I grew up in Chesterfield, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. I come from a good, Christian, hard-working family originally from Italy and Germany, respectively. My great grandfather, Mariano Balsamo, immigrated to the United States via Ellis Island, NY from Termini Imerese, Sicily at the age of 14. After ultimately settling in St. Louis, Missouri, he established what would become one of the largest, most successful produce brokers in the region, Fruit Supply Co. Because of this, he is now recognized as one of the top 14 most important Italian immigrants in St. Louis history, as noted in the book 'St. Louis Italians: The Hill and Beyond.'
My great grandpa would later introduce his son Marion "Mike" (my mom's dad) into the family business. Grandpa Mike continued to serve the region’s produce needs into the early 1980s with custom, door-to-door service, and on some occasions, even delivering some of the finest, sweetest strawberries right out of the trunk of his Cadillac! All of our strawberries, lettice, etc. arrived on Produce Row in refrigerated boxcars. Impressed with our nation’s vast rail network and having worked in the diesel shops for the Missouri Pacific for a time himself, grandpa Mike exposed me to trains when I was very young by taking me on long rail trips, the first being on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief to LaJunta, CO. My interest in the rail industry flourished. During my junior year in college at SLU, I received an invite to work a trainman job with a local short line railway. Our locomotive #2020, a product of GM's Electro Motive Division of LaGrange, IL, was a war veteran, initially assigned to moving weapons and equipment for the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Following purchase by RSM in the late 1980s, it was housed in an underground subway below Tucker Ave., a few blocks from the Edward Jones Dome in North St. Louis. Our rail line, a remnant of the former Illinois Terminal Traction System, existed to serve the city press of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the largest publication newspaper in the St. Louis region, which required us to haul in boxcars loaded with huge spools of Canadian newsprint (each spool weighs in well over a ton and prints 20,000 papers) for the presses. My co-worker and I would have to take an elevator down to reach track level, grab our paperwork, pick up any empty cars with the locomotive and head towards where our line interchanged with the Norfolk Southern Railroad. After running underground, the tracks rose out of the trench to the middle of Hadley street (!) for four blocks, then rose again up a huge iron bridge that winds through North City.
I started my job in March of 2001 and loved every minute of it. In this life, every good thing eventually comes to an end. In June 2004, the Post Dispatch announced that they were centralizing/restructuring their printing operations, and consequently, our railroad would soon be without its only customer. I moved the last empty out on June 24, 2004, and soon after, the line went up for abandonment. In 2006, salvage crews arrived to tear up the rails. I haven't touched a throttle in almost five years. Currently, I'm the General Manager for a local pest control company. Although running trains is sort of a memory now, with college behind me, it's been my wish to return to the industry someday as a professional. If you or anyone you know in the industry is looking for someone, by all means please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.