Derrick Stories

About the Atlanta Derrick, and some stories

     I think it is a good idea to record some of my memories of what it was like to work 

on a Wrecking crew of a Railroad Derrick.  During my career, spanning a period of 34 

years, I went to many Derailments, numbering in the hundreds, but for at least 5 

years I worked, as a crew member of Southern Railway's Atlanta Derrick (A 250 

ton Brownhoist Crane), and we went to a large number of wrecks and derailments, 

when our services were required. My stories on this page are mainly about that 

period of time. If you are just a Railroad Fan, you may find it somewhat 

informative, or you will at least expand you understanding of what it was like, and 

I will at least have recorded it, before my old memory fades into oblivion.    If you 

worked on a Derrick Crew at any time, it may, bring some memories to you of 

working wrecks, and if you feel inclined to do so, I invite you to put it in the form 

of a story, and share it with us. I will be happy to publish it here and give you the 

credit, for your story.   Just drop it in an Email to me at    

  and I will be most grateful and you will, perhaps, feel some sense of 

accomplishment, for having done so.

Derrick Crew Members

     Our Derrick Crew consisted of, a General Foreman, A Derrick Foreman, a Derrick 

Engineer, and four or five Ground Men. We were all Railway Carmen, who worked 

for the Southern Railway Company, at Atlanta Georgia. It varied at times of who 

was on it, and I shall endeavor to mention a few names, although, I am sure I cant 

remember them all, and If I leave your name out, I apologize in advance. The Old 

Heads of course, were people like, Hugh Mathews (Cisco), Benny and Chunky 

Douglas, (They were brothers), Charlie Baxter, Pinkie Freeman, Ben Jones, Bill 

Anderson, Bill Clealand, and considerable others, I can not recall at the moment. 

Then there were us younger, men like, Myself, Walter Parks, David Ellington, Greg 

Reed, David Rickman, Eddie Murphy, D.A. Davis, Gene (Pepe) Clarke, Steve 

Collier, Gene Wood, Jim Hyatt, and many others, but I couldn't think of telling my 

story without at least mentioning a few names. Some of the names, I just 

mentioned, have now been called on that last trip we all must make some day. 

They were hard working dedicated men, and I consider myself lucky indeed to 

have had the privilege of working with them and calling them my friends. If 

anyone reading this wants to throw a few names at me, I will gladly add them to 

this list.

The Derrick is Called, by Walter Parks

I knew almost instinctively, who it was calling when the ringing telephone woke 

me from my slumber, Hello, I mumble. "Good Morning Walter", a cheery voice 

says, "This Is Louis Gaddis. The Derrick is called, for 3:30. There is a big wreck up 

on Braswell Mountain. Can you make it?" Even though, I have only been home 

from work a few hours, and I have only had a couple hours sleep, I respond, "Yea, 

I will be there. Go ahead and mark me up." I sit on the side of my bed pulling on 

my boots, and wonder why I am so tired, and then I remember the long day I had 

earlier. I had worked all day from Seven AM, until nearly nine PM, when I had got 

in from a road trip, to put a pair of wheels in a Tank Car, in Rome Georgia. (My 

normal working hours then was from 7 am till 3 pm, but being an assigned member 

of the Derrick Crew, meant, that my regular job would go on the back burner, and 

I would be expected to work what ever hours it took to clear the wrecks and 


     The chill I feel seems to cut me to the bone, and I pull my scull cap down over 

my ears to block out some of the wind, as I step out my front door, into the 

freezing cold, on this 20 degree Georgia night. It's 2:30 am and the snow is no 

longer falling, but a light coating of it on the ground, crunches under my feet as I 

walk to my old pick up truck. I think to my self, "What a way to make a living. To 

go through this, just to make a few extra dollars." I wonder why Derailments can't 

happen on a nice warm day, but they usually seem to happen at the worst of times. 

