Friday, December 26, 2008


In the mid 1970s I interacted with a young middle-manager in Bank of America's Cashier's Division.  I was an analyst-writer with a consulting firm engaged to write their Telegraph Procedures Manual and Beth was BofA's project manager.


Beth was a little too principled for corporate bureaucracy and, at the time, she was bridling at orders to participate in the employee extortion scheme known as the United Way.

By the way, this is mentioned in wikipedia's article on the United Way:

Reportedly, some workplaces with United Way collection programs do not follow commonly used ethical procedures when soliciting donations. Employees may be pressured into donating... by management.

One time Beth mentioned that her husband was an engineer, "You know, choo-choos."

"How did you ever meet a train engineer?" I asked (we were on the thirtieth floor of the headquarters building of the biggest bank in the world).

She told me the story.

She met her husband, Jim, in college, both were in the business school, Jim was majoring in accounting.

Beth explained that Jim, when he was a kid, was wild about trains. There was never hesitation when little Jimmy was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.

"A train engineer," he would say.

He would read about trains, had pictures of trains on the wall, he'd ride his bike to the train yards to watch. The way some boys are about baseball, Jim was about trains.


Jim's parents indulged him but they were of a class that expected their child to go to college and have a  substantial career and a comfy lifestyle.

And Jim, as with most boys, had major interest-shifts with the onset of puberty. It's not a bad thing that at some point the opposite sex (in Jim's case) becomes more interesting than trains.

Jim had normal high school years and went to Berkeley and got his degree in accounting.

Then, with graduation looming Jim had to actually think about getting a job, either with an accounting firm, or in the accounting department of some big firm.

Jim had heard some career counselor advise people to seek jobs in industries they found interesting. So, almost on a lark, he took his resume to the San Francisco employment office of Southern Pacific Railroad.


He had a nice conversation with a personnel lady there, but unfortunately SP had no openings in their accounting department.

Then the lady said, "There is an opening in our Operator Apprenticeship program, but it probably doesn't pay..."

"You mean apprentice to become an engineer, a locomotive engineer?" Jim asked.

Jim jumped--almost out of his skin, and completed the application on the spot.

And that's how Beth's husband became a train engineer.

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1 comment:

sfmike said...

That is the happiest Christmas story ever.