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!
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.
Pacific Construction through Valley, Nebraska during 1864
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 to the
Lincoln Sub, 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.
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.
high altitude view of part of the Union Pacific Railroad Yards at
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!
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!”
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…”
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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.
eastbound Union Pacific Freight Train approaches the Spruce Street
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
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!”
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.
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!”
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 upt? 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?”
four of them looked stunned… The loud one became very quiet
from here on out.
looks to Don and me. “Would you guys want to add any other
offenses to charge these boys with?”
Purple Sage Law Enforcement