'The Dark Side Of The Railroad': A Locomotive Engineer's Fraught Legacy With The Rails Barnie Botone's grandmother cried when he told her he was a locomotive engineer because an ancestor had been forcibly relocated by train. "The irony, it was too much to bear," he says at StoryCorps.
NPR logo

'The Dark Side Of The Railroad': A Locomotive Engineer's Fraught Legacy With The Rails

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/676039991/676652956" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'The Dark Side Of The Railroad': A Locomotive Engineer's Fraught Legacy With The Rails

'The Dark Side Of The Railroad': A Locomotive Engineer's Fraught Legacy With The Rails

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/676039991/676652956" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's time now for StoryCorps. Today, a story about the railroad. It comes to us from Barnie Botone in Bismarck, N.D. In 1875, his ancestor, along with dozens of other Native American leaders, was taken by train and imprisoned by the U.S. Army. More than a century later, Boton went to work on the railroad. At StoryCorps, he remembers the day he told his grandmother about getting the job.

BARNIE BOTONE: I was so excited. I said, Grandma, I'm a locomotive engineer on the railroad. And she said, my great-grandfather - he was a chief, and the government took him off in a livestock car. And now my grandson comes and tells me he's on the railroad. She cried with a moan because the irony - it was too much to bear. And that's when I told her that I would be the very best I possibly could be.

My first paid trip, I walked into the shanty. And there's a roomful of white guys, and everybody's looking at me. And I had long braids. And this guy says to me, take a drink, Indian. And he puts this jug right in my face. And I thought, man, this ain't right. I knew it was going to be hard, and I knew I'd be different. But I knew I could compete with any of them.

So I would work eight to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. I could handle long trains, short trains, fat trains, big trains. It didn't matter. And this is where I seen elk and bears, coyotes. And when the snow comes, it's just beautiful. There's nobody looking over your shoulder. There's nobody there to be your boss.

But there was the dark side of the railroad. And I remember, I was working with this guy. We called him Wickie (ph). He was tying a brake on. He didn't know there was a car down further in the track, and it ran in and cut off his legs. Here, this man's laying unconscious, his legs in the middle of the track. So right away, I got under the car with him. And when I put the tourniquet on him, he woke up. And he was suffering. He said to me, you think I'm going to die? And I said, no, you're not going to die. Well, I coached him pretty good because he made it. But the very next day, I grabbed my hair like this, and it just came out in my hands - in a bundle.

It was the most horrendous thing that ever happened to me. But I went back to work because - you know, I grew up with a tough bunch. Whenever we got bucked off a horse, we'd have to get back on. That's the people I come from. And that's not something that is insignificant, especially in these days.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "PERIODICALS")

MARTIN: That was Barnie Botone, who spent 34 years working on the railroad. He spoke with his friend, Gordon Williams, at StoryCorps in Bismarck, N.D. Their interview will be archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "PERIODICALS")

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.