Thursday, February 16, 2017

An Interview with Bob Bruneau

Frank writes...

These are excerpts from a tape recorded interview I did with Bob Bruneau on December 3, 2003. I've edited out my questions and some content not relevant to the interview.

[I joined IRM in] 1956 because we got the IT cars. I came up with the money for the 101. I said I'd [also] donate a hundred dollars. Then they tried to cheat me out of another hundred dollars. They said "You said two hundred dollars!" …Our car [the 277] fell apart on the P&PU [Peoria & Pekin Union]. It was running “rear end of train only;” they pulled the front coupler out. [We asked:] "How'd you do that?" [They said:] "Well, it's not very strong, they only had 67 cars behind it!" It has a wood frame. So at North Chicago I was able to do some repair before we moved it. I'm surprised they didn't pull 101 in half! Then the 415 came in August of '56, I think, and 1702 came in '58, I think, the Birney came in '59, the Class B came from Champaign powerhouse. It was 60525 for Illinois Power Company. They had a Class A there when I was taking pictures; they must have bought it [the Class B] in the fifties.  Late '55 or '56. There was two of them [Class B's] around, one at Danville, too, 1566. Well, maybe there was two in Danville... two in a junkyard. I don't think ours was in a junkyard. And, for one of the good stories about 1565, they [IRM] were going to move it in the winter. Big coal piles around and a coal stove and they were freezing their asses off pulling [motor] brushes. And they also, the other good thing they did was bring plywood sheets down and nail them over all the windows. So they cracked every window in the locomotive! [Laughs] How's that for class? They would have been better off letting the kids bust them; they wouldn't have gotten so many. I don't know if they broke all of them. The windows were broken and there were nails going into the frames. I don't know if every piece of glass in the doors was broken.

Well I worked on 101 a lot. Borrowed two tarps off of small trailers. In my stupidity. Trailers used to be round on the end. A lot of the trailers in those days were open-top; they just had car lines. And there's pictures - I don't have them - of 101 [that] says "Weber Cartage" on both ends. [Laughs] I think I worked on 415 because it didn't have any mothers. Ray Neuhaus was the President, I think. We sandblasted the 277 and painted it. Between the inner and outer windows was full of sand and finally I talked him into letting me work on that - [getting] the sand out. It was all wet sand, it stayed wet on the window sills. They had one of these big Coke tanks, you know, when you put your money in there and then they release a gate to slide your bottle around and pull it out. And the water was always green and slimy in there. And they had a drain cock on the thing; you had to fill it up with buckets, and it was a real loose one, trying to pick the kind of pop you wanted out of there. Somebody would bump the drain cock with their leg, and you'd walk by the car and it's leaking water out of the floor. So when I really - when we were moving [to Union], I got a couple of my buddies, and I can't remember who they were, and pitched it out the baggage door onto the ground. Help pay for the move. In the front of 277 on days like this when it was snowing, snow would blow in under the inside wall around the front. So I had a guy, Mattie Dalvo, from the North Shore, and all we had was a little table saw. How are you going to cut this part, with a quarter-round on the front? "Oh, that's easy," he says. He just takes the thing [makes sweeping motion with hands] RRRRROOOWW, tipped it right on 45 degrees, RRRRROOOWW - and there it was! A big block of wood with a radius on it, angled. I mean, it's crude as hell, I caulked the hell out of it.

