Safety Meeting

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.

Safety Meeting 2

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.

Safety Meeting 3

Gas station coffee

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.

Wally & Virgil

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.

sds 4

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!

Jennifer 2

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.

Safety Meeting Navajo



Union Pacific & Burlington Northern Santa Fe

5. Senority list 1969

We needed to do more research. What other railroads did Navajos work for? Each RR company has its rail corridors and BNSF runs closest to the Navajo Nation.

Section gangs and Regional gangs were just one of many things that we will learn from our production. Like the church denominations that partitioned our reservation, each area of the Navajo Nation was selected by trading post owners to recruit labor for specific RR companies. In some parts it was the ATSF and later the Santa Fe Railways; and other areas it was Union Pacific and Denver Rio Grande Railroads. However Navajo steel gangs working for Union Pacific caught our attention.

5. UP Uncle & Nephew

Our next trip was to visit a third generation RRer from Tohatchi who is very active in the safety hazmat training for Navajo RRers. We meet Darryl Begaye and his uncle to understand the full life of a Railroader through the eyes of a new hire, middle age, and retiree.

5. UP & BNSF

Kenneth Barney is our narrator and my relative (Tsinaajini and Kiyaanii) and from this one interview our story began to take shape in a big way.

5. Union Pacific & BNSF

He showed me the old, old employment papers used to calculate the years of service. And seeing this opens up a lot more questions.

5. UP & BNSF Timecard 2

Nephew Darryl invites me to film his tie gang down near the Mexico border at Santa Teresa.  Tie gang? What? We learned that there are many different specialized gangs that work on the RR, not just steel gangs. The tie gang removes and replaces the old wooden ties. Those things are not just for planter beds! There is also gang that only installs concrete ties too. So I agree to meet up in Santa Teresa because why not?