The Trainman

On March 5, 1967, 26-year old Stan Garner, electronics engineer, bought a locomotive  built in 1891 from the Rogue River RR Co.   Stan’s life track began to diverge, slowly at first, and more widely with each decade.

His career in electronics steamed along for another twenty years, and he rose in the ranks of Fortune 1000 companies.  In the same period he bought three railroads and participated in 80 Hollywood films, supplying trains, train consultation, and acting.  In 1987 he announced to his wife that he was leaving the electronics industry.

“What did your wife think about that decision?” I asked

“She thought I was crazy,” he said.

I met Stan, a natural storyteller, at the meeting of the Monday Night Writers Group in Payson, AZ. Near the end of the meeting he mentioned he had to go visit his railroad car the following morning and that sounded like a blog entree.

“Leaving corporate life was the best decision I ever made,” he continued.  “All the electronics companies I ever worked for are out of business.  And the entertainment industry gave me a nice living, put my daughter through college, and every day in the train business was as unlike any day in electronics as you can imagine.

“In electronics every day was the same.  I went to work, dealt with a variation of the same puzzle as the day before, and went home.  In the entertainment business, no two days are alike.  Every day was an exciting new problem.”

“What did you do in the film business?”

“I was a train man.  In the beginning I rented my railroad cars to them for movie sets.  Then they would give me scripts and asked me to tell them what equipment they needed.  I would assemble trains from all over the country.  I would operate them or hire crews.  I would stand behind the camera next to the director, who would tell me what role the train needed to play in the scene, and I would direct the train.  I am one of three men in the country who do what I do.

“I love it.  There is nothing like the film industry.  It is like a family.  It starts with a script that someone owns or has optioned.  He assembles all the elements, the director, the producer, the production designer, the cinematographer, and the music.  They assemble actors, locations, costumers, etc, etc.  They produce the film and that exact team will never be reassembled again.  Most people are hired based on their reputations and recommendations of people they’ve worked with before.

“I have production credits in 68 feature films, 67 TV series, and 77 commercials.”

“Were you ever in front of the camera?”

“Many times: an episode of Numbers in 2004, the 1992 version of Of Mice and Men, 1994 film, Adventures of a Young Indiana Jones, 14 episodes of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and more.”

“Is that the extent your railroad business?”

“Hardly.  I have done numerous appraisals, restoration feasibility studies, sales and transfer of vintage railroad rolling stock artifacts and equipment.”

“Is that it?”

“Yes, if you don’t count the excursion tours and pageants.”

“Do you have a private car of your own today?”

“I have a party car, the Pony Express.  It was built for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1941 and refurbished as a party car in 1997-2000 to Amtrak standards.  It is 84 feet long and has a lounge, a bar, as well as a bunk room for two.  There is booth seating for 32, which is easily converted to a dance floor.

(A dozen pix and specs at http://www.stangarner.com/pony.html).

“How much will it cost me to rent the Pony Express?”

“$5,000/day with a 3-day minimum.”

“What is the last charter you had for her?”

“The Pony Express was one car in a vintage quarter mile long 15-car train that did a concert tour that started in Oakland, California on April 21st.  Three live acts toured six cities in six days ending in New Orleans in April.”  Many pix can be seen  at http://railroadrevivaltour.com/

“What ever happened to the first locomotive?”

“I spent a year restoring it and had it for thirty years.  I sold it in 1997.”

“We met in a writers’ club.  Do you have a book in progress?”

“I do. It is a pictorial history of railroad cars.  I have a lot of photographs that need to be sorted and captions to be written.  If the phone would ever stop ringing, I might make some progress.”

“I know there is at least one train buff on the readership rolls of A Year on the Road.  He’ll envy my good fortune of running into you.  It there is anyone else, I am sure they will speak up.”

3 Responses to The Trainman

  1. Colleen Rae says:

    Fascinating. You meet the most INTERESTING people, Al.

  2. karen wittgraf says:

    Just him that my grandfather was an engineer on the Milwaukee Road- colided with another train (steam) and nearly died- crawled out unscathed. The clickity click of trains in imbedded in my memory- near the tracks in Mpls- it lulled me to sleep and when an occasional train comes through Gibbon at night, I pray that the wonderful, rocking sound will continue so that I can sleep. There is a soothing magic in that sound and I would love to ride on his train. Wow! Lucky man, you are!

  3. Michael says:

    First job out of high school was being a fireman for Southern Pacific, and much of the power then (1956) was still steam. Lied about my age to get the job (had to be 18 and I was 16) and it was a terrific experience.

    Recall being on midnight goat (switch engine) in the Oakland yards, and the hoghead (engineer) told me to bring a steak and potato for the next night. He put that potato on top of a steam value, and when we went to beans (broke for lunch) he shut the fire down, put the steaks on a long rod, open the firebox and held the steaks into the box for a short while. We had medium rare steak and baked potato for lunch.

    A cherished memory is standing on top of the tender (water car) at the crack of dawn in what is now Fremont, my hands gripping the large ring on the end of chain to the water value of the water tower arm hanging over the tender. There was a 10 or 12 foot long canvas hose that draped into the opening on the top of the tender, and the fireman had to hang on that ring to keep the tower value open while the tender filled with water. I hung on that chain and watched the sun rise over Mission Peak.

    I got laid off in late August when the business slowed, so I went to college . . . . and took up freight hopping as a hobby for awhile.

    As I write this, a Union Pacific train is passing our little orchard here in Dutch Flat, and I still go out to watch. At sunset, we take a couple of old aluminum folding chairs up by the tracks, and watch the colors and trains parade past.

    Life is good!

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