The Life of a Railroad Wife

Tonight, I scraped every bit of beef tips and rice into a Tupperware container.

Why didn’t I just start supper sooner?

I beat myself up for not knowing the things I couldn’t have known and for not controlling the things I couldn’t control.

It’s only 6 p.m. but I could’ve had this done at 5. I didn’t need to stay out on the porch swing to watch everyone play.

We could have eaten together earlier.

The sound of the weedeater and my husband’s cellphone were synonymous as I peeked my head out of the door to tell him that supper was ready, just for him to tell me that he had been called into work.

You see, I was certain that after we played in the yard until the sun dimmed and the mosquitoes started biting, that my husband and I could break off just long enough that he trim a few grassy spots around the house and I finish the gravy.

Then we’d eat together and eventually put the kids to bed. Afterwards, we’d have a couple minutes to think/talk.

We’d go to bed at the same time in the same bed.

You would think I’d have learned by now. It’s those exact moments when you’re sitting on the porch swing, watching kids and winding down that the quiet is pierced by the ringtone.

Sometimes it’s a false alarm; the ringtone isn’t as much of a stoplight as it is a sign to yield/proceed with caution.

Mmm, no thank you.” is my green light. My sigh of relief. This job wasn’t a necessity.

But sometimes I can hear the automated voice. This message is for…….

There are the details of the job, but I don’t read into those too much. No matter what information the robotic, automated voice decides to give, I could see my husband again tomorrow morning. I could see him again in a few days.

Tonight, the automated voice won. I heard the shower running. I walked into our bedroom and saw the black work bag half-packed on the floor.

I quickly checked the dryer for two pairs of work pants because I hadn’t once thought about laundry today. I shook them one by one, folded them, and placed them in the chair in our bedroom. Followed by two pairs of long, black, thick socks. Followed by two solid-colored shirts with pockets. Followed by gym shorts because you just never know. He’ll put them in the bag his way in a haste before rushing out the door.

Our oldest son is sitting at the kitchen table with his school notebook out, ready to do homework. You can play and we’ll do this in thirty minutes.

Our one-year-old followed me around while I gathered up clothes; he whined long enough to end up on my hip while I placed two plums and a bag of chips on top of the Tupperware container.

It went onto the counter so that my husband wouldn’t miss it while he’s already seeing railroad signs and doing mental safety checks on his way out the door.

I know that none of this seems very extraordinary to you. Wives packing lunches/dinners/breakfasts. Husbands going to work.

It’s the game we play to do it.

The guessing game.

The waiting game.

Surprises keep a marriage alive, right?! I like eating hamburgers for breakfast. I like having our “weekend” date on a Monday.

Surprises also keep the stress alive.

Because the day before Thanksgiving is spent compulsively refreshing the board to see when the next train goes out/next train comes in/next job comes open just for Johnny to commit a foul by calling in sick.

The playing field is neverending.

Sometimes the team completes a fifty-yard rush in mere minutes. Other times, they hit every fourth down as they inch further away from the end zone. Sometimes a sack knocks them on their feet. Wheels stop turning. Engines stop running. A crackhead ran into the train and I’m watching it unfold via live news video in my living room.

Being a railroad wife is having a breadwinner husband who can be the sole provider for a family of four if need be. It’s nice vacations two weeks per year. It’s firing insurance and health insurance and retirement.

It’s also going out to eat and knowing your husband is half there while he checks his phone to try and guess whether he’ll be able to enjoy a meal or only a half. It’s knowing he’d rather you have made a home-cooked meal because his last three were on the road.

It’s herding two kids at the ballpark by yourself while people who don’t know this life cast judgment on why their dad has only made three games.

It’s listening to marriage advice tell you to sync your calendars when in reality, you haven’t had a calendar since saying I do.

It’s also listening to your preacher tell you never to go to bed angry when the night before, your husband left for a 36-hour trip after a screaming argument about I-don’t-even-remember-what.

It’s having a pity party on the way to family functions when you know your cousins’ spouses will be there.

And then it’s hating yourself because you think about how some husbands are overseas for months or how some return to their heavenly home instead of their red-brick one.

I feel like a single mom is something I’ve heard amongst women with husbands who work these hours.

I get it. I really do. I take my kids everywhere with me, and oftentimes alone. When I even think about adding a third child, it’s not so much a question of whether or not my husband and I can handle it. It’s a question of whether or not I can handle it when he’s gone.

