by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
September 28, 2006.
LESSONS FOR THE BIG BOYS FROM A REAL RAILROAD MAN
OSIER, Colorado -- Let's get the punchline out of the way first: the president and CEO of the railroad served an old lady lunch when no other employees were in the vicinity. He just did it. Fast, efficiently, and with a smile.
Okay, it's not one of the top 10 railroads in the world, maybe not the top 1,000 in size, but third generation railroad man Frank Turner's Scenic Cumbres & Toltec Railroad has on a number of occasions been voted one of the top 10 most breathtakingly beautiful train ride anywhere.
Weaving 64 miles in the Rockies to and from Chama, NM and Antonito, CO, the C&TRR crosses the Colorado-New Mexico border 11 times. It is a narrow-gauge railroad with fully preserved and operational sidings, section houses, fuel cars, water towers, coaling stations, cattle and sheep cars, food and parlor cars and even an "observation" car for photographers.
For sure running a railroad "owned" by the States of New Mexico and Colorado, and nearly underfunded to extinction twice in the last quarter century, is a labor of love. But Frank is a hands-on guy who knows the gold and silver mining history of the railroad from the 1870s to the present, and knows employees' kids, parents and grandparents in the generational job market of the remote mountain hamlets he serves.
Osier is where the day-trippers stop and get fed a choice of homemade turkey with all the fixin's, a meatloaf dinner, hot dogs for kids, or an unlimited soup and salad bar downstairs on the lower level.
"If you can't manage the stairs, ask an employee to help to bring up your food," read the sign at the old stagecoach stop which became a section house for the C&TRR.
My favorite wife was at the other side of the building on the turkey line. Never one to let my meatloaf go, I was on a different line. My 96-year-old mother-in-law was next to me, en route to the steep salad bar stairs.
Frank, who splits his home time between Chama Canyon and Angel Fire, N.M. and Birmingham, Ala., had personally welcomed the 200-plus passengers aboard earlier in the day. His name badge identifies him as head honcho, but even without the nametag you would see the maelstrom of activity he generates. He chats with the conductors; makes sure there is plenty of fresh coffee in the dining car; offers a personal "thank you" and handshake to the drivers of the charter busses in the parking lot, and joins two docents on what he calls "a rolling museum," all the while answering questions about local history, steam locomotives and the location of the rest rooms.
I hailed him over to the meat loaf line. "Frank!" I cheered. "Could you please do me a favor and see if one of the food workers could select some items from the salad bar and a cup of soup and bring it upstairs for Lucile?" Yes, I suppose it was obvious that I was not going to give up my place in the long meatloaf line to serve my mother-in-law.
"What soup do you like?" Frank asked Lucile.
"Vegetable is okay," she answered.
Five minutes later Frank was back upstairs with a tray filled with salad and a bowl (not a cup) of soup, and already had a spot at a table for Lucile.
Later in the day, when I thanked him again for his personal treatment and alacrity, I added, "I told my mother-in-law she should call up Burlington Northern, or CSX or heaven forbid, Amtrak, and tell them she'd like her soup and salad about now, and could the CEO kindly bring her some lunch - personally!"
Frank laughed, and in a CEO lesson of HP, GM, and certainly Enron, and Worldcom said softly, "In all seriousness, thank you very much for bringing her on the train today. I can tell she is really and truly enjoying herself and having a great time, and that's what makes this job worthwhile."
Every year funding is tight, equipment has to be maintained, and hundreds of weekend and summer volunteers, railroad buffs, and just plain checkbook supporters are tapped for more and more help to keep the railroad running.
I wonder if Frank could ever take a year's sabbatical and teach at the Harvard Business School?