Day 2 on the Job Takes an Urgent Turn

OCTOBER 2023 – On his second day at Watco, Michael Houtz thought he would simply be cross-training.

He ended up getting much more involved than expected.

Houtz, in training as a conductor for the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad (WSOR), had completed orientation on July 10 and was out July 11 in a hi-rail truck learning about maintenance of way (MOW). He was riding along with Track Inspector Jacob Gallun on the Oshkosh Subdivision near Brandon, Wisconsin.

“When we have a new team member come on board, what we’ll do is we’ll usually put them on a train to ride with and try to understand a little bit of the railroad before they go to ground school,” says WSOR General Manager Aaron Dean. “We’ll also send them to each craft for a day to get the idea of what they do and get some of the experience of their day to day.”

Between 9 and 10 in the morning, as Houtz and Gallun were performing routine track inspection, Houtz noticed their truck was picking up speed. Houtz looked over at his driver to see that something was not right. Houtz recalls: “It seemed to me like he was having a seizure or something. He was not responsive to anything I was saying to him. I thought he was convulsing.”

Houtz immediately got low in the cab to remove Gallun’s foot from the accelerator. He applied the brake with his hand to stop the vehicle and then managed to put it in park.

He called 911 and found he had poor mobile phone reception. Also, “I had no idea where we were. I had to walk maybe a little over a quarter-mile to the next crossing. Then the 911 dispatcher was able to get my coordinates and sent out an ambulance. They were there in about 10 minutes.” He then was able to reach the manager on duty, who came to pick him up.

Gallun was able to get the medical attention he needed.

“This was (Houtz’s) one day to work with the MOW team, and they put him in an inspector truck, and they were kind of exploring the subdivision when this situation occurred,” says Dean. “He was in the right place at the right time.

“With not having any previous knowledge of health issues, Jacob gives credit to Michael for saving him and getting him the assistance needed. We are honored to have a team member join us who is not afraid to make a difference!”

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