But I’ve been a single mom, and it isn’t one in the same. And maybe it’s this characteristic about my past that allows me to tap into a grateful mindset when all I want to do is scream while I’m getting the kids ready for church by myself.

In the mornings when he’s home sleeping at 6:30 a.m. while I’m dealing with before-school attitudes, I have scrambled eggs with a huge side of envy.

In the same way, I’m sure he glares at me sleeping under warm covers while he puts on his big coat and yellow vest at 3 a.m.

That’s the thing about marriage, and especially about marriage that’s poked and prodded with constant sleep deprivation from jobs/kids.

On Monday, I’m home with a baby running a fever and waking every hour while my husband sleeps in a silent hotel room.

On Tuesday, I’m napping in a quiet house while rain hits the tin, the same rain hitting my husband’s hat and shoulders as he’s switching cars in the railyard.

It’s a constant give and take and sometimes we’re two connected engines going in opposite directions while a line of cars waits behind railroad crossing signs. The cars are loaded down; there’s a car for God/kids/ballgames/school functions/cleaning/budgeting/everything.

Meanwhile, we pull in opposite directions and our engines move only slightly to the left and then the right, left, right. The railroad crossing signs are still triggered and the cars continuously pile up while we each tug in our own direction.

But when we move in the same direction…

Still connected, we move toward a new location/goal, lifting the crossing sign and allowing the cars to enter into our yard/time/hearts.

To my hardworking railroad husband,

I promise that I will *try* to keep quick, easy-to-grab leftovers in the fridge for those nights when you so graciously let me sleep as you creep around the bedroom and out the door at midnight.

I promise to hold things down at home while you’re out there making our lives better.

I promise to include you in the things you miss as much as I can, even if it’s just by sending pictures.

I promise to always think you’re so cute when you walk through that front door in that yellow vest and work boots. (Most. Attractive. Thing. Ever.)

I promise to be ready for however you come through that door and I’m getting better every day at reading the faces that show me how the 10-minute car ride home wasn’t enough to wash off 12 hours on the tracks.

Most days, my husband comes in and heads straight to the shower. Sometimes he falls asleep on the couch in dirty jeans. And you know as well as I do that sleeping in jeans in a whole different level of exhaustion.

Because no matter how hard it is for me, the constant availability/anxiety/apprehensiveness must be that much harder for him.

While he’s snoring on the couch, my eyes often go to the company’s slogan printed on the back of his vest, I’m coming home.

I try not to ask when.

And instead be thankful that he is. He is coming home.

I will keep staying up during late night hours to spend time with him when he’s home and try not to regret it the next morning when little feet pitter patter down the hall all too early.

I will keep growing into an independent person because it’s a trait I will continue to need in my marriage.

I will keep rolling with the punches/embracing the changes/enjoying the time I’m given between coming home and the crew calls.

That’s the thing about time. You always think you have a lot of it.

80 Comments Add yours

  1. cedeason says:

    Again, your writing is superb! I love your refreshing life analogies and positive mindset! -Courtney Deason

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! This one was my favorite to write so far. A positive mindset is so hard to maintain at times but I feel like it’s getting easier. That is one thing I’ve always admired about you; your smile and optimism!

      1. Doug Seibert says:

        Thanks for posting this I’m. The FTFM. Guy in Canada I have a great girl now but it took 62 years and, 7 years after retirement from the cp rail

    2. Linda says:

      As a wife of a railroad man I understand completely. My husband put in 38 years and 9 months as a police investigator for NSRR.
      We got many calls all hours of the day and night. Yes when I say we, it was we, because we were a team. In order to live the life of a Railroad wife you have to be a team for it to work. I didn’t get to experience all the time he put in but I put in over 15 years. That seemed like a life time.
      There were times when I would talk to him to keep him awake so he could make it home without falling asleep, and the last 18 miles home there was no cell service. So I waited to make sure he pulled in the driveway and meet him st the door no matter the time.
      There are rewards at the end of it but it takes a strong team working together to get there. Sometimes I think that the ones on top may forget that, my husband and I were lucky he had some great bosses and some not so great. We stuck it out and now we are looking at all the plans and dreams we have made over the years.
      Never think your alone because there are lots of wife’s and husbands out there in the same place you are, yes I said husbands I know a few that their wife’s work for the railroad.
      Just Pray and give your spouse all the support you can, and when you think it’s tough at home remember it’s tough on the railroad to, I have seen it all first hand. Just about every Christmas, New Years, Birthdays and milestones he was at the railroad or on the road working for the railroad. There would be days and yes even weeks I didn’t get to see him, and he had to go
      to all the accidents and I was the one he confided in when he got home about what he had saw.
      So please, please let them know you will be there for them to come home to!

