Guy Winters Interview

Guy Winters on March 12, 1975 in a photograph that accompanied a front page story for the Oklahoma Times. The caption said “Guy Winters, road foreman of engines for the Rock Island railroad at El Reno, examines a track joint in the switching yard.” Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection.

Guy Winters worked for the Rock Island from 1952 until the railroad was shut down in March 1980. He started as a messenger at the Little Rock passenger station, soon getting a position as a brakeman, then engineer in Arkansas. Later, Winters became road foreman of engines at El Reno, Oklahoma, and for a brief time also worked out of Des Moines, Iowa

Many members of Winters’ family also worked for the Rock Island. His father started with the railroad during the Great Depression laying track for 64 cents a day and later became an officer. Guy Winters’ brother A.J. Winters was a general roadmaster. Even his sister worked for the Rock Island, serving as the superintendent’s secretary. As he put it, there was a lot of nepotism at the Rock Island.

I sat down with Guy Winters on February 7, 2016 as he shared details about his decades of working for the Rock Island, and after it was shut down, Missouri Pacific, then Union Pacific. He had a sharp recollection, sharing vivid details of his 42 years in the industry.


AUDIO: STARTING WITH THE ROCK ISLAND. It took a few years of working as a brakeman before Guy Winters got the opportunity to become an engineer. He also talks about one close call when he and another worker were preparing to jump from an engine that came perilously close to a derail device protecting the main line.
AUDIO: TWO SCARES. Working for a railroad can be an extremely dangerous profession, where one mistake can have serious consequences. Guy shares two experiences, one that he feared would have had his freight train plow into a stopped passenger train at Ola, Arkansas, the other that left him dangling between two engines near Forrest City traveling at about 50 MPH.
AUDIO: PROMOTIONS. After initially accepting, then declining a promotion that would have brought him to Chicago, Guy got other opportunities with the Rock Island, including becoming road foreman of engines out of El Reno, Oklahoma, and spent a year in Iowa.
AUDIO: OTHER RAILROADS. After the Rock Island was shut down in 1980, Guy went to work for the Missouri Pacific, then Union Pacific in Arkansas and Kansas. In the early 1990s he retired after more than four decades of working in the business.
AUDIO: ROCK ISLAND DIFFERENCE. Guy said he later appreciated what a family operation the Rock Island was compared to other railroads. He also the discusses the decline of the Rock Island’s track, with federal dollars only allowed to go toward rolling stock.
AUDIO: TURKEY HUNTERS. An odd story about how one Rock Island worker was accidentally shot while turkey hunting from the front of a locomotive. After an effort to cover up how the injury occurred, several workers were forced to resign.
AUDIO: FAMILY. Guy talks about the experiences of his father, who started with the Rock Island during the Great Depression, and brother, both of whom became managers for the Rock Island.
AUDIO: BOONEVILLE: The Griffin Hotel was operated behind the depot in Booneville for workers of the Rock Island. Guy talks Viola Gainer, the woman who ran it and was known for having strict rules, as well as exceptional cooking. Guy also mentions how most people who worked for the Rock Island had nicknames.

In the final interview segment, Guy couldn’t remember the name of Viola Gainer, but the March-April 1972 issue of the The Rocket, the railroad’s employee magazine, featured a short article about her following her death in December 1971.