Wednesday, December 31, 2008
First, I must say that my husband has NEVER (that I am aware of) been late to ANYTHING. He is always early, and has been for the past twenty years that I have known him. But even HE has had a couple of close calls. Learn from his experiences so that you won't have to go through the same thing:
1. NEVER TRUST THE HOTEL ALARM CLOCK. During his first few trips my husband relied on the hotel room alarm clocks, and he never had a problem. Then one day while packing for another trip he spontaneously threw in his own alarm clock into his overnight bag. He thought, "Why not have a back-up alarm?" It must have been his guardian angel who inspired him to do this, because on that very trip his hotel alarm never sounded, and he wouldn't have gotten up on time if he wouldn't have had his own back-up alarm.
2. NEVER TRUST THE WAKE-UP CALL system. The automatic wake-up calls that you can request have also failed him on his trips. Now he sets TWO of his OWN ALARMS. He sets a digital radio alarm from home, as well as his cell phone alarm.
Monday, December 29, 2008
As I posted earlier, two people flunked this test. Maybe they would still be employed by the railroad if they had known in advance about the test, and if they would have prepared.
Here is an exact description of what my husband went through.
He had to hang on the ladder on the side of a car for several six minutes. At all times both feet were on the ladder. You can practice this on a jungle gym at a park or on a play set in your yard if you are luck enough to have one.
1. Climb onto the ladder. Keeping both feet on the ladder, hang for two minutes with both arms supporting you.
2. Then, keeping both feet on the ladder, let go with one hand. Use the freehand to perform railroad hand signals such as: Go Ahead, Keep Her Coming, Stop, Car Counts, Go This Way.
3. Continuing to keep both feet on the ladder, hang for 1 Minute with BOTH HANDS supporting you.
4. Keeping both feet on the ladder, let go with one hand. (This should be the hand that was holding on during the first one hand test). Hang one-handed for 1 minute while performing the hand signals.
My husband's instructor didn't demand absolute accuracy with the signals. Lots of people messed up the signals, and still passed the test. They were looking for the physical ability to hang on to the side of a car and to move the other hand to signal.
If you take this test they may demand a higher degree of proficiency than was demanded of my husband's class-- ask the instructor what the expectations are.
I am going to try to post diagrams for the hand signals in the near future.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
In this blog I will share with you how my husband got his job, which resources were most helpful, and I will also share with you any resources I come across as I look to support his new career. Check back often Oh, and by the way-- the correct answer to the first question is YOU ARE IN IT FOR THE MONEY. If you're in it for the glory, the RR doesn't want you. So even if you're a lifetime subscription holder to Trains Magazine, even if you spend your freetime operating railroad simulators on your computer, keep it to yourself. As far as everyone else is concerned, you're in it for the money.
- You gotta know someone. We thought you had to have a close friend or family member who worked for the railroad to get your foot in the door. This is NOT TRUE. They are looking for people with a proven track record of three things: Shiftwork, Safety Awareness, and Stability. They prefer people who have had physically strenuous jobs in outdoor conditions. Also, if you have had any criminal charges in the last seven years, forget it. And if you do drugs or have an alcohol problem-- do everyone a favor and forget it. But if you have worked under difficult conditions, with a demanding schedule, and you have an excellent safety record, you have a great shot at getting hired.
- You need to attend a railroad academy. Also untrue. They do not care. Even if you have zero knowledge of trains-- even if you have never even BEEN on a train-- they do not care. Some have even said that they PREFER a blank slate-- because it is easier to start from scratch than to have to correct errors picked up from another training program. What they DO want is someone who they can train. Show that you are a quick study.
- Being a "rail fan" or showing a lifelong passion for trains will score points with the interviewer. This is NOT true. They are NOT looking for railfans or "foamers" to drive their trains. Railfans have sometimes in the past had a track record for contributing to accidents because they are sometimes distracted by being close to a novel piece of equipment. If you have had a lifelong passion for trains, keep it under wraps-- during the interview AND at work (if you are hired). People lives-- and millions of dollars of cargo and rail equipment are at stake. You must not be distracted. You must be detached and professional at all times.
Funny thing is, before we came across the right resources, we couldn't think of why he SHOULD be hired by the RR. We just knew we wanted him OFF of the towers- considering that every year several tower workers die on the job.
