Incident on the Union Pacific:
Valley Police Department, Fall 1989
Lucky for these guys that none of them were injured, but their car was pretty messed up!

The Union Pacific Railroad is headquartered at Omaha, and is part of the vast Transcontinental Railroad Project which was completed in 1867. The UPRR Mainline runs across the entire State of Nebraska, with additional branch line and track in a web, all over the Nebraska. The State’s history is intertwined with the railroad, and its part of the proud culture of Nebraska. The tracks of the Union Pacific, or one of the other railroads acquired by the UP ran through every jurisdiction I worked in Nebraska.

Union Pacific Construction through Valley, Nebraska during 1864

The Union Pacific came through Valley in 1864 and became an important railroad junction. While not as prominent as it had been up through the 1960’s, Valley was the first junction west of Omaha, where the Lincoln Sub connected to the Mainline. This track branched off to travel through Wahoo, Nebraska, Lincoln, and on to Maryville, Kansas. Until Union Pacific merged with the Missouri Pacific, UP trains bound for Kansas City often passed through Valley via the Lincoln Subdivision, then points south. It also provided the closest “Y” intersection to Omaha. Since Roundhouses didn’t exist in the 1980's anymore, if the railroad had any cars or locomotives, such as the big steam engines that needed to be turned around, they would be brought to Valley from Council Bluffs or Omaha to be turned around on the “Y” at Valley.

This Junction with its “Y”, and the proximity of large manufacturing firms, such as Valmont Industries and other nearby manufacturers, caused Valley to have a fairly sizable railroad yard where cars were brought in or taken out for the factories, sorted, left to be picked up by later trains heading south on the Lincoln Sub. Other parts of the yards on the east side of town were used for long term storage of rolling stock.

A high altitude view of part of the Union Pacific Railroad Yards at Valley, Nebraska.
The Spruce Street Crossing is near the center of the photograph. The large "Y" Junction
to the Lincoln Subdivision is on the upper-left area of the photo and includes the West
Street Crossing. The lower right area of the photo shows the area where the long term
storage of rail cars are located. This photo is fairly recent. It appears that the yards at Valley
have been down sized further as it appears much of the yard facilities and tracks between
West and Spruce Street have been removed since the the Fall of 1989.

Typically a train passed through Valley on average of every ten to fifteen minutes in one direction or another. Because of the yard and the junction, Union Pacific had a human manning the Spruce Street Crossing in Valley’s Business District during the first few years I worked at Valley. He sat in a little shack, and every time a train approached the crossing, he would come out with a stop sign in hand to stop traffic until the crossing was clear. This was pretty nice for us to have on hand, since it was an extra pair of eyes out on the streets, twenty-four hours per day.

One evening, I was playing with the traffic radar, when I noticed that eastbound trains always seemed to travel eight to ten miles per hour faster than the westbound trains. I asked Francis Durham, the night crossing guard why this was… He looked at me hard, and said, “You big dummy! The eastbound trains are going downhill!” He went on to explain that the average grade elevation between Omaha, Nebraska and Cheyenne, Wyoming was about seven feet per mile. While one might not see this with the naked eye across the flatlands of Nebraska, it means that the caboose on a long, eastbound freight train could be about seven feet higher in elevation to the locomotive! (This is true. Do the math!)

A 1949 photo of UP-5050, a 1923 Baldwin 2-10-2 Locomotive parked on a siding,
just west of the Spruce Street Crossing of the Union Pacific Railroad in Valley, Nebraska

During the mid to late 1980’s the yards were downsized, instead of eight tracks crossing Spruce Street, there were now only the two mainline tracks. The human crossing guards were retired and replaced with automatic crossing signals with the gates that most of us are now familiar with today. While the yard was smaller, it was not removed, and still had a considerable amount of traffic and activity at that time. This meant that frequently, a long train would be stopped for a period of time on the tracks while cars were either picked up or dropped off. When this occurred, they would typically block the crossings at Spruce Street, West Street and Nebraska Highway 64, (or NE-64.) If the rail crew was conscientious, they might stop the lead locomotive west of Spruce Street, so that crossing would remain open, while blocking only West Street and NE-64.

This was the case while I was on patrol one cool weekend evening during the fall of 1989. I was the only officer from Valley on duty that evening, and for the most part the shift had been pretty unremarkable.

Like most of us, Don Shelton had a two-way police radio in his personal vehicle. He was off duty, and had been visiting one of the guys at the Valmont Security Office at County Road 104 and NE-64 regarding a project he had been working on. He was on his way home on NE-64 when he came up to the UPRR crossing at NE-64. He was about the fifth vehicle in line from the front, with others coming from behind every so often, adding to the line. After about five minutes of waiting, four young men in their late teens to their early twenties got out of the car at the front of the line, and started smashing up the lights on the railroad signal! One of them even managed to pull the crossing arm around to about 90 degrees from where it had been until he bent the end of it almost off!

