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La Junta, Colorado - Santa Fe Railway

Remembrances of Delbert "D. K." Spencer

Santa Fe Railway - La Junta, Colorado
Centralized Accounting Bureau 1963 - 1969
(The beginning of the end of local station autonomy)

A force reduction in 1963 at Rocky Ford, due to the establishment of the new Centralized Accounting Bureau (CAB) in La Junta, found me going there to work. This bureau took on the accounting work from ten stations and their blind sidings, viz.;

Kansas - Garden City, Ulysses (Including all of Cimarron Valley Branch)

New Mexico - Las Vegas, Santa Fe, and Raton.

Colorado - Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Lamar, Rocky Ford and La Junta.

We were one bureau of nine (?), system wide that began a new process of rail accounting procedures. Every line station listed the day's business on the new CAB forms, and sent them in large envelopes to La Junta for reporting. The forms were pretty simple, mostly a recap of each day's segments. The Receiving Clerk sorted the envelope contents into piles and distributed to each desk as needed, and the work continued in the usual manner.

The Original Crew

In the beginning, we had nine clerks, in the main office, and the Agent and Chief Clerk, and Secretary in an adjoining office.

Art Stolfus was Agent, and Jim Mieklejohn, Chief Clerk. Later on, Jim Zwick was Agent and Clyde Barnes was Chief Clerk. Barnes was Agent at Raton later.

Secretaries I remember were Jim Lewis (later in Denver General Freight Office) , Mel Hogue, Carol Tasuda, Ava Estep Nix, and Linda Young Bishoff.

I believe the original crew of the main office included:

  • M. M. "Mac" Gordon, Head Cashier;
  • Bill Beauchamp, Revising Clerk;
  • Walter "Heavy" Burrows, OS&D Clerk;
  • Don C. Lowman, Cashier;
  • D. K. Spencer, Billing Clerk;
  • Bill Hanagan, Demurrage Clerk
  • Duane Fox, Receiving Clerk
  • and CAB "utility" clerks Gene Watts, and John Wadsworth. One may have been Abstract Clerk, but the other job title is forgotten

Later were Frank Lane (Rate Clerk), Floyd Watts, Wanda Miecklejohn, June Shepherd, Ron Alvis, Eddie Hibbs, Jim Casto (bumped in from Las Vegas NM) just to name a few. Gene Watts, Lane, and Casto moved to Kansas City, when the next consolidation came about. Gene had been employed by the Missouri Pacific as an telegraph operator, before coming to the Santa Fe.

Most of the crew were La Junta freight office men, but some, like me, came from outlying stations, and some were new hires. A short break in time was allowed, but for the most part, we "hit the deck running."   The pressure and stress of daily working the accumulated business for nine stations was more than any of us had experienced before, and threats of "brownies" (demerits) were always hanging over our heads.

Cashier Lowman caught a lot of flak (and brownies) in the beginning trying to handle business over the ten stations. The clerks that came from the outlying stations knew the customers in their town, but learning how to cope with customers from other towns placed an extra hardship on those who dealt with them directly.

We still handled Less Than Carload freight in all stations, and the consignees in each station were used to the personal handling that local clerks were able to give. As usual, some consignees were good payers, and some were not. Clerks in each local station could telephone a consignee and pressure for payment, and the slow payers had learned how far they could push the envelope. Now they were approached by mail, from a nameless figure in a distant office. This made it easier for them to postpone payment. For us, it added to our daily woes!

The cashier had the responsibility of handling and accounting for the money received in the mail, and trying to collect past due bills, as well as his regular duties. Contacts were made only by U. S. Mail, and it was an extra load each day to go through the 200-300 open accounts and send past due notices, and still have the accounts balanced by quitting time. I know, for I followed Don as cashier!

By the time I left the bureau, I had learned how to be "hard boiled" in my collection efforts, and was told by one customer that he wished I worked for him, so he could collect some of his bills! Since freight charges were governed by the I.C.C. (Interstate Commerce Commission), I could threaten with government fines and/or imprisonment for non payment. This usually brought results!

Many of us knew station accounting well, but the expanded procedures were overwhelming. Business in each of the original stations was based on certain commodities that were handled repetitively, such as wheat in Kansas; onions and sugar beets in Rocky Ford; coal in Raton; etc., and we had to learn the respective handling without any real "break in" time.

The cashier also had the responsibility to serve as Paymaster on paydays. This entailed cataloguing an estimated 1000 paychecks by Social Security (SS) numbers for all departments to be ready by 1201 AM on payday, twice each month. Some workers would have checks in several departments, which were located and grouped together for delivery. In earlier days the check count may have been as high as 2000.

Your SS number was your identification, and to receive a check you recited the last four numbers to the paymaster. Prior to the CAB, Burrows handled the checks, and had memorized many of the SS numbers. To "show off" he would tell the recipient what his number was, as he gave the check. One day an official from Topeka was observing the process to see if the proper procedure was being used. Several did not know their numbers, and not knowing an official was watching, said "I don't know my number, and you have never asked me for it before!" Needless to say, changes were made!

Burrows at one time was a yard clerk. Rather than checking storage spurs each day which hardly ever changed, he would put a pebble under a car wheel on the open end of the track. If the pebble was not crushed he knew the track had not been switched. Some switchmen got wise and to be ornery, would remove the rock, switch the track, and put the rock back. An auditor found a car in Kansas that was supposed to be in La Junta, and Burrows got caught wanting, as the saying goes! Every employee has at some time developed a short cut in his work, that sometimes blew up in his face.

