Al L. Dodson Interview

Railroading was definitely in Al Dodson’s blood. His father, a couple of uncles and an aunt had all worked for the Rock Island in Arkansas. He started in the 1950’s, first in the mechanical department servicing air breaks, helping to clear train wrecks and eventually represented workers as local chairman for the union Brotherhood Railway Carmen of the United States and Canada.

In May 2005 I spoke with him for an hour at his home near Gravel Ridge, Arkansas. He reflected on his time working for the Rock Island, calling it a good company. But the slow demise of the railroad was evident, leading in later years to poor moral before it was finally shut down in 1980. In the final years he warned workers to get out of debt because the end clearly was coming. Mergers with other railroads failed to pan out, in large part because of a lack of maintenance on track and equipment, which took away much of the the Rock Island’s value.


AUDIO: STARTING WITH THE ROCK ISLAND. Al Dodson discusses how he came to work for the railroad in the early 1950’s and the bankruptcy that led to his retirement a few years earlier than expected.
AUDIO: UNION REPRESENTATIVE. For his final two decades of the Rock Island, Dodson served as the Little Rock union representative, looking out for the interests of employees at a time when the railroad was rapidly declining.
AUDIO: CLEARING ACCIDENTS. For many years Dodson worked in Arkansas and Oklahoma cleaning up train wrecks, sometimes spending days, from sunrise to sunset, removing and cleaning up crash sites.
AUDIO: BANKRUPTCY. Dodson discuses the slow death of the Rock Island, which everyone saw coming. The railroad stopped doing regular maintenance, with condition of the track and equipment quickly going downhill.
AUDIO: NEW HOPPER CARS. Dodson discusses how the company rebranded everything with a new logo, calling it simply “The Rock”. He also talks about the railroad’s passenger service and what he feels the nation needs now.
AUDIO: AFTERMATH AND MODERN RAILROADING: Dodson discusses the impact of the bankruptcy on Rock Island employees and looks at the modern state of the industry in America.