In the summer of 1935 Gale and his parents left Eugene, Oregon going by train to Seattle, Washington and then by Alaska steam ship to Seward, Alaska. They then boarded the train to Talkeetna. Gale's grand parents were living in Talkeetna at the time and his father got a job right away on the Alaska road commission working on the road across the river that went to the gold mines in the cache creek mining district. [Note the only way to travel to Alaska in the 30's and before was by steam boat since there was no air travel in those days].
Gale grew up amidst the trappers, gold miners and trains. Gale would go out and meet the steam engines as they came in. The railroad men would let Gale and other children ride on the locomotive while they unloaded freight. One of the engineers, Otis Harrington, had candy for the children and even let Gale blow the whistle and pull the throttle. This developed an early fascination of railroads for Gale.
Gale began working for the railroad in 1956 as a brakeman, but later quit because he was unable to become an engineer quickly. He returned in 1957 as a gandy dancer. Although they weren't hiring in train service, Gale continued to bug them relentlessly. He worked on an extra gang where he replaced existing ties with ones cut fresh from trees. And he remembered the mosquitoes as being very, very bad. He also had a very gruff supervisor. One time when Gale walked over to get a drink of water, the foreman yelled, "Next time you need a drink, work your way to the jug!"
Gale worked in Portage for a couple of weeks and then moved on to Moose Pass to put in some switches. One day conductor Harlan Holton said to Gale, "Hey, they are hiring brakeman." So he drove to Anchorage and began writing a closed book of rules (taking the test) for brakeman. Superintendent W.C. Davidson saw him doing this and let him off the hook due to his working that short time in summer 1956. With that Gale began working as a brakeman. Before long he was the head brakeman on a trip to Seward. Looking out from the train he saw a group of men working on switches that were being refurbished and realized it was his old crew. He waived cheerfully to them and that gruff supervisor as he passed.
In 1960 he wrote the closed book plus took an oral exam and was promoted to conductor and worked his way up the ranks. In 1985 he voluntarily retired from the railroad at number 5 on the conductor's seniority list. He received a good pension with full health benefits as did several train and engine men.
From 1985-1994 he worked the summer as a brakeman. At the end of 1994 they gave Gale a buyout offer and he again retired from the railroad. In 1996 they were again short brakeman so Gale once again returned to work for the railroad. This helped add to his pension. Finally, in 1999 Gale retired for good. Gale has two sons Marty and Mike who followed in his footsteps and became conductors.
Several highlights in his career include pulling the last coal train out of
Suntrana and the first one out of Usibelli. His coldest trip occurred in 1960
with a southbound freight where the temperatures reached 75 degrees below zero.
|No. 1508 at Tunnel, late 1950s||Gale Weather with No. 1072 at Healy, 1960||Gale in his 20s|
|Dome 1978||Almost hit this moose||Saulich, 1980s|
|Gale and his son Mike, around 2002||Gale and his son Marty, around 2002||Birchwood in the 1980s|
|1984 just before Gale retired from the ARR||Derailed spreader #7 at Grandview's south switch, 1973. we had to frog it back on.|
|Locomotive #3002 had to push frozen gas car in the siding||Derailment at south end of Moose Pass, 1937||Derailment at south end of Moose Pass, 1937|
Photos courtesy of retired Alaska Railroad Conductor Gale Weatherell
Page created 1/13/10 and last updated 1/19/10