Railroading – A Family Business
By Shawn I. Smith
If you’ve done business with us or spent time reading our Railroader magazine over the years, you know that the Northern Plains group of companies is certainly “a family business.”
Over the years, it’s been a goal of NPR Founder and Chairman Gregg F. Haug to support the next generation of railroaders. Like many 24/7 industries, ours can be demanding, requiring long hours, night work, and plenty of time away from home. However, the work can be rewarding; many love the camaraderie, working outdoors, the challenge of switching rail cars, or maintaining large and increasingly technical equipment. There is also satisfaction in getting a heavy train of valuable freight over the road safely without incident. While this industry can be tough, generations of railroaders have developed a passion for what they do, and their sons and daughters, and nieces and nephews, have followed in their footsteps.
At Northern Plains, we are fortunate to have several railroad families who have contributed to our success over the years. Take the Liden family, who have helped keep NPR’s track safe and in good repair. Retired Roadmaster Mike Liden has been followed by sons Ben (now Roadmaster) and Adam (Assistant Roadmaster). President Jesse Chalich’s grandfather, father, and uncle all worked in the Maintenance of Way department at the SOO Line.
Today, his son Jaden carries on that family tradition as a Diesel Mechanic/Electrician, his wife Julie is NP’s Executive Assistant, and his brother Ben Chalich is a Sales and Marketing Rep. In 2021, Jesse and Julie’s daughter Morgan was a summer student, while their nephew Cole is a Locomotive Mechanic – Cole being the son of Justin Chalich, President of the Northern Lines Railway in St. Cloud, MN.
We have father and son teams, including Dan Watson, Superintendent Industrial Switching Services, and son Tyler in our Complete Track Works (CTW) department; the “Baders” – Brent who runs NP’s locomotive services group, together with son Brandon who is a mechanical leader at the Lansford Shop; Dale and Dustin Sluke in the Car Department, CTW’s Paul and Bradley Cooper at Minot, and NPR Manager Operations Todd Gullickson and his son Casey at CTW. We also have brother and sister acts: CTW Director Jerry Hegstrom, Manager Safety Eric Hegstrom, and their sister Shannon, who works part-time in the accounting department.
Jared and Derek Muir – State Legion baseball champs from way back – are long-time NPR employees. Tami Omdahl of CTW recently had her daughter Mariah join the team in an administrative role.
Rounding out our railroad families, NPR conductor Jonathan Lemon’s nephew Roger Anderson is a conductor for NPRS at St. Paul Park, while Kody Ralston claims Uncle Kent Ralston at Fordville. We also should acknowledge Assistant Manager Industrial Switching Shawn Sullivan’s late father Richard, who was also a valued member of the Northern Plains team.
Over the years, the practice of hiring “railroaders’ kids” has been debated in the industry. Modern thinking called it nepotism, but there is a reason that railroad kids have become railroaders. Simply, they understand the demands, challenges, and hardships associated with the job – but they also understand that it can be a very rewarding career and way of life.
My cousin Bill’s story is one example. His dad, Glen Crichton, started firing steam locomotives on the CNR at Melville, Saskatchewan in the 1950’s, eventually becoming an engineer. Glen spent many days and nights away from home – in the bunkhouses at Rivers, Watrous, and Canora. However, despite knowing the demands of the railroad, growing up in Melville Bill followed his dad and took up railroading as a car knocker and retiring as Assistant Superintendent Mechanical a few years back. From minus 40 at Hudson Bay, to fixing cars, locomotives, and re-railing almost everywhere – Bill saw it all.
These days, railroading families seem especially evident in the short-line business, perhaps out of necessity. I saw this play out as I watched 16-year-old Thomas Long of Manitou, Manitoba, running the skid steer this summer at the Boundary Trail Railway, helping his dad Travis (BTR’s capable GM) with Maintenance of Way duties for the second summer in a row.
And if you want to see a real family affair in action, take a ride on the Alberta Prairie, Railway where founding President Don Gillespie remains solidly at the helm, supported always by his lovely wife Carol, son Kelly as Chief Mechanical Officer/Senior engineer, and now the next generation – grandkids Emily, Ryan, Regan, and Curtis serving the guests as excursion trains have returned to the old Stettler Subdivision after a long COVID-driven absence.
Some of the finest people I know are generational railroaders. I think of my good friend and colleague Grant Bailey, who retired this year as Vice President of the Ontario Northland Railway after an exemplary career at CN and RaiLink, and after developing transit systems in Vancouver and Ottawa. As a Professional Engineer, Grant followed in the footsteps of his father R.M. (Ron) Bailey, one of the most respected senior officers to ever work for the Canadian National. Grant’s grandfather, Mr. W.R. (Bill) Bailey, was a steam locomotive engineer, beginning as a watchman for the Canadian Northern Railway in Manitoba in 1908.
The industry is better off with the contributions of people like the Baileys – Ron with a station named in his honour (Bailey is a Centralized Traffic Control point on the CN main line just east of Edmonton), and Grant honoured with a further “Bailey station” on the Ottawa Valley Railway at North Bay. I would suggest that Grant’s positive impact on many during his career wouldn’t have been possible if someone at CN hadn’t hired him because his dad worked there.
The last word is for Gregg, whose dad Fred was a guiding presence on NPR’s board for years, and now his daughter Lauren helps us produce our Railroader magazine. I wonder if a railway career is in the cards for 4-year-old grandson Isaac some day?
On behalf of all of us, thank you, Gregg. Be assured that we are proud to be part of the “family business.”
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