Every morning before the work day, the crew gathers for an important safety meeting to breakdown the job detail. It lays out the train traffic, possible hazards, and communication channels for the railroad industry.
On this day, the job briefing starts at 4am and the temperature is freezing. We capture the crew getting ready for the day putting on layers at the trunk of their cars. The only source of harsh light are coming from the giant flood lights that are rented from local businesses. I don’t know if we are supposed to be doing this but we are doing it anyway. Two cameras cover the safety meeting and it is glorious.
The older Navajo railroaders on this crew have been here for decades. There are the two Attencio brothers with a combined 75+ years. The Begay father and son with a combined 60+ years. It is incredible to see the families working along side one another.
After briefing, Supervisor Thor Gunderson begins the morning exercises. He lightens their mood and readies them for a long on the tracks. Before life on the railroad, Thor was in the military and leads the crew like a platoon. He called me out in the middle of exercises to scream out the next orders.
In my substitute teacher voice, I call out Ready! Begin! I yell like a mouse, he says. And I give it another go. Inhale cold air and exhale steam. REEEEEEEADY…. BEEEEEEEEEEGIN! I think it echoed in my head. I am nervous and the crew begins to move. 1-2-3-4! 1-2-3-4!
Safety meetings are a requirement for each crew. However, the 9001 closes its safety meeting with a prayer. This is unusual for a railroad crew and makes it unique. Navajo prayers, Christian prayers, Catholic prayers are said in a rotating basis. And these workers are reminded every moment is precious and they want to do the best job they can to be able to return home.