      1. You are so right, Linda! It’s a team effort and I always have to remind myself this much he’s giving up to keep up his end of the teamwork. I can’t help feeing guilty at times for being the one spending the time with the kids and at home. It does seem like my husband always has a story to tell. I hope that you and your husband enjoy your post-railroad lives! You both certainly deserve to. 💙

  2. Melanie says:

    Not just railroad. International paper is same way. My husband and I have shared one Christmas and one Thanksgiving in 15 years. But in everything, be thankful and perservere.

    1. So true! I imagine that many of these things are true for wives of mill workers, linemen, guys on the oil rig, and more. I am learning to be thankful when I don’t always want to be. We are fortunate that although Chase often misses Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, so far he’s always made it home for Christmas morning. Thanks for sharing your experience with me!

  3. ASeales says:

    Hi Whitney! My hubby (a coworker of your husband) shared this with me. You hit the nail on the head in your blog! You captured so much of how I think, feel and react being a railroad wife. Thanks for reminding me I’m not alone and refreshing my soul of the positives this life has to offer!!! {hugs}

    1. Hi! Ahh, this makes me so happy! It’s a lifestyle not many understand so it’s nice to have company. 🙂 Sometimes I REALLY have to search for those positives when we’re in the thick of it. I’m so glad you could relate while reading!!

  4. Kaylee says:

    I felt every single word of this…. 😭❤️

    1. 💙💙💙 So glad you could relate. It’s surely not an easy lifestyle!

  5. Pete says:

    Nice story, Whitney, as a trucker, my wife has put up with about the same thing and has rolled with the punches of our lifestyle as I am sure you will too. Very nice story

    1. Thank you so much! Rolling with the punches is a beautiful, yet frustrating thing! I have respect for anyone who deals with the hours that you do!

  6. Courtney says:

    Love the man…tolerate the job! I still explain to people that we don’t have a “schedule”, I can’t tell you when he’ll be back and I can’t guarantee we will make it to your party. People just don’t know how we do it but after nearly 10 years we make it work. It can be lonely for both of us but I just remember when we got married he said the thing he loved most about me was how independent I am. On some days I need every ounce!!!!

    1. Absolutely! I have a small friend group that understands that when I make plans with them, I may very well cancel if my husband is home and we need family time. Likewise, inviting both of us anywhere is always a gamble. I love that! I like to think it makes us strong women. 🙂

  7. shehasjoy says:

    Thank you so much for this. Three kiddos and 14 years on the RR and I felt all of this. I’m no good at packing lunches though! 🙂

    1. You are so welcome! Thank you for sharing your story. We are only four years in. Do you ever really get used to it? haha.

      1. Akshay Rajanna says:

        You never get used to it.its just becomes a way of life.
        Most of your friends are railroaders and their wives or GFs.
        My wife and I decided not to have kids just coz of this lifestyle as she wanted to pursue her career and grow alongside.
        Biggest blessing has been checking the phone and finding out when u might go to work,but it’s also annoying as the very few hrs you are at home all you do is check the phone every hour to find out what’s going on.

    2. That is so true! It’s nice to check the board and have an “idea” but they can still surprise you and sometimes the phone becomes the ultimate distraction.
      I totally understand that. I feel like my career goals have changed tremendously because of the combination of my husband’s job and kids, but I have been extremely thankful to stay home with our second baby and focus on our family. There are sacrifices any way you look at it!

  8. Pam says:

    Been doing this for 40 ought years now. Things were much worse when his Railroad was still in business. But since the other one bought them out, it got easier…Never better. I also knew what I was in for, just not how deep it goes. Oh well, not everyone is cut out for this life. Hard but has its rewards. You hit it all on the head. Except when they would be called for work and get there to find out they would be gone for days….or when he moved 3 states away just to “exercise his seniority ! ” That was the life.Will retire in few years. Hope he can enjoy the down time…

    1. Thank you, Pam! I’ve heard that it used to be a more difficult lifestyle years ago. I can’t even imagine! My husband has been at this for a little over four years as a conductor. It’s still crazy but we’re becoming accustomed to the crazy! 😊 I hope that you both enjoy a long and peaceful retirement!

