My Own Keeper

My Own Keeper

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BOOM! There was a sudden firm tug on the back of my vest, it pulled me off of my feet! BOOM! The report of the colliding massive shapes coming together with such unexpected force was shocking to the senses. Cars had rolled into our track from the top of the hill. It rang my ears, even though it was raining hard and I had ear plugs in. It’s a sound that you could feel and would become all too familiar to me in the days and years ahead. “What are you trying to kill yourself boy!? There isn’t any forgiveness with anything moving, at any speed out here!” I had been completely caught off guard “I’m sorry” I told him. He looked at me and said “You’re your own keeper out here, it’s your job to do and your job to keep. There are right ways and wrong ways to do it and you get to decide for yourself what those are. If you get killed or lose your job in the process of deciding, it’s on you.”


     It was a sobering moment but his words have never been forgotten. They hold truth for every aspect of life and not just at work. True stewardship requires a mentality owning your own decisions. Years after this experience I would get to watch something wonderful unfold in a very tangible example of this “Old Head” wisdom.


     There are a lot of homeless camps and destitute places that we witness from the tracks. We become familiar with seeing new homeless camps built and tore down, on various routes all over. The camps that we all recognize amongst ourselves the most, are the ones that last for years in the same place. One day a young man parked a beat-up suburban about 20 yards off the track. As I took trip after trip by his little encampment, I started to notice curious things.


      This fella didn’t have much and he made sure to pack up almost everything back into his rig every night, when he wasn’t working outside. But then materials started to appear outside his rig. Square stock and scrap metal, in long pieces. Often sparks would be apparent coming from his camp. He had a welding setup in his rig and we often witnessed him welding on something that started out small but continued to get bigger.


      I watched his camp from the tracks for two years and one day, on my final trip by his camp I saw him hooking up his old suburban to his creation. I don’t know who that fella was and never got the chance to meet him. He was young and he was homeless but he had definitely decided he was his own keeper. He had spent two years sourcing the materials and toiled very hard and inspired many of us on the railroad. I don’t think he even realized that he had his own fan club, in a bunch salty railroaders.


     He had built from scratch, for himself a legitimate tiny home! It looked like it was out of a magazine. I watched him weld the frame and place the axles and build it all. He didn’t let the fact that he was homeless stop him, he just built himself a home. He didn’t just build some shanty either; he built a quality looking house on wheels! His story is one of my more inspiring memories on the railroad. I often think of both of these stories when I start to feel things getting stagnant and need a reminder, or inspiration that I am my own keeper.


Proverbs 10:12 ESV

If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; If you scoff you alone will bear it.



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1 comment

Great job Jake!!

Michael Heldman

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