By Todd Travis
Amtrak foreman Charlie Stout remembers the days in the Beech Grove station where a simple provision like keeping warm was not taken for granted. “Back when I started in 1978, there was some of the building that still had dirt floors. There was a boiler in the powerhouse that blew hot air through registers on the back wall of the floor. That was the only heat you had unless you happened to find a 55-gallon drum that you could burn wood in to try and keep warm,” Stout remembered. “Amtrak had only had the property for three or four years so they were still working on rehabbing some of the buildings. Some of the buildings had holes where the windows should have been, and the cold air would just come in. Years later, they put gas furnaces in all the buildings and that was greatly appreciated by all of the employees.”
The Beech Grove Amtrak station was originally constructed between 1904 and 1908 by four major railroad companies – Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis. At the time, these railways were known as the “Big Four.” The station connected railroads that went through the heart of the Midwest, running through Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. Amtrak purchased the facility in 1975, and it is their largest overhaul facility, situated on a 108-acre plot. At that time, they began taking the old “steam cars” they inherited and overhauled them to make “head end power cars” which ran on 480-volt electricity. The overhauls only cost around $310,000 whereas, a new car would cost upwards of $1,000,000. “We don’t have very many of the old head end power cars left, most everything we have now is the double-decker superliners, the horizons and the Viewliners,” Stout mentioned.
One of the routes that Stout was especially fond of is the one connecting from Indianapolis to Chicago. “When my kids were younger, we would leave on a Saturday morning at about 6 a.m., spend the day in Chicago and get back to Indianapolis near midnight. It was a long day, but the kids always seemed to enjoy it,” he recalled. As Beech Grove has grown, so has the Amtrak facility. Currently, the facility employs about 400 mechanical craft and management employees with plans to hire an additional 50 employees this year. On average, about 165 car overhauls are completed annually with 200+ component part varieties repaired and rebuilt. Amtrak works with high schools and tech schools to help identify candidates for the apprenticeship program and to help develop mechanical skills necessary for future employment opportunities.
To Charlie, Amtrak has been like a family for the 43+ years he has been employed, especially in his earlier years. Before getting hired, he was almost rejected from the apprenticeship program, but his father-in-law and brother-in-law spoke up for him. “The HR director told me he couldn’t hire me because I didn’t have the educational background and said I could never make it working for the railroad. My father-in-law and brother-in-law went to bat for me and said to just give me a chance,” Stout mentioned. “I just worked hard to prove that gentleman wrong all these years.” In October, Stout will reach the 44-year landmark working with Amtrak. His son, Kyle, also works as a foreman and they see each other every day.