…Odinius - he was a practical joker. And Bob Selle was working on the Singer engine that's down at Noblesville, and so Odinius gets me over by the Three-Spot, which was a sweeper body, double-truck sweeper body with a big door in the middle. That was the company shop. There wasn't much room in there. So he [Odinius] says "When I nod my head, unplug the cord. When I nod it again, plug it back in." [I ask:] "What's going on?" [Odinius says:] "Just do it and don't let anybody see you." So Selle's about 75 feet away with a couple of extension cords drilling holes. Howard nods his head so I unplug the thing. Bob looks around, checks the cords, yeah, they're all plugged in; [he] didn't come in the Three-Spot. Howard nods his head; [Selle] goes back, tries the electric drill, it runs. He starts drilling the hole again and he [Howard] nods his head again and I unplug it. And he's [Selle's] looking around - "What the f---'s going on?" Howard's got the extension cord like a garden hose, you know, folded in half, and the guy thinks he's - "Cut that out, Howard!" "What, what?" "You're cutting off my electricity!" He nods his head: "I am?" He lets go of the cord and I plug the thing in and it runs and then he nods and we do it again! I had to unplug it and the guy was going nuts! The other one was Jim Fox, he'd always like to play tricks on him. Especially in the restaurant, there was a strip there with all sailors and we'd go in there for lunch. Odinius would always get a dinner; it was a typical Greek restaurant. They always had peas, and Howard would always try and sit in the booth next to one of the Foxes. He'd take his spoon and he'd be shooting peas all the time! So Fox decided, "Well, I'll sit next to him and he can't do that to me any more." So Howard would be talking, stirring his coffee - and he had real hot coffee - and he's just talking, put his spoon on Jim's arm - "YEOW!" They had these hand-towel machines in there, you know, pull the towel down and dry your hands. One day some guys come walking in, towel machines under their arms, and we heard "crash, boom, bang!" And they walk out with no towel machines. The owner's all "bliblibliblibli" - Greek. They smashed the two towel machines off the wall and put their towel machines in, you know, the mob was still into all this. They'd just come in and blast the other towel guys' machines to smithereens off the wall, big holes in the plaster, and put their machines on. Now you had to buy from them! Next step was getting your legs broken or something.

[Regarding the move to Union:] Yeah, I didn't ride the trains but I, being out of work, and because of the move, I was there six days a week and I'd go back from Union Sunday night with whoever's going back to Chicago and then I'd recover for a day and Tuesday morning I'd hop the North Western back to Downey's and walk to the Museum. I built three ramps for the different cars; eight streetcars. Tore up track, sanded journals. We had an air line from the [CHF] factory that came out, inch and a quarter pipe, and the three wood baggage cars we had he [Frank Sherwin] gave us; some of that was just the right length, you know - taking the air line apart on the ground and screwing it into the car! Stopped the leaks. Junked a lot of stuff - roaring fires there [North Chicago] all the time. We got two electric locomotives from [Commonwealth] Edison, and two cranes, and two gons full of parts. To pay for the move, I had to scrap stuff. I sent brand new traction motors to scrap that were still in boxes. That hurt. We had a little wooden North Shore boxcar, probably 32 foot or something, scrapped. It was all full of stuff. We had a whole bunch of paint windows from the IT. They just had windows that they'd stick them in the car and paint the car and take the windows out. In the meantime, somebody else was painting the real windows in the shop and they'd just trade the windows out. Did they burn with all that paint on them! Some of them still had the hardware; I was stripping that stuff and throwing them in the fire.

I don't remember if there was four or five trains [going to Union]. But you had to do all the figuring out, you know. Go from MCB coupler to an MCB adapter to plug into a Van Dorn car and then a Van Dorn to a Tomlinson on the 431, and back to a Van Dorn and back to an MCB. See, there's some "L" cars in there plus the 309. [The 321 got a drawbar pulled out] right here in Union, by our interchange. A hose burst when they made a brake application - the back half of the train stopped and the front half kept going, for a little bit. The diesel didn't stop as fast. I forget what we did, how we got that off the railroad. Well, what happened, to move out here we bought a bunch of ties from the North Shore, two-fifty apiece. They had to be ten years or newer. And so we bought rail right around there to move out here; we didn't have any rail. We'd switch the stuff out on the North Shore property, tear up the track Saturday, have it back down here [Union] because the train comes Sunday evening and it's going back on the same track! Of course the North Western was a pretty rinky-dinky thing out here; the [Belvidere] Chrysler plant wasn't built; ten mile-an-hour track and all the boxcars were [swaying] as they went by. A big freight was ten cars. [They'd say] "You're getting the cars whether your track's in or not!" So everybody had to really hustle. We hired some men from the IC - two bucks an hour, and we'd all chip in. I think there was four of them - Sammy and his boys. They were section gang guys. We couldn't keep them busy. Somebody [would say] "Let's go to the saloon." "No, stay here, we'll get some more of them." So somebody else would go to the saloon and put a six-pack down between them, you know, they were sitting on the grass. Get another rail, a couple rail lengths, rails sitting on top of the ties. so we made it every week.

We had to be out of [North Chicago] by the first of July. So the streetcars weren't out, but all the rest of it was - well, not all the rest of it. Sherwin - the stuff Sherwin owned, he didn't give it to us right away. Three baggage cars, the North Western cupola caboose, and the 218 box motor.

