Working On the Railroad - A Steam Train Tourist Attraction

I've been working on the railroad. Every little boy is fascinated with trains and wants to work on the railroad. As a full-time RVer, I got to do just that! Several seasons, I worked for a tourist steam train. I had a lot of fun. I worked with a lot of good people.

One summer, I was the wake-up fireman for a steam locomotive. I woke the engine up and fired the first run of the day. My workday started at about 5:45 a.m. My first task was to do a comprehensive check of the engine after it had cooled over night. I needed to find and fix any problems. I needed to do this before a fire was lit in the firebox and pressure was built in the boiler. If all was well, I would light the fire, service the engine, and have steam up ready to pull the train in about an hour and forty-five minutes. If there were problems I couldn't fix, it could mean putting one engine out of service and substituting another. Or, it could mean making a series of anxious calls to see what we would do to power the train that day. My job carried a lot of responsibility. They depended on me to get the train checked out and ready to go, and the fire built. If I hadn't done my job, when the engineer showed up at 7:30 to roll the engine out to cars, there would have been no steam, no power. I had one of the most important jobs at the railroad.

Not all the other jobs were as crucial, but all played a part in keeping the train running. Employees working at the train needed to be reliable no matter what their position. They also needed to be safety conscious at all times, no matter what their job. Though there were some students, the work force was comprised mostly of adults. The train ran about five months a year. Some teachers worked their summer vacation, so we needed other people to work the beginning and the end of the season.

Case Steam Traction EngineBob Working on a Case Steam Traction Engine

Bob parlayed his general knowledge of steam engines from this 75 HP Case steam traction engine to a steam powered train engine.

Having knowledge of steam boilers and firing them, I had no problem getting hired. Some of the other employees had more experience than I did. Some worked with steam power for years. Some had worked on other railroads. Many jobs on a tourist steam railroad don't require extensive knowledge about steam power or trains; those jobs require other skills.

There were maybe 100 employees at the railroad. Some were the people who made the train move -- the engineers and firemen. There was the train crew with conductors, hostesses, hosts, and people to sell snacks. There were ticket sellers and ticket takers. Other staff ran the gift shop, the snack bar, and the museum. There were people behind the scenes, working in the office. Employees were answering phones, taking reservations, and doing the book keeping and payroll. The yard crew did the lawn and flowers, making the grounds pleasant and attractive. The janitorial crew cleaned the train, museum, gift store, bathrooms, ticket booth, office, and the train cars. In the roundhouse, there were machinists, welders, and general mechanics working to keep current engines running and making old engines run again. The roundhouse crew also went out along the lines and did track and crossing maintenance. In the restoration shop, the carpenters, painters, and mechanics were busy restoring old railcars from coupler to coupler and wheel to roof, for future service.

Alaska Railroad EngineAn Alaska Railroad Engine at the Museum of AK Transportation and Industry

This old locomotive is a diesel. Again, Bob use the knowledge from one job to work on another. Note, the snow! Not all work for RVers is where it is warm.

If you've dreamed of working on the railroad, working for a tourist attraction train may give you that chance. They hire numerous seasonal workers, and can be great jobs for working RVers -- jobs that pay. You'll find these trains all over the country. Some are independent attractions, some are at theme parks, and others are part of historical and educational facilities. Your interest in railroads and steam power may help you get one of these jobs.


Coleen's comments: My husband, Bob Nilles, wrote this article about working on a steam railroad. This particular train was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. There are guidebooks to help you find steam trains and tourist railroads. One train directory is the Guide to North America's Tourist Railways and Museums (Complete Directory of Over 250 Tourist Railways and Museums). Another resource is the Tourist Trains Guidebook, by the editors of Trains Magazine, showcases about 500 excursion trains and railroad museums throughout the United States and Canada. (By the way, the book titles are affiliate links to

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