RESPONSIBILITY and RAILROADING

© 2019  Bill Murphy

I’ve written before on the heavy topic of responsibility.  It’s a subject that often pops up in my extended family.  As for myself, I’ve been officially retired for six years, and yet I’m still faced with responsibilities on a daily basis.  Obviously, they never end.

Responsibilities are much like anchovies and black olives: you have the option to choose or reject them.  (I love anchovies, but detest black olives.)  

Yes, one can reject a responsibility.  Folks do it all the time.  That’s not saying that’s a healthy thing to do, but it is an option.  The truth of this is in the expression ‘accepting one’s responsibilities.’  To accept involves a conscious, voluntary action The opposite of acceptance is rejection.  Both of these require a value judgement on our part… we weigh the options, and make our choice. 

I didn’t say that we study the options.  Decisions are often made with little or no thought as to the outcome of those decisions.  We speak, act, or shoot — and then think.  Oops!

Responsibilities are very personal and unique to the individual.  I may or may not have a similar responsibility confronting me that is confronting you.  But, by the same token, we share many responsibilities.   Yet even within a shared responsibility, the portion of that responsibility which affects us directly is ours alone to accept or reject.  We’re responsible for our personal portion.  

What we often fail to consider is the simple fact that the decisions we make concerning our personal responsibilities usually always affect others around us… those close to us, like family, as well as those not as close to us, as in those friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens of the world in which we live.  It is true: no man is an island.

So what’s the answer to this dilemma?  How do we, the accepters of responsibility, convince the rejectors of responsibility to get with the program?

Simple education is a good place to start.  Learn from the railroad.  All railroad wheels have flanges, extensions to the inside of the wheels.  These flanges extend downward to fit in-between the rails, thus keeping the train on the track.  Without these flanges, no train could ever make a turn, or even stay on the track going in a straight line.  Wheel flanges are a necessity.  The railroad has no choice in the matter.

When I was a child, it was said that schools taught the three R’s:  reading, riting and ‘rithmatic.  I suggest adding a fouth: RESPONSIBILITY.  

I also suggest teaching that responsibilities are linked to CONSEQUENCES.  Perhaps the word ‘link’ is incorrect.  Perhaps ‘chained’ would be better.  

Just as railroads would fail without the use of wheel flanges, students fail in school when they choose not to pay attention in class, not to do their homework, and not to study for tests.  

Employees: only do what is absolutely necessary on the job, then never expect a promotion.  Fail to pay your rent or house note and you’ll receive a boot out the door.  Spend all your money only on what you want, and you’ll not have money for what you need.  If you don’t eat, then expect to starve.  It’s all simple 1 + 1 = 2 math.   

As for responsibilities, they’re necessary for all of us.  They are the light which illuminate our paths in life.  And sometimes they are the barriers which protect us from danger.  Responsibilities allow us to navigate through a successful, fruitful, and meaningful life-experience.  Accepting those responsibilities are vital.  They keep us on track.  They keep us safe.  They keep us happy. Own them, your they are yours!

We may not always see them as friends, but they are.   

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GRANDPA PAT AND THE HEIFER

102 & Pat Fairchild copy

© 2018  Bill Murphy

The man on the left in the photo above is my maternal grandfather, Patrick Henry Fairchild.  He was an engineer for the Canton and Carthage Rail Road.  This treasured photo was taken in the early 1930s.

Grandpa Pat had two sons, both railroad men… and two daughters.  One daughter married a railroad man, the other married my father, a grocer.  So my hands-on railroading experience is limited to model trains, although I do like to think that I have at least some ‘coal dust’ in my blood.

Railroad men have stories.  My favorite of Grandpa Pat’s involved a heifer.

In the 1930s, the Canton and Carthage was primarily a logging RR.  The ‘big’ sawmill/lumber yard in the area was located in Canton.  The Fairchild’s lived in McAfee, a thriving RR community just west of Carthage.  Grandpa Fairchild made the Canton run numerous times.

There was a slight ‘hill’ along the Carthage/Canton route, a grade that required a second locomotive when pulling an especially long and heavy load to the mill.  But Grandpa Pat mastered the art traversing this grade using only ONE engine.  Speed was the key.  Simple inertia did the work.

On the day in question, Grandpa Pat was pulling a long and heavy load.  He’d gotten up the speed he needed, when… looking ahead, he saw a cow standing on the tracks!  Grandpa Pat never slowed.  That’s what that angular device on the front of a locomotive is for.  And that’s why it’s called a ‘cow-catcher.’  Scratch one heifer.

The next day, a very angry farmer showed up at the RR Superintendent’s office, demanding payment for his lost animal.

The company paid the farmer.  And Grandpa Pat was called before the superintendent.

“Pat,” he said angrily, “I hear that you killed a heifer on the tracks yesterday, and that you made no attempt to stop and clear the tracks.  You know full well that we don’t like to rile the local folks around here.  We had to pay that farmer $35 for the cow you killed!  I hope you have a good answer for what you did!”

“I do,” replied my Grandpa.  “That run yesterday, with that load I carried, usually requires two locomotives.  I made it with only one.  May I ask, sir… how much would that second locomotive have cost you?”

(Now remember, this was in the 1930s)

“Well,” the superintendent said, “around $45 I suppose.”

“Do you want to give me that $10 I saved you – now,” replied Grandpa Pat, “or just put it on my paycheck at the end of the week?”  Case closed!

The engine (#102) in the photo could be the engine in this story, and one of the two well dressed gentlemen could be the superintendent.

 

 

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