Braking in a Topsy-Turvey World

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Wx4 Grab Bag

One day in 1980, I was called off of the San Francisco Freight Brakeman Extra Board for what the crew caller described as "The Governor Medfly Special", and it was just that: a special passenger train commemorating the beginning of state stewardship of the Peninsula commutes, featuring Governor Jerry Brown in person.

Aside: Previously, the only contact that my family ever had with a Governor Brown was with his father, Pat Brown, who was governor in the Sixties. Governor Senior had sent my father a letter of condolences about the loss of his brother being "a great blow to the wine industry". The thing was, Uncle Clarence was still alive. The actual deceased was one of the principles of the Gibson Wine Company (sadly no relations, thus no discount). When Uncle Clarence did pass away a few years later, it was indeed a genuine blow to California's wine industry and likewise its liquor industry, as Clarence hadmanaged to maintain an even pickled state of consciousness since the early days of World War I. During Prohibition, Clarence ran whiskey stills in La Honda and Downieville, and supplied the constabularies of three counties with his products. He would have made a fortune if he was not his own best customer.

As was typical in the summer, the passenger extra boards were depleted, so it was left to extra freight men to cover the assignment. The conductor was Bob Preace, who retired as an Amtrak conductor, but I don't recall the other brakeman's name - he was an Oakland man, though.

After arriving at 4th & Townsend and getting squared-away on the assignment, I took up a position on the platform near the rear vestibule. There was quite a crowd of SP officialdom at the gate, out of which suddenly stepped Chairman of the Board B.F. Biaggini, headed directly for me! Ho boy! He stuck out his hand and said, "B.F. Biaggini's the name. What's yours?" I mumbled a nervous reply, and he then quizzed me about my railroad career and my family for about a minute, all the while casting a "stay away" glare at the nearby gaggle of officials. Mr. Biaggini was a true leader - in that one short instant he impressed upon both me and his lieutenants that even mere brakemen were an important part of the corporate equation. Traditional top railroad management thought this way, I suppose because most of them came up through the ranks as did Biaggini; todays crop rarely mixes with us peons - those MBA mills surely turn out some effete dandies.

At any rate, soon the show began with the arrival of Governor Brown. Upon leaving San Francisco, we crewmen were ushered to a lounge car that we had pretty much to ourselves. A few miles down the line, Andy Anderson, SP's head PR guy, asked us if we'd like to be photographed with the Governor. The other brakeman begged-off, but curiosity got the better of Bob and me, so we followed Andy towards an audience with Jerry Brown.

Bob was directed into the seat next to the Governor, who assiduously ignored him. I was told to stand behind the pair. When, the SP's photographer asked the Governor to talk to Bob for the photograph, Governor Brown glanced at the photographer with a sneer and hissed, "YOU talk to him!" - EO

Mr. Biaggini, the Corporate Tycoon (who didn't ride the train, BTW), surely could have given The Man of the People a few lessons in magnanimity. It's a topsy-turvy world that we live in, eh?