Don got out of his truck and shouted at these kids to stop! They all jumped into their car, and took off eastbound, through the railroad yards. Don called me on his radio, “Five-Five, Five-Four! You’ve got a vehicle headed your way, eastbound through the rail yards from 64. They just vandalized the crossing signal!

At the time, I was traveling south on Spruce, approaching the tracks so I it happened that I was in the right place at the right time. I looked west, and could see the headlights of their car winding their way through the yards. “Five-Four, Five-Five. I got em in my sights from Spruce Street…

Now let me tell you something about railroad yards. They are very dangerous places! If you have no legitimate reason to be in a rail yard, on foot, in a car, or otherwise, stay out! For one thing, the crossings for the various tracks withion the yard are not marked. There are no cross buck signs or signals to indicate any crossings within the yard. Additionally, there’s a lot of stuff… BIG stuff and junk that is either parked or just sitting or laying in the yards that one could easily run into. At night in this area, with exception to a few small spots or locations, hardly anything is lit up, thus adding another dimension to the dangers.

I turned on my red and blue flashing lights. Not only to signal these idiots to stop, but so the railroad crew working in the yard sees me and knows I’m in there going after these fools. The last thing I need at the moment is for a train movement to get tangled up in this fiasco.

Fortunate for me, I know my way through these yards. The Railroad Police (aka Special Agents,) had come to count on us to help maintain the security and safety of the yards. We knew where all the crossings were, and how to safely navigate through the yards. These clowns trying to escape through the yards don’t, and do the most stupid thing they could do. They make a u-turn and try to outrun me to the west, through the yards at high speed.

As I said, they don’t know their way through this maze, and just before they got back to NE-64, they slowed down to about 25 to 30 miles per hour where they found themselves between two tracks, where the track on their left, joined the mainline track on their right. Smack! They wedged their car right there between the two tracks, and into the waiting arms of Don. I pull up about four seconds later.

Lucky for these guys that none of them were injured, but their car was pretty messed up! While we’re putting cuffs on the four desperados, one of them is loudly mouthing off on how much trouble Don and I are in because his old man is a hot shot attorney out of Omaha! (I always loved dealing with spoiled rich kids with an entitled attitude…)

I got on the radio and called dispatch to request that they contact Union Pacific and request one of their Special Agents come to the scene, and at the least, they were going to need to send a signal maintainer as well. I wasn’t going to call for a tow truck to get the car out of there until after the railroad officials could take a look at it. Until the Special Agents got there, Don watched over the four prisoners, while I went to each of the cars in line waiting to cross, to tell the the drivers how to find an alternate way around the crossing. This train would be going nowhere for awhile.

An eastbound Union Pacific Freight Train approaches the Spruce Street Crossing at
Valley, Nebraska. The "crossbuck" signal visable at the left edge of the photograph
would be the West Street Crossing. The overpass in the distance is the location of
where the crossing for NE-64 used to be back during the 1980's.

About twenty minutes later, Special Agent, Dick Schneider arrived. With a big grin on his face, he reached out to shake my hand, “Randy! What have you and Don got for me today?” I provided Dick with the low down, as he and I walked over to the car wedged between the tracks. “Boy!" as he whistled, "This is going to be expensive!

We go over by my patrol car where Don has the four prisoners corralled. Dick starts to explain to the group what we have on them. “Ok boys! Since I know these two officers pretty well, I know they have already advised you of your constitutional rights.” Don and I both nod in agreement.

The mouthy one retorts, “Yeah! And we don’t have to say shit! My old man’s an attorney, and he’s going to make life hell for you and these other two pigs!”

Dick smiles, and says, “So, your Dad’s an attorney? That’s good. That’s very good, because you’re going to need a good attorney! Let me tell you what you have here from the lowest to the highest. First is Trespassing. That’s a misdemeanor. Probably the only obvious misdemeanor here. Next we have Criminal Mischief. In this case, the amount of damage to the signal alone is going to make that a felony; and by the way, the overtime wages for that signal maintainer who had to come out at night to fix the signal? You’ll be paying for his wages too. Now, we’re getting to the good part. Which one of you was driving the car? You see, when you wedged it in there between the two tracks, you knocked them out of alignment. That includes the mainline track. Before that train can move, the tracks have to be re-aligned and inspected. You see, it would be really bad for a train to jump the track and take a dirt road. That’s going to cost a lot of money. I hope you have good insurance... Oh, and with that train being stopped, and all the other trains behind it being stopped and held up? That’s lost revenue. That’s going to cost a lot of money too. Yep! It’s a good thing your Dad’s an attorney, because I’m sure the railroad’s attorneys are all going to want to talk with him real soon! Any questions?”

All four of them looked stunned… The loud one became very quiet from here on out.

Dick looks to Don and me. “Would you guys want to add any other offenses to charge these boys with?”

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