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Author Topic: Featherbed Railroad
yukon11
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Back in June, I was looking forward to a trip up to Dunsmuir, Calif., a small town about 60 miles south of the Oregon border. Dunsmuir is the home of the "Railroad Park Resort"where you can book an overnight in old railroad cabooses, which have been refurbished into motel rooms.

I had to curtail my plans, however, when I learned that, at about the same time, I was in need of outpatient spinal surgery (for spinal stenosis). The surgery went quite well, and by the 1st of July I was surfing the web, looking for a brief vacation outing in lieu of the cancelled trip to Dunsmuir.

Just by accident, I came across something called the "Featherbed Railroad", located in the small town of Nice (pronounced "Niece"), on the northern shore of Clear Lake, Calif. The Featherbed Railroad is sort of the Dunsmuir Railroad Park Resort's cousin. The Featherbed has 9 old railroad cabooses renovated into motel rooms. Clear Lake is about a 1-3/4 hour drive north of me here in Santa Rosa. I drove up there with a few relatives of mine, and just returned a couple of days ago.

https://www.featherbedrailroad.com/


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One of the cabooses at the Featherbed. Of the total of 9 cabooses, I counted 5 Santa Fe and 4 Southern Pacific.

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My caboose room. Queen bed, small bathroom, air conditioning (it gets hot at Clear Lake in the summer), small refrigerator, and even cable TV!

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My caboose room retained an old gauge for measuring air brake pressure.

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The small restaurant adjacent to the front office desk. The Featherbed Railroad is a B&B and they served their guests breakfast, which was part of the cost of a caboose room.

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Clear Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in Calif. (68 sq. miles). The lake shore is just a few paces from the cabooses.

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You can see the lake just beyond the cabooses.

Had a great time. We also enjoyed the little town of Upper Lake, about a 7 minute drive west of Nice.

Richard

Posts: 1790 | From: Santa Rosa | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Gilbert B Norman
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Richard, sorry to learn of your illness, and pleased to learn the outcome was good.

Now what I must wonder if the proprietors of this hotel are aware of the term "featherbed", or more precisely "featherbedding", and its significance to railroad labor relations.

Once upon a time, or two centuries ago, trains had crew consists far beyond today's. Back then, all hands were needed; the Engineer to operate the locomotive, the Fireman to keep the boiler at proper heat and water pressure, the Conductor to handle revenue documents such as Waybills and cash and be foreman of all, three or more Brakemen to set hand brakes atop the cars, and a Flagman to "protect the rear of the train". All three crafts were represented by different Unions and governed by different Agreements.

Well, here comes technology. First comes the air brake, which eliminated need for Brakemen, but technology or not, two, and in some States three (Unions did have legislators in the pocket), remained assigned. With signaling, the Flagman was gone and his (no hers) duties were assigned to the Brakemen. Now comes the Diesel locomotive, and what is there for the Fireman to do? Well on passenger trains, he was responsible for operating the boiler for train heat, also he was there to "play charades" whenever an "Official" was on the engine to simulate a mechanical failure that he miraculously corrected so the train was not delayed. Otherwise, call signals with the Engineer.

Clearly, any train, freight or passenger, was way over staffed, and the practice of requiring extra crew, either by Agreement or State law, beyond those actually needed, was called "featherbedding".

Well thankfully, owing to statesmanship on the part of Labor, those practices are in the past. For today, the normal Freight consist is Engineer and Conductor only, with Brakemen assigned by a carrier to meet requirements of service.

Some roads carried things a bit far; the Montreal Maine and Atlantic was assigning Engineer only, which could well be laid as a cause for Megantic. Others have experimented with several Yard engines being controlled remotely by one Engineer with no crew aboard.

For Amtrak passenger trains, the normal consist is Engineer only unless the scheduled run is greater than six hours. On the train, it's Conductor and Assistant, with additional Assistants assigned when needed.

No wonder, railroad employment during 1950 was well over one million; today it is about 175,000 - and handling considerably more traffic today.

Featherbedding is thankfully a term in the history books.

Posts: 9388 | From: Clarendon Hills, IL USA (BNSF Chicago Sub MP 18.71) | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
yukon11
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Mr. Norman: Thanks for your concern for the stenosis problem. I am amazed at how well the surgery went. Literally no pain after surgery.

I thought "featherbedding" referred to how to stuff a mattress. The caboose mattress may have been a "feather bed" but it was a little hard and uncomfortable.

I don't know, even with a strong labor union, if Amtrak employees, nowadays, ever get a feather bed especially with all the Amtrak downsizing. I wonder, with the elimination of station agents especially in small towns, if they wind up with another Amtrak job at another location.

Richard

Posts: 1790 | From: Santa Rosa | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Gilbert B Norman
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Richard, I doubt if any Agreement employee on any railroad has a featherbedding position today. An industry does not shrink its headcount over seventy years by some 75%, while handling greater traffic and think that any remaining positions represent featherbedding.

As I noted earlier, that term is gone from the railroad industry lexicon, but as we can see from the linked Investopedia article the practice still applies within many another industry.

Posts: 9388 | From: Clarendon Hills, IL USA (BNSF Chicago Sub MP 18.71) | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
George Harris
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The train miles operated in 1950 could not have possibly been operated with 175,000 people. Tonnage per freight train is far higher. Also, passenger train miles and passenger milage is near non-existant compared to what it was in 1950. The reduction of manpower on trains by the end of "featherbedding" is probably only a small part of the total reduction in railroad employment. The number of on the ground jobs such as station agents, billing clerks, etc. are also near nil compared to 1950. Mechanization of maintenance of way forces and reduction in track miles and route miles of railrad has greatly reduced manpower in those jobs. The advent of computers has also greatly reduced the number of people needed to keep up with traffic, whether you count it by the ton, the carload, or the trainload.
Posts: 2693 | From: Olive Branch MS | Registered: Nov 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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