the 19th and 20th century, the railroad was a symbol of adventure and travel, but for 3 boys from the same family in Cannon County, it became a way of life. Morgan Sissom, Barney Sissom, and Edward Sissom all retired from railroad jobs with a collective total of 100+ years of service.
Morgan Began his career in 1968 in Melvinville, MI as a brakeman, in the transportation department for Northfork Western. A few years later, He went to Roanoke, Virginia, as an engineer for Northfork Southern, where he "drove" the train from the terminal in Bluefield, VA to Bristol, TN.
His biggest challenge was trying to stop the trains from hitting vehicles, whose drivers had decided they could ignore signals and run through train crossings ahead of the train. Unfortunately, sometimes, he was not successful.
Morgan did have another train back into his train, when a switchman didn't properly set the switch (a short length of movable rail that can be turned to allow trains to turn off into another track). He still has a scar on his forehead from the accident. Morgan loved living in Virginia and enjoyed the beautiful mountains that he was able to see on his routes, but when he retired he moved back with his family to Tennessee in 2002.
Ed's career started in the spring 1974, first with L&N, which through mergers became CSX, when as a long distance truck driver, he decided to stop in Nashville and put in his application. A few weeks later he received a letter telling him to come to Nashville to take a three hour test. Another few weeks past, another letter asked him to come take a physical. He finished the physical and was told to take the letter to the H R Director.
Though he was not dressed to work, the H R Director took him to the supply area, gave him a new pair of work boots, and put him to work immediately. Eighteen hours later he returned home to Woodbury, slept an hour and got up and began another day of work.
Despite the long, hard physical work, he helped his brother, Barney, get a job there a few months later. In those days, before Interstate 24, and the four-lane Highway to Murfreesboro, the drive to Nashville and back was on two lane roads. They would carpool, Leaving Woodbury early in the morning and sometimes working as much as 18 hours.
In those days, most of the work of putting down wood ties and steel rails, was done by sheer brute manual labor. As older workers retired, Barney and Ed were able to "bid" on job openings, in the "maintenance of way" department, which is responsible for track building and maintenance.
Barney chose his career of operating heavy equipment which helped make track laying easier.
He retired in 2008.
Ed went on to be a foreman, entering management in 1983. His jobs through the years involved being responsible for tie gangs, which consisted of group of men who would travel to repair and rebuild tracks, to roadmaster, which consisted of responsibility for track maintenance from Nashville to south of Monteagle. The roadmaster job was stressful, and he was on call 24 hours a day.
If a vehicle tried to beat a train and failed, Ed had to respond to the accident. If a train derailed, Ed's men worked around the clock to clean up the debris and repair the track. Ed had a pickup truck that rode on the rail to do his inspections. In the extreme temperature conditions inspections would be done daily. Ed only "derailed" once in his career, while riding his truck on the rail.
In 2000, Ed was promoted to a corporate job out of Jacksonville, FL, to be the general engineer inspector, whose job it was to determine where to replace railroad ties on CSX from Canada to Florida and east of the Mississippi. Ed retired from the railroad in 2008.
During his career, Ed has physically walked or hi-railed most of the 21,000 miles of CSX railroad track, including places like Mid-Town Manhattan to tracks out in the Gulf of Mexico.
One of Ed's favorite stories (that can be told without anyone getting in trouble), happened in 1996.
The State of Tennessee, put together a several events commemorating the Bicentennial.
One was a train car called the Spirit of Tennessee Bicentennial Train that highlighted art and events of Tennessee. The city officials of Tullahoma decided they wanted to be part of this event and arranged for this "art train" to make a stop in Tullahoma.
The big day was announced in the newspaper for several weeks, a podium was erected near the Tullahoma Depot tracks and several dignitaries were arranged to speak. On the appointed day, the crowd gathered for the big event, and excitement swelled as the train approached the depot.
Unfortunately, the dispatcher, working out of Jacksonville, FL, forgot to tell the engineer to stop in Tullahoma to unload the art train. People watched in anticipation as the train approached the depot, but it continue on down the track without stopping or even slowing down. The dignitaries were stunned. Although he had no responsibility for it, Ed was inside the depot, and when he saw what had just happened, went and got into his truck and drove off before the mob could attack him. (They were able to get the train back to Tullahoma a little later.)
All three brothers appreciate the opportunity that the jobs with the railroad gave them, but are glad to be retired.