Woodruff F. (Woody) Sutton – Missouri Pacific Various Jobs and Locations

What was your first job on the Mopac and what were the daily duties?

            My first job was actually on the C & EI at Yard Center: Night Assistant Trainmaster. Many people assumed over the years that I was a product of the Missouri Pacific training program, but I was not. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in May of 1969, I joined the Penn Central as a Management Trainee. It was a good program, not unlike the MP’s. When I completed it in April of 1970, I was assigned as an Assistant Trainmaster at Morrisville, Pennsylvania, which at that time was a small hump yard supporting US Steel’s now closed Fairless Works, as well as all the industry north of Philadelphia and Camden to Trenton on both sides of the Delaware River. It didn’t last long, for as you may remember, the PC declared bankruptcy in June of 1970 and by November of ’70 the job I held had been abolished. Liking railroading, out came the resume and I wrote the 36 Class 1 railroads in the US and Canada at that time seeking an ATM’s position. I ended up interviewing with the L & N, Erie Lackawanna, and the MOP. Luckily, I chose the latter and their offer of employment in Chicago.

            There were a whole bunch of us “night fighters” at YC. We all worked for Superintendent Leonard Griffin, and Asst. Superintendents Louis Carmichael and Dick Turner. Labor Relations were very bad in Chicago then as the rank and file really resented the Mopac “takeover.” There were investigations almost daily and the work ethic amongst the yard crews was virtually nonexistent. Basically, we chased crews, broke up card games, rode the transfers, and otherwise kept everything moving. After about a year at Yard Center, I was sent down to Chicago Heights as the sole night management supervisor for both 26th Street Yard and the CHTT, particularly the Ford Stamping Plant jobs. After that came ATM at Sherman, Texas, Trainmaster at Memphis, Operations Control Manager working for Newell Derryberry in St. Louis, Assistant Director of Car Management in St. Louis, back to Memphis as Assistant Superintendent, and then, by 1978, Superintendent of the Illinois Division at Chester, working for Chuck Dettmann. I was there when the UP merger was announced. That was also my last Field position, as I held a multitude of staff positions for the merged company in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Omaha for the remainder of my Operating Department career.

What was the most interesting job on the railroad you had?

This question is particularly difficult to answer. I was fortunate over the 37 years I worked in the industry to have worked in many different areas. Besides the classic field operating jobs with all their challenges, I had a multitude of staff jobs that gave me broad exposure to marketing initiatives, track maintenance challenges, customer service challenges, service design opportunities, asset utilization opportunities, and technology applications. I also enjoyed wonderful opportunities to work with other carriers on joint projects, as well as serving on several AAR Committees. The opportunity to meet and in some cases work with senior leadership throughout the rail industry was very stimulating. However, two initiatives with which I was involved stand out. Early on was the “rollout” of TCS, particularly the Car Management system and then shortly afterwards the Car Scheduling system. It’s hard to believe now that it was the late 1970’s when these systems were put in place. Later in my career, I very much enjoyed working in what was called Network Design and Integration. That group facilitated many joint marketing, finance, and operating initiatives that really helped UP offer new service packages that fully exploited opportunities made possible by the passage of the Staggers Act.

What were your duties, what were the most interesting or challenging areas?

Far and away facilitating projects that endeavored to meet all the needs required by operating, marketing, and finance to produce a cost effective rail freight service that was viable in the marketplace. It involved risk taking by all involved on a project because a lot of “sacred cows” and a lot of traditional “ways of doing things” had to be challenged. It was often hard not to make someone mad in the process. But, when a homerun was hit, it was very satisfying.   

What was best part of working of the Mopac?

It was far and away the most innovative railroad in the country during the 1970’s. Downing Jenks and Jim Gessner have to be given tremendous credit for the leadership they exhibited. TCS’ capabilities were unprecedented in the industry. Even in that early part of my career, I had enough interaction with my contemporaries on other railroads to realize what superior decision making tools we had at our disposal. Knowing that fact created a great deal of pride, both individually and collectively by all involved.

What did the railroad focus on as your daily responsibilities?

It really didn’t matter what your position or responsibilities were. You were expected to run a safe, cost effective, service oriented operation. You were expected to understand the issues and opportunities being faced on both a daily and strategic basis. You were expected to develop and recommend solutions.

How did the MP differ from other railroads?

Again technological applications, particularly computerization, discipline in operations, and prudent capital investment. I’ve always felt the Mopac was more aggressive in the ‘70’s than our peers. Granted we were geographically blessed with a great route structure that could support many lines of business, but we were smart enough to recognize that fact and invest in ourselves.

What changes did you see in your career that you felt were significant?

By retirement, friction bearings were gone, the 3rd generation of diesel locomotives was standard, the physical plant was in great condition, business was growing, capacity was being added, the personal computer and wireless technology was obsoleting old “mainframe” systems, earnings were at an all-time high, and safety was continuing to improve. It was a revolutionary 37 years.  

Any stories you can tell now you couldn't when you were working?

I could tell lots of stories, but I’ve chosen not to do so. I respected the vast majority of people with whom I worked. Yes the politics could be difficult at times. Yes there were some “yellow versus blue” conflicts. However, having come from Penn Central, with its famous “red team/green team” issues that I saw firsthand, the UP/MP integration was pretty smooth. I’ll always credit UP Chairman John Kenefick for making that happen. He’d seen the PC fiasco first hand. I strongly feel his patient integration of UP and MP operations, personnel, and operating systems between1982 and 1985 paid huge dividends. It’s a shame that those lessons learned weren’t followed during the CNW and SP mergers. A lot of embarrassment and money could have been saved.

How did working for the railroad affect your personal or family life?

I moved 13 times during my career. It was fun at first for Jen and the kids. We were easterners transplanted to the Midwest. We found St. Louis and Memphis to be exciting. As the kids became teenagers, it became tougher. Our daughter went to 3 high schools in four years which I’ve always regretted.  

What will be regarded as accomplishments you made in your Mopac career?

No one individual is totally responsible for successful outcomes. The things I’m most proud of came late in my career, mainly because of freedoms to design and price service gained during the Staggers Act. The biggest thrill of my Mopac career was to be part of the Illinois Division’s winning the Safety award in 1980. It took over 700 people working together to make that happen.

What was Mopac's relationship like with the unions, other railroads, and customers?

Labor Relations are what you make of them. Most local Chairman simply wanted the company to honor the agreement. The same was true for the bulk of their membership. I worked with three of the best: Jack Hobby at Memphis, as well as Denny Ward and Randy Smith, at Chester. They were first class gentleman all the way. I think relationships with other railroads and customers improved after the Staggers Act was passed. Railroads figured out they had to collaborate and cooperate, as well as compete, in order for the industry to be successful. I forget who told me this fact, but I think it’s very true: “Show me any other industry who shares and exchanges assets like the rails.” Think about it: trackage rights, haulage, freight cars, locomotives, data, and crews. The service isn’t always seamless, but we work hard to make it so. Again customers benefited greatly after Staggers. Before then it was here is the tariff rate and the level of service we are willing to offer for that rate.     

What was it like working for the Mopac during the UP merger?

As was said earlier, after the merger, I was in staff positions in St. Louis, Omaha, or Kansas City. I’m sure I was buffered from some of the issues that no doubt existed in the field.