  9. Ralph Newton says:

    Hopefully there’s a man available for you nearby to take care of your needs while your husband is away. Don’t doubt that he’s dabbling, too.

    1. Every man or woman has the ability to cheat, regardless of their career. If you can’t trust your spouse while they’re gone for a few days, you probably should not get married.

    2. JPaigeTaylor says:

      You sir, are douche! I bet if you google “What does a douche bag look like?”, you picture would be the first thing that popped up. 😂 I truly believe that there is a special place in hell for evil, malicious people like you. Hope you enjoy the 🔥🔥🔥!

      1. 😂😂😂 Everything you just said JPaige Taylor! 💯

    3. Lee says:

      That is not true I ran trains for nearly 40years & never had any extra activity’s, not that there weren’t opportunities. And my wife had her opportunity’s as well that just wasn’t our thing. For you to say such a thing serves no purpose.

      1. Agreed, Lee! There are opportunities for everyone, it doesn’t mean they will be taken advantage of.

  10. Big-D says:

    25yrs of railroading, 33yrs of marriage and 10 times more than the story…A railroad life.

    1. Congrats on so many years! I know it hasn’t been easy.

  11. Rachel Swanson says:

    I am also a railroader wife and he hitbit all spot on! Great article, thank you for sharing. ❤️💪🏽🚂

    1. Thank you! 💚 This life isn’t for the faint hearted!

  12. Jennifer Tate says:

    This hits the nail on the head! I’m a railroader wife, too. We’ve been together for 27 years and for 23 of those we’ve been a railroad family along with my husband’s grandfather, father, brother, and now our oldest son.

    I don’t know if I can honestly say it gets easier as much as we all learn to tolerate it and accept it. I always worried about the long hours and working in the weather, but even moreso now as we’re getting older (he’ll be 46 this year).

    On the bright side, there’s a lot of pride in knowing we have hard-working men who do what they can because they care and they know they have us at their sides to help them as much as we can.

    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Wow! Thank you for sharing your experience. We are only four years into this life, only two of which as a married couple.

      It’s so nice to see couples who make it work long-term. There are days when all I can think of is how to get out of this lifestyle.

      You are so right. I am proud of my husband daily and will gladly tell anyone what he does for a living! Thanks for your comment. 😊

  13. Carrie says:

    My daddy is a retired carmen, I’m a yardmaster, and my husband is a conductor. Our lives are all kinds of crazy. I try to look at the postives like getting the remote to myself. Lol My grandmother once told me her marriage was good because my grandfather would leave long enough for her to miss him. I think this rings true in my own my marriage.

    1. I can’t even imagine the level of crazy you’re dealing with between those jobs! I agree with you and your grandmother on that one. I wouldn’t know what to do if he were home every night and we were constantly around each other. We are used to missing each other and having a lot to talk about after he’s been away.

  14. Brittany K says:

    Wow, what a great article! While my husband and I don’t have kids yet, every other aspect of this is SO true for us. I don’t usually comment on articles, but this is so well written I had to tell you how much this helped me. I saved it to my favorites so I can read when my “woe is me” attitude comes back. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much, Brittany! This comment made my day. You are not the only one whose “woe is me” attitude hits. It’s a daily struggle but I’m glad to know I’m not in this alone. 😊

  15. Bill Goodman says:

    Good write up. This life isn’t easy. My wife and I almost divorced about 8 years ago due to the job. Going from a normal 9-5 M-F job to the railroad took quite the adjustment for both of us. I adapted fairly quick because, well I had to. It took her a little bit longer. Rest rules were different back then and I was working more and almost never home because the RR could call me sooner than they can now. It takes a strong woman to be married to a railroader.

    1. Thank you, Bill! I’ve always said that I understood why the divorce rate is so high for couple with jobs like this, but at the same time, it makes you want to fight for it that much more. I think the same is true for us, it took me longer to realize the physical and emotional toll it was taking on my husband and I regret not being there for him like I should have sooner. But he’s a good man and waited for me to catch up! 😊

  16. Nicole says:

    I appreciate your article. My husband has 20 yrs on and we’ve been married for 16 with 4 kids. It’s definitely been hard. Only God’s grace has carried me through and the fruit of Him using my struggles to pull me close to Himself.

    1. Thank you, Nicole! That is so uplifting to me. Four kids?! Just wow. You are super mom. Seeking God when I feel like I can’t take anymore has carried me through many times.

  17. Erin says:

    I have lived this life growing up and now am married to an engineer. We’ve lost somany friends over it but have made many others because of it. We have one son with no plans to have any more because I work full time and am not sure I could manage another one! Being independent is so important in this lifestyle. Luckily I’ve been independent for my whole life so this was nothing new! It provides a good life if you can handle the craziness of it. I write this as my husband is headed out the door to work in the snow. It’s important for them to stay healthy and exercise when they can. I work in healthcare and see what this lifestyle does to their bodies. Hang in there and enjoy what little time you do have because that’s what makes it all worth it! Thanks for the great article!

    1. Thank you so much, Erin! Yes, we have a small friend group that understands why we can’t commit to plans, and I like it that way. I have told people that I was “made for this” because I am an independent person who likes my alone time, but it STILL knocks me on my feet at times. I was working full time as a teacher when we had our first son and when we had our second, I knew I couldn’t handle all of it. I quit my job which of course has put even more stress on my husband but has been beneficial to our family because we were already stretched thin with one. The health aspect is something we quickly learned would have to be kept in check. You are so right.

  18. Joe says:

    Great read and perspective. I’m “that” railroader with a strong and beautiful wife, 3 kids 14,11 and 7. We have 20yrs of marriage under our belts and almost 13 years of this damn railroad…. I appreciate what my wife and all women like her do for their husbands and families. I know it’s a tough life for all involved including the kids. I try to make the best of my home time and be more “there”, it’s very tough, this railroad thing is like another master calling you away from what you love and cherish so dear. Thanks again for writing this too bad the greedy rich bastards at the top of these railroads know nothing about what these men sacrifice to make them even wealthier. This railroad job doesn’t pay what it used too in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s back then this was about the highest paying blue collar job you could find anywhere, but the pay just hasn’t kept up with the cost of living and the pay in many other fields. To think these railroads call US greedy and over paid… sacrifice your life like we do day in and day out, night and weekend after after nigjt and weekend. Holiday and holiday, kids practice or game after kids practice and game. This life isn’t easy and not all are cut out for it. I salute those who can make it work and those who can even thrive with such odds against a marriage and family. Hold strong and carry through.

    1. Thank you so much, Joe! It’s nice to get the railroader’s perspective here. Honestly, I read your entire comment in my husband’s tone because it sounds just like what he would say!
      I have so much respect for all of you. Sometimes I feel like I deal with too much and then other times I feel so guilty that I’m the one with the ability to go to those games and practices!
      We will keep on pushing through, no doubt. I appreciate your words of encouragement!

  19. Janet says:

    This is a very good and true article. After 40 years of marriage and 28 railroad years and some of them was very hard. Count your blessings when you do have time together and make the most of it. Because that day
    may come when you get that call from a trainmaster and you know that he will never be back home. Its been 3 years and I still wake up and think I smell diesel fuel on his jeans where he engine had problems. I still hear that phone ring in the middle of the night and then realize it was just a bad dream. Yes railroad life is hard but let me say it can be worse. Count your blessings

    1. This is so very true, Janet! I think about that all the time; it could always be worse. It is encouraging to hear from someone who’s made it work for so long. It gives us youngsters hope! ☺️

  20. ibjoee says:

    Almost in tears reading this as my hubby is on the phone with crew call (mostly on hold) just trying to mark off fmla to take me to the dr just to mark back up probably on way home. It is being a single parent most of the time and teaching your kids that either daddy can be home and they can’t play sports, dance, cheer or daddy can work and miss most of their extras to actually pay for those extras. Anyway, this article nailed it!

    1. This is the sweetest! I know exactly what you mean. I spend a lot of time thinking about how this lifestyle affects the kids and trying to maintain a schedule for them. It sounds like you have them in your best interest!

  21. Brenda Watt says:

    After 24 years of marriage 5 children and 22 years on the railroad it’s not what I signed up for but we made the decision to get into it together. The fact that I’m very independent does help. However, I did shed a few tears while reading your article. I don’t have a close circle of friends who understand my lifestyle. I do have some who try. I did feel every word of your article though. Thanks for writing such a true-to-life picture. 😭🥰💪🏼

    1. Brenda, my heart breaks for you because I don’t know what I would do without my support system. I have been so blessed with friends that are understanding and help me often during this season with small kids. I have certainly lost several, though. It’s not a lifestyle you can really explain because you never understand it yourself. You are amazing for handling 5 kids and 22 years of this life. 💙

  22. Taryn says:

    I was in a relationship for over 2 years with a railroad man. We’ve broken up because I just couldn’t see myself living like you described in your blog. We’ve been talking again and considering dating again but I am reluctant to commit to that lifestyle again. I’m just not sure I am the kind of woman who can handle the unpredictable life of a railroad wife. Just reading your blog made me relive what it was like dating him….. Maybe I’m not cut out for this lifestyle.

    1. Taryn, I completely understand that. Some may say that you should just deal with it if you love him, but I’m here to say that it gets so much more complicated after marriage and especially after kids. My husband started this job while we were dating. In my situation, it’s been more than worth it and I’d encourage anyone to embrace the crazy if you can’t see your life without that person. But in all honesty, there’s no shame in wanting a certain lifestyle for yourself, either. 💙

  23. Hayley Rice says:

    You completely wrote what I feel/think. My husband is in a state of constantly checking his phone.
    His ringtone makes me heart ache and the look on my children’s faces says 1000 words.
    But knowing he is out there bettering our lives and workinh dreadful hours to make us comfortable gives me more appreciation for him than I have ever had.
    I miss him. I’m lonely and sad a lot. But when he is home I feel fuller. I feel warmer and less sad.
    We live alone with our kids. Miles away from any family and we rely on eachother a lot. For everything.
    We live a life of solitude and manage to make happy memories, because of him.
    Thank you for writing what others are feeling.
    I hope those who wonder what our lives are like read this and get a basic understanding.

    1. Hayley, I am so glad you could relate to this experience. I am so fortunate to live close to my family. I can imagine that living away from them would complicate things even further. I do appreciate my husband so much more now! It can get lonely at times but those are the times that I’m most thankful for my kids to keep me busy. I pray that you all are able to have more of those happy memories; that’s what we’re all searching for!

  24. Jennifer says:

    I am brand new to this railroad wife club! My husband just left the car business for a railroad conductor job. We literally moved across country (Florida to California). Away from family, friends, my job, our church! Hardest thing I have ever done! Made harder by the railroad schedule or lack there of. The ominous crew caller phone call with that automated voice! The mixed emotions of wanting more time with the hubs and being supportive of his job. The guilt of feeling lonely when it’s just as hard on him. Trying to answer the question “when will daddy be home?” as your 4 yr old and 2 yr old are missing their dad. All while being proud of your husband for wanting a better life for his family. So overwhelming and a huge adjustment! Thank you for the article! It makes me feel like everything I am going thru is normal.

    1. Welcome to this crazy life! I suppose I’m relatively new, myself. My husband has been a conductor for four years and we’ve been married for two of those. It feels as if this has been our “normal” forever, though! I commend you for supporting your husband through such a drastic move and change with two little ones. We live in Alabama and it would be so tough to pack up and move that far! Best wishes to your family in this time of transition!

  25. minibagz1203 says:

    When I read your blog I couldnt stop smiling, it felt so nice to see another wife/mom going through the exact same thing as me. I have a daughter and two boys and it is hard! Especially when my husband is trying to sleep so he doesnt fall asleep on the engine and cause an accident. And the time he is home, it never seems like enough time.

    1. This is the best type of comment! I’m glad that my words could make you smile. It feels great to know that I’m not alone in these feelings either. We have two boys and I love being a mom so much but the thought of adding another babe to the mix is just overwhelming! Kudos to you for handling it all! These boys are a handful trying to keep quiet at times. 🙂

  26. Becky Beasley says:

    My husband worked a bridge gang so he was gone all week and home on the weekends, and now BOTH our sons are train crew, one engineer, one conductor. I never plan our holiday meals in advance because I try to have it when both boys can be there. Which means everyone else plans theirs regardless of if they will be home or not. If we’re lucky it sometimes works out for us all to be together. But it’s hard when you’re dealing with two of them and that schedule and hoping there’s a holiday spot left open from all the other family gatherings! Good luck girls, hang in there!

    1. I just love hearing from people who have been where I am. It’s also nice to see it from the mother’s point of view. I haven’t given much thought to my boys growing up and taking on the same career path. I love that you just loosely plan around their schedules. It sounds like they are all very lucky to have you!

  27. Sarah says:

    Thank you for writing everything I feel. My fiancee has been with the railway 15 years. Our children are almost 3 and almost 1. I am now a stay at home mom.
    We are a proud railway family.
    He actually sent me this and I read it in bed while he slept and I wait for the children to be up. He’s been home for 2 hours now off the night shift driving the train through the heavy rain we had.
    I know this life now and it’s not easy, but when you see the pride he takes in his work and in his family it’s all worth it.
    Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

    1. Sarah, our situations sound so similar! I am a stay-at-home mom now, too. I love that I can be there for the kids whenever they need me because my husband’s schedule is so unpredictable. And I am just so thankful that we are financially able to make that happen! My husband is so proud of what he does, which makes me proud. I look forward to hearing from you again soon as well. 🙂

  28. Jessica says:

    This is all of the words I feel as a mother of two, with a bonus daughter, too. I work 40 to 50 hours a week and he is a conductor that seems to get rolled by the only one with seniority over him. Your words could not be more true in this, so thank you!
    I sent it to him and he said, “That’s sweet. Her husband works on our tracks!”. Since it is now hunting season for us here if he’s not at work he’s in the woods, things are a little more difficult but so, so worth it in the end.

    1. Jessica, I love that our husbands work together! Since I’ve written this article, my husband comes home with comments he’s heard from the other guys and their wives. It’s been so much fun to read these comments together and just reflect on what this life is like for us. We are a blended family as well and building relationships can sometimes be tough with the schedule but it’s encouraging to know that other families are tackling the same things we are.

  29. Trinette says:

    Every word you wrote is so very true. I was a single married mom for years, kids are grown and gone now. I could add many more examples of being a railroaders wife, some good and some bad.

    1. Yes, all of the good and bad examples could fill an entire book! I’m glad you were able to find some truth here!!

  30. Mary says:

    I like the unexpectedness of this life. Mine was gone for 8 months I was pretty sure most of the people at church thought I was single. I have gotten used to doing things by myself with 5 kids all the time. I am exhausted most of the time . Lol

  31. Sarah says:

    I am a railroad wife of 31years and as you put it so elegantly I have been the one to make sure to keep the home fire burning! We have 2 children and now 6 granddaughters. Now we are able to enjoy our family because my husband is getting ready to retire so a always remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.Sending Oceans of Christian love to all the railroad families!!!

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Sarah! Congratulations to your husband on his career. I know it wasn’t easy for either of you. I hope that you both enjoy the time together that you deserve!

  32. Matt says:

    Hi Whitney, I just thought I’d chime in with my experience. As you say only railroaders and their families can really understand. And, my wife is a teacher also.

    I worked freight for 10 years and in that time my wife and I married, bought a farm and had 3 kids. Life changed a lot, but the relentless ringtone was ever present. My wife was on leave since we started having children so the railway was the sole income for the family and we managed it well, but after awhile the toll of the 24hour clock started becoming apparent and the company was getting more and more despicable. I once had “attendance management” refuse to book me off when my wife went into labour. Needless to say I had more than one missed call on my record after that 😉 But, you do give up some big things and lots of little things when you work for the railway.

    My wife and I decided we should do something about it. I switched to passenger service for a year and found it to be largely the same level of uncertainty and empty promises, so she went back to teaching full time this fall and I farm at home with the kids. Money is tighter now obviously, but manageable, and life is starting to get a little more “normal”.

    I guess I’m really sharing this because I would like others to know that it’s possible to build up a really good foundation for your family with the income from a railway job, but if you manage it right, you can get out if you want to. It was definitely the hardest decision I’ve made over career choices for a lot of reasons, it gets into your blood and I do miss some of the amazing things I used to see and do, but none of that compares to watching my children grow into little people, and being there to guide them towards being good humans.

    I hope everyone that sticks it out finds a way to make it work.

    1. Matt, I have sincerely enjoyed this comment! My husband and I spend so much time talking about where we want to be in ten years. It feels like time is ticking away while our kids grow so fast. Hearing that you were able to make a plan together and give your family the life you wanted for them, is so encouraging to me.
      The labor story is so funny, as I worried about my husband missing our son being born. I have extremely short labors and I would convince myself that it’s bound to happen when he’s hours away. Luckily, that wasn’t the case!
      We are still transitioning from a two-income lifestyle to one, as I quit my teaching job when we had our second son 18 months ago. We talk about starting our own business. Your story is truly an inspiration to those of us seeking more. Thank you so much for sharing!