By the time I get my truck running, I am shivering from the cold and even though, 

I am now in the truck, I know I will be half the way to Inman yards Rip Track, 

before the heater really starts producing any noticeable warmth. I look back at the 

nice warm house as I drive away, knowing, it may be many days before, I get back, 

and I see my old faithful dog with her nose, sticking out the curtains, watching me 


     It is a ten minutes after three when I walk into the Rip Track Office. The 

General Foreman on duty speaks to me as, I grab a cup of hot coffee. I hear there is 

30 or 40 cars turned over and the Main Line is blocked. You are the first one here. I 

already knew to do it, but he said, you better go check the Derrick Train and see if 

it is ready to go. The Train crew will be leaving the Engine terminal in a while to 

come couple up. I pass David Ellington as I cross the Rip Track. He is headed to the 

locker room, to change into work clothes. I am going to check the train I said, as I 

passed him. I cross 5 sets of tracks and approach the south End of the Derrick 

Track. I take down the Blue Flag, and signal the Switch Engine I see approaching 

with a Caboose, to go ahead and couple up. I start north walking beside the train 

checking it as I go. I check the train lines as I go, making sure all the air hoses are 

connected and the Angle Cocks are properly lined. The train consisted of ten or 

twelve cars. There was some panel cars, ( cars loaded with sections of railroad 

already attached to cross ties, for emergency Track repair), there was a Tank Car 

filled with water for firefighting, several Gondola Cars, loaded with extra wheels 

and emergency trucks for using under wrecked cars. We had an old Box Car loaded 

with lots of wood blocks, for rerailing and blocking up with, and a lot of extra big 

wrecking cables and things, It was called, simply enough, the Block Car. There 

were two Coach cars. One we rode in, and the other one was the Tool Car. It had 

lots of tools and cables and a big generator, to supply us with electricity. I check 

the Block Car as I pass and sure enough, someone has left the door on the right side 

open. I reach up and shove the door closed and latch it. When I get to the Boom 

Car and Derrick, I find that Carman Ellington is there already, and has taken down 

the Standby Cables and Battery Charger Cables from the Derrick, and I hear him in 

the tool car, starting up the Generator. I check the back of the Derrick as I pass it 

to make sure all the Tie Down, bolts are in place and secured. (They were to assure 

that the Derrick would not shift and swivel in route to our destination.) I arrive at 

the North End of the Track, and take down the Blue Flag, and check to make sure 

the switch is unlocked, so the locomotives, can come in and couple up. I walk back 

to the Coach Car and climb up and step inside. I grab the hand set of the Radio. 

Carman on the Derrick calling the Engineer of the Derrick Train I said. This is the 

Engineer, he responds, we will be there in about 5 minutes. I inform him the Blue 

Flag is down, and that they can come in and couple up, easy. I learned some time 

back to always tell them to couple up easy, when a wild Engineer had coupled up 

so hard that, I was burned with the hot coffee. I quickly plop my behind in a seat 

to rest. We havent even left yet, and I am tuckered out.

     It, now 3:35 AM. The Locomotives have coupled up on the North End of the 

Derrick. I know they have cut in the air, because, I can hear air blowing from an 

Emergency Portion Valve. It quickly seats it self, and the air pressure on the gages, 

begins to rise rapidly, and we can hear the valves singing, as air rushes through 

them, charging up the reservoirs. Air blows from the retainer valves, as the air 

brakes release, and the pistons slowly retract. I have been asked to run the brakes, 

so I hop down from the Coach. I walk north two car lengths, to the locomotives, 

and turn and start walking towards the rear of the train. As I pass the Boom Car, I 

see the Brakeman has failed to release the Hand Brake. I step between the rails, and 

grab the quick release lever and release the Hand Brake. As I walk toward the rear 

of the train, I am checking several things in particular. I look under each car to 

assure the pistons have released. I look at the Bleed Rods making sure none are 

stuck in the open position, because, that would prevent the brakes from charging 

up on that car, and would contribute greatly to the overall train line leakage. I 

