Monday, August 17, 2009

Transport: Remembering Reed Jackson

Union Pacific conductor Reed Jackson was in his element--talking with passengers in the theater car "Idaho" during the "Puget Sound Steam Special" excursion at Orillia, Washington on 19-May-2007

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The railroad and railfan community is mourning the loss of Union Pacific conductor Reed Jackson, who died on 11-August-2009 after surgery to remove a brain tumor. In the past two decades, Jackson had become the public face of the Union Pacific Steam Program, one of the railroad's major public relations efforts. He was 55.

According to Hal Lewis, who served as Train Manager for Pacific Limited, a consortium of railroad historical groups that operated trains in conjunction with the Union Pacific steam program, Jackson was added to the team in the early 1990's by program head Steve Lee to reduce Lewis' workload. Indeed, it was on a Pacific Limited trip, the "Portland Rose" excursion from Denver, Colorado to the Pacific Northwest, that I first met Jackson in 1995. That train was more than 2500 feet long, so he tended to be in the theater car at the end of the train in case a reverse move were necessary. I had the pleasure of relieving the normal car host in that car during some of her breaks, and thus I had the privilege of watching Jackson interact with ease with the passengers on the train, a number of whom were from foreign countries.

It's an obscure scan, but conductor Reed Jackson was at left in this view of the "Fox River" theater car during the "Portland Rose" Pacific Limited trip as it passed Shoshone, Idaho on 17-September-1995. I was about to relieve veteran car host Anita Kratville, at center, for her lunch break.

Jackson was a perfect choice for the Steam Program Conductor--his easy-going manner and ease in speaking with the public made him popular with everyone from Union Pacific's partner organizations to the press to members of the general public surprised to find a steam locomotive stopping in their home town. The impression that he made in his meticulously-prepared uniform created memories for thousands of people that never learned his name, as well as those of us who came to view him as an integral part of seeing a Union Pacific steam train.

According to the blog of former Union Pacific colleague Jim Burrill, Jackson started with the Union Pacific as a brakeman out of Denver, Colorado in the 1970's and later served as conductor on Amtrak's "San Francisco Zephyr" which then ran on the Union Pacific between Denver and Ogden, Utah. He was thus a passenger service veteran when appointed to the Steam Program.

Indeed, Jackson was known for his professionalism. One of my favorite Reed Jackson stories occurred during the "Puget Sound Steam Special" in May 2007. The train made a stop for engine servicing in Everett, Washington and the engineer of the lead locomotive wanted to "highball" or depart. Jackson was heard on the radio saying, "Just as a reminder, I'm the conductor of this train and for safety reasons I'm the one that determines when we can leave." It wasn't long after the acknowledgment from the engine that Jackson gave the official "highball."

In what turned out to be my last picture of him, Union Pacific conductor Reed Jackson (at left) rode a vestibule with Ed Dickens as the Western Heritage Express moved to a spot in Portola, California on 5-May-2009

It is said that there is a "great railway in the sky" where railroaders go after their deaths. Reed Jackson must surely have marked up as a conductor on that railroad now. This world has certainly lost a great ambassador with his passing.


Anonymous said...

Do you know the arrangements for Reed Jackson?

Glitch said...

Unfortunately, I don't. I imagine they may be announced in the Wyoming Eagle newspaper.

Ace Jackalope said...

I received a comment on my blog from Sarah Bird (identified herself as Reed's Sis in law) that the funeral is Friday at 10:30 at St Joseph's Cathedral in Ft Collins.

He was a nice guy and certainly enhanced the experience of riding behind 844.

Glitch said...

Thanks Ace. There's a link to the official obituary in the Denver Post:
Read the official obituary. I apparently had his age incorrect by a few months.

Anonymous said...

Reed will be greatly missed. I can't imagine going out with the train and Reed not being there.I spoke with him only days before and it came as quite a shock.

As one of the other two Pacific Limited "train managers" I was there when Reed first came onboard in 1994. We spent many hours on the road together, along with time trading and changing out buttons so we had the correct markings on our uniforms. In later years, many hours were spent trying to kill time on layovers, dealing with the press and answering questions to those wanting to know about the train and steam locomotives.

I was on the trip you mention at my post in the Gold Room on the Portland Rose Dome Diner. The usual fare was Reed at the rear of the train with a manager in the midsection and one more up front.

one of his favorite sayings about his daily job as conductor was: 'I hear there's a woman with a six pack behind every tree in Rawlins. (or whatever job he was on), but there's not any trees".

My deepest sympathies go out to Martha and the rest of the family.

TD Holdeman (former PLG Officer)

csx2014 said...

I first learned of Conductor Reed Jackson when I saw him on A PBS TV
special "Hear The Train A Comin'.
He had such a sparkling personality!
I am so grieved at his passing! I only learned of it yesterday morn-
ing, May 28,2014! Reed will be greatly missed even though I never met him!Through his sparkling person
ality,Reed gave me my JOY back! I can smile once again! Thank You, Reed! I am going to dedicate my railroad ministry to Reed in his honor as am railroad evangelist. Thank God for video and DVD! And thank you, Reed Jackson for all the joy and smiles along life's railway! I know that you have taken that Last train to Glory! God Bless you, Reed Jackson! I'll keep Martha and the children in my prayers as well. said...

On May 28, 2014 I learned of the sudden and tragic death of UP Steam Team Conductor Reed F.Jackson. And it just broke my heart. My heart is still broken! Now I'm beginning to write Reed's biography. If there is anyone out there who can help me in the writing of Reed F. Jackson's biography
it would mean so much to me. I would certainly appreciate all the help I can get! Conductor Reed F. Jackson was a treasure among treasures! Please! If there is anyone out there who will talk to me about Conductor Jackson, please come forward! You can reach me at or cell phone: (239) 410-3215. Martha Jackson, will you contact me please. Thank you all for your help with Conductor Jackson's biography. Reed's got a beautiful story to tell and his story must be told! Thank you.Cheryl Lengyel, railroad evangelist/engineer