Then he met someone-- a former RR employee-- who was impressed with his background and skills. He mentioned to my husband that he ought to apply, because he had so many great qualifications. This was a great guy, who unfortunately left the RR on unpleasant terms, so he was NOT someone who could put in a good word for us. But HE DID open my husband's eyes to the possibilities.
The next thing that happened was that I scoured the internet for articles about how to get hired with the railroads. There were TWO resources that especially helped us:
RAILROAD EMPLOYMENT FORUM: There is a great RR employment forum. Current / experienced employees post in this forum and are generous and good-natured about providing helpful insights. Here's the link: http://railroad.net/forums/viewforum.php?f=2
BOOK ABOUT GETTING A RR JOB: We bought an online "book" about getting a RR job. It was not cheap. And most of the info provided is also available for free on the above-mentioned employment forum. HOWEVER, there are a few valuable tidbits of info that we found to be unique and invaluable. One of those tidbits is a list of key words that the railroad human resources people are scanning for when they scan resumes. I wouldn't suggest just putting the key words in just to put them in- BUT the list was helpful to US because it helped my husband to reflect on his vast work experience and to pick out which experiences (indicated by the keywords would be most helpful for him to mention during the interview in order to provide the interviewers with the best possible picture of how his experience related to the RR industry. You'd be surprised to see what they're looking for. Your work experience may be more attractive to them than you'd think. We spent the money, we found the book to be very helpful. We felt it gave my husband a competitive edge. It certainly built his confidence. Other people have said that they were disappointed that the book was so short, and they felt they overpaid. Nonetheless, if you want to leave no stone unturned, this book might be for you. You can buy it and download it from this site: http://www.getarailroadjob.com/
Here's a link to a great article on prepping for the PAT. It's never to soon to start. http://www.ehow.com/how_4533656_class-railroad-physical-abilities-test.html
Here's a link to a discussion on the railroad employment forum about the BNSF PAT:http://railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=55511&start=0
As I find more resources on this I will post them. Remember, AT HEALTHY. CUT OUT THE ADDED SALT. EXERCISE REGULARLY. LEARN TO DEAL WITH STRESS EFFECTIVELY.
Here's the downside:
- YOU COULD DIE OR BECOME MAMED FOR LIFE. This is no joke. Tower climbing is THE MOST DANGEROUS JOB in America. There are only about 8,700 in the country and yet about 10 climbers fall to their deaths every year. That's 115 deaths per 100,000 worker. It is extremely dangerous. And if you don't die, you could become paralysed or brain-injured when your body slams against the tower repeatedly as you dangle by your safety line after you fall.
- There is very little formal training. You have to pick up your knowledge as you go. You have to be assertive about just pitching in and helping. This is hard to do, of course, when you don't know what needs to be done.
- There is a culture of drugs, violence, and crime in the industry. Almost everyone at my husband's company had a criminal history-- and most of them had felony convictions. My husband had to be aggressive with some people about convincing them NOT to steal valuable copper wire or tools from work sites. He refused to participate or to allow anyone else to participate in such actions while he was on site. But is was a constant stressor. He also had to often drive his own car to worksites to avoid being in the same vehicle with people who were using drugs on the way to the worksite- not to mention the danger of being killed by a work partner who was high AND insisted on driving. You will have to be careful to take actions to keep your nose clean and your record clean.
- It is HARD HARD WORK. You will work at heights of at least 250 feet (often much higher) at night, in the winter, during ice storms or snowstorms or rain. You will work for HOURS AND HOURS without sleep. Once my husband worked for more than 40 hours WITHOUT SLEEP and with very few breaks (just the break he got while a supervisor drove them from site to site) repairing towers during an ICESTORM.
- The PAY IS NOT GOOD, considering what you have to do and the risks you have to take. My husband only got $17 per hour. Unless you get hired by one of the FEW MAJOR tower maintenance companies in the country, your chances of making more than my husband are SLIM. FORGET the $75 per hour wages you've seen mentioned on showed like Hazard Pay. That's what experienced people get when they work for BIG COMPANIES. And oh, you WON'T GET HIRED by a major company until you are experienced-- and by that time, hopefully you'll get hired by a Class 1 RR.
So that's the scoop. It's not a guarantee- after all, my husband was an ASE Certified Master Mechanic for years before he was a tower climber. That also contributed to his hireability. But it DID compensate for the several years that he stayed home to take care of our kids while I was in graduate school.
An online support group for railroad wives:
A great website that lists railroad job openings: