Railroads & Locomotives History From the Cab: Careful, I might break your camera

From the Cab: Careful, I might break your camera

By Doug Riddell | May 28, 2024

Imagine the surprise when I respond, “Someone already has”

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A man in a white cap and red shirt stands in the doorway of a locomotive
Amtrak locomotive engineer Bob Clark is photographed on his last trip. Doug Riddell

Photography has been my hobby since I retired as Amtrak’s company photographer in December 2012. In addition to trains, I shoot events of all kinds. There never fails to be at least one self-deprecating soul who grins at me and says, “Careful, I might break your camera.” Imagine their surprise when I respond, “Someone already has.”

When he climbed down from the cab of the Amtrak GE P42 that powered the northbound Palmetto into Richmond over 25 years ago, concluding his last run, engineer Bob Clark, jokingly warned me he might break my camera — and then did just that. 

“Wait, take another one. I didn’t have my safety glasses on!” Bob said.

“I can’t,” I grumbled. “You really did break my camera.” The focus motor on my Minolta had died.

“Besides,” I added, “you’re retired now. What are they going to do, fire you?”

It was an honor working with Bob, who was originally hired by the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Railroad in 1957. I’d never been to the Midwest, but I’d read about the “Rock” in Trains Magazine, and marveled at all of the unique diesels they rostered: re-engined Alco DL-109 621, noseless EMD AB6 750, center cab Alco C415, among others. Bob hostled locomotives at the Silvis, Ill., shops — now known for steam locomotive restoration. 

Three grimy diesel locomotives under a gray sky
Rock Island: The CRI&P had one of the most diverse collection of diesel electric locomotives. Here, a GP9 and two EMD F units (an A and a cab-less B), appear ready to be backed onto a freight train, in the Midwest mist, at an unknown location. Doug Riddell

Bob actually worked for the Rock before his name was officially recorded on the seniority roster. Following his job interview, the road foreman of engines informed him that they had to have a fireman immediately for the Peoria local. So he climbed aboard. Twenty-five men were awaiting their call to start work, but Lady Luck and the prevailing union working agreement allowed Bob Clark to establish his seniority ahead of all of them.

He also ran the last Rock Island train on March 31, 1980, when the railroad ceased operations. A derailment on the Chicago & North Western, caused Bob to be called to pilot a detour movement over CRI&P trackage.

“All switches will be lined and spiked,” his road foreman said. “You’re the only one out there.” He drew blue and white CRI&P GP38-2 4316, named to honor Garland L. Rucker. Oddly enough, when hired by the Missouri Pacific in Houston, Texas, the same locomotive, subsequently acquired by MoPac, was waiting for him.

The Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac later beckoned Clark to Richmond, where RF&P superintendent, Jimmy Doswell, was so impressed he instructed Bob to get to work that afternoon at Acca Yard. 

“I’ve never seen your railroad, Mr. Doswell,” Bob said.

“Mr. Clark, you’ve worked 25 years on the railroad,” Doswell assured him. “I think we can trust you.”

We were both hired as engineers by Amtrak in 1986 and often worked together. Bob Clark was a no-nonsense, by the book railroader — knowledgeable, dependable, and safe. He’s been drawing Railroad Retirement checks now for almost as many years as he paid into the system. He’s a walking history book of the Rock Island Line and American railroading.

Check out Doug’s previous column, “From the Cab: It’s a dangerous world out here.”

7 thoughts on “From the Cab: Careful, I might break your camera

  1. Dan Wheeler,
    Thanks. I just signed another copy recently. It’s nice to be remembered and equally exciting to hear from folks who still enjoy being “in the cab” with me. Best wishes.

  2. Glad to see you in print again, Doug. It’s been a long time since I flagged you down at RVR to get you to autograph my copy of “From the Cab”.

  3. John, any time they’d like. I’ve always been glad to contribute. Glad you enjoyed the article. I’ve got to get a hard copy of this to Bob Clark. I hope he’ll like it to.

    1. Doug: Don’t know what good my request of ACL/SAL but I wrote them it has been long enough to advertise your photos they need to start posting them!

  4. Another fine article Doug, Thanks. When will the Riddell phot0s appear in the ACKL/SAL Journal?

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