About the Santa Fe Historical Society

La Junta, Colorado - Santa Fe Railway

Remembrances of Delbert "D.K." Spencer

Life After the C.A.B
(Centralized Accounting Bureau)
La Junta - 1969-1986

When the CAB was dismantled in April 1969 I bumped back into Rocky Ford as car clerk, but when beet season was over, the permanent car clerk position was abolished, so I came back to La Junta in January 1970.

The car clerk then became a seasonal job, so I was in Rocky Ford during the beet season (October to December) and La Junta during the off season. Each time I came back to La Junta, there was some change in operation.

The first time back, in January 1970, I was by myself in the old freight office/CAB office. The office originally held 9 desks, but now was empty except for me. My desk was next to the counter just inside the business door, and Clyde Barnes was agent in the adjoining office, along with his secretary, Linda Bishoff.

Just prior to Don Lowman becoming Agent in 1972, it was decided to close the yard office portion of the HN building, and move the yard master, yard clerk and crew clerks to the old news stand area in the west end of the passenger depot. The cashier was also moved into that area. A partition was installed on top of the original counter to enclose the area, except for a small open portion for the cashier's business, and to pass out paychecks. Another opening was made for the crew clerk.

For a short time I developed a "cottage" industry there. With no news stand, Amtrak passengers were always asking me if I had any thing to sell. As a Scoutmaster I encouraged my Scouts to make their own neckerchief slides. One day, I had left a slide on the counter, that I had made from a vertebrae segment from a calf, that I had dipped in paint, and applied "squiggley" eyes to. A passenger asked if it was for sale? I said "yes", and we settled on a price of $3.00. I had about 15 of these segments, and sold them all in about three weeks, but the agent felt I should not be doing it, so my shop closed!

The yard master was placed in a small room facing the train yard. When the news stand was operating, various sundries were sold to train passengers through an open display area facing the platform. This area was boxed in, and fitted with a plate glass picture window for the Yard master, which facilitated his view of the yards.

The whole operation was now together. The car clerks used a key punch machine to make a card for each car as it arrived, loaded or empty, and updated the cards as needed. The cards were sorted in track order and placed in a "pigeon" hole filing cabinet, using one hole for each track in the yards. When the train was made up and ready to depart, the stack of cards were put into another machine that printed a train consist which was given to the conductor along with the waybills.

The machine that printed the consists also printed daily yard inventories and demurrage reports on spread sheets from key punch cards. Both of these machines were always clattering away! To add to the clatter, was my manual typewriter typing waybills, etc., so it was very crowded and noisy. When the passengers from Amtrak trains and the bus lines arrived and departed, there was even more noise. Trainmen and switchmen were always blocking the narrow aisles, so they were told to stay out of the office, as if that was possible!

As cashier, I was also handling bus express, and every other Friday was Avon day, with sweet smelling ladies and their equally sweet smelling inbound freight, brightened our usual routine of sweaty male bodies, and rail yard fragrance!

Back in the now empty CAB office, the counter was removed and a solid (except for an entrance door) cinder block wall took its place. At the middle of the CAB room the wall made a right angle turn to the west forming a separate room.

They moved the radio shop in the new room since it was both air conditioned, and secure for vital radio parts. The railroad police had an office nearby and could check as needed. However, the room was too small, and too far from their back shop work area, so they moved back to their old storehouse shop. The room then became a little used meeting place. I used it as a lunch room during my noon hour, and a quiet place to take a 20 minute nap.

New Life for the Old CAB Office

After a few years, it was decided to move all of the electronic equipment from the HN building, to the top floor of the General Office Building, three blocks away. The train order clerks were moved to the CAB office, so the HN building could be razed.

We were on the move again! Everyone, except the Yardmaster was moved back into the old CAB office, and the area we vacated was filled by trainmen's lockers, that had no home after the razing of the HN building.

Back in the old CAB room, the train order clerks were placed near the outside business door, with the crew clerks along side, with a small partition between them. The top half of the wall was removed allowing a service window for trainmen to not only get orders, but to deal with the crew clerks.

