In celebration of NCTA’s 50th Anniversary this year, On Track  is launching a new feature entitled “Recollections.”  NCTA supporters past and present are invited to share their cherished memories from NCTA’s first 50 years for publication in On Track and NCTA Website throughout the celebration year. Recollections will also be compiled for sharing at a “class reunion” to be held at NCTA’s Fall Meeting in Tucson, Arizona.

1987 Annual Meeting

Here’s an account from NCTA’s 1987 Annual Meeting, which: “kicked off with a star-studded panel of Railroaders:  Darius Gaskins, Jr., President & CEO, Burlington Northern RR, William Holtman, Chairman and President, Denver & Rio Grande Western RR, Denman McNear, Chairman, President & CEO, Southern Pacific Transportation Co., Michael Walsh, Chairman, Union Pacific RR, and James Wolfe, Chairman, President & CEO, CNW Corp. That is quite an honor to get that many railroad executives all in one room. The panel was moderated by Joseph Dewey, Director of Transportation with Kerr McGee. You can imagine leading a panel of five powerful leaders might be a little stressful, but on top of that deciding the speaking order. Mr. DeWey wanted to be fair to all the distinguished guests so he did what any good moderator would do. He made himself a cup of tea in his Union Pacific mug and put all the names in his CSX coffee mug and drew names!”

Flash from the 2006 Past

This fond memory was offered by NCTA President Emily Regis: “In 2006 the NCTA Spring Conference was held at the Silverado Resort in Napa Valley. I was one of the lucky invitees for Trinity Rail’s wine tasting tour put together by our good friend and former NCTA Board member, Gayle Tenbrink. Gayle procured two limousines for the trip up to wine country, one was a normal limousine while the other was a ‘Hummer Limo.’ You can guess which one I picked, the Hummer Limo. This was a luxury ride with leather couch-style seating, awesome sound system, ambiance lighting, and plush carpet. Things were pretty quiet on the way up the mountain into wine country, but after a few stops and sipping and tasting our way around the Napa Valley, everyone started to relax and my husband, Linas, started telling a few jokes. As the limos made their way up and down the winding narrow roads of wine country, we were laughing ourselves silly and slipping and sliding around on those leather couches. At one point, one of the limos got kind of stuck trying to turn around in a narrow driveway. More hilarity ensued. I wish I could remember some of the jokes Linas was telling that day, but I think we will just have to revisit the wine country in another Hummer Limo for a re-enactment. A great time was had by all. Thanks Gayle and Trinity Rail!”

“Emerging Troubles in the Coal Transportation Supply Chain” was the title of a 2006 NCTA magazine article that surveyed utilities on the capacity to serve some 140 coal plants that were then proposed for construction. “Some of the results are encouraging as selected utilities are taking action to meet their future coal handling needs,” the survey summary stated. “These utilities are upgrading facilities, purchasing equipment, improving cycle times, and leveraging performance measures to monitor performance. However, many results are troubling. Utilities report car shortages, outdated equipment and facilities, maintenance problems, slow process times, and limited use of performance measures. Utilities also indicate little focus on addressing those issues, shortages of capital to address them, and little teamwork with supply chain participants to address problems together.”

2006 Tuscan Arizona Conference

“Reporting on NCTA’s Spring Conference in 2006, the editor of Coal Transporter magazine noted that “the wine was fine” in Napa Valley, but pleaded for “some common sense on energy issues within the state legislature of California.” Plus: “Who in the world scheduled the O&M Conference in Tucson in June? The old thermometer hit 105⁰! That was convenient for the chefs at the cookout; they just threw the steaks on a section of the sidewalk and listened to them sizzle.”

NCTA Spring Meeting in Park City, Utah

This fond memory was offered by NCTA Board Member John Mayer: “Jim Campbell (Peabody CoalSales) comes across as a non-assuming nice guy from the Midwest, but if you were at an NCTA Spring Meeting in Park City, Utah, you were treated to a side of Jim most do not know. I do not recall the details of the social event or who the entertainer was. Possibly dueling bands? But at some point in the evening, the band offered to let anyone play the drums. One of the NCTA attendees played a bit. When he was done, up stands Jim Campbell and he takes the sticks. He proceeded to play the drums like a rock star. He played a few songs and then ripped into a drum solo. The band paused while he shredded the cans and the audience was in awe. It was a mike drop moment before mike drops became a thing. Turns out Jim had some history of arriving at concerts and stepping in to fill the drummer’s seat impromptu.”