Two of the "L" cars had Stearns & Ward [couplers] and two of them had Van Dorns, so those were all right to adapt to. We'd have a Van Dorn on each end of the Stearns & Ward. Yeah, people that rode the trains, you know, some people that didn't work could be train guards. A can of journal oil, and hotbox sticks, and air hoses. You'd see that s--- going by, you know - a steam engine and the "Ely", "L" cars and all this goofy stuff, no cabooses on the back. Well the first thing out here was the North Shore caboose we don't have. We knocked everything out of it, out of the inside, and that was the bunkhouse.

Yeah, it was [the 1002]. We also had to put reporting marks on all the cars. So 1002 became UTC 12 - Union Traction Company. The North Western caboose was 10494, so I did a neat paint job - but if you add that up it's 18. So if you put "18" down you didn't have to put five numbers on each side! They didn't care what numbers they were. And I had an argument with the North Western inspector - he wasn't going to admit the North Shore cars because they had Mickey Mouse trucks on them. [He said] "Those are arch bar trucks and you can't." I say "Show me some good trucks." He points to the wooden baggage car. "These are the kind of trucks you're supposed to have." They were wood trucks with steel plates on them! I got around that guy somehow. Then when I sent the cranes - the Edison cranes - to the junkyard, the guy wanted me to pull the pinions on the cranes. I said "You guys brought them here!" [He said] "Well I don't care." I say "Well, f--- them," you know. Everybody else was worried about their job, and I quit mine. So I'll just bill the f---ing things out. They went to the junkyard, and nobody came back to see if we pulled the pinions on them. That was not a place [CHF] where you wanted to work. It was all cinders and these horrible little sand burs - the only way you could get them off was with a comb. You'd try to pick them off with your fingers, then you couldn't get them out of your fingers. All the cinders… The amazing thing was that we had a trolley bus there, the 193, the one that's not taken apart. That was kind of tucked in the corner of the fence. The fence was kind of odd shaped - the North Shore went outside the fence switching the Navy yard before it came in the Foundry. The fence was kind of a staggered chain-link fence with barbed wire on the top. So where do you take a leak? Well you go all the way into the Foundry, or you can just go and piss on this bus sitting next to the fence. I pissed on the bus; everybody pissed on the bus, except Glenn Anderson. When it was time to move, we had all the railroad cars out, and we had a little brick building there - I think we called it the pump house, or something. [There was a] little 300-volt DC generator in there. We get a bunch of scaffold planks, you know, just wide boards, put the ground on the rail to one pole, this stinger, and drove the bus out to the parking lot! Over all the tracks and everything - you know, it was pokey because it was only 300 volts, but it drove away. After we pissed on that thing for all those years. Well, it probably wasn't too many years then.

[Outside the fence,] that was boot camp there; the sailors would challenge us, you know - "What are you doing out here?" [We'd respond:] "What are you doing on our railroad?" "Well, I don't know, they told me to watch the fence." I said, "Well watch it! And don't get run over!" We even had the air conditioner working on the 277. We threw a stinger over the fence - just kept throwing it until the bare wire went over the trolley wire. I think we had a couple of track bolts tied onto the end of the wire. I've got a picture of [Dave] Shore standing in the doorway of 1797. We ran the 431 up there.

[Regarding a plan to run CA&E 431 on the North Shore:] Odinius even made an adapter coupler. Frank Beshak, the guy who still comes out, said "That's better than any car we got out here on our railroad." Mason says "You ain't running any of your s--- on our railroad." And he was right - what if it broke down? It's got goofy couplers on it; you don't know anything about it. You know, if you were a minute late when you got in on a run, you had to have a good reason why you were late. [They were] really sticklers about that. They weren't gonna take the chance. If you had a derailment or something… There were plans of running the 65 too. They had a TM fan trip that was 1121 and another car; no, just 1121. [It was a] single-end car and the ventilators on the clerestory are kind of [slanted] things towards the back end of the car. So when they wyed it at South Upton, they're going the other way and all the s--- comes blowing in on everybody! This was a one-way ventilator, you know, so instead of exhausting the stale air it's sucking it all in! Everybody's covered with stuff.


Anonymous said...

From the Trolley Bus Dept.: The urinal was 192. 193 was at ERHS. R. W. Schauer

Randall Hicks said...

Here at Hicks Car Works we are dedicated to getting the important historical facts exactly correct. As you may have noticed.

Randall Hicks said...

We should also point out that Dick Lukin was instrumental in getting the 101 and 277 ready for shipment. He too drove down to Peoria to help Bob, and they worked day and night to secure the cars.