look back north and see the Derrick Foreman looking my direction to check my 

progress. It is fairly obvious, that he is in a hurry to get moving. Someone may 

have called him on the radio, asking when we will be moving. I hear a bad Air leak 

ahead of me and when, I get to the Panel Cars, I find its source. An air hose gasket 

is missing, because air is blowing from between the Glad Hands. In short order, I 

quickly cut out the Angle Cocks, disconnect the hose and replace the missing 

gasket, with one I had in my pocket. I cut the air back in and proceed on back to 

the Caboose. I climb up on the Caboose. The Flagman is aboard, and has a nice fire 

going in the Coal Stove. The heat feels great after, being out in the cold a while. I 

look at the Air Gages and see the pressure is at 78 P.S.I. and I pick up the hand set 

to the radio. Carman on the Caboose calling the Engineer on the Derrick. How is 

your Flow Meter doing? Its down to 3 he said. Very well I reply, apply your brakes 

please. The pressure begins to drop as he applies the brakes. I hop down from the 

Caboose, and look under it to assure the piston has indeed came out, and I look to 

make sure the brake heads are up tight against the wheels. I remount the Caboose 

and see the pressure is down to 58 P.S.I. Engineer, on the Derrick, you have got 

twenty pounds off, release you brakes please. 2 pounds he replies, meaning that he 

had 2 pounds of overall train line leakage. I stand briefly by the Caboose to assure 

the Brake Piston has released, and proceed back towards the Coach Cars. I get 

aboard the Coach and the Foreman is gripping about what took me so long. I pick 

up the radio hand set again and tell the Engineer the brakes have released and he is 

ready to go, as soon as he get a route. Someone up in the main Tower, who has 

been listening to the whole thing, blurts out a route to the Engineer, without his 

even having to ask for it, and with a slight jerk the train begins to move.

     I'm sitting, by the window gazing out the window, listening to the chatter on 

the radio, and the occasional Ding, Ding, Ding, of crossing gate bells we pass, from 

time to time, and thinking of the day that lies ahead. Someone behind me is 

snoring. I know, I should try to get a little sleep, but I am much to wound up. I 

pretty well know what to expect when we get there. I can visualize the mass of 

wrecked, and overturned cars, and Locomotives. The Derrick is at this moment the 

hottest train running on the system. All the trains in our way have been sent to the 

hole in various sidings, and we are routed straight through, non stop. When we 

arrive at the Train Wreck we will work non stop, to get the main Line cleared, so 

the freight can once again start moving. After the Main line is cleared, we will 

work 16 hour days, to pick up the wrecks. (It was not uncommon to stay out for a 

couple of weeks, before getting back home.)  As we pass through Austell Georgia, I 

slowly drift off to sleep, sitting there in my seat. When the Derrick is called you 

learn to rest, when ever the chance presents itself.


The Fire--By Tommy Reese

     I remember once while working a wreck somewhere around McPherson, GA, 

that it was cold and raining(seemed it was always raining or hot as blazes). We had 

several auto rack cars derailed and/or turned over, and as we rerailed them, the 

track department would repair the track. As they were repairing the track, we 

would have thirty minutes to a couple of hours to wait, and since it was so cold, a 

couple of us decided to build a fire. The General Foreman didn't think too much of 

a fire but after we had it going, he moved right to the front of the line. We were so 

tired; all we could do was just sit or lay around the fire and get soaked by the rain. 

Well, the general foreman decided he would lay down also, and stuck his feet close 

to the fire then nodded off along with rest of us. Trouble was, he had his feet too 

close to the fire and didn't realize it. Most of us took a short nap, including the 

general foreman and when we woke up a short time later, we smelled something 

worse than the creosote crossties we were burning. We soon discovered what it 

was though. The General Foreman had on an almost new pair of Sears Die Hard 

work boots and the soles had melted like butter. You don't think us carknockers 

laughed, do you? Well, we tried real hard not to, but we couldn't help it. Don't 

know if Sears ever made these boots good or not.

The Above story submitted by Tommy Reese 1-21-2008

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