Charles R. Dillard, 79, really loves two things: railroads and Alaska. So the fact that he's been able to combine the two by working at the Alaska Railroad for the past fifty years has been a dream come true.
"The US Army sent me to Alaska in 1961, and I saw the railroad here and decided that it would be my home," says the carman/ writer inspector, who has been employed by the railroad since July 12, 1965. "I don't know what I'd do if I wasn't doing this. This is all I've ever wanted."
Originally from northern Alabama, Dillard was stationed at Fort Richardson when he fell in love with the Last Frontier. He went back to Alabama in 1964 but couldn't stay away from Alaska, returning to Anchorage the following year.
Dillard joined the Alaska Railroad as an apprentice carman with the Mechanical Department and learned to make repairs on the railroad's rolling stock, including freight and passenger equipment. He took a short break between 1967 and 1969 before rejoining the railroad as a freight car carman in 1970. Within a couple of months, he was promoted to car inspector. In 1990, he was promoted to carman leader and has served in his current position as carman writer/inspector since April 2007.
"As the carman writer/inspector, my job is to inspect cars as they come into the shop," he explains. "Some are repaired on periodic time frames; for example, airbrakes are inspected and repaired every year, and it's mandatory that all cars come into the shop every five years.
"We also take care of mechanical repairs as cars develop defects while on the line," he continues, adding that the main focus of his job is keeping railroad employees and passengers safe.
It's not surprising that Dillard found his way to the railroad; it's in his blood.
"Most of my family were railroad people; my dad was a conductor on the railroad, and he wasn't surprised when I took the job since it's all I've wanted to do since I could remember," says Dillard, adding that his father, Charles Sr., was an Illinois Central Railroad conductor for thirty-nine years. "I thought it would make a good career--and here I am."
A Day in the Life
While there is no typical day on the railroad, Dillard has established his own routine.
"We start at 6 a.m., though I usually get here earlier to get a head start on things," he says. "I take a count of the cars in the shop and what kind of work needs to be done, and then the mechanics start to repair them. When the jobs are completed, I make sure...