Half of the cinder block wall down the middle of the room was removed so the train order clerks would have access to office machines and toilets, but this arrangement made copying orders difficult with the noise of all the machines, and regular office operation. The yard clerks and cashier were now in the other half of the old CAB office, and were there when I retired.

Merger of
Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (BRAC)
Order of Railway Telegraphers (ORT)

Sometime after 1971, the two groups merged and by the time of the issue of the January 1, 1985 Colorado Division seniority roster also included trick dispatchers. All of these seniority's were dovetailed into one roster.

Back to Rocky Ford, Finally an Agent, But Not For Long!

Sometime prior to March 1973, the telegraphic code requirement was lifted for train order clerks due to each office now having teletype machines installed. The messages, as typed, were transferred to paper tape through a series of small holes. The tape then passed through a "reader" for transmitting.

When Norman Clifford retired in September 1971 at Rocky Ford, I bid in the cashier job, and held it until they eliminated the position, in March 1973. I then passed the Rule Book and qualified for the Agency, and bumped Agent John F. Bart. When the sugar factory in Rocky Ford closed after the 1977 season, our revenue "died on the vine" which caused the station to close in January 1979, and I went back to La Junta as Cashier.

Computers and My Final Move!

I believe the computers on nearly every desk came into being about this time. A lot of the men were apprehensive, but I was intrigued and welcomed the change. Like the others, I had my share of mistakes and aggravation. The Input Supervisors were almost glued to us during the first days, for we were about as dumb as we could be. However, like all things new, the more you use them the easier it becomes. The only Input Supervisor name I remember is John Royse, but we had several.

My first rude awakening was my preconceived notion of how the computer programs worked, was quite different in use. I had imagined forms such as a waybill would be brought to the screen and the blanks filled in, but found a line by line formula had to be used, that in no way resembled a waybill. However the finished product was as it should be. This followed through on all the other reports, as we cast aside the antiquated knowledge of 35 years of railroading, and stepped blindly into the computer age!

Regional Freight Offices
The Centralizing Concept Revisited!

About this time, all of the line stations between Garden City, Kansas and Pueblo, (except La Junta) were closed and La Junta became a Regional Freight Office (RFO). A few offices were designated Regional Yard Offices (RYO).   For many years, long distance toll telephone calls were taboo, but now became an integral part of our daily operation, as we dealt with shippers and consignees from Coolidge, Kansas to Fowler, Colorado.

All clerks were now RFO clerks, and if train orders were involved, they were designated RFO-TOC (Train Order Clerks), meaning they were able to qualify in either areas, handling all of the daily business with shippers and consignees by telephone.

Also about this time, the famous CLIC books were issued that showed track and car spots in every station, using combinations of numbers and/or letters. With all the smaller stations closed, instructions were given to trains by messages, written or radio, from the RFO's where to place cars, or pick them up. The books were long and narrow, and fit nicely into pant pockets, especially bib overalls. The computer printed daily yard checks for each station showing whatever switching had been done as reported by train crews to the RFO's.


My service ended with my retirement on February 14, 1986. I thought Valentine's day was an appropriate day for me to kiss my career good-bye! I went from September 1944 to Feb. 20, 1985 without any demerits. At that time I received 10 due to a misunderstanding between me and the new agent, about a certain chore, normally done by him, but assigned to me one day as he was out of town. As the story goes, the engineer rings the bell, but the caboose catches hell!

At the time of my retirement, the Superintendent gave me a letter saying the 10 demerits had been removed from my record, leaving me with a clean slate. During my entire clerical career, I only worked in four Colorado stations, Granada, Lamar, La Junta and Rocky Ford. Most of my fellow workers worked many stations. I started my career August 9, 1944 at Lamar; was bumped by Dallas Baldridge from Colorado Springs, and established my seniority in Granada on Sept. 21, 1944, working there two months; then force reduced. I bumped the Consist Clerk at La Junta until September 1945, then back to Granada for two more months, and on to Lamar for a little over three years, during which I was married on Feb. 29, 1948. In June 1950 went to La Junta until Feb. 1951, then back to Lamar. In April 1956, went back west to Rocky Ford and spent the rest of my career working in the La Junta/Rocky Ford area.

