My Father, the Winslow-to-Seligman Santa Fe Railroad ‘Bishop’

    “My Father, the Winslow-to-Seligman Santa Fe Railroad ‘Bishop’” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 64–65

    My Father, the Winslow-to-Seligman Santa Fe Railroad “Bishop”

    The freight train lurched forward, laboring to set in motion its mile-long, ten-thousand-ton body. Its huge engines made a deafening roar as fifteen thousand horsepower strained against the tremendous load and we slowly began to pick up speed. I sat in the fireman’s seat. It was my first trip as an eighteen-year-old fireman for the Santa Fe Railroad, and I was tense and apprehensive.

    I grew up in the small railroad town of Winslow, Arizona. My father, like almost every other head of household in our town, worked for the Santa Fe. As an engineer, his responsibility was to run the trains from Winslow to Seligman, Arizona, any time he was called, night or day. Railroading was not only his job, it was a way of life for all of us.

    When I graduated from high school in the spring of 1960, I hired on with the railroad to earn money for college in the fall. I will always remember the day of my first trip to Seligman. I reported for work at the train yard, and as I walked into the locker room I entered an environment that was very different from my home. The tobacco smoke was thick and heavy, as was the bad language. Loud music blared from an old radio, and lewd pinups stared out from every wall. I signed in for Express Freight Train 911, found out which track it was on, and then walked with the other two members of the crew to our waiting engines.

    Within a matter of minutes we were hurtling down the rails in this great mechanical beast. The engineer was the father of a boy I had gone through all twelve years of school with. Like most of the railroad men, he was not a member of the Church. He turned to me as he lit up a cigarette and said, “Are you Vaughn Brimhall’s kid?”

    “Yes, he’s my dad,” I answered.

    “The Bishop!” he stated.

    I said, “I don’t understand. My dad isn’t a bishop, he’s the Young Men president.”

    The engineer smiled. “Well, son,” he said, “here on the railroad your dad is called The Bishop.”

    I didn’t pursue the conversation any further, but later I came to realize that this nickname was a term of respect given my father by his fellow railroaders.

    The long hours of the night passed by slowly as the train wound its way through the mountains. Just as the sun was rising, we rolled into the freight yard in Seligman, a small community of perhaps two hundred people. We climbed down from the engine and walked to the yard office. The engineer showed me how to sign out and then told the call boy behind the counter that he would be at his shack.

    The call boy then looked at me and asked where I would be. I said, “At Vaughn Brimhall’s shack.”

    “You mean the Mormon Temple,” he said.

    I must have looked confused, because the engineer smiled and said, “Everybody else’s place here is called a ‘shack’ except your dad’s. When you get there you’ll understand why.” He pointed the way, and I was off.

    My dad and four other rail-roaders who were members of our ward had called their home-away-from-home in Seligman “the shack” for as long as I could remember. They had hauled most of the building materials with them on the trains, and during the innumerable hours of waiting to be called for their return trains home, they had built the shack. I was very curious to see what it was like.

    I walked down several alleys, across a muddy vacant lot, and I was there. It didn’t look like a temple to me! It was a small, ugly building with a drab, cement stucco finish and a corrugated tin roof. I took out the key my dad had given me, inserted it into the lock, and quietly turned it. I didn’t want to wake up any of the other men who might be sleeping.

    As the door opened, I heard the Tabernacle Choir singing and smelled the delicious aroma of breakfast cooking. Clyde Rhoton, a member of our ward I had known all my life, shook my hand and put his arm around my shoulders. “Welcome,” he said. “How was it?”

    I will never forget the moments that followed as I was led through my father’s home-away-from-home and came to know his other life. The walls of this building were lined, not with pinups, but with the pictures of families, Church leaders, and the Savior. Stake activity calendars hung by several of the beds. Instead of men’s magazines, there were scriptures, the Improvement Era, the Church News, Field and Stream, and the Reader’s Digest. The raciest literature I found was a Zane Grey novel.

    After breakfast was over, Brother Rhoton said that I had better get to bed because they would be calling me soon. The trains were running on a heavy schedule, and he had only been there three hours himself. He said goodbye, picked up his bag, put on his railroad hat, and was off on his way back to Winslow.

    A profound feeling of joy and respect surged through my soul as I knelt in prayer that morning before getting into my dad’s bed. I thanked my Heavenly Father for my dad, Vaughn Lorenzo Brimhall, the Winslow-to-Seligman Santa Fe Railroad “Bishop,” and for his example as an elder in the Church. And I thanked Him for a sacred place to rest and renew myself—my dad’s “temple” in Seligman, Arizona.

    Twenty-five years have come and gone since that experience. My father has retired, and the shack has passed into the hands of another generation of Latter-day Saint railroaders. Many other rail-roaders who knew nothing of the Church are now members as a result of the example set by my father, his companions, and the many Latter-day Saint railroaders who have come after them.