the morning rush. I put out the barricades so people won't wander where they don't need to go. I then inspect the two forklifts we have using a check list, going down each item one by one. By the time I finish, the other baggage handler has arrived as well as the North End supervisor and the ticket agents. About 7:15 a.m. the train rolls in to the depot and spots. The yard crew will normally come to the baggage room to have coffee and what not. About that time, the rush comes in.
People begin checking themselves and their bags in. On this morning, I'm the forklift operator, but I will also help people check their bags. These bags will usually go to Denali National Park or Anchorage. By this time there are a couple crates to go to the baggage car. I put on my hard hat, safety vest and glasses and then start the forklift. I cruise out to locomotive SD70MAC #4006 and put out a "Men Working" flag. This reminds the train crew not to move the locomotive while we are working. After the flag is set, I go to baggage car #100, climb up and open the doors. I jump down and use the forklift to load the first two crates into their proper spot in the car. All bags destined for Denali Park are put at the south end of the car while Anchorage, Talkeetna and Wasilla go to the north end. I do this all morning long. At 8:05 a.m., Robbie the other baggage handler will start up the other forklift and help bring out the remaining crates. One of us will work the baggage car putting the crates at their proper location. The other will go to the motors and wait to pull the flag. On this morning, the flag was pulled at 8:11 a.m. and the train pulled out right on time at 8:15 a.m.
After the train leaves, we take care of all the janitorial work. By the time the floors have been moped and the rest rooms cleaned, it is time to go home. My day is now half over. When I return to the depot at night, it is a calmer time. Robbie has checked the voice mail and found the train will arrive at 8:10 p.m. So we look for stuff to keep us busy for a while. My thing was to clean out the back storage room and organize it. This took all night!
When the train cleared up the track warrant, Robbie came to get me saying, "Get ready. She's in the yard." Unfortunately, I was only half done with my storage room project.. Since I ran the forklift in the morning, Robbie would run it tonight. We always rotate jobs. I worked the baggage car, bringing the crates to the doors. After the baggage car is empty, I jump down and walk to a line of cones with a rope. The passengers are on one side and I am on the other. I then get in to my rhythm of "chuckin" (taking the bags out of the crates) and giving them to people. After the last crate is empty, I walk through the train to make sure no one left any belongings behind. One night I found someone had left a camcorder on the train! Tonight I find nothing but garbage. I close all the vestibule doors and the ones on the baggage car as well. I make my way to the cab of SD70MAC #4010 and find a good friend of mine, Bill Bailey, an ARR engineer. I talk to him until the mechanics pull their flag. I then pull our red flag so they can loop the train. With three sharp blast from this awesome machine, they slowly start to roll the train back.
Now it's about 9:00 p.m. and a couple of stragglers
are still hanging around the depot. By 9:30 p.m. they are all gone
and we shut the doors. We bring in seven crates to the baggage room for
the next morning. We sweep the crates out if they need it.
We then shut everything down and go home at 10:00 a.m. When I get home,
I normally go to bed. That my friend is a basic
day in the life of a baggage handler on the Alaska Railroad.
© 2002 Mike Ferguson