Since July 5, 1988, Toby Hendrix has operated the locomotives here on Fort Leonard Wood. With his vintage engineer cap and a smile in tow, he arrives at 5:30 a.m., ready to work before the sun has risen. Depending on the day, he prepares rail movements or carries troops at the Transportation Motor Pool.
As part of his job, Hendrix hauls military equipment, World War II replicas, museum exhibits, and even tanks for the post. But most of his time is spent on the 3,000 horsepower GP-40 engine, whistling along the open 19-mile stretch of government rail between the fort and Bundy Junction.
Having been a police officer in Branson, Missouri, and a semi-truck driver in Point Lookout, Missouri, Hendrix is able to objectively appreciate what it is that makes his current position so unique. “We have mountain grade territory to operate on,” he said. “The train is more challenging because of that, but I like here.”
“We have more scenery here,” he added. “Other places that I’ve been to haven’t had the rolling hills — this is more picturesque.”
On that scenic length of rail, Hendrix has had ample time to observe the surrounding wildlife. In fact, having the privilege to witness the wild fauna, away from human disturbances, he said, is one of the most refreshing parts of his job. “I like watching the deer, the turkey, and I’ve seen bobcats up and down the tracks,” Hendrix said.
“We get to see a different type of terrain because we’re going behind peoples’ houses, through the backfields, by the barns and in the woods. It’s what you don’t get to see if you’re in the car,” he continued.
One unusual occasion allowed Hendrix to become a fly on the wall in an encounter that still tickles him to this day. During deer hunting season, he was cruising down the tracks when he encountered two hunters. “We were down in a river valley, and there was a brush pile,” he said. “A couple of hunters were waving at us and they were walking along, 100 feet apart, one on each side of the pile.”
His position on the tracks gave him an elevated point of view.
“In the middle of that brush pile, there was a deer laying down, looking at the hunter on each side, and it wasn’t moving,” he said. “I thought, ‘hey, that’s a pretty smart deer.’”
While spending the day looking out the window at nature may sound boring to some, “Boring is good,” Hendrix said. “The best day is boring,” because natural hazards sometimes present challenges.
“In the summertime, there have been times where we propped the windows and doors open and we’re going down the tracks and I’ve seen (the thermometer) between 110 and 115 degrees,” he said.
But the heat can cause larger issues that are not so easily beat by keeping hydrated. “We had an incident about two or three years ago, where a railcar caught on fire,” he said.
“We were out in the middle of nowhere, but we were able to stop the train on one of those big hills,” he continued. “We used fire extinguishers to get the railcar put out initially, and then we took what water bottles we had and got the wood deck put out.”
Human actions have sometimes complicated his duties too, such as drivers running closed railroad crossings.
“It happens a fair amount,” he said. “I have had a few (Military Police Soldiers) pull some people over that failed to yield. And we do appreciate it, because nobody wants to get hit.”
On another, albeit more faultless occasion, Hendrix was able to draw on knowledge he received from formal Emergency Medical Technician training. After being one of only two people, the other being the conductor, to witness an individual fall from a bridge outside the installation, “I called it in on the radio and I sounded the emergency signal on the horn,’” Hendrix said. Given what he knew about traumatic injuries, he knew an ambulance would have had to arrive immediately. Hendrix was glad to say the man survived.
It is that same first-responder mantle of responsibility, that agreeable grin, and that humble, yet professional demeanor that overshadows his reflective words, “I enjoy doing what I can.”
His devotion to his position is apparent through both his actions and his locomotive whistle ringtone. The installation counts Hendrix as a valuable human resource, and while he is tenured in his current role, “I hope to carry on here at least 10 more years,” he said.
“But even after retirement, I’ll still be thinking about the people here.”