My Original "Compensation Package"

When I graduated from Lamar Colorado high school in May 1944, and was hired August 9 as a Utility Clerk at Lamar freight house. My advertised rate of pay was $5.33 per day, or 67 cents an hour, for a 48 hour week. I am not sure when the 40 hour week came into existence.

However, unless you had a resume with extensive clerical experience, you were paid "step rates". The breakdown escapes my memory, but I would guess 80% of the daily rate for the first six months ($4.26), then 90% for the next twelve months ($4.80), and full rate after that. This would close to the rate apprentice operators were similarly paid at $102.84 per month, which using formula of 24 days per month (6 days per week, 4 weeks in month) would amount to $4.29 per day.

Three years earlier (1941), City of La Junta day laborers were paid 25 cents per hour, and the railroad was paying 43 cents per hour on the lowest paying jobs, so everyone wanted to be a railroader! When I retired in 1986, I was receiving $12.95 per hour, or $103.60 per day, as the top paid clerk in the La Junta office.


Vacation days were for number of years served. The first year we earned 3 paid vacation days. From year one to year ten, one week; ten and above 2 weeks. As time went by, weeks were added topping out at 5 weeks with 20 years of service. In those later times, we also were allowed a certain amount sick days per year, and able to accumulate unused days in case of a bad illness, and were paid for any unused days when separating from the company.

Rail Passes

Another "perk" was the rail pass system allowing reduced rate or free travel to employees. If you had less than 10 years service, you applied for a trip pass, good only for a specific trip. Over 10 years you were issued a long service pass good only for Western Lines and Panhandle and Santa Fe lines issued every two years, and trip passes elsewhere. At 20 years you were issued a system wide pass good for four years. After Amtrak, permanent long service passes were issued. The pass was a first class ticket. If you wanted Pullman service, you paid only for it. In the beginning, you could get trip passes on foreign lines, but later you paid half fare. Passes were good only on regular heavyweight trains such as California Limited, and in later days, only during the slack business times of the year.

Beginning of the End

The use of computers and electronic gear, and consolidations of various departments over the years was probably the largest change, but many other changes also happened, some of which include:

The discontinuance of rail handling of Less Than Carload (LCL) freight reduced much of the daily clerical work. The loss of livestock shipping, was another nail in the coffin. Before the advent of long haul trucks, products were loaded first on a small truck, then transferred to the rail car, duplicating work. Now the long haul "18 wheelers" are loaded, hauled and unloaded in one operation. We have obtained part of the revenue through the piggy back concept.

The advent of one commodity trains done away with much of the mixed train concept, and the carriers welcomed the change. This allowed major train movements with very little switching.

The union movement and the benefits realized in the early part of the century helped bring relief to a beleaguered labor force, and created a labor power base that ruled for many years, but history shows that all things change.  In my opinion, labor unions hit the wall under President Reagan, when he defied the Air Traffic Controllers, and the union power base began to slip, with a steady loss of benefits and membership in all trades.

For those who were born at the turn of the 20th century, the technical advances made in their lifetimes were tremendous, and I have those same feelings as I record the changes in my rail career. When I retired, I thought there could not be many more changes, but in one year, and every year since the whole scope of railroading has changed.

La Junta has about 100 employees, but no freight office, no general office building, the Yardmaster is now a trainmaster, no switchmen, a restricted use yard, fewer train crews, and very little, if any, back shop work. Track maintenance is by a roving crew based in La Junta, but travels over a large territory. The signal department still have maintainers, but widely spread out. Amtrak still has an office in the depot..

Worst of all, our beloved Santa Fe name is playing second fiddle to the Burlington Northern!


Society Info Society Convention On-Line Resources Company Store The Warbonnet Guest Book Santa Fe Links
Society Info | Society Calendar | Online Resources | Company Store | The Warbonnet | Guest Book | Santa Fe Links