  33. Ash says:

    Whitney, that was beautiful and you have inspired me to write one of my own. I may not be the wife of a railroader… I am the railroader. I fight the stereotype and am a female conductor. I keep up with the boys and what I can’t do to win over their strength I try to with my wit. While the railroad has become more accepting of women, there are the old grumps who I constantly have to prove myself to. Choke back the rage when the job isn’t going my way or when I’m shivering head to toe because I have never been more cold in my life working against an unexpected snow storm. Having to hold my bladder for 12 hours because the train hasn’t stopped and the on board “bathroom” is overflowing as it hasn’t been drained in who knows when. Or sometimes when it does stop and I run into the nearby woods for cover and I didn’t check quite every angle and the train going by gets a full view of me trying to relieve myself.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, there are things I love at my job. Generally the men are more accepting of me as a coworker than my predecessors.

    My husband served our country and unfortunately has been unable to hold a job to support all of us. We have a son from his previous relationship and are expecting. It makes me sad that due to financial needs I will most likely miss the first steps of my first born, maybe the first Christmas, and a lot of other firsts. As when I became step mother I had already missed out on those firsts… I’ll miss it again. I know it will be horrible to feel like an absent parent, but I will know that their father will be home for them.

    I only hope and pray that my husband will be able to stay strong and support me like you support your husband. Thank you again for sharing.

    1. Just wow! You really should write one because this comment is inspiring in itself. I love to hear about women that are fighting the stereotypes. I commend you and your husband for making it work for your family.
      I encourage you to find comfort in the fact that your husband will be witnessing this firsts instead of a daycare worker or anyone else. I pray that he includes you in every way possible. I know as the one at home, I feel so guilty at times for experiencing these moments that my husband doesn’t see.
      We are a blended family as well and that comes with a lot whole different set of challenges. I had my first son at 17, so I’ve dealt with a different type of stereotype, I guess you could say. I can only imagine how strong your kids will be as you raise them in an empowering and unconventional setting. Just know that you’re awesome and I’m in your corner. I’d love to read your article!

  34. Gary Ertman says:

    I work for CN from 1968 till I retired in 2004 as brakeman/conductor so I can relate to this story which is small in detail as there snowplows, auxiliaries ( train derailment clean up) etc one time I was called for work around early am went to the end of subdivision and back home in less than 12 hrs wife was sleeping, phone rang called again as short of men, went to work and returned home around supper time. I walk in yardoffice and Tmc said “ he just walk-in and be on his way home shortly” when got home wife said that was a long trip 48 hrs I said no went on first trip and return you were sleeping when called for another trip and now I’m home from trip 2!!! This was done before mandatory rest came in to play, but I understand now a days it’s just as bad as trains are longer and so is the trip! In honesty all I can say since I’m retired is miss the pay checks and commardity but don’t miss the BS that went with it!! The rails know what I’m talking about, right brothers?!!!

    1. It sounds like it was a wild ride back then, too. I’ve heard from many railroaders that things were tougher on everyone involved then. I count my blessings for the changes made, especially mandatory rest! My husband is four years in to this conductor life, so we’re still newbies in many ways. I know that I can’t paint a 100% accurate picture of daily life for all railroaders, I can only give a glimpse of what my life is like as a railroad wife in Alabama. It only snows here about once a year, but the heat is another story. I hope that you are enjoying your retirement that is much deserved. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  35. Alexandra Mcnulty says:

    My husband worked 38 years for the NYC commuter railroad, married for 32 and retired for 4 years. I still remember being woken up by my husband so he could tell me someone was sleeping over. Someone else’s railroad husband who was short swinging and didn’t have enough time off to travel 4 hours round trip to go home. Getting out of bed, I would welcome them, make something for the guys to eat and make up a bed for our overnight visitor. Knowing that one night my husband would also be showing up unexpected at another railroad wife’s home. Knowing my husband would be welcomed and given a place to sleep for a few hours before going back to the railroad to do it all over again. So I opened my home as I knew others would open theirs. We were a family. We still are. Our sons continue the tradition as 4th generation railroaders.

    1. Alexandra, I love this story! The idea of other guys sleeping over is so foreign to me. We live close to the depot and my husband works thru-freight, so he doesn’t spend too much time traveling to and from the depot. Your experience is so interesting to me! My grandfather was a Vietnam veteran and railroader and I wish I had asked him more about what it was like before he passed. I never knew I’d end up marrying a railroader years later!

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