Amusing Memories

We were a group of people who, in our "misery" developed a close comradeship and several, out of many, memorable events come to mind. Some were not amusing at the time, but are in retrospect!

A farmer delivered eggs to the office weekly in the early morning. The guys would leave their order and money with me the night before, since I was the Cashier and first one there at 7:00 am.  One morning I was short of funds, both personal and egg money, so I used a small amount of the $15.00 petty cash rail money, since the buyers would be there in an hour. A few minutes later, three Topeka auditors walked in to check our books, and their first duty was to see if the cash drawer balances. Several men had gotten fired for misuse of rail funds, and I was frantic!

I borrowed enough to cover the assumed shortage before they had their bags unpacked, and felt quite relieved. However, when the cash was counted, I still was short 49 cents, and I got frustrated and the sweat was supreme! My conscience was bothering me, and I finally blurted out the truth! About that time, the errant egg buyers arrived, and gave me enough to cover the shortage. The auditors were young guys, and mildly gave me a hard time, but I never did that again!

Fox one day took Gene's eggs home and hard boiled them during his lunch break and sneaked them back into the office. Gene's wife was the real victim at breakfast the next morning. Try as she could, they would not fall into the pan!

Someone brought golf clubs to work with them, and was hitting one of those plastic "whiffle" balls, while the boss was out of the office. They only go a few feet. Wadsworth accidentally picked up a real ball and before anyone could stop him, hit it hard! The ball was bouncing off masonry walls and ceilings, while we were hiding under our desks. We had a lot of windows and not one was broken!

Lowman said he could jump flat footed from the floor straight up to the top of a desk, and to prove it he did. Fox came in later and wouldn't believe he did it, and pestered Don to do it again. Don protested, but finally said OK. He was still a little weak from the first time, so he was swinging his arms for momentum, and when he jumped he hit his finger on the desk fracturing it! It had to be reported as a personal injury since it had to be splinted. How do you explain a personal on duty injury like that?

When the depot was built, one set of rest rooms were built for the passengers, and another set for the workers, with the freight office in between. As the CAB grew, we ran out of space. Since we only occasionally had women workers in the office, it was decided to eliminate the woman workers rest room, and let them use the passenger area. This allowed a small office for two persons, and their desks.

The regular lady messenger delivered all messages from the telegraph office at 900 AM and 300 PM, usually at high speed. She would enter the freight room door, lay her messages on the counter, then zoom around the corner into the ladies rest room.  One morning after her morning run, the plumbers left the room entirely empty. Knowing what was coming, we looked forward to the afternoon trip. She came at 300 PM, somewhat faster than usual it seemed to us, zoomed around the corner, let out a scream, and came into the office with the damnedest"what happened" look on her face!

The late Buck Burshears of Koshare Indian Boy Scouting fame was in the office when a discussion started about starting a friction fire with a bow. Some said it was near impossible to do. Buck obtained an Official Scout kit, and during the noon hour when the boss's were gone, he showed us how to do it. We got the fire going in the tinder, then blew it out, but the office had a strange odor all day long, with everyone wrinkling their nose as they passed through. Buck had been in Scouting since 1923, and was well versed in Scouting lore. As a Scout master, I was able to teach it to my Scouts and many learned the technique.

One morning , Agent Jim Zwick was called to go on board the west bound Chief to handle a dispute between a passenger and the train crew. Before he could get off, the train departed, so he rode to Trinidad Colo. We found out he was coming back on the El Capitan that afternoon, and riding in the locomotive. We made a butcher paper streamer across the track with a large message saying "Welcome home Jim" and they came in on track one with a crowd of workers cheering him home!

The last story is of two men who were close friends. Ralph "Bab" Miller and Leo Walker, worked together as clerks in the back shops, and were known for their practical jokes on each other. Bab had moved to a promotion in Amarillo, but after a few days, gave up the promotion to come back to La Junta. With no opening in the back shops, he clerked in our department. His office was in the converted women's rest room.

Leo brought in a locked hip roof metal tool box before Bab came to work one morning, and put it under his desk. No one remembered to tell Bab. He sat down and wheeled into the kneehole and kicked the box unknowingly, which caused a live rattlesnake in the box to buzz, and sent Bab flying backwards into the wall, screaming both from fright and a banged head. All that was left, was for Bab to get even which I am sure he did! Both men are deceased now.

The nagging thought in 1963 was, if the work can be consolidated into nine bureaus, there was no reason why one bureau could not do the job. Eventually the group of bureaus were reduced by further consolidations. In 1968 our bureau was combined with the CAB at Wichita, and moved to Kansas City, which I believe was one of three system wide bureaus. Later the fears of 1963 were finally realized with one bureau at Topeka, Kansas.

We lost jobs with each consolidation, and the clerical handling was forever changing with stations closing for good. System wide, in September, 1981, there were 359 stations, on the mailing list, and by Jan 1985, there were only 107.

When the CAB closed for good, I ended up back at Rocky Ford during beet season, and La Junta the rest of the time. This will be covered in the segment entitled LIFE AFTER THE C.A.B.

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