NCTA Spring Meeting Jeep Tour

Here’s one more fond memory offered by NCTA Board Member John Mayer: “Vaughn Mavers, like all the Peabody CoalSales reps, is an expert customer relationship builder always on the lookout for fun activities. At an NCTA Spring Conference at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, he organized a Jeep tour for attendees eager to experience the Rocky Mountains up close and personal. The weather was typical for Colorado that time of year: Some sunshine, some fog, some snow, some sleet, some rain, all in the same day. The guides brought extra heavy coats and wool blankets. We hit icy fog not far out of the Broadmoor. The road up the mountain was ice covered and slick. We would get to an overlook and the guide would say: “Normally you can see Kansas from here.” But all we saw was fog. We pulled off the “road” just below the tree line to take a goat path into the mountain. The snow was feet deep. The trail was rutted, rocky and slick. The jeeps struggled to get traction and several times had to back up and try a different line to make forward progress. At the top, we declined an offer to “get out and look around” and our guides were not a bit surprised. On the way back we asked the driver if this was typical. He responded: “Hell no.!” The driver said that he had never been on the mountain this early in the season and he thought we might get stuck and freeze to death. But everyone returned to base camp at the Broadmoor safely!”

NCTA 2000’s Train Tour

This memory of an earlier dinner train excursion was recounted by former NCTA Executive Director Tom Canter: “In the early 2000s, the O&M Committee had a conference in Durango, Colorado, and we were able to charter the Durango & Silverton Train for an evening dinner ride up the mountain on the way to the Cascade Wye. The deal was we would go up to the Wye, unload the train that was catered by the hotel we were staying at, have dinner at the Cascade up in the mountains, and then come back in the night. It just happened to be a full moon, and so the adventure began. We chartered the entire train and had about 130 folks. We filled the train up, had a strolling minstrel on the train, and away we went. About 30 minutes into the ride, we ran out of beverages on our train, so we stopped the scheduled train coming down the mountain on its return and we let them unload all the beverages from that train on to our train. (As you can imagine, most of it was the alcoholic beverages.) And up we continued. It was a great ride on the narrow-gauge railroad as you look over the canyons. We stopped at the Cascade Wye and people were talking and having pre-dinner drinks. Then we were told to walk around the other side of the train and there was dinner, all set up. We all sang a verse of “America the Beautiful” and it was a wonderful moment. While going back down the mountain, the full moon made everything mystical. You could see the Animas River way down in the canyon in the moonlight, and there was very little light in the cars. It was such a mystical and wonderful experience that the railroad instituted a monthly full-moon ride after our initial ride, which they continued for several years.”

Durango, Colorado Recollections

On Track’s last issue noted how this year’s NCTA Tennessee Valley Railroad dinner train experience recalled a similar dinner train outing in the early 2000s on the Durango & Silverton Railroad in Durango, Colorado. The Durango & Silverton holds a special place in NCTA lore. Former NCTA Executive Director Tom Canter recalled how O&M Conference attendees were invited to tour the railroad’s repair shops in the early 2000s. The shops were maintained very much like they were in the 19th century, including an old forging shop. NCTA attendees also viewed a vintage steam locomotive roundhouse turntable. (It’s like a lazy Susan on which a locomotive would go in one end and go toward the center of the radius and stay there, and the lazy Susan would rotate and the locomotive would be positioned to go back on a track.) NCTA’s O&M Conference returned to Durango in August 2020 and enjoyed another visit to the Durango & Silverton shops. That conference – one of the first in-person events held during the height of the COVID pandemic – featured masks and social distancing as part of the tour.

Emily Regis First NCTA Meeting

NCTA President Emily Regis recalled the first NCTA conference she attended. It was held in Denver in September 2000. She was there by herself and didn’t know anyone. At one of the receptions, she chatted with a man who gave her his business card. It was Ray Bachinsky of GE Rail. “We were in the market for a railcar lease and Ray talked me into looking at a like-kind exchange of our old steel Ortner bottom dump cars for new aluminum cars. Ray came out to see me in Arizona and became one of my best friends in the industry. He introduced me to Johnstown America (now Freightcar America), and the next thing I knew we were building new aluminum rapid discharge cars at the Johnstown, Pa., facility. We also needed a maintenance program for the new cars, and that is how I got to meet Gayle TenBrink of Trinity Rail. We still have the cars. And while I’ve lost track of Ray, Gayle is still a great friend of mine. All thanks to NCTA.”

Do you have recollections to share about NCTA’s history during this – the organization’s 50th anniversary year? Examples include personal anecdotes from NCTA events, tributes to memorable people, observations on major issues addressed by NCTA, and more. Vintage photos are also welcome. Submit your recollections by emailing NCTA Executive Director John Ward at John@movencta.org